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NRS Ninja Review

Providing out of the way, low profile protection that won't impede mobility
NRS Ninja
Photo: NRS
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $130 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Excellent paddling mobility, breathable and open design, comfortable fabric, works for short torsos
Cons:  Bulky, unbending and flat, rough straps
Manufacturer:   NRS
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 10, 2021
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76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 10
  • Comfort - 35% 8
  • Mobility - 30% 8
  • Versatility - 25% 6
  • Durability - 10% 9

Our Verdict

The NRS Ninja is a low-profile life vest with wide-open shoulders that preserve a huge range of mobility, making it ideal for paddling. Its comfortable inner fabric and wide range of adjustability make it easy to wear against your skin while you paddle hard up the river or across the lake. It has exceptionally paddle-friendly features like an off-center knife tab, an organizational pocket, and a large handwarmer pocket and is durable enough to see you through all manner of wild adventures. If you're a hardcore paddler, we think you'll love this freeing option from NRS.

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NRS Ninja
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
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$139.90 at Amazon
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Pros Excellent paddling mobility, breathable and open design, comfortable fabric, works for short torsosTapered front, comfortable, breathable, good strap management, large pocketsVery adjustable, great fit, secure and comfortable, good sizing options, moves well, flatteringComfortable fit, good mobility, easy to use, stays put, durableComfortable, good movement, easy to lean back in
Cons Bulky, unbending and flat, rough strapsBack panel high for swimming, runs large, pockets may be in the way while paddlingFull coverage can be hot, runs a bit largeNo pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathableRuns slightly large, vertical vents don't work, no pockets
Bottom Line Providing out of the way, low profile protection that won't impede mobilityA versatile paddling jacket with good ventilation and big pocketsA highly adaptable, super comfortable women's PFD with great sizing optionsA simple, comfortable paddle vest that's a great valueSurprisingly good performance and a comfortable fit while staying on a budget
Rating Categories NRS Ninja Astral V-Eight Astral Layla NRS Vapor Onyx MoveVent Curve
Comfort (35%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Mobility (30%)
8.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Versatility (25%)
6.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
5.0
Durability (10%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
5.0
Specs NRS Ninja Astral V-Eight Astral Layla NRS Vapor Onyx MoveVent Curve
Gender Unisex Unisex Women's Unisex Unisex
Intended Use Paddling (low profile) Recreational, fishing, touring Whitewater, sea paddling, touring, SUP Paddling Paddling
Entry Style Pull over; side entry, 2 side clips Front, center zip and bottom clip Pull over; side entry, off-center 3/4 zip and bottom clip Side entry, side clip Front, center zip
Wear Type Vest Vest Vest Vest Vest
Sizes Available S/M (33-40")
L/XL (38-46")
XXL (42-50")
S/M (31-37")
M/L (38-44")
L/XL (45-51")
XS/S (27-31")
S/M (31-37")
M/L (38-44")
L/XL (45-51")
XS/M (30-42")
L/XL (42-52")
XL/XXL (50-56")
XS/S (28-36")
M/L 36-44")
XL/XXL (44-56")
Size We Tested S/M (33-40") S/M (31-37") S/M (31-37") XS/M (30-42") M/L (36-44")
Measured Weight 34 oz 20 oz 26 oz 28 oz 17 oz
Foam Type PVC-free, PE foam PE foam & EVA foam Kapok fiber front, PVC-free PE foam back Soft foam Soft, lightweight foam
Main Material 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon exterior, 200D nylon interior 200 x 400D ripstop nylon 200 x 400D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 200D nylon shell
Rated Buoyancy 16.5 lb 16 lb 16.3 lb 16.5 lb Not specified
USCG classification Type III Type III Type III Type III Type III

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ninja is a unisex life vest that comes in three sizes. It's a low profile, Type III vest covered in 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon.

Performance Comparison


The Ninja is a low profile PFD that keeps your arms free for intense...
The Ninja is a low profile PFD that keeps your arms free for intense paddling.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Comfort


The Ninja has some of the softest interior fabric of any of the models we tested. It's much softer than the slick-feeling fabric of the average jacket, making it incredibly comfortable to wear against bare skin. Our testers unanimously agree on this point. Though the back of the vest is fairly thick, it also rides pretty low on the torso, which allows a reasonable level of comfort when you take a break to lean back during your epic paddle. By lowering the straps down to the bottoms of the ribs, this vest is more comfortable to wear when breathing heavily because it's less restrictive around the lungs. Because of its low profile design with concentrated flotation, it's more adjustable to shorter torsos and can be more comfortable for shorter paddlers who are restricted by the length of some standard life vests.


