The Astral V-Eight is a great paddling life vest that works well across a myriad of uses and is our Editors' Choice award winner. It has a tapered top that fits women and men, is surprisingly comfortable to wear, and features large pockets. Cut-outs and a mostly open back provide excellent ventilation. We appreciate that the bottom strap is located on top of the foam of the vest, which prevents it from digging uncomfortably into your stomach while sitting. The V-Eight also has our favorite strap management system, with velcro on the ends of the shoulder straps that stick quickly and easily to the tops of your shoulders, keeping everything neatly out of the way. Though it runs a bit larger than it claims, we love this solid PFD from Astral for just about any aquatic adventure.
Astral V-Eight Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Tapered front, comfortable, breathable, good strap management, large pockets
Cons: Back panel high for swimming, runs large, pockets may be in the way while paddling
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Astral V-Eight is a unisex life jacket that comes in three sizes. It features a mostly mesh back with a high pad and is a type III PFD made of 200x400D ripstop nylon and polyester mesh.
Despite being a "unisex" fit, the V-Eight features a tapered top that our female testers also find to be surprisingly accommodating and comfortable. It is actually more tapered than some of the women's specific models we tested! The bottom strap and clip are also fixed on top of the front panel, preventing them from digging into your stomach while you sit, as many of the others we tested did. We also found this vest to be adequately adjustable to a large range of bodies in the size we tested. The back panel is very high, leaving most of your back exposed through soft, breathable mesh while staying out of the way of all but the highest boat seatbacks. The straps are also fairly soft against your skin, as is the interior fabric.
We did find that the V-Eight runs a bit large. We tested the size S/M, advertised to fit chest sizes 31-37". Our main tester is a female with a 35" chest and she had to cinch the jacket as tight as it would go to find a secure fit. Though it wasn't hugely annoying, paddlers with more narrow shoulders also found the back panel to be a bit wider than they'd like, slightly hitting the backs of their arms when really testing a full range of motion. However, it wasn't in the way of normal paddling. The shoulder padding also received mixed reviews from our panel of testers, with some saying it's very comfortable and others saying they weren't big fans of it. Either way, we all appreciate the handy velcro tabs that make keeping the shoulder straps out of your way an absolute breeze.
With the ease of adjusting the V-Eight and finding a secure, snug fit, this jacket stays put nicely even when taking a tumble from your canoe. Extra ventilation holes and fully mesh pockets help drain the water away when you clamber back into your boat. The velcro shoulder tabs keep those tails out of your face, and even the side straps aren't too long or particularly in the way, which is more than we can say about some other PFDs.
The extra high back that comes in handy for paddling is a bit cumbersome for swimming. It's rather thick and so high - especially on shorter folks - that it partially restricts your ability to put your head back and do the breaststroke. We also found that if the zipper wasn't completely zipped up, the whole thing could come unzipped with an unexpected fall into the water. And while we like the large, easily expanding mesh pockets, they're quite far on the sides of the vest. We found that putting more than something small or fairly flat in them creates a protrusion that can obstruct paddling. It's also important to note that this only seemed to be an issue for folks on the smaller end of the sizing spectrum who have to tighten the jacket until the pockets are under their arms. For larger paddlers, the pockets are still in front enough to be relatively out of the way. Size accordingly!
Advertised as a versatile PFD for recreational use, fishing, and touring paddlers, we couldn't agree more. The high back makes this jacket a clear choice for paddlers, but the added ventilation and comfort we found to be comfortable for a huge variety of situations. The V-Eight also has handy features like a knife tab and two mesh pockets with elastic bungees inside to clip things to. The back features Airscape technology, with ventilating channels across your upper back to increase breathability, making this jacket one of our top choices for a hot day.
Weighing 20 ounces, this jacket is about average for the vests we tested, and we think it feels reasonably light to wear. Thehe only restriction of the versatility of this jacket is in situations where you may lean back in a higher-backed seat, which would clash with the high back panel. But for paddling - even on a paddleboard - we think this is a solid choice across paddle sports.
The Astral is made with some of the thickest material of any model we tested, from 200x400D ripstop nylon. The mesh is polyester and is filled with PE and EVA foam. Upon inspection, the construction seems solid. It had no problems taking on all the tests we put it through, including being dragged through the sand and across gravel parking lots.
Astral backs the V-Eight with a lifetime manufacturer's warranty, though recommends about a five-year replacement cycle, depending on how you treat your jacket. You should inspect your jacket before you use it every time, but we think the V-Eight is well-equipped to last with the right cleaning and storage practices.
Among the many PFDs we tested, the V-Eight isn't cheap. However, as an option that's actually comfortable for men and women, we think the quality and versatility it brings to the table is well worth the price. While you could save a few bucks on a cheaper vest, having one you'll wear even when it's hot is the whole point of having a life jacket in the first place.
This PFD is a great combination of adjustability, comfort, and all-around functionality that is sure to work for just about any casual paddler. Its ability to work as well for women as it does for men is nothing to scoff at. With a back panel that's high enough for a touring boat and plenty of ventilation for ultimate breathability, we think it's hard to go wrong with the Astral V-Eight.
— Maggie Brandenburg