Throw Bags, Accessories and WorkShops "Gear For Life"

Rescue PFD Study

A Review of Seven Rescue PFDs Used by Whitewater Boaters (Spring, 2004)
      -- Jim Simmons, ACA Instructor

 OVERVIEW

In a review process recently finished in early Spring, 2004 we conducted a field review of several rescue vests commonly used by whitewater paddlers. The in-water testing was done in two class II chutes of water on the Mulberry River in Arkansas. Other ACA instructors, as well as other paddlers (nine in all), who have trained in both the ACA 2-day SWR and one-day Advanced workshops participated as rescuers in the river activities. This was an independent review with no sponsoring agency and the rescuers received no remuneration for their work.

Brands evaluated were: Extrasport Pro Creeker, Stohlquist X-Tract, Astral 300 R, Kokatat ProFit, Mti Pro Play, and Lotus P-Vest. A seventh, MTI's Patriot, a short waist, high cut vest with greater buoyancy was also reviewed. MTI advertises it as suitable for boaters in bigger water paddling or for rescuers. Vets were purchased from the respective companies, with some of them already being worn by rescuers during winter paddling. After completing the review we learned of changes and improvements made in the '05 Astral vest and will comment on these later in this report.

The Extrasport Pro Creeker, Astral 300 R and Lotus P-Vest are similar in design because these low profile vests are positioned more on the lower torso or midriff area. The Stohlquist X-Tract, Kokatat ProFit and MTI Pro Plan are similar because these are short waist, higher cut designs positioned more on the upper torso when snugly adjusted. The MTI Patriot is also a short waist, high cut design with 26.5 lbs of flotation.

Product reviews of whitewater gear and equipment have not commonly been done with any regularity. We did find a couple of other reviews that tested mostly vests suitable for rescue personnel or that were universal fit styles.

Our objective was to review the fit and performance of popular low profile and short waist vests that not only give good freedom of movement when paddling whitewater (this includes whitewatr kayaks, decked and open canoes, inflatable, sit-on-tops, rafts, etc.) but good function and capability when used in rescue applications. We also sought to establish a process with workable criteria that could be revised and used in future field evaluations. It was not our intent to rank the vests in any kind of order--one through seven, nor to establish one that was "best or worst". We wanted to gather product information above the overall performance of each vest in a dynamic river setting. all of these vets have been duly approved by the USCG (with teting conducted ty Underwriter Laboratories).

Review Process
A) In Table One is shown the rating scale criteria used in the review of the seven vests. Several ACA Instructors assisted in the development of the criteria. Evaluations of each vest were completed by at least four rescuers, but most all vests were evaluated by more than four people. A five point scale was used for the subjective evaluations as follows

5--Excellent; 4--Good Performance; 3--Acceptable; 2--Needs Improving; 1--Poor.

 The results of the ratings were compiled and a breakdown established for the five point scale. When not a whole number, ratings appear in the table as plus or minus, such as 4+ , 3-, etc. A rating of five was awareded on an individual criteria if there were no perceived limiting or irritating characteristics otherwise a rating of four was given for good performance.

B) Each reviewer also completed a subjective evaluation of each vest that included pros and cons; what was really liked or disliked; and what worked/didn't work well. A composite summary was completed and a discussion of each rescue vest is given after the table.

 5--Excellent; 4--Good Performance; 3--Acceptable; 2--Needs Improving; 1--Poor

 Table 1. Results of Ratings

Extrasport Stohlquist Astral

MTI

ProP.

Kokatat

Lotus

P-V

MTI

Patr.

