Paddling Career: Career? What’
Eye color: earl grey
Favorite color: magenta
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Flotation, flotation, flotation, that’s the name of the game today. The past couple of years I have put some flotation devices through the disgruntled kayaker/river guide test. I.E- lot’s of strokes, lot’s of sun, lot’s of river scenarios…and as painful as it is to admit, yes, a few swims. I have been fortunate this spring to dawn the new Astral Designs Green Vest; Truly, a leading rescue vest amongst the industry.
Growing up, on the Snake River swaddled in the buoyancy of Lotus Designs, it only made sense to pick up a Philip Curry Designed Vest. Following a brief hiatus after selling to Patagonia, Curry began production of Astral after lying dormant in a deep, dark, dank foam & Cordura covered designing cave, plotting his return. As a longtime user of Astral Designed flotation, I’ll admit that I have acquired some biases for their products. Like any good relationship though, I have zeroed in on a few things that you just don’t see until after the 3rd or 4th date. The Green Vests have definitely left the toilet seat up a couple of times, but with every new model, we work through it. This is a review of the 2013 Astral Green Jacket.
At first glance, the Green Vest has obviously gone through some revamps but kept most of the goods. Most obvious, is the new 300 degree zipper pocket. The Green Vest has always had incredible storage with Pockets on the chest and sides. The new front pocket is massive and allows easy access to everything in the chest pocket via a burly multi-directional YKK zipper. In the “Kangaroo Pouch”, you’ll find an inner mesh zip pouch and individual pockets to organize candy bars, Z-Drag cheat sheets, cameras, tooth brushes, raft guide Rolodex’s, flattened beer cans, etc. The side pockets or “Jelly Rolls” as I like to call them, have plenty of room for me to stash 2 pulley’s + 2 prussic chords + a couple of carabiners=mini pin kit. You never know when your pin kit will get…well, pinned. It’s like having a functional beer belly and jelly-rolls that you can stash goodies and safety equipment in. Fun!
A few changes that Astral has made from past models besides the above stated are; directional zippers on the Jelly Roll pockets. Older models tested ones flexibility by forcing you to open the zipper by pulling backwards, truly a feat of strength & athleticism. Now when your boat is stuffed in a tight spot , the above-mentioned backup plan is just a rip chord away. They even come with small rubber pull chords for those like me, seriously lacking shoulder mobility.
The Green Vest has done away with the classic fix-lock retainer that held rescue-tethers in place. The fix lock, after time and lots of use, tended to break away, leaving a dysfunctional plastic hunk & dangling tassel on your chest. The 2013 version follows the golden rule by keeping it simple with a loop of webbing affixed to a stout button. Quick to release when needed, easy to re-affix after picking your buddies gear up. If you don’t like having your cow-tail dangling, just stash it in one of the side pockets. The knife square has also been moved to the mid-drift to keep NRS, and Gerber style river knives out of the way, but still readily accessible.
Astral has kept the same bombproof intercostals rib protection, reinforced shoulders, spectra belay loop, floating chest panels for comfort and fit, and the 16+ lbs of flotation. There is still room behind the panels for a backup Astral specific T-bag as well.
Passing gas with the windows up, dropping avocado on the ground and putting it on your sandwich without your knowing, doing away with knife sheaths on our PFD’s, tying their own boats to the top of the rig but forgetting to do yours. You get the idea. It’s those little issues that we find with our mates that drive us batty, but we love them anyway. Through the evolution of friends like the Green Vest as well as other PFD’s, there are things I’ve loved, disliked, wanted, and want gone.
Shoulders – the shoulders are bombproof as usual, but the shoulder padding is minimal, which can be brutal during long heinous portages or hike-inns. A little padding is nice here and there. Maybe I just need to harden up though.
Packability – One of my favorite things about the jacket is maybe its biggest downside; the ability to stuff it to brim with as much gear as possible. I’m definitely not going to reprimand Astral for providing more storage capacity, but be mindful. I keep 2 candy bars, earplugs, a spoon for multiday living, a spare toothbrush (clean teeth, clean lines), 3 carabiners, my keys and a folding knife in the front pouch with room to spare! Remember, it turns out wearing metal hinders ones ability to float. With that being said, Astral has an incredible program that allows you to send you PFD in to be refurbished with fresh flotation. As a side note suggestion for those of you hucking and tucking, it would behoove one to keep the “Kangaroo pouch” slim in the interest of promoting proper water-falling technique. “HIT THE DECK!”
Pull Over: For those of you out there looking for a side entry, Astral is holding their ground with the “pull-over” style PFD. This means there is no relying on fast-tech buckles, zippers, or other moving parts. It’s all rock solid stitched webbing. I like to think of it as the coolest and most functional tank top ever. However, some folks refuse anything but side entry PFD’s. If you’re one of them, this jacket is not for you.
The 2013 Astral Green Jacket is low-profile but doesn’t sacrifice storage, safety, or protection. The Green Vest has been part of my paddling repertoire for the past 4 years and continues to serve me well. I have used it in a number of swift-water rescue situations and gladly rely on it when tethering in for all situations. Whether I’m setting live bait, being lowered into a sieve (which I do not recommend), accidentally rodeo-ing in the holes of the North Fork Payette, running spirit falls, or simply floating around in the eddy without getting spawning salmon fluids in my beer on a hot summer day, the Green Vest is my go-to jacket.
Gut-Check: With owning any rescue vest, comes a lot of responsibility. Imagine standing on shore while some Gomer, much like myself, is getting body-recirculated after missing a must-make move. Tension is high. Who’s going in for Mr.No-Boof before he/she is totally deprived of oxygen? There is only one rescue pfd wearing person in the group. Who? Bingo! It’s you. You, nor anyone else in the crew has taken a swiftwater rescue course. “Damnit, how do I use this thing?!” Do yourself, Gomer, Gomer’s family, and your crew a favor. Take a swiftwater course! Learn the hazards and what to do when sh*t hits the fan. Promote safe and smart boating, because sometimes bad things happen to good people.
If you’re in the NW, I recommend contacting The Swiftwater Safety Institute or a certified swiftwater facilitator near you. Cheers. Safe boating. Paddle hard.