Stohlquist Spectrum Review
Cons: A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot
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|Pros||Universal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatile||Tapered front, comfortable, breathable, good strap management, large pockets||Very adjustable, great fit, secure and comfortable, good sizing options, moves well, flattering||Comfortable fit, good mobility, easy to use, stays put, durable||Comfortable, good movement, easy to lean back in|
|Cons||A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot||Back panel high for swimming, runs large, pockets may be in the way while paddling||Full coverage can be hot, runs a bit large||No pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathable||Runs slightly large, vertical vents don't work, no pockets|
|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||A simple, comfortable paddle vest that's a great value||Surprisingly good performance and a comfortable fit while staying on a budget|
|Rating Categories||Stohlquist Spectrum||Astral V-Eight||Astral Layla||NRS Vapor||Onyx MoveVent Curve|
|Specs||Stohlquist Spectrum||Astral V-Eight||Astral Layla||NRS Vapor||Onyx MoveVent Curve|
|Intended Use||Paddling||Recreational, fishing, touring||Whitewater, sea paddling, touring, SUP||Paddling||Paddling|
|Entry Style||Front, center zip||Front, center zip and bottom clip||Pull over; side entry, off-center 3/4 zip and bottom clip||Side entry, side clip||Front, center zip|
|Sizes Available||Universal (30-52")||S/M (31-37")
|Size We Tested||Universal (30-52")||S/M (31-37")||S/M (31-37")||XS/M (30-42")||M/L (36-44")|
|Measured Weight||18 oz||20 oz||26 oz||28 oz||17 oz|
|Foam Type||PE foam||PE foam & EVA foam||Kapok fiber front, PVC-free PE foam back||Soft foam||Soft, lightweight foam|
|Main Material||240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D oxford liner||200 x 400D ripstop nylon||200 x 400D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner||400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner||200D nylon shell|
|Rated Buoyancy||16.5 lb||16 lb||16.3 lb||16.5 lb||Not specified|
|USCG classification||Type III||Type III||Type III||Type III||Type III|
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
— Maggie Brandenburg