REVIEW CRITERIA

Ease entry & removal 4- 4- 3 4 4+ 4 4-
Snug fit - comfortable 4- 4+ 4+ 4+ 4- 4 3+
Shoulder adjustments 4- 4 3+ 4 4 2+ 4
Torso adjustments 3+ 4- 4- 4 4 4- 4-
Visibility daytime 4 3- 3+ 5 3- 4 5
Easy access to pockets 4- 4- 4- 3+ 3+ 4- 4
Carrying capacity basic items 3+ 3+ 3 3 3+ 3+ 4
Freedom mvt.paddling 4 4+ 5 4 4- 4 4-
Buoyancy river swims 4 4+ 3+ 4 4- 4- 5
Not 'ride up' swimming 4 4+ 4 4+ 3+ 4- 4+
Swimming ease of vest 4 5 4 4+ 4- 4 4
QRHS w/ tension 4- 4- 4 3 4 4 3+
Ease toggle release 4 4- 3 4 4+ 4- 4
Snug fit after release 4 4 4- 4- 4- 4- 4
Self-rescue on strainer 3+ 4 3+ 4 4- 4- 4
Upper torso protection 3 4- 3- 4- 3+ 3 4
Lower torso protection 4- 3 4 3 3+ 4 3+
Side panel (rib area) 3- 3 3+ 3 3 3 3
Overall Impression (below)

 DISCUSSION of Each Vest
 Overall impression of each vest included; quality of workmanship, capability for comfortable and snug fit; and performance, both when paddling and in rescue functions.

EXTRASPORT Pro Creeker (Comes in Red/Black combo)

This is a popular PFD and has given good service to paddlers and rescuers. It is an over-the-head entry model and somewhat unhandy to get on and adjusted. Once on and adjusted, however, it gives a comfortable fit and provides good freedom of movement. Even though low profile, we noted it had adequate flotation when swimming in river current. It has a center, medium size front pocket easily accessible and with adequate carrying capacity. Once full, though, it could impede progress in aggressive swimming or self-rescuing over a simulated strainer. This was noted on all three of the vests that had center pockets.

It has excellent nighttime vision with reflective piping all over (actually looked like a christmas tree). The red color provided good day visibility at distances. The shoulder adjustment is Extrasport's retro-glide system and relatively easy to adjust, but a couiple of reviewers reported this adjustment sometimes slipped when swimming. Side adjustments were relatively easy to reach for snugging the fit. It has very adequate lower torso protection but the upper torso and colarbone protection is lacking--also due to a low profile design.

 The ORHS worked well and the release was consistent. The rescue belt crosses the lower part of the sternum and was not uncomfortable when performing direct or V lowers. It also reatained a snug fit after the release.

 Several reviewers have used Extrasport vests for many years and they have provided good service and durability. This vet got positive reviews from the group especially for its comfortable fit and freedom of movement.

STOHLQUIST X--Tract (Comes in Red, Mango, Black and Royal Blue)
Another pull-over entry this vest is very comfortable when adjusted. It has the Stohlquist Grip-loc material that lets the vet stay pput and not ride up the body. The vest conformed well to the body's contour because of its beveled foam. The amount of flotation provided good buoyancy, mobility and ease when performing aggressive swimming. Most of the vests could have better side panel protection (most have mesh), but this one has stretch neoprene that the side adjustment straps rest on to add to the vest's comfort. shoulder adjustments are padded and adjusted easily. Upper torso protection was very adequate and it had good freedom of movement when paddling or swimming. It is also warn in cold weather paddling because of a good fit.

It has one left front mesh pocket that provides easy identification of items, with adequate carrying capacity, but the side entry may let items fall out. We could easily get two carabiners, prusik loops and a knife stored in the pocket. It has good reflective piping for nightime visibility, but the black color did not contrast enough with the river setting for good day visibility at distances.

On both vests reviewed, the QRHS worked well when performing V or direct lowers. We didn't particilarly prefer the arrangement that holds the 'O' ring in position on the rescue belt in back. Because the back sewn in webbing straps form a 'V" down the middle a 3-bar and a plastic 'D' buckle are attached to a short piece of webbing to retain the 'O' ring in the middle position. The harness belt first passes through the plastic 'D' before threading through the 'O' ring, which could cause confusion when re-threading the belt through the 'O' ring after releasing the belt. Previous vests of this brand had some problems with the release because of a small 'O' ring being used. When we purchased this vest new in late Fall, a company representative described modifications that were made; mainly the use of a larger 'O' ring.

