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NRS Zephyr Review

Out of the way when you don't need it, easy to use and reliable when you do
NRS Zephyr
Photo: NRS
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $120 List
Pros:  Quick inflation, easy to use in the water, comfortable, useful pocket
Cons:  Bulky when sitting or swimming, more complicated repacking and rearming
Manufacturer:   NRS
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 10, 2021
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67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 10
  • Comfort - 35% 8
  • Mobility - 30% 9
  • Versatility - 25% 3
  • Durability - 10% 4

Our Verdict

We have a lot of requirements for an inflatable belt PFD. It needs to be comfortable to wear, easy to forget it's on, simple to use, and reliable when you need it. The NRS Zephyr meets all those criteria and is easily our favorite inflatable belt. Made of soft yet durable materials, the Zephyr is comfortable to wear without getting in the way. Simple instructions and reliable use give us peace of mind that it will work when needed. Some useful features like a large extra pocket and D-rings with reflective strips, along with durable materials and quality construction, help propel the Zephyr to the winner's circle.

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NRS Zephyr
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NRS Zephyr
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $120 ListCheck Price at REI
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$139.90 at Amazon
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$59.99 at Amazon
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Pros Quick inflation, easy to use in the water, comfortable, useful pocketTapered 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 when sitting or swimming, more complicated repacking and rearmingBack 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 Out of the way when you don't need it, easy to use and reliable when you doA 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 Zephyr Astral V-Eight Astral Layla NRS Vapor Onyx MoveVent Curve
Comfort (35%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Mobility (30%)
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Versatility (25%)
3.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
5.0
Durability (10%)
4.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
5.0
Specs NRS Zephyr Astral V-Eight Astral Layla NRS Vapor Onyx MoveVent Curve
Gender Unisex Unisex Women's Unisex Unisex
Intended Use Paddling (low profile), for expert swimmers only Recreational, fishing, touring Whitewater, sea paddling, touring, SUP Paddling Paddling
Entry Style Waist belt, clip 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 Belt (inflatable) Vest Vest Vest Vest
Sizes Available Universal (27-50") 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 Universal (27-50") S/M (31-37") S/M (31-37") XS/M (30-42") M/L (36-44")
Measured Weight 19 oz 20 oz 26 oz 28 oz 17 oz
Foam Type 24g CO2 cylinder, high-efficiency welded bladder PE foam & EVA foam Kapok fiber front, PVC-free PE foam back Soft foam Soft, lightweight foam
Main Material 400D ripstop nylon exterior 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 27.8 lb 16 lb 16.3 lb 16.5 lb Not specified
USCG classification Type V with Type III performance Type III Type III Type III Type III

Our Analysis and Test Results

The NRS Zephyr is a manually deployed, unisex inflatable belt PFD that comes in just one "universal" size. A type V PFD with a type III performance, it's made of polyester with a high-efficiency welded bladder and operates with a 24g CO2 canister.

Performance Comparison


Always quick to inflate, the NRS Zephyr proved itself to be our...
Always quick to inflate, the NRS Zephyr proved itself to be our favorite inflatable belt PFD.
Photo: Jason Peters

Comfort


Compared to the other belt packs we tested, the Zephyr has a strap of medium width and medium softness, which we think is pretty comfortable to wear over clothes or against the skin. This latest version condenses what you're wearing by eliminating padding everywhere but directly underneath the clip. The back of the actual pack is reasonably comfortable nylon fabric, covered mainly by the large, smooth, official approval patch. Though its edges are a bit papery feeling, we mostly didn't notice it while on. The wide clip is secured to a thinly padded section that completely prevents it from ever touching the skin around your waist. An elastic loop keeps the strap tail easily out of the way no matter how you adjust it.


While paddleboarding, it's easy to forget you're even wearing this pack. However, it's rather bulky, with its large inflatable section packed into a relatively small space. For it to function properly (and be legal), you have to wear that bulky section on the front, which can get in the way of comfortably sitting down. All inflatable belts are a little awkward when worn in a seated position, both in size and their tendency to be pushed upwards as your body changes shape when seated. You can get used to this fit and feel, but inflatable belts are much better for standing activities like SUPing or sailing.

Once inflated, this vest slides on over your head, without any extra...
Once inflated, this vest slides on over your head, without any extra straps or adjustments required.
Photo: Jason Peters

Mobility


Any PFD of this style is going to offer some pretty top-notch mobility since it just wraps around the waist and doesn't come close to your shoulders. The Zephyr also helps keep you mobile by having the pull tab for deployment located slightly off-center, so it doesn't catch between your legs. However, what makes this model a good choice for mobility is how well the inflating function works.


