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NRS Vapor Review

A simple, comfortable paddle vest that's a great value
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Comfortable fit, good mobility, easy to use, stays put, durable
Cons:  No pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathable
Manufacturer:   NRS
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 7, 2020
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Comfort - 35% 7
  • Mobility - 30% 7
  • Versatility - 25% 6
  • Durability - 10% 9

Our Verdict

The NRS Vapor is a simple classic paddle jacket that's comfortable, easy to wear, and costs less than much of the competition. This high-value status earns it our Best Buy Award. It's well-loved by our review team, both men and women. The full coverage panels are less breathable but quite flexible and work with pretty much any boat seat. Large "action" cut armholes keep edges from interfering with your stroke, and low adjustment points help keep this vest secure without inhibiting your breathing. It lacks any pockets, strap management, or other features, but this clean jacket is uncomplicated to use and pleasant to wear.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The NRS Vapor is a unisex vest that comes in three sizes. It's a Type III PFD made of 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon with a side entry buckle system. It has no additional features.

Performance Comparison


We like this simple paddle jacket from NRS.
We like this simple paddle jacket from NRS.

Comfort


Like many other NRS life vests we tested, the Vapor is pretty universally comfortable. The interior is a softer material than the exterior, making it comfortable to wear against your skin all day, wet or dry. Rather than concentrating flotation in specific areas, the Vapor's padding is spread more evenly around the jacket. This keeps it thinner, avoiding excessively bulky areas like some other vests. These thinner panels are also more flexible and easier to wear comfortably. This flexibility is appreciated by our women testers, though there is a limit to the body proportions that can be easily accommodated by this unisex PFD. The extended coverage is compatible with seatbacks of any height. With its side entry system, any discomfort from a zipper is eliminated. It's offered in three sizes that each span a fairly wide range of chest circumferences. The two adjustment points on either side are located low on the jacket, helping to provide a secure fit that won't inhibit your breathing.


While our male testers love the feel of the Vapor, our female testers were slightly less impressed. Larger busted women had issues getting a secure fit, as the foam panels aren't quite as flexible or conforming as female-specific jackets. Smaller testers also found themselves tightening this jacket all the way, despite having chest measurements well above the stated minimum size. Basically, it runs a bit large and is better suited for men and smaller-breasted women. The lowest adjustment strap is off the bottom of the jacket, which is less comfortable than many others. Though it's enclosed in a padded sleeve, it's much easier to feel this strap — and the buckle on your side — digging in uncomfortably when you sit down in your kayak.

The bottom strap does hang off the foam a bit and requires some finagling to find the most comfortable tightness for sitting down.
The bottom strap does hang off the foam a bit and requires some finagling to find the most comfortable tightness for sitting down.

To make it easier to don and remove this side-entry vest, the shoulder straps are elongated to be able to easily slip it over your head. However, there are no loops, tabs, pockets, or other ways to manage these loose tails once the vest is on, and they dangle awkwardly down your front. And as you'd expect, the full coverage is less breathable than options with mesh back panels. Though the sides are open (if you don't have to tighten it all the way) and the shoulders are fairly exposed as well, both of which help mitigate the lack of breathable panels. Overall though, this jacket is a fairly comfortable option but lacks some of the thoughtful details found on several other models.

The six panels of flotation help the Vapor conform to your specific body shape and move as you move.
The six panels of flotation help the Vapor conform to your specific body shape and move as you move.

Mobility


The Vapor features "action cut" armholes perfect for expertly wielding a paddle. To add to that, they've included softer material on the fronts of the arm cutouts to make it more enjoyable if your bare biceps do touch the sides of the jacket during your paddle stroke. It's not quite as low profile as a few other vests and inflatable belts we tested, but it does a great job of staying out of your way on the water. Like so many other NRS vests, the Vapor also features a 6-panel design that facilitates motion even more. Unlike many other PFDs, the Vapor's front and back panels are each made of three separate internal foam flotation pads. This helps get rid of that feeling of wearing a stiff styrofoam shield and makes it much easier to flex, move, and enjoy your paddling adventure.


The adjustable, secure straps are both located lower on the vest, which lets you find your perfect fit without compromising the ability to move and breathe. It also helps hold this vest in place even when you jump off your SUP or tip your kayak. And while some paddle jackets pile the back flotation behind your head to be above the seat, the Vapor maintains full coverage across the back, keeping the padding low and out of your way if you do find yourself swimming. Though no vest can match the freedom of an inflatable option, the combination of security and mobility the Vapor provides are among the best. No matter if you're on a SUP, in a canoe, or floating feet-first down the river, the Vapor keeps you safe without restricting your motion.

The open shoulder design of the Vapor makes it easy and comfortable to paddle in.
The open shoulder design of the Vapor makes it easy and comfortable to paddle in.

Versatility


A no-nonsense paddle jacket, the Vapor fits the bill without the frill. It's a great jacket to wear for paddling and even a comfortable option for spending all day on your friend's speedboat. However, it lacks any extra features. It has no pockets anywhere on the vest — though previous versions of the Vapor did. It has no knife tab or extra loops to clip a whistle or anything. It does have a single loop on the top of the back panel for hanging up, but that's about it. And unlike many of its competitors, the Vapor has no strap management tabs or loops to hold loose tails out of your way.


While most of us are used to the comfortable feeling of putting on a front-zip vest that feels just like donning a jacket, a side entry PFD can take some getting used to. Once you are, though, it quickly becomes fairly convenient. Because the buckles are on one side, it feels weirdly asymmetrical to NOT clip them, ensuring that you're always buckling yourself into this vest before hitting the water. The Vapor is actually more comfortable to wear tightened than hanging loose — another great way to make staying safe an unconscious habit. This is an asset to an otherwise quite plain — but effective — paddle jacket.

Though it lacks any pockets or outstanding features  the Vapor does have panels on the front of the armholes (grey  on our model) to keep the insides of your arms from rubbing as you paddle.
Though it lacks any pockets or outstanding features, the Vapor does have panels on the front of the armholes (grey, on our model) to keep the insides of your arms from rubbing as you paddle.

Durability


The Vapor is high-quality with hidden seams and sturdy materials. It both looks and feels robust. While some cheap life jackets skimp on construction, including scratchy materials and leaving sloppy seams, this is not the case with the Vapor. Not only do we have no complaints about this vest's durability, but we had a difficult time finding any online complaints about its ability to stand up to adventures.


If this clean bill of health isn't enough, NRS also backs every product with their Rock Solid Guarantee; a lifetime manufacturer's warranty. It's easy to clean after use, and the total lack of features and pockets actually aids this process. It's also easier to hang a side entry PFD on a hanger without needing to close it, or the loop on the back lets you quickly rest it on a hook.

We have no complaints about the durability of the Vapor.
We have no complaints about the durability of the Vapor.

Value


While many paddle jackets come with hefty price tags, the Vapor is on the low side of the spectrum. Without sacrificing usability or quality, NRS offers this simple but effective vest at a more affordable price that's well worth the modest investment.

Conclusion


The NRS Vapor is a straightforward paddle PFD that takes away the frills and features to lower its price. This Best Buy Award winner is comfortable and easy to wear without inhibiting your paddling. It's not the fanciest vest we tested, but it's a simple solution that offers great performance for a lower price than many others.

What adventures will you have in your new PFD?
What adventures will you have in your new PFD?

Maggie Brandenburg