Also, the weight of the plastic buckles and 'O' ring can cause the belt to fall out of the right belt loop, a bit of a nuisiance when putting on the vest.

This vest is well made and the reviewers liked it especially for good fit, a comfortable feel that contours to the chest cavity, and its capability for staying in place when swimming or during rescue applications, all strong points for the vest. Boaters will like wearing this vest.

ASTRAL 300 R (Comes in Lobster and Rustic Orange)
This vest is a pullover entry and is a unique low profile design that has some good ideas and features. Althought a bit difficult to get into, once on and adjusted it is very comfortable and gives excellent freedom of paddling movement. Adjustments for both the sides and shoulders occur from one convenient place--Astral's Z-strap system--and the adjustments stayed put after aggressively swimming or performing lowers. Side panel protection was better on this vest than others. It has a large center pocket and one side pocket for items that give adequate carrying capacity. It has several optional features for attachments as well.

 Its lower position on the midriff gives good lower torso protection but we felt its low profile lacked adequate upper torso protection, both fack and front, as well as in the collarbone area. A couple of the reviewers indicated it also needed more buoyancy in the upper area when swimming. As with the Pro Creeker and Lotus P-Vest, when full, the center pocket might impede swimming progress or if self-rescuing over a strainer. Even though smaller in size as contrasted with the standard two-inch harness belt (about 1 and 3/8" wide), the QRHS worked well on lowers. Because of its low positioning on the midriff it did not cause undur pressure as some thought. Reviewers did report they had to search for the toggle and cam buckle when releasing because it tended to "hide" behind the center pocket. The 'O' ring moves freely in back for almost the width of the vest, rather than being held in the center by webbing 'stops' as on other designs. the rustic orange color was not as readily visible in day at distances as brighter colors and the small amount of reflective materials was not easily seen at nighttime.

This has become a popular vest and the group especially liked it for its light weight feel, freedom of movement for paddling and the comfortable fit when properly adjusted.

We learned that the 2005 model has reinforced spine and rib protection, reflective piping across the back, and a rear beverage bladder and throwo bag stash. We applaud continuing improvements and changes that manufacturers make to improve the function and capability of vests, especially the rescue capability.

MTI Pro Play (Comes in Mango only)
The Pro Play has a convenient front zipper entry with a fastex beuckle that secures the closure at the top. It is a short waist, high cut design and positined more on the upper torso providing good upper protection both front and back. As with other vests there could be more side panel protection. Lower torso protection could be better as well, the same veiw we had about two other similar brands--Kokatat ProFit and the Stohlquist X-Tract. Shoulder adjustments work as a rachet and are padded, and it has four side adjustments, however, the top one, when fully let out, was somewhat difficult to reach to tighten. Once adjusted the vet is comfortable and stays put because of their Internal Kinetic system that prevents it from riding up the torso. The Pro Play has good freedom of movement for paddling.

It has a neat zipper 'keeper' to prevent accidental opening and a removable shoulder lash tab that can be positioned on either shoulder. Two front pockets made of stretch neoprene give adequate carrying capacity for rescue items.

The vest provided good buoyancy and mobility when aggressively swimming and it stayed in place after in water functions. The mango color gave the best visibility in daytime, but the thin strip of reflective material was not visible at night.

The QRHS is positioned higher up on the sternum area and worked well when releases were performed, however because the harness belt does not pass through belt loops on the side area it positions higher up under the armpits, which could irritate if worn with minimal apparel. Because of this position some reviewers reported that the belt seemed to squeeze in uncomfortably on the chest when performing in water lowers. It did allow the swimmer to easily plane to the surface on lowers. We liked the large velcro splotch attached to the 'O' ring that securely holds it in place on the back palne when stowed.

Overall, the quality of workmanship is very good throughout the Pro Play, with good attention to details and construction that can withstand lost of use. The participants liked many features of the best, but especially its comfortable fit and freedom of movement. The retail price of $105 makes it a solid value for whitewater paddlers.