Wearing a PFD this low profile and specifically made only for expert swimmers, you don't expect to deploy it every time you get on the water. But you want to know it will work if and when the day comes that you need to use its inflation properties. During our testing, the Zephyr consistently proved itself to be reliable on deployment and easy to use as an inflated flotation device. It explodes into a stiff yellow vest that simply slides on over your head. Short black straps on either side help to pull the neck hole farther open to more easily put on, and there are no additional straps or adjustments to worry about after that.

The bulky pack can be a little in the way while paddling but we got...
The bulky pack can be a little in the way while paddling but we got used to it.
Photo: Jason Peters

Once this inflated vest is securely attached to your front, you're not going to be doing a lot of comfortable swimming. These types of PFDs are meant for expert swimmers experiencing emergency situations that exceed their swimming abilities. In this respect, we love how quickly and reliably the Zephyr inflates. It's one of the fastest we've tested, quickly becoming ready in a true emergency when you need it most. Its only downside is that because it has no additional security straps on the inflatable portion, the neck hole very small, and some of our testers had a hard time getting their heads through it, particularly when panicking and treading water.

Versatility


The most important thing to remember about every inflatable belt PFD like the Zephyr is that it's only intended for expert swimmers, and, to be legal, it must be worn on the front and armed with a CO2 canister. This definition of who can safely wear this type of PFD is limiting. It's mostly intended for paddling, though the fanny pack design might not be everyone's favorite for sit-down paddling. On a SUP, though, it's pretty awesome. Also, if you choose to wear it a little higher on your waist, you can easily rock this thing for canoeing, kayaking, sailing, or even on the pontoon or yacht.


Rearming the Zephyr is a simple process. NRS recommends purchasing the full rearming kit that includes the 24g CO2 canister, as well as a little green tab to indicate that the system is ready for use. This small plastic tab disappears when you pull the arm that deploys the airbag — that means that it joins the aquatic ecosystem as yet another small piece of trash. Pro tip: though NRS doesn't mention it in their directions, you can rearm the whole thing the same way but without using the little green plastic trash piece. It won't have a nice green "I'm ready" spot in the indicator window, but it also won't fling garbage away into the sea. In this newest version of the Zephyr, NRS went away from the 16g CO2 canister (that's easier to find and available in bulk) and went with the larger 24g CO2 canister (which is a more difficult size to find at a reasonable price). Finally, like all the inflatable PFDs we tested, there's an emergency mouth-inflate tube — though this may be difficult to operate if you find yourself in a true emergency situation.

A large padded front pocket holds an iPhone 12 Pro Max and car keys.
A large padded front pocket holds an iPhone 12 Pro Max and car keys.
Photo: Jason Peters

Durability


The strap and case on the Zephyr are made of (non-ripstop) polyester, and the bladder is welded. True to what we've come to expect from an NRS product, the quality of construction is solid, and we had no issues using this PFD. Even scouring other internet reviews didn't reveal any dirt on potential failures.


The only mildly annoying thing we noticed is that the bladder and pack are supposed to be completely dry before repacking them, which just takes time. We assume this is to prevent potential yuckies picked up in wild waters from growing inside your PFD, so this seems like a reasonable step to take toward extending the life of your inflatable. And, obviously, poking a hole in the bladder renders it useless, a problem foam life vests do not face.

All the components of the Zephyr seem well-built and sturdy. Our...
All the components of the Zephyr seem well-built and sturdy. Our only complaint is the loss of that little green plastic tab into the water when you pull the inflation string.
Photo: Jason Peters

Value


The Zephyr isn't the cheapest inflatable we tested, but it also isn't the most expensive. We like its compromise between comfort, usability, and reliability. For the mobility and peace of mind that it brings to the table, we think it's worth the few extra bucks.

Conclusion


The NRS Zephyr is a comfortable belt when it's packed up, easy to use when deployed, and reliable to use in emergency situations. Despite not being the smallest or cheapest inflatable we tested, the Zephyr brings a great blend of comfort with the reliability of knowing it will perform admirably when you need it.

If you're an expert swimmer looking for the lowest possible profile...
If you're an expert swimmer looking for the lowest possible profile PFD to keep you safe in emergencies and be out of the way while you have fun, the Zephyr is an excellent option.
Photo: Jason Peters

Maggie Brandenburg