Astral Layla Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Very adjustable, great fit, comfortable, good sizing options, moves well, compatible with rescue harness
Cons: Not cheap, full coverage can be hot, runs a bit large
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|Price||$123.75 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Very adjustable, great fit, comfortable, good sizing options, moves well, compatible with rescue harness||Comfortable articulated fit, multiple pockets, thin ventilating back||Soft straps, secure fit, good mobility for paddling, decent breathability||Universal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatile||Great mobility, stays put, durable|
|Cons||Not cheap, full coverage can be hot, runs a bit large||No bottom security buckle, can ride up||Bulky high back panel, pockets only have snap button closure, doesn't go large enough for all users||A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot||No pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathable|
|Bottom Line||A highly adaptable, secure, and super comfortable women's PFD with great sizing options||With a comfortable slimline profile and high functionality, this well-designed PFD was an all-around favorite||A comfortable PFD that does not feel as bulky as it looks but has some size limitations||A versatile, general-use vest that is good enough to get you out on the water safely and without discomfort||A simple, comfortable paddle vest that stays in place and provides a great value|
|Rating Categories||Astral Layla||Astral E-Ronny||Stohlquist Flo||Stohlquist Spectrum||NRS Vapor|
|Comfort and Mobility (20%)|
|Quality of Construction (15%)|
|Features and Versatility (15%)|
|Specs||Astral Layla||Astral E-Ronny||Stohlquist Flo||Stohlquist Spectrum||NRS Vapor|
|Intended Use||Whitewater, sea paddling, touring, SUP, sailing||Recreational, touring, fishing||Canoeing, kayaking, sailing||Canoeing, kayaking, sailing||Paddling|
|Entry Style||Pull over; side entry, off-center 3/4 zip and bottom clip||Front zip||Front, center zip||Front, center zip||Pull over; side entry,1 side clip|
|Sizes Available||XS/S (27-31")
|Universal (30-52")||XS/M (30-42")
|Size We Tested||M/L (38-44”)||M/L (38-44”)||M/L (34-40")||Universal (30-52")||XS/M (30-42")|
|Measured Weight||28oz||16 oz||21 oz||18 oz||28 oz|
|Foam Type||Kapok fiber front, PVC-free PE foam back||Gaia PVC-free foam||PVC-free, PE foam||PE foam||Soft foam|
|Main Material||200 x 400D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner||300D diamond RPET||240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner||240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D oxford liner||400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner|
|Claimed Designed Buoyancy||16.3 lbs||16 lbs||16.1lbs||16.5 lbs||16.3 lbs|
|USCG Classification||Type III||Type III / performance level 70||Type III / performance level 70||Type III||Type III|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Layla is a women's specific PFD with an impressive four available sizes. It's a full coverage type III jacket with Kapok fiber front panels covered in a 200 x 400D ripstop nylon shell with a 200D nylon liner.
The Layla is designed to deliver 16.3 pounds of flotation, surpassing requirements for US Coast Guard certification as a Type III PFD.
The foam on this PFD is distributed evenly across the vest delivering a secure and comfortable float. Our most serious white water sisters wished that the Layla offered as much flotation as its cousin, the Green Jacket, but this jacket is not quite designed for the Class V kayaker.
The Layla comes in four sizes, the most of any model we tested, while still covering roughly the same size range. This allows you to get a better fit from the get-go rather than trying to squeeze folks of all shapes and sizes into a single size of PFD.
To get the best fit, the Layla has not two but three adjustable straps across the sides, helping you tailor the fit to your specific body shape. Underneath those straps and buckles is a panel of mesh that keeps the straps from rubbing against bare skin. If all that isn't enough, the front panels are joined by a slightly stretchy mesh, helping you get a secure fit without compromising your breathing ability. An overall narrower top also leaves plenty of room for those with smaller shoulders to easily paddle all day without any rubbing or chafing.
Comfort and Mobility
While many full-coverage life jackets tend to be stiff and ill-fitting for curvy women, this is not the case with the Layla. The "princess" cut includes seams in helpful spots that allow the vest to easily wrap around the torso. The front panels are made of Kapok fibers, making them more flexible and softer than standard foam panels. The top section is also significantly thinner than the bottom, which leaves room for breasts rather than squeezing them outward into the armpits like so many others.
