expedition vs rec pfd

-- Last Updated: Sep-24-15 1:55 AM EST --

I currently paddle some pretty safe waters and use an inflatable PFD. I was checking out the astral website, and see that their top of the line model, the greenjacket, has several differences relative to the Ronny, a "recreational jacket". The major differences seem to be that the green jacket (gj) weighs more, has large pockets, is built of stronger fabric and has points to attach rescue lines. I'm wondering if any of this is worth having when things go bad (as in a capsize in the ocean). I'm guessing that the gj weighs so much more because of added flotation. It seems that more flotation can't hurt. I can see breaking waves being less of a threat with more buoyancy. I can see more flotation being an issue if trying to swim, but the benefits in this type of design (as opposed to a big orange type 1 pfd) probably outweigh the drawbacks. As for the pockets, it would be good to have things with you if separated from your kayak/canoe to call for help, build a fire, etc. It seems that this stuff could easily be attached to a recreational vest, though. Why would I need to keep all sorts of stuff in a pocket on my chest? As for the stronger fabric and rescue points, could a recreational vest be torn off in rough conditions? As for the rescue lines, unless being hauled up by a helicopter, I can't see a recreational vest as not being strong enough to attach a line to. any thoughts? thanks.

Edit: The astral "norge" looks pretty good. A reviewer stated that his knife ripped off, and that he felt the knife attachment wasn't in a good place. thoughts on this?

Weight is not buoyancy
The Green Jacket is a whitewater rescue vest not an “expedition” model. It is built very tough to take Lars of abrasion against rocks and the like. Also note the additional features like the armor plates on the rear of the shoulder straps, full cinch harness, belay loop, etc.

The sea kayak build of this is the Sea Wolf. Many useful features without being over built for the purpose.

Now the important part is to try them on in person.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY




– Last Updated: Sep-24-15 9:05 AM EST –

First of all, as Marshall says you are not looking at the right kind of PFD and are confusing buoyancy with weight of the PFD. You want a PFD made for sea kayaking. The buoyancy rating is how much of your weight it will support in the water, not its weight. I am not sure my 16 pound rated PFD weighs even a full 2 pounds before I put my stuff into it.

Second, a proper sea kayaking PFD is designed to be worn comfortably all day, a recreational PFD is not. The length of the back, the arm openings etc are all going to be hugely more comfortable and produce little or no chafing in a good sea kayaking PFD compared to a rec PFD.

As to having stuff in pockets of a rec PFD, you can put them there but a rec PFD is not so likely to keep them contained as a proper sea kayak PFD.

And inflatables in surf or rough conditions... if it is an auto it will inflate when wet. My experience with a device I sometimes carry that inflates via a CO2 cartridge is that it doesn't hold inflation as long as if it was air. And of course you could be having to hit the beach with a knapsack full of cartridges because they are only good for one time.

If you think you would have time in surf rough conditions to blow up a manual inflatable while hanging onto your boat and paddle before even starting to deal with the self-rescue part, you have never been in such conditions.


– Last Updated: Sep-24-15 8:26 AM EST –

... you can't add buoyancy without adding weight (if the buoyant material is the same in each case, which it almost certainly is), so his reasoning is sound and there's no reason to infer more about what he meant than that. That said, there can be other reasons for a PFD weighing more, and it should be possible to find out the buoyancy rating without guessing based on weight.

I'll leave the discussion of "expedition grade" versus "recreational" to others.


If you think you would have time in surf rough conditions to blow up a manual inflatable while hanging onto your boat and paddle before even starting to deal with the self-rescue part, you have never been in such conditions.

I’d agree entirely, which is why I’m looking at non-inflatable pfds. The PFD I have is not manual, by the way, it is activated by pulling a ripcord.

OK, sorry if I was off base
But go for comfort and reliability in rough conditions. You are talking a touring/sea PFD for that. Shorter back and less chafe than a PFD designed for lightweight rec use.

Difference: Jacket vs Vest
The jacket opens in the front where a vest goes on over your head.

The jacket is legal to carry on the boat where as a vest is only legal if you are wearing it.

If your plan is
To be rescued by a helicopter, you’d better be looking at a rescue pfd with the heavy duty shoulder straps and the quick release lift belt. Which ever pfd you choose, be absolutely sure that you get one designed specifically for kayak paddling. This becomes very apparent when you try anything else. You will need very open unrestricted arm areas and no flotation on the sides to rub on the cockpit coaming.