KOKATAT ProFit (Comes in Mango, Moss and Red)
This vest is a center front entry, easy to put on and remove. The left side flap overlaps to make zipping easy and a fastex buckle at the top secures the closure. Side panels and shoulders (padded) were easy to adjust. It is a short waist, higher cut design giving ample upper torso protection but lacking lower troso impact cushioning.

 It has one regular duplex, two-in-one pocket and a small inner pocket, open at the top that is located on the left next to the zipper. We felt just these two would limit ccarrying capacity for rescue itesm, however, extra pockets can be added for customizing. The moss color was too close to the color of the river water and could be missed in daytime, however, it comes in other bright colors. It did not have any reflective tape for nighttime visibility.

 The ORHS worked easily when releasing on V or direct lowers. The rescue belt crosses the chest on the lower part of the sternum and was not uncomfortable with the pressure buildup when performing lowers. The 'O' ring runs freely in the back with webbing straps acting as 'stops' on either side of center, a very functional system.

Its slim design provided bood mobility when aggressively swimming or self-rescuing over a simulated strainer, but two swimmers noted it could have a little more buoyancy. For two, it also tended to push up a little from the waist after swimming or releasing the WRHS. This may be due to sizing range with the ProFit. The large size ranged from size 44-48, whereas other vests sized as large ranged from 40-44 (Stohlquist), 36-44 (M/Lon MTI Pro Play), or 41-47 (L/XL on Lotus). It did not seem to contour to the ches as well as some of the other vests but all adjustment straps functined easily.

The vest came with an excellent booklet on Rescue Techniques, describing various uses of the rescue PFD and urging paddlers to become trained in Swiftwater Rescue when purchasing the vest. We appreciate such attention to safety issues.

Paddlers, both kayak and open canoe, will like this vest for its lightweight feel, freedom of movement, and functional operation of the QRHS. It has the added feature of added pockets and a hydration system worn on the back. The overall quality of this vest is good.

LOTUS P-Vest [Comes in Fire (Red), Pop Orange, Aztec Yellow and Blue)]
This pullover, low profile vest has been popular with paddlers and quickly sold out in 2004. Fortunately one of our group regularly wears a P-vest. We could not obtain an '05 due to production delays.

It has easy entry and removal over paddling apparel and conforms well to the torso when adjusted. Side adjustments are easy to reach and adjust. It's low profile design lacks upper torso impact and collarbone protection but it has good mobility and very adquate flotation for aggressively swimming. It had good freedom of movement when paddling as well. The main complaint with this vest was slippage of the shoulder straps when adjusted, whether swimming, rolling a kayak, or even sometimes when surfing a wave.

It has a large center pocket for storage that can also hold the Lotus implant with adds 2 lbs, 8 oz of additional flotation for bigger water paddling. If inserted, the implant does take away from capacity for storage. Again, when full the center pocket may protrude and could impede swimming current or self-rescuing over a simulated strainer. It has internal handwarner pockets that its owner said had a negligible benefit in cold weather.

 The ORHS belt and toggle released easily when performing lowers in the river and the vest tended to stay put although the shoulders sometimes loosened. Three of the four color choices offered give excellent daytime visibility and the vest had minimal reflective tape for night vision.

 Boaters will like this vest for ease of entry and comfortable fit when adjusted, and the large center pocket gives ample storage. It is a stylish and attractive vest with overalll solid quality.

MTI Patriot (Comes in Mango)
The Patriot is also a shorter waist, high cut design with 26.5 lbs of flotation. MTI advertises it as suitable for paddlers in bigger water (kayak, open canoe, inflatable, rafters, etc.), or for rescuers. It is comparable to Extrasport's Swiftwater Fury model.

It has a center front entry with adjustments that work well to obtain a comfortable fit. A velcro strap at the top of the zipper secures the closure. It gives a snuf fit and shoulder adjustments work as with the Pro Play, with padding for the buckles but not as well padded as Pro Play. It has good upper torso protection but as with other shorter waist designs, not as much lower protection. Side panels are mesh and don't give much side area (rib) protection for the larger size person in a size range.