With a full-coverage back and mesh panels on the sides, the Layla does lose some breathability. Despite this drawback, we think the full-coverage back is well worth it, as our shorter female testers regularly found that seatbacks are too high for a half-back option to clear. The full-back spreads out the padding, so it's not too thick and offers comfortable support for leaning against a backrest. We found that the Layla runs slightly large, as our main tester with a 35-inch chest circumference was tightening the S/M (designed for 31 to 37 inches) nearly all the way to get the perfect fit. It's not as large as many of the others we tested, though, and over a shirt or paddle jacket, we think this isn't noticeable. All our testers loved wearing this jacket, no matter what size or shape, because it is adaptable to a range of bodies.
The secure fit of the Layla helps keep the jacket in place, whether wet or dry. Additionally, because it's easier to find the right one of four possible sizes, the straps aren't excessively long. The Layla also has large, easy-to-use containment loops for the tails of the shoulder straps to keep them away from the face. We had no problems paddling, jumping into the water, swimming around, and wearing this PFD all day without feeling like it was restricting movement or needing to readjust it.
Quality of Construction
With a 200 x 400D ripstop nylon shell and a 200D nylon liner, the Layla is beefier than the average life jacket we tested. As a result, we had no issues with the durability of this vest during our several months of testing. Beyond quality materials and solid construction, one of the most impressive aspects of its longevity is in the Kapok front panels. Unlike the standard foam panels in the vast majority of PFDs that, if punctured, must be completely replaced, Kapok can be patched. The Layla comes with directions for drying, sealing, and patching a puncture, as well as a guarantee that Astral themselves will fix it if preferred. While the likelihood of puncturing your PFD is low, it's nice to know that if it happens to the Layla, you won't have to purchase a whole new vest. At the time of this writing, Astral also guarantees their work with a lifetime manufacturer's warranty.
Overall, we're quite impressed with the construction and durability of the Layla. We had no issues with ours and couldn't find anyone else online complaining about theirs breaking down prematurely either.
Features and Versatility
Astral advertises this jacket for all types of paddling, from whitewater rafting to kayak touring and SUPing. Not only do we think this is spot on, but thanks to its quick release harness capability, it can be upgraded to support rescue scenarios. On the other end, we love the comfort of the Layla so much that we're happy wearing this jacket on a speedboat. We could even imagine wearing it while standing in the river fly fishing. Furthermore, it has some handy features and pockets that make it really useful. The front pocket top unclips and flips open to reveal two inner pockets and a bungee loop to help keep you organized. Behind this pocket, there's also a hand warmer pouch, and a knife tab is on the left panel.
The opportunity to add a rescue harness is not only convenient for avid white water lovers but is a testament to the level of design inherent in this PFD. Although it's comfortable enough for leisurely days on a boat, it also can be rigged and ready for Class IV whitewater.
While we like and appreciate the features of the Layla, there is one area where we feel the vest isn't living up to its potential. Due in part to the cut, the front pocket and handwarmer pouches are narrow, and it's difficult to fit a large smartphone in the pocket and clip it shut. To use the handwarmer pouch, you have to stack your hands on top of one another. The whole vest also weighs 26 ounces, which is a bit heavy compared to other models we tested. Regardless, we don't really feel like we could tell much of a difference in weight when wearing any given vest, so we don't count the weight against it too much.
The bad news is that this excellent life jacket is one of the more expensive options we tested — although, according to our testers, the comfort and performance are well worth the extra money. Additionally, white water enthusiasts may find that this one PFD can suit their playboating and creek boating needs, saving them money over owning two PFDs.
We feel like we can't say enough good things about the Astral Layla. While there are many "women's specific" PFDs available, none of the ones we tested came close to the comfort and adaptability we found in the Layla. For those who've been dying to find a life jacket they're actually willing to wear all day, we believe that the Layla is the answer.
— Sara James and Maggie Nichols
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