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NRS Ninja Review

Providing out of the way, low profile protection that won't impede mobility
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NRS Ninja Review (The Ninja is a low profile PFD that keeps your arms free for intense paddling.)
The Ninja is a low profile PFD that keeps your arms free for intense paddling.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg
Price:  $150 List
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Manufacturer:   NRS
By Sara James and Maggie Nichols  ⋅  Feb 28, 2024
77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 17
  • Fit - 30% 7.0
  • Comfort and Mobility - 25% 9.0
  • Quality of Construction - 20% 8.0
  • Features and Versatility - 15% 7.0
  • Flotation - 10% 7.0

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 it is durable enough to see you through all manner of wild adventures. If you're a passionate paddler, we think you'll love this freeing option from NRS. To see how it stacks up versus the competition, check out our review of the best PFDs.
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent paddling mobility
Breathable and open design
Comfortable fabric
Works for short torsos
REASONS TO AVOID
Unbending and flat
Rough straps
Editor's Note: We updated this article with info on the newest version of the NRS Ninja on February 28, 2024.

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Bottom Line A low profile jacket that's out of your way, keeping you free and mobileDelivering more floatation while weighing less, this is a comfortable option for those that like to move around on the waterWe love this jacket for its comfort and for its ergonomic and utilitarian designA surprisingly comfortable and breathable PFD for women except with small to average sized breastsA comfortable, easy to wear paddle jacket with a high value
Rating Categories NRS Ninja Astral YTV Astral E-Ronny Stohlquist Flo NRS Vapor
Fit (30%)
7.0
8.5
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort and Mobility (25%)
9.0
9.5
8.5
8.0
8.0
Quality of Construction (20%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Features and Versatility (15%)
7.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
5.0
Flotation (10%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
Specs NRS Ninja Astral YTV Astral E-Ronny Stohlquist Flo NRS Vapor
Intended User Unisex Unisex Mens/Unisex Women's Unisex
Manufacturers Stated Intended Use Paddling and sailing Whitewater / Tour / Sailing / SUP Recreational, touring, fishing Canoeing, kayaking, sailing Paddling
Entry Style Pull over; side entry, 2 side clips Pull over; side entry, 2 side clips Front zip Front, center zip Pull over; side entry,1 side clip
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”)
S/M (31-37”)
M/L (38-44”)
L/XL (45-51”)
XS/S (28-34")
M/L (34-40")
PLUS (40-46")
XS/M (30-42")
L/XL (42-52")
XL/XXL (50-56")
Size We Tested S/M (33-40") S/M (31-37”) M/L (38-44”) M/L (34-40") XS/M (30-42")
Measured Weight 34 oz 19 oz 24 oz 21 oz 28 oz
Foam Type PVC-free, PE foam PVC-free Gaia foam, Polyethylene foam Gaia PVC-free foam PVC-free, PE foam Soft foam
Main Material 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon exterior, 200D nylon interior 200 denier high tenacity nylon 300D diamond RPET 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner
Claimed Designed Buoyancy 16.3 lbs 16.5lbs 16.0 lbs 16.1lbs 16.3 lbs
USCG Classification Type III Type V Type III / performance level 70 Type III / performance level 70 Type III

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ninja we tested on the left, followed by the updated Ninja on the right.
Updated NRS Ninja
The latest version of this pfd is constructed with recycled nylon, some reflective materials, and a relocated attachment point. The two versions can be compared in the images above.

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. The Ninja sports one large center pocket with compartments, as well as an attachment point and hand warmer pockets.

Performance Comparison


nrs ninja - the ninja is a low profile pfd that keeps your arms free for paddling.
The Ninja is a low profile PFD that keeps your arms free for paddling.
Credit: Sara James

Fit


The Ninja is advertised as fitting chest sizes from 33 to 50 inches. We found paddlers smaller than the advertised 33 inches could also comfortably wear this jacket also. There are three points of adjustment to help you get everything just right.

nrs ninja - 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.
Credit: Sara James

Comfort and Mobility


The Ninja has some of the softest interior fabric of any of the models we tested, 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. Lowering the straps down to the bottoms of the ribs makes this vest 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 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 slight reduction in comfort. When properly adjusted, the bottom cinch strap also digs in a bit around the sides. As a low-profile vest with concentrated areas of padding, those areas are far thicker than on a regular PFD. Though the Ninja is 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 about 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.

nrs ninja - the profile of this leave room for ample range of movement making it...
The profile of this leave room for ample range of movement making it a popular choice among paddlers
Credit: Sara James

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, handily staying out of the way of your shoulder rotation, though they do cut in close to the neck. Added padding keeps them comfortable and less abrasive.

nrs ninja - when kayaking, some paddlers found the narrow shoulder straps of the...
When kayaking, some paddlers found the narrow shoulder straps of the Ninja abrasive on their neck.
Credit: Sara James

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 experience. Because it's difficult to fit over breasts or wrap tightly around smaller individuals, we were less able to get the right fit to keep it snugly in place in the water. That side, those who can get the right fit loved the added mobility of this low-profile model.

nrs ninja - 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.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Quality of Construction


NRS has a reputation for making 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 buckling 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.

nrs ninja - the ninja is an impressively constructed pfd.
The Ninja is an impressively constructed PFD.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Features and 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 hand warmer pocket between the two layers of padding. It features a slightly off-center knife tab and a single 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 with daisy chains inside plus 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, wearing it doesn't feel unduly heavy, 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 comfortable across many activities because of its openness. Yet, due to its concentration of 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.

nrs ninja - 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.
Credit: Cheyenne Summers

Flotation


The Ninja is designed to deliver 16.3 pounds of flotation. Although it wasn't the most buoyant we tested, for a low-profile vest, it did exceptionally well, out-performing many much bulkier feeling vests.

When worn in the water, this secure PFD provides good flotation even if you are not actively treading water. Like all the vests tested, the Ninja will not turn an unconscious swimmer, but it will help a conscious, active swimmer stay afloat so they can get to rescue.

nrs ninja - floating in the ninja is not uncomfortable.
Floating in the Ninja is not uncomfortable.
Credit: Sara James

Should You Buy the NRS Ninja?


The Ninja is a low-profile PFD built with the avid paddler in mind. Its top-notch performance, mobility, and durability make it a great choice for paddling 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 very petite folks, it's a great choice for many hardcore paddle enthusiasts.

nrs ninja - the low profile of the ninja making is a top pick for paddlers.
The low profile of the Ninja making is a top pick for paddlers.
Credit: Sara James

What Other PFDs Should You Consider?


While we like the Ninja, the Astral YTV takes the slimline design to another level. If you don't need or like a pocket on the front of your PFD, the YTV's low profile may be a better choice. People that expect to have to pull themselves back onto their craft from the water (i.e., river rafters or stand up paddle boarders) may consider this as a more suitable option.

Sara James and Maggie Nichols