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Onyx M-16 Review

A minimal impact belt that's lightweight but not the greatest inflatable performance
Onyx M-16
Photo: Onyx
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Price:  $100 List | $94.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Very low profile, lightweight, molds to your body shape
Cons:  Slow to inflate, scratchy velcro on the belt, difficult to put on when inflated, no pocket or indicator window
Manufacturer:   Onyx
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 10, 2021
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61
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 10
  • Comfort - 35% 7
  • Mobility - 30% 9
  • Versatility - 25% 3
  • Durability - 10% 2

Our Verdict

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, and less reliable in a true emergency — which is what these inflatable belts are made for. If all you want is to be legal while you paddle, this small USCG-approved PFD might be right for you. But if you need something to have your back (or really, your front) when you find yourself in an actual on-water emergency, this may not be enough for you.

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Onyx M-16
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Onyx M-16
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $100 List
$94.99 at Amazon
$90.00 at Backcountry
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$60 List
$49.58 at Amazon
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Pros Very low profile, lightweight, molds to your body shapeTapered front, comfortable, breathable, good strap management, large pocketsComfortable fabric, moves with you, durable, secure fitComfortable fit, good mobility, easy to use, stays put, durableComfortable, good movement, easy to lean back in
Cons Slow to inflate, scratchy velcro on the belt, difficult to put on when inflated, no pocket or indicator windowBack panel high for swimming, runs large, pockets may be in the way while paddlingNo ventilation, sizing a bit generic for a really good fit, pushes breasts into armpitsNo pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathableRuns slightly large, vertical vents don't work, no pockets
Bottom Line A minimal impact belt that's lightweight but not the greatest inflatable performanceA versatile paddling jacket with good ventilation and big pocketsA comfortable, full-coverage option for female paddlersA simple, comfortable paddle vest that's a great valueSurprisingly good performance and a comfortable fit while staying on a budget
Rating Categories Onyx M-16 Astral V-Eight NRS Siren NRS Vapor Onyx MoveVent Curve
Comfort (35%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Mobility (30%)
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Versatility (25%)
3.0
9.0
6.0
6.0
5.0
Durability (10%)
2.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
5.0
Specs Onyx M-16 Astral V-Eight NRS Siren NRS Vapor Onyx MoveVent Curve
Gender Unisex Unisex Women's Unisex Unisex
Intended Use Paddling (low profile), for expert swimmers only Recreational, fishing, touring Paddling, flat water Paddling Paddling
Entry Style Waist belt, clip Front, center zip and bottom clip Pull over; side entry,1 side clip Side entry, side clip Front, center zip
Wear Type Belt (inflatable) Vest Vest Vest Vest
Sizes Available Universal (30-52") 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/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 (30-52") S/M (31-37") XS/M XS/M (30-42") M/L (36-44")
Measured Weight 11 oz 20 oz 32 oz 28 oz 17 oz
Foam Type 16g CO2 cylinder, high-efficiency welded bladder PE foam & EVA foam PVC-free, ultrasoft foam Soft foam Soft, lightweight foam
Main Material 200D Oxford nylon shell 200 x 400D ripstop nylon 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 200D nylon shell
Rated Buoyancy 16 lb with CO2 cylinder
up to 26.5 lb with oral inflation
16 lb 16.5 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 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.

Performance Comparison


The Onyx M-16 is a very lightweight, slim inflatable belt.
The Onyx M-16 is a very lightweight, slim inflatable belt.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Comfort


The M-16 has a very slim design that integrates the bladder into the belt much more than most. This gives it 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.

By spreading out the bulk of the inflatable chamber, the Onyx M-16...
By spreading out the bulk of the inflatable chamber, the Onyx M-16 is a very slim profile belt to wear.
Photo: Jason Peters

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 the 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 it as tight as you would a standard life vest, it's less of a bother.

The Onyx M-16 (far left) is much slimmer than most other inflatable...
The Onyx M-16 (far left) is much slimmer than most other inflatable belt PFDs we've tested.
Photo: Jason Peters

Mobility


With this belt, you have your full range of motion 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 right of center and has an integrated clip on the plastic portion that allows you to attach it to the body of the cover for a dangle-free experience. This means it's harder to grab when you're panicking in an emergency but is far more comfortable to wear. However, we're less impressed with the inflatable performance of the M-16. It consistently took longer than any other inflatable to actually inflate using the CO2 cartridge. Once we pulled the string, the knot attaching it to the plastic pull tab came undone, leaving us with just the plastic tab in hand and an inflated belt around our waists. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of reliability from a piece of equipment designed to function in an emergency. Once it inflates into a large fluorescent yellow rectangle, a single adjustable strap goes over your head to keep this air pillow against your stomach as you back float until help arrives.

The M-16 inflates a rectangular pillow that includes a neck strap to...
The M-16 inflates a rectangular pillow that includes a neck strap to keep it tight against your chest.
Photo: Jason Peters

Versatility


As with all inflatable belts like this one, there are limitations to when and where you should use it. 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 the M-16 is so little and lightweight (just 11 ounces when loaded), it's a lot less cumbersome to wear on the front as it's intended.

The M-16 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.

Sliding these end pieces back over the folded, deflated bladder...
Sliding these end pieces back over the folded, deflated bladder takes a little finesse to get the small velcro patches lined up again.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Durability


Made of average materials, the M-16 isn't the most impressive specimen we tested. Its construction leaves thread tails hanging everywhere, and very limited-sized velcro patches allow the ends to pop open while you paddle or swim. Most troubling, 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.

The pull tab has a clip that keeps it out of the way while you...
The pull tab has a clip that keeps it out of the way while you paddle - but makes it harder to grab. Ours also yanked right off the string once, failing to inflate the belt at all.
Photo: Jason Peters

Value


The M-16 is on the less expensive side of inflatables we tested. While we love it for its low profile mobility, the slow rate of inflation isn't the most confidence-inspiring. We'd rather spend a few extra bucks and deal with a slightly larger product to have peace of mind.

Conclusion


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.

It's easy to love wearing the Onyx M-16, though it's not quite as...
It's easy to love wearing the Onyx M-16, though it's not quite as reliable as other inflatable belts we've tested.
Photo: Jason Peters

Maggie Brandenburg

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