By all means be sure to try it on before you buy. As a matter of fact, try on a bunch of them before you buy. When you find one that feels so good that you don’t want to take it off, you’re set. Don’t go for cheap, but it doesn’t hurt to look for a bargain. I found my $200 rescue vest for less than what a very good normal vest would cost. I would also suggest that you go for a vest made of 500 denier nylon.

Astral Green Jacket
I have a Green Jacket and I use it most of the time these days regardless of what type of water I paddle because it is one of the more comfortable PFDs I have used. I have not seen the Astral Seawolf but it appears to share some of the same features as the Green Jacket.

The Green Jacket is a whitewater oriented Type V PFD. As grayhawk pointed out, both it and the Seawolf are vest type jackets that go on over your head. They have no zipper. The Green Jacket takes me a little longer to put on because the side adjustment straps and the quick release belt generally have to be loosened up a bit to make enough slack to get it on over your head. They all then need to be tightened back up. The Seawolf appears similar in this regard except that there is no quick release belt to deal with, and the Seawolf has a buckled side exit which the Green Jacket lacks. This would probably make it easier to get off, which is not a bad feature, because sometimes after your upper body clothing and PFD get wet, a vest type PFD can be a bit off a struggle to get off if you are tired.

The Green Jacket has other features oriented for whitewater use including a loop at the front to attach a rescue line to. This belay loop is sewn directly into part of the webbing that encircles your torso. The jacket has side pockets which can hold a tow tether or carabiners, and webbing daisy chain loops on the shoulder straps which can also be used as attachment points for 'biners and such.

The so-called “foam tectonics” design of the Green Jacket, which the Seawolf appears to share, divides the front foam flotation into two “plates” that can move somewhat independently. I find this allows for much better torso mobility with less tendency for chafing around the armpits than similar vest PFDs with a single large foam panel in front. These jackets also have webbing straps that allow for torso length adjustment.

As to whether you would benefit from the front zippered pocket or not only you can say, but apart from a rescue knife attached to the outside of the PFD, I think you are better off carrying most stuff enclosed in a pocket rather than somehow attached to the outside of your PFD where it can interfere with your paddling stroke or get snagged. On whitewater inside my pocket I carry a small folding saw, 3 lightweight pulleys, 2 Prussik loops, and one 1" tubular nylon webbing anchor. I usually also have 4 carabiners but some or all or them might be attached to a belt with a quick release throw bag.

As for knife attachement lash tabs I have found that PFDs with lash tabs situated fairly high up place the knife in a position where the tip of the sheath can sometimes interfere with your stroke. This might be more of an issue in a canoe where cross strokes must be used. The Seawolf tab position is higher than that of the Green Jacket, but it is oriented at an angle which might mitigate against such interference.

I would not want to attach any type of line to my PFD in water, especially moving water, unless I had the ability to quickly release the line even when it was under tension. This is where the value of a quick release belt comes in. Again, only you can decide the likelihood of having to try to attach a line to your PFD.

As for PFDs getting ripped off, it happens all the time. But typically it is due to too loose fit, improper tightening of side adjustment straps, or unzipped zippers on jacket style PFDs. But even well-fitting, properly adjusted PFDs can get stripped off in “rough” water. I have not heard of one coming off because it disintegrated, however.

In general, get a Type III
In general, for paddling you want a Type III. the one you are talking about with attachment for rescue harness sounds like a Type V/Special Use, often called a rescue PFD. Here are categories:


Type III are designed for 15.5 or so pounds of flotation. This amount is chosen as the average person’s head is 10-11 pounds, so the PFD will provide more than enough flotation to keep the head out of the water (the goal of the PFD). Some special use PFDs do have more flotation because they are used in highly aerated white water, where the water does not provide as much lift for flotation, so more flotation may be needed to keep a head out of the water. Not something the average paddler needs, and even in surf zones, likely not something you would need. I do paddle some more adventurous waters, but use a standard Type III not a Rescue PFD.

The pockets don’t help flotation, but are there for convenience (so you can carry gear, food, etc.). I like lots of pockets.

