Submitted: 07-24-2009 by willowleaf
I've used an old side-zip Lotus Lola for years but have always been bothered by the high center front panel riding up on my short upper body to hit right under my chin. So I've purchased a couple of front zip PFD's (Stohlquist and MTI) but found them to also not fit me well. And of course, all were quite warm on hot days. Then I spotted one of the new Astral V-8 PFD's and tried it on -- the fit was great, conforming to my high waist and full bust nicely with an exceptionally well-designed cut around the arms. So I bought it (the pumpkin-orange color was appealing too, I admit, though I now resemble a carrot slice on a lettuce leaf in my green kayak.)
When I first used it the first thing I noticed was the freedom of movement and lack of awkward bulk. It does ride a bit high behind the shoulders but I think that is because of my short back -- that looks a little strange but is not at all uncomfortable, in fact it helps to ventilate. The second thing I noticed was that I didn't notice that I was wearing a PFD at all after paddling for a while! The mesh lining and perforated flotation foam actually work to enhance air circulation and I seemed to sweat no more under the vest than I did in places that were not beneath it. I have had it out 4 times now and have never felt that I wanted to take it off while paddling even in sweltering conditions (something I was often tempted to do with the Lola.)
My only complaint, and the reason for a 9 rather than 10, is that the pockets are kind of lame. There is one large mesh pocket with a single snap flap -- no zipper. I would not store anything in there without clipping it to the d-ring inside because the pouch is not at all secure. The second "pocket" is just a shallow mesh opening above the chest, within the lining, too tiny to hold much more than a chapstick and whistle (both tethered.) I've pretty much just used it to stash my thin gloves when I wasn't using them, but I suspect they could have popped out if I had rolled.
The materials and quality of Astral's construction are outstanding, as I would expect from folks who apparently were originally involved with Lotus Designs. Very nice-looking.
Overall I think this is a great vest for anyone who wants an amazingly cool and comfortable PFD that won't chafe your underarms or feel bulky while paddling. It's the only "unisex" vest that has fit my 36DD chest well. Price is upper mid-range at around $100USD, plus or minus a few bucks.