This year we are a little spolit for choice when it comes to PFD’s and so we thought we’d look at three that are billed as being the most comfortable options for active paddlers.
These are the PFD’s we reach for before jumping in the canoes for a family outing on the Thames, when we’re off to play at Chertsey in the summer or Shepperton and Sunbury in the winter.
These PFD’s are all rounders: they are simple, they provide excellent all day comfort and they have enough storage for your phone and some cash for a drink.
The Palm FX needs no real introduction as it has been around in various guises for a while now, filling the gap between full on white water rescue vests and the ‘touring and recreational’ options in the Palm range.
Its an over the head style PFD with a large front zip pocket that comes in four sizes and three colours. The four sizes makes this great for really small paddlers – that XXS option is definitely worth remembering as no one else offers anything like this that small. Its white water credentials are helped by the fail safe shoulder straps that are load rated to 3.2kN, the same as the rest of the Palm white water range, while the M/L offers 60N of uplift. With Palm PFD’s its always worth having a quick look at the swing tag when in the shop. This displays the tested buoyancy of each individual PFD which normaly exceeds that quoted in the official specs – our M/L was 68N. It’s finished in a 200D nylon fabic and our M/L weighed in at 1.1kg (Palm list it at 877gms so one of us might need to invest in new scales……)
The front buoyancy panel offers a low, wide fit and the soft foam used is built up in layers that help it bend and conform to your torso. The front panel of our M/L came in at around 40cm at its widest point, 23cm tall and was approx 6.5cm deep. The rear foam panel is narrower – 32cm – and longer – 34cm, with the foam tapering to the edge a little better than the squarer front panel. Due to the depth and width of the front panel
my arms occasionally brushed against it reminding me it was there.
The FX has two adjustment straps each side; the ‘3D’ anti ride up waist belt should lock in under your ribs to secure the PFD, while the easy glide ‘chest’ strap pulls the edges of the buoyancy aid around your body to perfect the fit. An elasticated, grey fabric panel connects the front and rear panel which does feel a bit unnecessary. Realistically it will only really be an issue if your right at the low end of a size, in which case it does bunch up a little. The shoulder straps offer the final stage of adjustment on nice pull forward ‘easy glide’ webbing. At 7cm wide, and with a vent mesh padded liner, the straps should cause no issues for comfort at all. A nice touch you’ll find on most Palm PFD’s is the tuck pockets at the base of the chest and shoulder straps that allow you to stash away any excess webbing, making for a super clean look.
The low profile front zipped pocket has a d ring and small mesh sleeve to secure keys and aquapac with your phone and was generous enough for these and a knife and sling but not much more. The down side of the narrow opening with only one zip slider was that its wasnt super easy to see everything and so some rooting around or even unpacking might be needed to get at the thing your after.
Buy the Palm FX
The NRS Ninja has also been around for a while but is only really now becoming better known. NRS has been making kit since the 70’s for the North American market and has taken great steps in recent years to improve their offering into the UK.
For 2020 the Ninja has undergone a bit of an update and now features a ‘clam shell’ style pocket and a refreshed colour range. The Ninja is available in three sizes and three colours in Europe.
The Ninja is listed as having 16.5lbs of floatation but there is no Newton figure given in the official information. Finished with a 400D nylon outer shell and 200D nylon inner liner, which is partially covered with an Airmesh fabric, the PFD has a plusher look and feel. The official weight of an L/XL is given as 975gm however ours weighed in at 1.02kg.
The Ninja aims to be the go to for ‘athletic’ paddlers wanting a low profile option that can be used for anything. It’s a side entry option that, thanks to the generous length of the straps, can easily be taken on and off over the head if you prefer. It has two side adjustments – a waist belt and a wider chest strap – to provide a really secure fit. The front panel actually consists of two pieces on top of each other, separated by a sleeve that can be used as a hand warmer. NRS also claim this helps the front panel ‘float’ and move with your body. I can’t say I’m super sure about this considering how much each panel is connected; there seems to be a distinct inability for the top and bottom to slide over each other in a way similar to the likes of the Astral Green jacket design.
