Astral V Eight kayak PFD / life jacket review

What is different about the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket is the variety of features designed to help the wearer stay cool.
Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

Original Astral V Eight front

Updated May, 2015

The Astral V Eight kayak life jacket is purpose built for paddling with the familiar low cut arm openings and tear-drop shape common among kayaking PFDs. What is different about the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket is the variety of features designed to help the wearer stay cool. In this review I will explore those features and share the results of some unscientific on-the-water testing with the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket.

*many of the links in this post take you to retail sites where you can get more product details.
Click here to see all of the life jackets available at Campsaver.

Other kayak posts you might like:

2015 Astral V Eight kayak life jacket pfd back

2015 Astral V Eight kayak life jacket pfd back

2015 Astral V Eight kayak life jacket pfd front

2015 Astral V Eight kayak life jacket pfd front

2015 update:

After 4 seasons of using this life jacket it has become my “go to” jacket for paddling, and sometimes even other boating activities. Looks like Astral has updated the V Eight kayak life jacket with a more secure front-side pocket arrangement and solid upper back section (pictured to right). I am interested in trying the new model and will contact Astral to request a vest to review. Looks like they have only made minor evolutionary improvements.
While the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket is pretty comfortable and allows ventilation to keep me cool while paddling, I never was able to get it adjusted to feel completely natural. I have other life jackets that I forget I am wearing after a while. The Astral V Eight kayak life jacket  seems to always ride up a bit in a way that makes me aware that it is on me. It is not necessarily uncomfortable, but feels like it doesn’t fit me 100% properly. That doesn’t keep me from wearing it, since avoiding a heat stroke on the water is a bit more important to me than the minor annoyance of the jacket riding up a bit (see the pic below showing it riding up). The 2 pictures labeled “2015” are the new model. All other pictures in this review are the original model.

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

original front vents

Why do you need a special life jacket for kayaking? If you’ve read my other articles you know that I am learning about different types of equipment and looking for the right mix of performance and value for the recreational “weekend warrior” type kayaker. So far, I’ve found that the intended use makes all the difference in what equipment is needed. For example,  when casually paddling around the lake exploring the shoreline and looking for interesting stuff with my family I’ve found that I’m happy using pretty much any paddle, kayak, life jacket, etc.

However, if I am trying to cover distance in a hurry, then I prefer the faster Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 over the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two, for example. As it pertains to life jackets, (I read that the US Coast Guard is recommending the term “life jacket” instead of “PFD”) I had been happily using an old Stearns skiing life jacket that I bought at WalMart several years ago, and was pleased with it. I couldn’t figure out why folks would spend so much money on those funny looking specialized kayak life jackets. Then I started paddling harder and it didn’t take long for me to realize that my old skiing life jacket held in nearly every bit of heat that my upper-body generated while paddling. On a 65 degree morning that isn’t too bad, but on a 95 degree day I would find myself overheating pretty quickly. That overheating is what led me to the kayak life jacket rack to find a cooler solution.

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

outside of front panel with air vents

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

inside of front panel with air vents

First impressions and overview: Compared to the all-over coverage of my old life jacket, the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket feels very different. There is so much more room around the arm and neck openings. I expected it to feel awkward since the bulk of the flotation is concentrated around my mid-section, but it felt fine. Trying on the jacket in the store gave me an idea of how the design of the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket would promote airflow, but it wasn’t until I tried it on at home without a shirt that I noticed how little of the life jacket actually touches my skin. There are big air gaps down the center and along my mid section that allow air movement. This is a HUGE difference from any other vest type life jacket I’ve ever worn.

The most noticeable feature of the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket is the plethora of strategically placed ventilation holes.  Additionally, the foam that provides flotation has a dimpled pattern on the side that is toward the wearer’s skin. It is kind of like a miniature version of the pattern on an “egg crate” foam mattress topper. These ventilation holes and dimpled surface allow air to flow through the air gaps against the body and actually allow some sweat to evaporate and cool the wearer instead of just making them hot and sticky. Having never worn a kayaking life jacket before I have to admit that I had to fiddle with the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket‘s adjustments to get everything just right.

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

inside mesh pocket

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

front mesh pocket

With two girth adjusters on each side of the body, a waist adjustment, and shoulder adjustments, there is a broad range of tweaking available. I like to carry an old Tekna diving knife when I paddle and the lash tab on the front breast is a perfect place to clip the sheath. There is the standard front mesh pouch with a snap closure, as well as a very clever mesh pocket on the inside upper edge of the front, just above the zipper. All told, there is enough room to carry keys and a wallet comfortably. While not the type and quantity of storage pouches that you might expect to find on a fishing life jacket, I think that any angler that is accustomed to taking off their life jacket when they get too hot should consider a life jacket like this that is made to be cool.

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

back air vent

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

back

The sides and lower back area are an open mesh fabric that continues the “ventilation” theme, while the upper back area is sculpted foam with a cooling channel and big vent in the middle. After only a few uses, I noticed that the mesh of the lower back can get a bit uncomfortable on my back if I’m leaning against the hard seat back of my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 . That kayak has a rigid and tall seat back. If I’m casually paddling I will often lean against the seat back. When paddling at a faster clip I tend to lean forward and the seat back doesn’t make the mesh dig into my back. I never was able to completely alleviate this annoyance. I have yet to try the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket with a low-backed or cloth seat back kayak.

