The Spectrum is an alright life jacket that stands out in its universal sizing, proclaimed to fit chest sizes 30-52". While it isn't our favorite vest, particularly for the smaller end of that spectrum, it does the job reasonably well. What it lacks in features and flare, it makes up for with a pretty low price tag and the ability to fit just about any unexpected guest on your boat.
Stohlquist Spectrum Review
Cons: A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Spectrum is a unisex PFD that comes in one "universal" size. It's a full-coverage Type III vest made of a 240D mini ripstop nylon shell with a 200D oxford liner.
As a full coverage jacket, the Spectrum can be a bit warm on a hot day, especially for smaller paddlers. Though it does a decent job fitting its advertised users with 30-52" chests, our testers on the smaller end of that spectrum found they had to overlap the sides to get the right fit, making it even warmer and a bit bulky for a comfortable paddle experience. The material and straps are reasonably comfortable to wear, though the cinch straps on the chest were in the way for thinner paddlers. We're actually impressed with how adjustable this jacket is in fitting many sizes of wearers, though it's far from our first choice for overall comfort.
This jacket does a decent job when put to the test, but we found that it's much better for larger wearers. Since it lacks a cinching strap on the very bottom, smaller folks had a harder time getting a secure fit. This translates into the PFD riding up while we were in the water. Larger paddlers were better able to get the right fit and found this jacket does a pretty good job of staying put and being out of the way for swimming and paddling. Larger circumferenced testers also didn't have such an issue with long strap tails dangling everywhere on their person as more narrow wearers do. All in all, if this jacket fits your size, we think you'll be satisfied with its mobility.
Being a basic life jacket, the Spectrum does a decent job while paddling. It's universal, non-specific design makes it a pretty good choice for all kinds of paddling and water activities. With a full back, it's comfortable to lean back in a kayak seat of just about any height and feel supported. It weighs just 18 ounces, which makes it one of the lightest vests we tested. However, it lacks pockets and attachment loops, so if keeping your fishing lures or sunscreen close at hand is one of your requirements, the Spectrum isn't the one for you. With full coverage, it can also be a bit warm on hot days - though a good dunk in the water will surely help cure that!
The Stohlquist consists of a 240D mini ripstop nylon shell, a 200D oxford liner, and filled with lightweight PE foam. During our several months of testing, we noticed that the straps tend to fray fairly easily, though none of them reached a point where we felt like their structural integrity was significantly compromised. The seams also have ends sticking out in many places, which could become an issue down the road. Though for a piece of gear that tends to have around a 5-year lifespan, the Spectrum is alright. It also comes with a lifetime manufacturers warranty for any issues you may encounter along the way.
The Spectrum is actually on the lower end of the price range among the products we tested. If the ability to fit every member of your family is what you're after, we think the Spectrum is a good choice. Looking for something for just you to paddle in? We recommend checking out some of the other PFDs we tested instead.
The Stohlquist Spectrum isn't a stand-out performer in any single category but is a pretty decent option all around. What it's really good for is being able to fit a whole bunch of different sized water adventurers while being decently comfortable and secure. If you're after a no-nonsense life vest that can be worn by just about anyone, that's what the Spectrum is here for.
— Maggie Brandenburg