Is there any reason not to get a cheaper Extrasport or Stohlquist pfd? Any recommendations?
Extrasport for 25+ years
The law only says you need to carry a PFD with you when paddling (one per person, accessible, of appropriate size). But I prefer to get one that fits very comfortably, so that I can wear it and not feel it on, this way I will always wear it. Kind of like a seat belt - you need it when you flip, and if you aren’t wearing it, it won’t be useful.
comfort is the major difference
I have owned both Stohlquist and Extrasport PFD's. While they were adequate for safety, the models I had were bulkier, hotter and did not fit as well as vests by Astral (which I prefer) and Kokatat (which I have borrowed and also like). I like Astrals so much that I now own 3 of them. Since Astral does tend to change details and colors of their models fairly often, it is not hard to find closeout deals on them, often for only $20 or $30 more than a similar Stohlquist. For hot weather, the Astral V-8 model is simply the coolest, best ventilated PFD I have ever had -- I sometimes even forget I have it on until I jump in the drivers seat of the car after loading my boats after paddling. I use an Astral Abba when I want a similar vest with a full rather than half mesh back, and I have an Astral Camino for colder weather and a bit more flotation.
Here's a review of the Camino with a shot of a guy using one in a canoe so you can get an idea of the length and design:
When I was growing up we never thought about a pfd, now in our club if you don’t wear one you don’t go. It does no good at all if you’re not wearing it. So, matters little if it’s expensive or not, it’s good if it’s comfortable so you’ll wear it. Like the previous post said.
Tough to find
a good PFD for canoeing. They are all high cut for kayakers, and many now have a mesh back for a high kayak seat. The only full length PFD's I could find were rescue vests, and those are overkill for everyday paddling. After a lot of looking I ended up getting the NRS Vista - $80. It is still a little shorter than I would like, but at least it has the full back panel. It also has two good size pockets, a lash tab for my knife, and places to attach my camera and keys. It has worked out great.
As others have said, it's all about comfort. Don't buy a bigger vest than you need - they are bulky and hot. Always make sure it is adjusted properly - it should fit snug and not ride up when you are in the water. The expensive vests don't float you any higher or quicker than the inexpensive vests, so go for what works for you.
Remember that regardless of your personal opinion on this one, there will be paddles where you need to have it on all day. In most states between late fall and early spring, some places year round. So get a comfortable one, and that is usually a couple of extra bucks. But if is part of your body, it is worth it.
To for comfort
I have an Astral V8 and a Kokatat for kayaking but find the buoyancy in the chest area bothersome when single blade canoeing.
I wouldn’t recommend it for white water but when paddling canoe where rescue is not going to be difficult I wear a Stearns fishing PFD. The flotation is in the back and around the waist, it’s all mesh and pockets.