NRS Vapor Review
Cons: No pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathable
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|Pros||Great mobility, stays put, durable||Secure fit, pockets, highly adjustable||Super comfortable material, pocket, compatible with a Kokotat hydration pack||Soft straps, secure fit, good mobility for paddling, decent breathability||Universal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatile|
|Cons||No pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathable||Pockets only have button tab closure, bulky in places||Outer shell is not highly durable, bulky front panel||Bulky high back panel, pockets only have snap button closure, doesn't go large enough for all users||A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot|
|Bottom Line||A simple, comfortable paddle vest that stays in place and provides a great value||A comfortable and secure high back PFD that is easy to adjust in order to get just the right fight||A comfortable high back PFD that is secure, easy to adjust, and has two mid-sized zippered breast pockets ready to carry your essentials||A comfortable PFD that does not feel as bulky as it looks but has some size limitations||A versatile, general-use vest that is good enough to get you out on the water safely and without discomfort|
|Rating Categories||NRS Vapor||Stohlquist Ebb||Kokatat Proteus||Stohlquist Flo||Stohlquist Spectrum|
|Comfort and Mobility (20%)|
|Quality of Construction (15%)|
|Features and Versatility (15%)|
|Specs||NRS Vapor||Stohlquist Ebb||Kokatat Proteus||Stohlquist Flo||Stohlquist Spectrum|
|Intended Use||Paddling||Canoeing, kayaking, sailing||Paddling||Canoeing, kayaking, sailing||Canoeing, kayaking, sailing|
|Entry Style||Pull over; side entry,1 side clip||Front, center zip||Front, center zip and bottom clip||Front, center zip||Front, center zip|
|Sizes Available||XS/M (30-42")
|Size We Tested||XS/M (30-42")||L/XL (40-46")||M/L (40-46")||M/L (34-40")||Universal (30-52")|
|Measured Weight||28 oz||22 oz||31 oz||21 oz||18 oz|
|Foam Type||Soft foam||PE foam||Gaia PVC-free foam||PVC-free, PE foam||PE foam|
|Main Material||400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner||240D ripstop nylon||100D polyester, 120D nylon||240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner||240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D oxford liner|
|Claimed Designed Buoyancy||16.3 lbs||16.25 lbs||16 lbs||16.1lbs||16.5 lbs|
|USCG Classification||Type III||Type III / performance level 70||Type III / performance level 70||Type III / performance level 70||Type III|
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.
The Vapor is designed to provide 16.3 pounds of buoyancy, surpassing US Coast Guard Type III certification requirements.
The flotation on the Vapor is spread out evenly across the PFD and is not concentrated in one area like some other designs. The secure fit means that if you find yourself in the water, you will have adequate flotation, and the jacket won't tend to float up by your ears, unlike some models tested.
The Vapor is available in three sizes, designed to fit paddlers with chest measurements from 30 to 56 inches. Each offered size spans a fairly wide range of chest circumferences. This PFD can be adjusted at the shoulders, lower torso, and waist, helping to contour the foam around different body shapes. Smaller paddlers were particularly fond of the Vapor as it gave them a tighter fit that's hard to find with some other jackets. Teens who have grown out of youth-specific PFDs may find that the smallest size accommodates them.
While our male and smaller busted female testers love the fit of the Vapor, those with larger busts were slightly less impressed. The foam panels on this jacket are not quite as flexible or conforming as some other jackets, and, as a result, some users had issues getting a secure fit.
Comfort and Mobility
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 pleasant to wear against the skin all day, wet or dry. Rather than concentrating flotation in specific areas, the Vapor's padding is spread more evenly around the jacket, keeping it thinner and avoiding excessively bulky areas like some other vests. These thinner panels are also more flexible and easier to wear comfortably. This mentioned above was appreciated by our women testers, though there is a limit to the body proportions that this unisex PFD can easily accommodate.
The extended coverage of this jacket is compatible with seatbacks of any height. With its side entry system, any discomfort from a zipper is also eliminated. 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.
The shoulder straps on the Vapor are elongated to help pull it on and off more easily. However, there are no loops, tabs, pockets, or other ways to manage these loose tails once the vest is on, and they dangle awkwardly in the front. And as you'd expect, the full coverage is also less breathable than options with mesh back panels. Though the sides are open, and the shoulders are fairly exposed as well, both of which help mitigate the lack of breathable panels. Overall, this jacket is a comfortable option but lacks some of the thoughtful extra details found on several other models.
The Vapor features "action cut" armholes perfect for expertly wielding a paddle. To add to that, they've included softer material on the front of the arm cutouts to make it more enjoyable if your bare biceps 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 to help facilitate motion. Unlike many other PFDs, the Vapor's front and back panels are each made of three separate internal foam flotation pads. This helps eliminate the 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 lower on the vest, letting you find your perfect fit without compromising your ability to move and breathe. This also helps hold this vest in place even when you jump off your SUP or tip your kayak. Some paddle jackets pile the back flotation behind your head to keep the foam line above the seat; however, 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 belt option, the combination of security and mobility the Vapor provides are among the best.
Quality of Construction
The Vapor is high-quality with hidden seams and sturdy materials, and it both looks and feels robust. While some cheap life jackets skimp on construction, including scratchy materials and sloppy seams, this is not the case with the Vapor.
This PFD is easy to clean after use, and the total lack of features and pockets aids this process and avoids the inevitable zip fail. 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.
Features and 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, knife tab, or extra loops to clip a whistle. It does have a single loop on the top of the back panel for hanging, but that's 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, a side entry PFD can take some getting used to. Once you are, though, it quickly becomes fairly convenient. The Vapor is more comfortable to wear tightened than hanging loose — a great way to make staying safe an unconscious habit. This is an asset to an otherwise quite plain — but effective — paddle jacket.
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 worth the modest investment.
The NRS Vapor is a straightforward paddle PFD that takes away the frills and features to lower its price. This option 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.
— Sara James and Maggie Nichols
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