Stohlquist Flo Review
Cons: Same chest fit as the average unisex PFD, bulky high back panel, not the most durable
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Flo is a women's specific life jacket that comes in three sizes that top out at a limiting 46" chest circumference. This type III jacket with a half-back is made from a 240D ripstop nylon with a 200D nylon liner. It features two pockets and specific chest adjustment straps.
For a female-specific life jacket, we're looking for noticeable tapering on the top, or even cups or a shelf, to accommodate breasts. To our dismay, the tapering of the Flo is the same as many of the unisex models we tested. We expected better from a jacket specifically advertised for women. Our friends with larger busts found it to be unsatisfying. Additionally, Stohlquist outfitted this jacket with their typical chest cinch straps. While this feature does help fit the vest on male bodies, our female friends found it unhelpful in function, serving only to push body parts out the sides of the vest.
The half-back feature does a fine job with lower seatbacks, but for women who are shorter or a seat that's on the taller side, the height of the back panel isn't in an ideal location for comfort. The vest does have soft, comfortable straps and a covered bottom band that helps it stay comfortable rather than tight while sitting. Overall, we think it's a reasonably comfortable option for some folks. We're just not impressed with the "women's specific fit" that we feel is rather lacking in this model.
A relatively narrow back panel helps give the mobility women with narrower shoulders crave while they paddle. Though this jacket has no loops or tabs to help keep straps from flapping around, we found them to stay out of the way for a comfortable paddle stroke or swim. The zig-zag side straps help hold the Flo securely in place even as you enter the water. A large mesh back panel aids in breathability on a hot day as well. However, the high, thick back panel sometimes interfered with our ability to hold our necks comfortably while doing the breaststroke, though not as much as some of the competition. In general, we think this is a moderately mobile life vest for casual paddling and the occasional swim.
Advertised for women paddling, touring, and recreationally kayaking, we find that to be a pretty accurate description of the usage of the Flo. With two large, buttoned pockets on the front, it has some decent storage options. Unfortunately, these pockets are a bit on the small side for today's smartphones, and we aren't the biggest fans of the snap closures that we feel open a bit too easily when caught on something — like the side of your boat as you haul yourself back in from a refreshing dip in the water. Weighing 21 ounces, it's barely above average among the jackets we tested, though they all feel about the same weight when you're wearing them.
The Flo consists of the expected materials, with PVC-free PE foam covered by a 240D ripstop nylon shell and 200D nylon liner. It also comes with a lifetime manufacturer's warranty and directions on how to properly care for and store the vest to extend its lifespan. However, we're not particularly enthusiastic about the durability of this vest compared to some much more impressive models we tested. We frequently caught the material in the zipper, leaving little snags in the fabric. We also observed some sloppy seams with ends that began to poke out the longer we used it. Nothing actually broke or fell apart during our several month-long testing period, but we have a few reservations.
The Flo is fairly expensive for the performance it brings to the table. Though it's a decent paddling jacket, we just don't find that it lives up to its claims of being a great option for women. But if you've tried it on and love the fit, or maybe found a great deal, it might be worth it for you.
The Stohlquist Flo is an average performer for a casual paddling jacket. While we think it makes a decent choice and has a fairly comfortable fit, color us unimpressed with its "women's specific" features.
— Maggie Brandenburg