Two offset front stretch neoprene pockets are roomy, it has an attachment for a whistle, and two lash tbs on the left shoulder. Four stainless steel buckles at the bottom can accommodate crotch straps. the mango color was well seen in daytime work, and it has excellent nighttime bisibility because of wide strips of reflective tape down the front and back panels.

Considering the amoung of buoyancy it still has good freedom of movement for paddling, although one reviewer (kayak) said it felt a little bulky. It provided excellent buoyancy on aggressive swims and the added size did not impede progress when self-rescuing over a simulated strainer. Two swimmers reported it did interfere with head movement a little on swims and paddling, and some indicated it 'rode up' the torso some when aggressively swimming.

Although not quite as high up, the ORHS works about the same as the Pro Play, with the belt laying more up under the armpits. The release worked easily and the pressure felt by rescuers on lowers was more comfortable than Pro Play, probably due to thicker flotation panels. On both the MTI vests the rescue belt threads from the left side.

Overall quality of workmanship of this vet is very good and it will work well for its intended use by boaters in big water paddling, or for rescue. The reviewers liked it sattention to details, mano color, easy of entry, and rugged construction. considering its retail proce of $125 this vest is a solid value.

Table 2. SPECIFICATIONS AND OPTIONS Available on the Rescue Vests
Information came from official brochures, company websites, phone conversations with company reps, and actional inspection of each vest.

Company

Model

Extrasport

Pro Creeker

Stohlquist

X-Tract

Astral

300 R

MTI

P. P.

Kokatat

ProFit#

Lotus

P-Vest**

MTI

Patr.

Review color Red/Black Black Rustic Orange Mango Moss Fire (Red) Mango
Flotation 16lbs,13oz 16lbs,8oz 16.75 lbs 16lbs,9oz 16lbs,5oz 16lbs,7oz 26lbs,5oz
USCG appr. Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fabric 500 denier cordura 500 denier cordura

500

(same)

500

(same)

500

(same)

500

(same

500 + denier
*QRHS Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

QRHS

detaches

Yes Yes Yes Yes Integral Integral Yes

Self-tether ##

optional optional optional optional optional optional optional

Lash tab

attach.

Yes Yes Yes Removable Yes Yes Yes
Pockets 1 center 1 mesh

Lge.front

1 side

1 lge.,1small 1 lge.,1 inner

1 center

(implant)

2 front
Reflective tape Yes Yes Some Some No Yes Yes
Sizing Overlap Regular Overlap Overlap Regular Overlap Overlap
Retail price $175 $165 $175 $105 $169 $180 $125

*ORHS - Quick Release Harness System
**Lotus P-Vest Implant gives 2lbs,8oz additional flotation when placed in center pocket.
#Kokatat ProFit flotation actually ranges from 16lbs,5oz to 17lbs, depending on size of the vest.
##We did not purchase self-tethers with the new vets used in this field review

 Our group felt that the most effective colors in daytime were: red, bright orange, mango, or yellow.

Summary and Conclusions
All of the vests in this review have common characteristics dur to the USCG approval standards and each one has some fine features. We appreciate continuing efforts by manufacturer's to make improvements that not only provide suitable freedom of movement and good buoyancy for whitewater boating, but also have good rescue capability and function. During this process we've gathered a lot of technical information about the construction of vets. As indicated above all of the PFDs have been aproved by the USCG with testing conducted by Underwriter Laboratories. We have been unable to secure a copy of standards used but have gained information by speaking with production managers of some of the companies/manufacturers. In the near future we'll discuss some technical information as it applies to the function and use of rescue PFDs that will benefit wearers of these vests.

