The major differences between the V8 and the Astral are the filling, the back and the pockets.
The V8 is lighter and better ventilated (it has cutouts in the foam panels in the front so it’s great for hot days. It only has flotation in the upper portion of the back – the lower back is just mesh which means that your back has more direct contact with the seat back in your kayak. Most of my kayaks have a low back-band so this works fine for me. When I use the Abba or the Camino (my other Astral) I have to loosen the back band a little bit because the full flotation on the back of those vests comes down to my waist so it is between me and the band when I’m in the boat.
My older V8 has virtually no pockets – but the newer version has added a couple of good sized mesh ones.
The soft kapok fill of the Abba makes it nearly as comfortable in hot weather as the V8 and I prefer it on cooler days because it covers my lower back and because it is lined with fleece so that you can tuck your hands inside to warm them when you are not paddling. The Astral site has a short video for the Abba showing the features.
The V8 is often on sale for a little under $100. I got my Abba on sale a few years ago because they had changed the style slightly and were selling out the older models – got it for $115 if I recall correctly.
I really like both vests (and I have owned PFD’s from Stohlquist, MTI, Extrasport, and Lotus, and have borrowed ones by Palm and Kokatat over the years, so I have quite a few to which to compare them.) I would have a hard time choosing one over the other – if I had to choose I might stick with the Abba because it’s fine for hot weather and better for cooler conditions. I freely admit that I also love the colors – I have the pumpkin orange V8 and the bright Spring green Abba. Besides being very visible they are pleasing to my eye. For accommodating “fluffiness” I think the soft flexibility of the Abba’s stuffing wins out.
I see there is an outfitter in Colorado who is selling some of their rental Abba’s for $85.00. I used to work for an outfitter and there are often tax advantages for them selling off their rental gear at the end of each season – you can often get very good deals on items in good shape that way. Also, the PFD manufacturers usually sell some gear to the outfitters to be used in the rental fleet at a deep discount every year because they know that people often will buy the same model that they got to use as a rental. Does not look like you would have a choice of colors but saving $55 is a decent discount – nearly 40%. I know that the Astrals hold up well. I’ve had the V8 for 9 years and it still looks like new.