Six of this year’s best rescue PFDs put to the test

[The following originally ran in our December 2012 issue.]

GEAR // Rescue PFDs

SAFE IS SMOOTH: Paddling heavy water requires a big commitment. That includes the substantial price of a well-built Type V PFD with ample flotation and an integrated quick-release harness for safe tows, swiftwater rescues, and extractions. From there, you’re splitting hairs when it comes to fit specifics and added features. Take a quick look at this year’s best options, below, and check out C&K Contributing Editor Joe Jackson putting these vests through the test ringer, above, in our exclusive, non-scientific, extra-qualitative carnage assessment. — DS

Photos by JP Van Swae

1. The NRS Zen [not featured in video, available spring 2013] pulls off a stealthy update to its popular predecessor, the two-panel-front Ninja jacket. The covert integration of a quick-release harness—plus reinforced shoulders, padded sides, easy adjusting (read color-coded) side entry, a large internal pocket and a cavernous pouch for storage and hand warming —will get you ready for combat. ($189,

2. The two-panel pioneers at Astral give a facelift to their beefy Greenjacket design that’s become a staple for expert river-runners since its debut four years ago. Updates to the every-torso-adjusting “tectonic fit platform” include a cleaner, roomier clamshell front pocket (still with space for a small throw-rope behind the panel), fleece hand-warmers and a handy snapping pouch up front to stow your tow system. ($225,

3. Stohlquist isn’t messing around with the Descent, taking its low-profile jacket designs further into expert terrain. Maintaining a snug fit, courtesy of an articulated torso and well-placed cinch adjustments, the burly Descent stays puts while moving with your strokes thanks to the free-floating, self-tensioning shoulder straps with a Nail-Cloth texture that offers the toughest boat-schlepping protection in the class. ($199,

4. MTI’s Thunder RSpec is a new low profile, high-visibility entry into the rescue vest field with plenty of buoyancy and well-padded and adjustable shoulders. The new Thunder holds its own with all the rescue-ready features you’d expect (lash tab, cowtail keeper), and crosses over to sea expeditions, with an antenna port ready to nest a VHF in the front pocket. ($220,

5. Collaborating with the do-everything duo of Jackson and son (E.J. and Dane, that is) has brought Kokatat a step closer to the one-jacket solution for every paddling discipline. The new Maximus Prime can hang on the steepest creeks (we love the burly, oversized neoprene shoulder straps, full side/back coverage and clever knife port), moves with you on a freestyle run with low, front cinches to the chest panel, and steps up to long-range expeditions with compatible extras like the pictured electronics sling. ($219, $TK for sling,

6. While the Extrasport Pro-Creeker goes more minimal on the shoulder straps, it brings an innovative twist to the table with those straps cinching/locking at your sides for adjustment on the fly between rapids. This lower-profile approach to the rescue vest includes all the features to safely push your paddling: plentiful adjustments, roomy front pocket, knife tab and tether attachment. ($234,

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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