As another mentioned, get a PFD that fits well. You want one that is so comfortable you forget you are wearing it. Type I PFDs aren’t used because that neck collar would be very uncomfortable. Most recreational PFDs were designed for cost, often sacrificing comfort. This is an area where it is worth spending some money to get comfortable. But, you need to test wear (preferably in your boat) them to know if it is comfortable. May be worth taking you boat down to your local kayak shop and test their PFD while sitting in the boat. Not something the average big box/Dick’s/Bass Pro Shop may allow you to do, though if thy have your model of boat tehre, they may let you use their demo boat.

maybe just one PFD
I’m thinking that I might sell my inflatable to finance the purchase of an expedition PFD. I use the inflatable for fooling around on ponds, etc. If I were to get the expedition vest, then I’d be wearing it in the dead of summer, when I currently wear the inflatable. Would this likely be too hot?

Conductive cooling
Just an option if it’s too hot.


See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY



Astral V8
Wear it all day, 95+F, 95%+ humidity

The idea of having all kinds of crap clipped and tethered to your PFD sounds like a good way to make it easy to recover your body hung up inside a capsized boat.

My wife wear an Inflatable when she doesn’t expect much chance of a flip. If there is more than a small chance she could wind up in the water she wears a regular kayaking PFD. I’d hate to try any kind of rescue wearing one of those inflatables.

That’s why I use a Kokatat Tactic Pack. Keeps my boat’s foredeck clutter free, and mine, too.

That Astral V8…
has become one of my favourite PFDs. Bought it for the hot weather season and now wear it more often than any other in my kit.

Thanks for all of the great replies. As a clarification, I canoe, not kayak. I said something about a worst case scenario in the opening post involving a kayak that confused the issue. I really didn’t think that it would make a difference. The only difference that I can see is that I’m using a single bladed paddle.

It’s tough to find a good PFD
for open boaters. Most are designed to ride high on the torso for folks sitting in a kayak cockpit. Many also have the mesh back so the flotation doesn’t interfere with the kayak seat. I looked for a long time, and ended up with the NRS Vista


It’s a simple type III PFD with 16 pounds of floatation and a full back. I needed two pockets (one for may camera and one for sunglasses and keys), and a tab to attach a knife – perfect. It has worked out fine. At $80, it’s a bargain.

Unless you know how to use it, you don’t need a rescue vest. There are also “high-float” PFDs with 22 to 27 pounds of floatation, but they are bulky and less comfortable to wear. In this case, more is not necessarily better.

To me, the most important thing is that your PFD fit properly. When adjusting the PFD, you start from the bottom up - beginning at the waist and ending at the shoulders. Adjustments should be made so that your PFD is snug and does not ride up over your chin when pulled up by the shoulder straps. To check the buoyancy when you are in the water, tilt your head back and relax your body. Your chin should be above water and your breathing should be easy. If your mouth is not above the water, you need a PFD with more buoyancy.

Good luck.

Is there any reason why a kayak pfd would be less than ideal for canoeing? Does it matter that the flotation is located high up?

I have a few 2014 V-Eights in my instructional fleet in the L/XL size (Olive) which have worked great for bigger guys. As you’re in a canoe, storage space around you is not a problem unlike if you were in a cockpited boat with a sprayskirt.

If you want to give one of the V-Eights a good home I’m going to be moving them out to make space for the new Astral Layla (March 2016) (Your Lotus Lola getting threadbare, this’ll be the upgrade)

Drop me a line if you want pics.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY



another Astral
I’m a big fan of Astral PFD’s and just bought my third. I mostly kayak but sometimes canoe. The V-8 is my hot weather go-to – as others have said it is an incredibly comfortable PFD in hot humid weather. I have a Camino for better pocket capacity (one major drawback of the V-8) and full length back flotation for cold weather use but find it a little stiff and rather warm for mild weather. Got an Abba this summer for full coverage but more flexibility (and, I have to admit, it was my favorite bright green color, what can I say?) The Abba is also extremely comfortable and cooler than the Camino.

Of all the various brands I have used/owned of PFD’s I have found, for the money, that the Astrals seem to be the best designed for the movements involved in paddling and are super comfortable to wear. I am short waisted and narrow shouldered, which may have something to do with that, though big guys I know who have Astrals concur that they like the feel of them. Kokatats are great too but tend to be slightly more costly for equivalent features.