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Stohlquist Spectrum Review

A versatile, general use vest that's good as back-up
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Price:  $70 List
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  ⋅  Jul 7, 2020
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 12
  • Comfort - 35% 5
  • Mobility - 30% 4
  • Versatility - 25% 7
  • Durability - 10% 5

Our Verdict

The Stohlquist 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. It's a solid choice for an extra vest to keep around for visiting friends and family or even as a spare jacket that lives on your boat all the time. 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 friends, family, and other possible guests on your aquatic adventures.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Spectrum comes in one "universal" size and is unisex. 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 are, again, 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 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. 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 Spectrum consists of a 240D mini-ripstop nylon shell, a 200D oxford liner, and is filled with lightweight PE foam. During our several months of testing, we noticed that the straps tended 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 manufacturer's 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 this is a good choice. But if you're looking for something for just you, 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 where this option shines.

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

Maggie Brandenburg