A plus point however is how compact these panels are – NRS describe it as concentrating all the foam into the smallest possible surface area and the results give the narrowest fit fit across the body of these 3 PFDS. I measured the width of the front panels of my L/XL at 36cm wide, 28cm tall and 10cm thick. The panel has been shaped in such a way that the thickest point is in the centre, getting thinner towards the edge further helped by placing the chest webbing straps on the most forward edge of the front foam panel. This means when these are tightened the foam edges are trapped underneath them and pulled back and around the torso much more effectively. This massively helps reduce the feeling of bulk and gives the Ninja a really minimalist feeling while paddling. The rear foam panel was 32cm x 32cm and 5cm thick and wasn’t noticeably more or less bulky than any others.
The Ninja has a huge amount of webbing adjustment so you can really set it low down on your torso, keeping it well out of the way when participating in activities such as paddle boarding. Stash pockets or ‘strap garages’ at the base of the shoulder straps allow for any excess to be tidied away, however these do not feature on the chest webbing which does result in a fair amount of strap flapping around if your at the smaller edge of the size range.
The small looking clam shell pocket has some neat little organising features including an internal zip pocket, two stash pockets, a knife sleeve and two daisy chain clip in points. These made fitting a 4m sling, phone, knife and keys way easier than I had expected and it was easy to see and access everything, however getting the twin zipper shut was a bit of a problem on the first attempt so a little more thought might be needed if you want to carry more bulky items in this pocket.
Buy the NRS Ninja
The newest PFD in this overview, Kokatat havent really offered anything like this before in the UK, although some will have seen the Orbit Tour which was only available in North America. The Hustle is available in 3 sizes and 3 colours.
The Hustle is aimed at the ‘Active Paddler’ but perhaps it would be stretching the truth to describe the Hustle as minimalist given it takes up the most room on the shelf, however if you want comfort then there are some great features that really stand out. One of the reasons it appears bulkier than the FX and Ninja is it wont sit flat both of the foam panels are pre curved to help the fit around the torso. The shaping doesnt stop there however. Kokatat have ‘stacked ‘ the front buoyancy, effectively creating a step on the inside face which makes the top of the panel thinner than the bottom. The result is a fit that follows the contours of your torso. With three webbing straps for adjustment on each side, anchored on the outside face of the PFD you can pull the the panels around you more effectively and get a secure fit. Once its on you really do feel wrapped up with Kokatat not abandoning their tradition of offering some side protection while still allowing for full arm movement without brushing the PFD. I gave the M/L a quick measure and got 39cm wide x 24cm long and 6.5cm deep for the front panel and 60cm x 39×4.5 for the rear. Please dont rely solely on these when making your choice because the shaping really does make a huge difference; I only measured in the widest, longest, thickest places and the Hustle has contours and tapering that those measurements dont do justice to. Check out the pictures below of the Hustle we deconstructed showing the inside face of the front foam!
The Hustle is techically a side entry PFD although I would imagine most people will find it just as easy as an over the head option especially as when undone the side straps can escape the retaining strap. As previously mentioned with 3 side straps getting a secure fit is super easy and the shoulder straps are wide, padded and easily adjustable with a similar range to the FX. Our M/L came in at 950gms and has a listed buoyancy of 16lbs. The super soft mixture of Gaia and PE foam is covered by a 210D ripstop nylon fabric.
The pocket on the Hustle is another clam shell style with twin zipper and internal storage dividers – although ‘low profile’ it is quite wide and easily took all four of my test items with some room to spare, plus was super easy to load and then access everything quickly.
Buy the Kokatat Hustle
As ever you cant beat actually trying this stuff on for yourself so come and visit us – we’re always happy to talk about kit and help you find what you need!
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