The Onyx M-16 is a low profile inflatable PFD that's so small and lightweight, it's easy to forget you're even wearing it. While this sounds like a dream, it's also comparatively slower to inflate, easily getting caught on itself. If all you want is to be legal while you paddle, this small USCG-approved PFD just might be right for you.
Onyx M-16 Review
Cons: Slow to inflate, scratchy velcro on the belt, difficult to put on when inflated, no pocket or indicator window
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Onyx M-16 is a manually deployed, universal-sized, inflatable belt that rearms with a 16g CO2 cartridge. It's a type V PFD with a Type III performance, containing a high-efficiency welded bladder inside a 200D nylon cover.
A very slim design that integrates the bladder into the belt much more so than its competitors gives the M-16 an edge over the competition when it comes to comfort. The "fanny" part of this fanny pack is thinner and less bulky than many others, which more easily contours to the shape of your torso when you clip it on. This same low profile shape makes it more comfortable to sit in as well.
An easily adjustable clip allows this PFD to be worn by a wide variety of body sizes, though the loop holding the excess tail has little velcro snags that poke out and are a bit uncomfortable against your skin. The webbing of this little belt is also pretty thin and a wee bit on the rough side, though since you don't have to wear this as tight as you would a standard life vest, it's less of a bother.
With this belt, you have your full range of motion wearing this belt to paddle as much or as little as you want. Its small size also makes it easier to swim with. The manual pull cord is also left of center, helping to keep that dangling tab from catching between your legs.
However, we're not so impressed with the inflatable function of this model. We found that the sides of the bladder frequently struggle to come out of their sleeves, making this model by far the slowest to inflate. A big reason to wear an inflatable is to be legal but free while you paddle, you also want to know that if you really need its life-saving capabilities, it's there for you. With the M-16, we aren't that confident.
At first, this product inflated just fine. But over time, it slowed. It slowed so much that a few times we ended up just doing it with the mouth-inflate tube, which is more difficult while treading water. Once inflated, it's a sizeable yellow pillow with a single loop to hook over your head. The loop is not adjustable, which can make it a challenge to fit over your head if you're tall, or difficult to keep in place once on if you're short. And not that any of the inflatables we tested are great for anything other than a backstroke, this extra-large, awkward pillow is even less conducive to moving through the water.
As with all inflatable belts like this one, there are limitations to when and where you should wear this. First, you must be an expert swimmer, as this thing needs some serious thought and action to get it to inflate and make you float. Second, for this pack to be legal, you have to be wearing it on your front. Fortunately, because this guy is so little and lightweight (just 11 ounces when loaded!), it's a bit less cumbersome to wear on the front like you're supposed to. This smaller profile also opens it up to being used for some casual paddle sports beyond just SUP as well.
It does lack some of the handy features that come on competing models, like an indicator window to see if it's ready for use or an extra pocket to hold your keys or lip balm. The rectangular shape of the bladder makes it fairly simple to deflate and refold into its case, though you have to thread the sleeves over the ends of the bladder, which is slightly more involved than just closing velcro around it. It's easily rearmed with a standard and easy-to-find 16g CO2 canister, which we appreciate.
Made of average materials, the M-16 isn't the most impressive specimen we tested. Not only did we read several complaints online of plastic pieces breaking and holes in the fabric, we noticed a fair amount of threads starting to come out of our model. Most disconcerting, though, is the gradual slowing down of the inflation speed. Throughout the months we tested it, it continued to get slower and slower for no reason we could figure out. Unfortunately, Onyx doesn't offer any warranty that we could find, so it seems there's not much to be done about it. Not exactly the most confidence-inspiring device.
The Onyx M-16 is on the less expensive side of inflatables we tested. While we love it for its low profile mobility, the deteriorating rate of inflation also cracked out confidence. We'd rather spend a few extra bucks and deal with a slightly larger product to have the peace of mind.
The Onyx M-16 is a very lightweight, low profile inflatable belt that we love paddling around in. Its size makes it pretty comfortable. However, with a troubling inflation mechanism, our confidence in this thing having our backs isn't particularly high. But if low profile legality is what you're after, this might be a good choice for you.
— Maggie Brandenburg