Suggestions for Future Vests
These are a few ideas that come from boaters and instructors about capabilities they'd like to see with vests, especially when performing rescue functions.
1. We'd like to see some type of breakaway capability for whistle and knife attachments. Also, current rescue education emphasizes 'streamlining' things placed on a vest or in pockets to reduce snagging risks. Protruding things or full pockets can snag or impede aggressive swimming.
2. Maybe vests could be longer in the back for spinal protection and side panels could have inserts to jprotect the side/rib area from impact.
3. Increased buoyancy because of in water rescue applications, yet not too much to impede freedom of movement or self-rescue.
4. Carrying capacity for rescue items located on the back of the vest.
5. Consider stowing the self-tether over the shoulder rather than having it hand on the side area (snag risk).
6. Can the harness belt detach so they can be positioned for either right or left handed users?
7. Adjustments to the belt loop arrangements for the rescue belt, in order to have space to accommodate carrying the new Reach System from Crossline Solutions.

Final thoughts
A PFD is our most important safety tool for meeting the inherent risks associated with whitewater boating. Not only should it provide sufficient flotation, but it should fit well, have adequate carrying capacity, give freedom of movement, and be a "trusted friend" when needed for rescue functions. When purchasing a rescue vet we sugget considering the qualities and characteristics that affect both paddling freedom and rescue capability, and giving equal weight to each. When needed in a rescue scenario the vet becomes more than just a perfornal flotation device--it becomes a valuable rescue tool. Although you can't take a vest and give it a tryout in the river current before purchasing one you can ask a paddling friend who is currently wearing the brand to give you information about that vest. Check it out thoroughly in the store when you purchase one.

 It is a good idea to give attention to the amount of flotation relative to personal body size, weight and body type. We found in this review that "vests are not all the same" relative to sizing, design, and buoyancy. Vests that come in regular sizing may fit better for you. If purchasing one with overlapping sizing, give the vest good scrutiny to be sure it works for you.

 We encourage boaters everywhere to enroll in swiftwater workshops and be active in promoting safety and rescue techniques and knowledge. Besides the ACA's regular 2-day SWR workshop, a new one-day Advanced workshop concentrates on praticing basic technical skills in a practice scenario format. Training is vital to have good understanding of the strengths and limitations of using a rescue vest, otherwise the wearer is at risk when not knowledgeable about its use. Any group that regularly paddles together is well advised to take training together so all "are speaking the same language" if a river accident occurs. Stay practiced in the use of a rescue vest so the skills will be automatic when needed.

 The following ACA instructors made contributions in establishing the criteria used in this review--Tom Jenkins of Hughes Springs, Texas; Vernon Seaman of Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Sam Fowlkes, ACA ITE and SEI Chair. Vernon and Sam also assisted with this report.

 Jim Simmons

 Note: for our 2005 discussion of the Technical Aspects of Rescue Lifevests (PFDs), click onto the main page links for--Articles and Gear Reviews.

 Following our initial review in 2004, an additional review was conducted in 2005 of the Lotus Rio Pro (as of 2008 this vest is no longer manufactured). Also, a discussion of the 2005 version of the Astral 300 R is given (we reviewed the 2004 Astral in our original rescue vest review).

A) Five point scale used for objective evaluations in the field review:
5--Excellent; 4--Good Performance; 3--Acceptable; 2-- Needs Improving; 1--Poor

 Review Criteria and Results of Review of the LOTUS RIO PRO VEST

Ease entry and removal

4+

Snug fit and comfortable

shoulder adjustment

torso adjustment

 

4

4

4

 

Visibility daytime in water

Visibility nighttime

5

5

Carrying capacity basic items

easy access to pockets

3

4-

Fits different size paddlers well 4-
Freedom mvt. when paddling 4

Buoyancy in swiftwater swims

Swimming ease wearing vest

4

4

Doesn't ride up the torso 4

QRHS belt when under tension

ease of releasing toggle

snug fit after releasing toggle

4

5

4

Self-rescue capability swimming

over strainer pole

4

Upper torso physical protection

Lower torso physical protection

4

4-

Side panel protection (rib area) 3-

 DISCUSSION of the Lotus Rio Pro Vest (comes in Aztec Yellow, Red). Retail $180.
This vest is a companion to the Lotus P-Vest (also, no longer manufactured), and is advertised as suitable for both paddlers and professional rescuers. It is a higher cut, short-waist with a front entry that is easy off and on. Comes in overlapping sizes (review vest was L/XL, size range of 41-47). It provided good fit and very adequate buoyancy for larger rescuers and did not ride up the torso when aggressively swimming. It did not fit comfortabley for one smaller size person which often happens with overlapping sizes because of the space between the vest and the upper torso area after adjustment (water collects here).

