Astral V-Eight Review
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 200 x 400D 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. This vest is 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 the soft, breathable mesh while staying out of the way of all but the highest boat seatbacks. The straps are also fairly soft against the 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 this 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, this doesn't get in the way of normal paddling. The shoulder padding received mixed reviews from our panel of testers, with some saying it's very comfortable and others saying they aren'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. It has large armholes to keep the front panels out of your way while you paddle and is easy to wear even when digging in deep to make it back to shore on a windy day.
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 the ability to put your head back and do the breaststroke. We also found that if the zipper isn't completely zipped up, the whole thing can 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. If you end up putting more than a small or fairly flat object in them, it creates a protrusion that can obstruct your stroke. It's important to note that this only seemed to be an issue for folks on the smaller end of the sizing spectrum who had to tighten the jacket until the pockets were under their arms. For larger paddlers, the pockets are still in front enough to be relatively out of the way, so size accordingly.
This vest is advertised as a versatile PFD for recreational use, fishing, and touring paddlers, and we couldn't agree more. The high back makes this jacket a clear choice for paddlers, but the added ventilation and overall comfort is ideal for a huge variety of situations. While many paddle jackets go light on the pockets and features, the V-Eight has some of the most useful pockets we tested. Additionally, it has handy features like a knife tab along with two mesh pockets that each have elastic bungees inside to clip things to. The back features Airscape technology, with ventilating channels across the 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. The only restriction on the versatility of this jacket is in situations where you may lean back in a very high-backed seat, which could clash with the high back panel. We never found a watercraft to paddle that had a back that would interfere, but that doesn't mean such a vessel isn't out there. But for paddling most canoes and kayaks — and even on a SUP — we think this is a solid vest to be out in.
The V-Eight is made with some of the thickest material of any model we tested — 200 x 400D 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 are 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 and part of why it wins our Editors' Choice Award. 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