Saturday, December 14, 2013

One Vest to Rule Them All

Review of the Astral Green Jacket

This spring, Jeff ordered the new 2013 Astral Green Jacket.  It turned out to be too small for him.  His loss  - my gain (besides blue and black are more my colors than his).

The Astral Green Jacket is a Class V US Coast Guard approved rescue life jacket.  The new Green Jacket has many of the features of the old one with a few changes.  The most noticeable change being the clam-shell pocket.

The clam-shell pocket on the front is AWESOME!  As a guide, there is a lot of gear that we need to carry.  I can carry much of what I might need immediately on my person (first aid equipment, communications, camera, knife, snacks, sunscreen, ect.).  I know other boaters that carry their pin kit on them in the jacket.

The side pockets aren't as easily accessible but are other good places to stash gear.  I keep a neoprene beanie in one of them for extra warmth for me or my students.
The Green Jacket is comfortable.  Astral's techtonics allow the upper portion of the jacket to move with your torso independent of the bottom.  Unfortunately it makes most other life jackets feel like straight jackets.

The Green Jacket is a beefy jacket with lots of protection - not something that the everyday paddler wants or needs.  The protection is there for those of us who need rib and spine protection from rocks, boats, flailing students paddles, ect.  It also has the integrated rescue harness for rescue scenarios - again another feature that many paddlers don't want or need.  We recommend taking a swiftwater training course before using a rescue vest with harness.  The harness on the Green Jacket is secure and has served me well in rescue situations including quick tows in rock gardens.  I would not recommend that sea kayakers rely upon this as their primary tow system (a topic for another blog).

The Green Jacket is a deep (long) jacket that might not work for those with shorter torsos.  I find it cumbersome when I have to hop into one of our deeper/larger volume sea kayaks.  It is also has a lot of bulk in the front with the flotation panel and clamshell pocket.  I initially thought this would be bothersome but find that I only notice it when I am demonstrating certain deep water rescue techniques (cowboy scramble and heel hook).

The handwarmer pouch is a nice touch and gives you a place that is not only fuzzy, warm, and out of the wind for your hands but also a place to quickly stow items - like gloves when launching or doing rescues.  I have even stowed my towline in the handwarmer pocket situations when I needed to stash and dash (of course repacking it later).

Another nice feature of the Green Jacket is the pocket behind the clamshell.  It was designed so that paddlers could carry a throw rope on them.  I haven't tried this yet but have found it to be an accessible and secure place to stow my marine radio (tethered of course).

Overall, I would highly recommend the Astral Green Jacket for whitewater kayakers looking for a rescue life jacket.  Paddlers who are my size (5'4" and 120#) or smaller, should definitely try it before buying it - in particular making sure that the depth of the jacket does not interfere with their paddling.  Sea Kayakers should consider Astral's SeaWolf which is a very similar jacket with the added features of side entry and the option of adding a rescue belt.

PS  Astral's customer service is outstanding.  They are staffed by a bunch of paddlers who know paddling and care that their stuff fits and works for paddlers.

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