I should also note that one of the key considerations when picking a vest was the design of the back. Knowing that I spend more time in my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 with the high seat back, I was looking for a life jacket that would not interfere with the high seat back. So far, I haven’t gotten the adjustments dialed in, but am able to keep the back foam up above the seat back.

Click here to see all of the life jackets available at Campsaver.

Astral V Eight kayak life jacket PFD review

You can see how the back foam is pushed up by the seat back on my Tarpon 160

Description (from NRS.com):

  • Type III Breathing is good. PFDs help us stay afloat so we can breathe…now here’s a PFD that can also breathe. Astral’s V-Eight™ with Airescape technology vents naturally for unparalleled comfort.
  • Next to your body a wide, soft, open-weave mesh allows free transport of warm air and sweat away from your torso.
  • The inside of the PFDs foam has a textured surface that reduces body contact by 70%, creating channels for air to move freely.
  • Strategically placed “Vent Port” cutouts in the foam let warm air escape out of the jacket.
  • This tough, breathable life jacket is covered with 420 x 210-denier rip stop nylon, with a polyester mesh liner that is very comfortable.
  • Articulated Foam panels adjust to a wide range of body types and are environmentally friendly.
  • Fits both men and women well the foam in the upper front is sculpted to fit a woman’s body.
  • The mesh back is ideal for warm temperatures keeping you cool and comfortable under the hot summer sun and staying out of the way of your seat back.
  • The large mesh cargo pocket holds a bunch and there’s also a handy small pocket inside the upper left panel.
  • The sturdy lash tab secures your knife or other gear.
  • The front entry is easy to get in and out of with the Self-locking Vislon Teeth YKK® zipper.
  • The chimney vent feature provides additional cooling (to activate, open zipper & secure buckle) for added comfort and safety.

Specs (from  NRS.com):

  • This medium profile PFD has 17 lbs of design flotation.
  • Type/Profile: Type III / Medium profile
  • Design flotation: 17 lbs.
  • Entry System: Front entry, Self-locking Vision Teeth YKK® zipper
  • Pockets: 2
  • Lash Tabs: 1
  • Fabric: 420 x 210-denier rip stop nylon
  • Airescape venting system
  • Mesh back
  • Chimney vent
  • Gaia™, EVA and PE foam panels

Sizing:

Astral V Eight kayak PFD life jacket lifejacket review

Gears rating:

Gear Score
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Good ventilation, wide range of adjustments. This is a winner.

Please leave a comment to let me know if this review was helpful to you.
The back-story… How Jeff overcame his rationalizations and embraced his lifejacket: After being introduced to kayaking in 2010 and getting a small fleet of sit on top kayaks for my family to use at the lake, I noticed that I was having a problem that wasn’t impacting the rest of my family. I was getting too hot while paddling. I’ve read lots of articles about the dangers of boating without a life jacket, but I still found myself occasionally shedding my life jacket because I was baking.

Casual paddling with the family wasn’t a problem, even in 90-95 degree weather. I could always jump in the water and cool off. However, I like to paddle longer distances and time myself. When it is hot and I’m really exerting myself, my old ski-jacket was like wearing an insulting vest. I was afraid that I’d overheat if I didn’t hop in the water ever 3 minutes… which wasn’t an option. So, I started paddling with the life jacket loosely snugged to the aft deck with a bungee.

Clearly, I was rationalizing and trying to justify to myself that the risk I was taking was prudent… when it wasn’t! A friend at the dock offered a pair of automatic inflating life vests that a previous owner had left on his boat. I tested them and they both worked perfectly. The re-arm kit was a bit expensive, but easy to install. So, for the last month of the kayaking season I wore the inflatable life jacket when it was hot and I was paddling for speed and distance. That worked great, but I had a lingering unsettled feeling about using the inflatable vest… what if it failed to inflate when needed? Sure it worked when I tested it, but who knows what could go wrong. Murphy seems to enjoy messing with me, so I try not to push my luck (usually).

So, over the off season I had a few conversations with Will at Get Outdoors and decided that I would save some money to buy the PFD that he suggested, the Astral V Eight. Will pointed out a variety of features designed to increase airflow and reduce heat build up. It was just what I was looking for, but cost about 4 times the most that I had ever paid for a life jacket. I may be the cheapest person I know. Convincing me that it was a wise investment was no small task. The turning point for me was reading of a local kayaker that drowned over the winter. He was about my age, and reported to be a strong swimmer (like me). Although he had a wetsuit and life jacket on his kayak with him, he still drowned. I’ve got 3 awesome kids and a beautiful wife. I resolved to find a solution to my overheating problem that would allow me to have positive flotation strapped to me while paddling and reduce the risk that I leave my kids without a father. Will had never steered me wrong before. S0, if he said the Astral V Eight kayak life jacket was the right vest for me, then that is what I would get.

Click here to see all of the life jackets available at Campsaver.

About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits.

A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps http://MGECOM.com acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management.

Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.