The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Stohlquist Spectrum Review

A versatile, general use vest that's good as back-up.
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Price:  $70 List | $69.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Universal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatile
Cons:  A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot
Manufacturer:   Stohlquist
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 28, 2019
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 11
  • Comfort - 35% 5
  • Mobility - 30% 4
  • Versatility - 25% 7
  • Durability - 10% 5

Our Verdict

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.


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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Universal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatileTapered front, comfortable, breathable, good strap management, large pocketsVery adjustable, great fit, secure and comfortable, good sizing options, moves well, flatteringExcellent paddling mobility, breathable and open design, comfortable fabric, works for short torsosComfortable fabric, moves with you, durable, secure fit
Cons A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hotBack panel high for swimming, runs large, pockets may be in the way while paddlingFull coverage can be hot, runs a bit largeBulky, unbending and flat, rough straps, key loop catches in pocket zipperNo ventilation, sizing a bit generic for a really good fit, pushes breasts into armpits
Bottom Line A versatile, general use vest that's good as back-up.A versatile paddling jacket with good ventilation and big pockets.A highly adaptable, super comfortable women's PFD with great sizing options.Providing out-of-the-way, low profile protection that doesn't cut down on your mobility.A comfortable, full-coverage option for female paddlers.
Rating Categories Stohlquist Spectrum Astral V-Eight Astral Layla NRS Ninja NRS Siren
Comfort (35%)
10
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5
10
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9
10
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9
10
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8
10
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8
Mobility (30%)
10
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4
10
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7
10
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7
10
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8
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6
Versatility (25%)
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7
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9
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6
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7
Durability (10%)
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5
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8
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9
Specs Stohlquist Spectrum Astral V-Eight Astral Layla NRS Ninja NRS Siren
Gender Unisex Unisex Women's Unisex Women's
Intended Use Paddling Recreational, fishing, touring Whitewater, sea paddling, touring, SUP Paddling (low profile) Paddling, whitewater
Entry Style Front, center zip Front, center zip and bottom clip Pull over; side entry, off-center 3/4 zip and bottom clip Pull over; side entry, 2 side clips Pull over; side entry, 2 side clips
Wear Type Vest Vest Vest Vest Vest
Sizes Available Universal (30-52") 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")
S/M (33-40")
L/XL (38-46")
XXL (42-50")
XS/S (30-42")
L/XL (42-52")
Size We Tested Universal (30-52") S/M (31-37") S/M (31-37") S/M (33-40") XS/S (30-42")
Measured Weight (ounces) 18 oz 20 oz 26 oz 28 oz 29 oz
Foam Type PE foam PE foam & EVA foam Kapok fiber front, PVC-free PE foam back PVC-free, PE foam PVC-free, ultrasoft foam
Main Material 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D oxford liner 200 x 400D ripstop nylon 200 x 400D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 200D urethane-coated ripstop nylon 200D ripstop nylon shell, smooth 210D nylon liner
Rated Buoyancy 16.5 lb 16 lb 16.3 lb 16.5 lb 16.5 lb
USCG classification Type III Type III Type III Type III Type III

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.

Performance Comparison


We're impressed by the adjustability of this "universal" sized PFD.
We're impressed by the adjustability of this "universal" sized PFD.

Comfort


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.

Side cinch straps across the edges of the chest help this jacket to find a better fit.
Side cinch straps across the edges of the chest help this jacket to find a better fit.

Mobility


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.

Plenty of room to paddle in this jacket.
Plenty of room to paddle in this jacket.

Versatility


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!

Stay cool in this full coverage jacket by going for a swim - and/or filling your boat with water while you're at it!
Stay cool in this full coverage jacket by going for a swim - and/or filling your boat with water while you're at it!

Durability


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.

Not a bad jacket  for what it's worth.
Not a bad jacket, for what it's worth.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

Play safe at any size in the Spectrum.
Play safe at any size in the Spectrum.


Maggie Brandenburg