 Torso adjustments were ease and when cinched, the vet is comfortable, however for smaller paddlers in size range, excell strap lengths present a snagging potential. It has adequate upper torso protection and the wide, padded shoulder straps provide some protection in shoulder/clavicle area. The pro-glide buckles are easy to adjust and release, but it was consistently possible for them to inadvertently loosen if bumped or aggressively swimmer, or if being towed as a victim. As with most vests side panel torso protection needs to be better. There was good freedom of movement when paddling and when aggressively swimming.

 Aztec Yellow is easily seen in daylight and strips of reflective tape along the front zipper and down the backside give good low light or night visibility A right front stretch mesh pocket is conveniently placed, but is not that large for stowing items. A smaller second pocket can only hold small items, like keys, or maybe a couple of soft prusick loops. It comes with two lash tabs for attachments for such things as a whistle or knife. The QRH belt released easily and because the seat belt materials is stiffer than other vests, it is not as prone to wrinkle. The vest was comfortable when performing lowers in river current and stayed in place after releasing the harness belt while swimming.

Reviewers liked the ease of entry and buoyance of this vest, and especially the easy release of the belt. We also liked that the back panel is slightly longer for more low back protection. Overall, the Rio Pro is a solid vest and received good marks from the review team.

 B) Specifications and options available for the Lotus Rio Pro: the review vest was Aztec Yellow and it has 17lbs, 4oz flotation, USCG approved, 500 Denier Cordura fabric, ORHS is semi-integral; comes with a self-tether (optional), has lash tabs/attachments, two front pockets (one rather small), has reflective tape and is sold in overlapping sizes. Retail $180.

 DISCUSSION of the 2005 ASTRAL 300 R--
(This vest is $185 retail, and comes in Red/Black and Orange/Black--we previously included the 2004 Astral in the earlier review)

 The low profile Astral for '05 continues as a streamlined pullover. It is easier to put on and take off than the previous one and it adjusts easily. Astral continues the overlapping sizing, which our group doesn't really like because of fit. The one reviewed was L/XL, 42-54 in chest. This is a comfortable vest for both paddling freedom of movement and rescue applications; and stays in place when aggressively swimming. The ORHS belt releases easily.

Reviewers liked the idea of the tubular spectra webbing self-tether that stuffs into a side pouch to reduce snagging potential when stowed. It also has a front spectra extrication loop that an Astral representative explained was not to be used for belaying; rather as a connection point for attempting to rescue, or self-rescue, from entrapment. The front storage pocket is adequate, but when the Astral rope is stowed in the center it protruded more than we liked. The vest also has a back panel slot for storage. Night vision is provided in reflective piping on the shoulders but we think it could use more on the body of the vest. Side inserts provide side torso protection in the lower side torso, but not up under the armpits.
This vest is advertised for extreme conditions (which we question) and has some distinct features for rescue applications requiring its owner to be familiar with its characteristics. We appreciate forward thinking of the manufacturer regarding new design ideas, but we think some of them are impractical. A couple of our larger paddlers reported this vest did not float them well when doing aggressive swimming and other rescue drills on our list of review criteria.

As with our previous review of several vests, a main drawwback for low profile designs is the lack of upper torso physical protection, which is a tradeoff for the freedom of movement performance in paddling. As with all low profile vests, our group believes that the freedom of movement of these vests is gross overkill for what is actually needed in paddling movements. We think this is mainly a marketing strategy.

 

 

 

 

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