We aren't in love with the feel of the straps, though, and find them a tad scratchier and less well-protected than we would like. NRS aimed for more mobility in the shoulder strap design, keeping things minimal. The downside here is a small drop in comfort. The bottom cinch strap also tends to dig in a bit around the sides when properly adjusted. As a low-profile vest with concentrated areas of padding, those areas are far thicker than on a regular PFD. Though made of six small panels, the arrangement of these panels keeps them from flexing and bending around your torso. This effect is exaggerated on thinner paddlers and medium to large breasted women. Not all of our testers were stoked on the side entry system either, though once you get used to it, we think it's just as easy as any front zip jacket, with shoulder strap tails that can be tucked away into the front panel.

The Ninja is a bit bulky and flat but it's all concentrated in the...
The Ninja is a bit bulky and flat but it's all concentrated in the middle, leaving you free to move while still fully protected.
Photo: Jason Peters

Mobility


Because the Ninja concentrates all the padding into such a small, low area, the shoulder mobility of this PFD is unmatched by any other jacket-style model we tested. Riding low on the torso, this vest expertly stays put while you paddle or when you take a spill in the water. The shoulder straps run a bit narrow, cutting right across the sides of the neck, handily staying out of the way of your shoulder rotation as well. Added padding keeps them comfortable and less abrasive.


The only mobility issues we have with this vest are tied to its unbending shape and the subsequent struggles with fit that many women testers have with it. Because it's difficult to fit over breasts or wrap tightly around smaller individuals, we were less able to get the right security of fit to keep it snugly in place in the water without also uncomfortably squeezing the ribs and stomach. Our male testers didn't experience this issue, and among female testers, it was only among the very slim body types. Those who can get the right fit loved the added mobility of this low-profile model.

The shoulder straps of the Ninja have padding to keep them from...
The shoulder straps of the Ninja have padding to keep them from rubbing too much against your neck.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Versatility


Designed for paddlers, we can't find any paddle sport that doesn't work well for the Ninja. It fits shorter torsos well and is conveniently out of the way for paddle strokes of pretty much any kind. It even has a nice cozy handwarmer pocket in between the two layers of padding, helping to warm up your chilly digits. It features a slightly off-center knife tab and a single, zippered pocket with two zippers, drain holes in the bottom, and sides that prevent the whole thing from flopping open and spilling your contents. This once singular pocket has been reimagined from previous versions and now includes a host of small pockets and daisy chains inside and a smaller interior zippered pocket with a key clip. It's almost like wearing a tiny tackle box on your chest, ready to keep you organized or just hold one large snack without all those extras getting in the way.


Despite its compact design, the Ninja weighs 34 ounces, making it among the heaviest jackets we tested. Still, we don't think it feels unduly heavy when wearing it, so we don't hold the weight against this vest too much. Though the Ninja is a pretty specific paddler's design, we found it to be comfortable across activities because of how open it is. However, by concentrating padding into smaller, thicker areas, this isn't the best vest for lounging comfortably on the pontoon bench or leaning back in your favorite fishing chair. It's a more specific vest that's best suited to paddling and paddling hard.

The front pocket of the Ninja has all kinds of small, organizational...
The front pocket of the Ninja has all kinds of small, organizational features we love to use.
Photo: Jason Peters

Durability


NRS has a reputation for making some quality products, and the Ninja does not disappoint. Though it's constructed of standard materials — 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon exterior, 200D nylon interior, and PVC-free foam — it's clearly been made to withstand some hearty adventures. The seams are reinforced, and the straps are thick and durable, minor scratchiness aside. The plastic clips and buckles are sturdy and had no problem working even after we tossed them in the sand while wet.


Nothing on this PFD broke or frayed during testing. Even the extra features, loops, and specialty pockets in the front pouch are well designed and sturdy.

The Ninja is an impressively constructed PFD.
The Ninja is an impressively constructed PFD.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


Though not the most expensive option we tested, the Ninja doesn't come cheap, and there's a reason for that. The specific design, clear paddler-centric fit, and obvious quality craftsmanship make it an above-average performer. If you're truly intense about your paddle sports, we think the value of this model is worth what you'll pay. If you're a bit more casual about paddling, the Ninja is still a good value, but there are some other options for less that may also suit your needs.

Conclusion


The NRS Ninja is a low-profile PFD built with the avid paddler in mind. Its top-notch performance, mobility, and durability make it our top choice for paddling aboard pretty much any watercraft. It features a high level of comfort and freedom to move that comes in handy during intense paddles. Though it's not the best fit for women or thin adventurers, it's a great choice for many hardcore paddle enthusiasts.

Safety first! We always wear our PFDs while paddling.
Safety first! We always wear our PFDs while paddling.
Photo: Jason Peters

Maggie Brandenburg