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Stohlquist Spectrum Review

A versatile, general-use vest that is good enough to get you out on the water safely and without discomfort
stohlquist spectrum pfd review
Credit: Stohlquist
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $100 List | $59.99 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 Sara James and Maggie Nichols  ⋅  Aug 17, 2022
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 16
  • Flotation - 25% 7.0
  • Fit - 25% 7.0
  • Comfort and Mobility - 20% 8.0
  • Quality of Construction - 15% 7.0
  • Features and Versatility - 15% 7.0

Our Verdict

The Stohlquist Spectrum doesn't top the chart in any particular metric but scored adequately throughout all testing and sports a great price tag. Available in one universal size designed to fit chest sizes from 30 to 52 inches, it isn't our favorite vest for smaller users, but it does the job reasonably well. This is a solid choice for a budget first-time PFD for those that just want to stay safe and remain comfortable. It would be a great extra vest to keep around for visiting friends and family. What it lacks in features and flare, it makes up for with a low price tag.

Compare to Similar Products

 
stohlquist spectrum pfd review
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $100 List
$59.99 at Amazon
$93.75 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$115 List
$84.89 at REI
$115 List
Check Price at REI
$95 List
$71.19 at REI
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Pros Universal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatileComfortable articulated fit, multiple pockets, thin ventilating backSecure fit, pockets, highly adjustableSoft straps, secure fit, good mobility for paddling, decent breathabilityGreat mobility, stays put, durable
Cons A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hotNo bottom security buckle, can ride upPockets only have button tab closure, bulky in placesBulky high back panel, pockets only have snap button closure, doesn't go large enough for all usersNo pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathable
Bottom Line A versatile, general-use vest that is good enough to get you out on the water safely and without discomfortWith a comfortable slimline profile and high functionality, this well-designed PFD was an all-around favoriteA comfortable and secure high back PFD that is easy to adjust in order to get just the right fightA comfortable PFD that does not feel as bulky as it looks but has some size limitationsA simple, comfortable paddle vest that stays in place and provides a great value
Rating Categories Stohlquist Spectrum Astral E-Ronny Stohlquist Ebb Stohlquist Flo NRS Vapor
Flotation (25%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Fit (25%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort and Mobility (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Quality of Construction (15%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Features and Versatility (15%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
5.0
Specs Stohlquist Spectrum Astral E-Ronny Stohlquist Ebb Stohlquist Flo NRS Vapor
Intended User Unisex Mens/Unisex Unisex Women's Unisex
Intended Use Canoeing, kayaking, sailing Recreational, touring, fishing Canoeing, kayaking, sailing Canoeing, kayaking, sailing Paddling
Entry Style Front, center zip Front zip Front, center zip Front, center zip Pull over; side entry,1 side clip
Wear Type Vest Vest Vest Vest Vest
Sizes Available Universal (30-52") S/M (31-37”)
M/L (38-44”)
L/XL (45-51”)
S/M (33-39")
L/XL (40-46")
Plus (46-52")
XS/S (28-34")
M/L (34-40")
PLUS (40-46")
XS/M (30-42")
L/XL (42-52")
XL/XXL (50-56")
Size We Tested Universal (30-52") M/L (38-44”) L/XL (40-46") M/L (34-40") XS/M (30-42")
Measured Weight 18 oz 16 oz 22 oz 21 oz 28 oz
Foam Type PE foam Gaia PVC-free foam PE foam PVC-free, PE foam Soft foam
Main Material 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D oxford liner 300D diamond RPET 240D ripstop nylon 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner
Claimed Designed Buoyancy 16.5 lbs 16 lbs 16.25 lbs 16.1lbs 16.3 lbs
USCG Classification Type III Type III / performance level 70 Type III / performance level 70 Type III / performance level 70 Type III

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Spectrum comes in one "universal" size and is a unisex PFD. It's a full-coverage US Coast Guard-approved Type III vest made of a 240D mini-ripstop nylon shell with a 200D oxford liner.

Performance Comparison


stohlquist spectrum pfd review - we're impressed by the adjustability of this "universal" sized pfd.
We're impressed by the adjustability of this "universal" sized PFD.
Credit: Sara James

Flotation


The Stohlquist Spectrum is designed to deliver 16 pounds 8 ounces of buoyancy, putting this PFD on the podium for this essential metric. This spec was confirmed during our in-house float testing, during which this jacket outperformed all the other products except the self-inflating PFDs.


Thanks to the secure fit, the Spectrum delivers a comfortable floating experience for all but the smallest of paddlers. For those with a small chest, the jacket tends to ride up when floating in the water. This can be annoying for swimmers, particularly in a white water scenario.

stohlquist spectrum pfd review - when floating in the water the spectrum has the tendency to ride up...
When floating in the water the Spectrum has the tendency to ride up the body of the wearer.
Credit: Sara James

Fit


Despite being a budget PFD, the Spectrum offers the adjustability of a more expensive vest. It can be tailored to fit the shoulders, chest, and lower torso. An additional adjustable waist strap would further improve this vest for more petite paddlers; however, for most, it's pretty adequate without. The chest cinch strap was particularly appreciated for delivering a secure fit regardless of body shape.


The Spectrum is designed in one universal size that is advertised to fit chest sizes from 30 to 52 inches. Testers with 34-inch chests still found this jacket a bit bulky around the lower torso and had to overlap the side paneling to get a secure fit. Large paddlers reported higher ratings for the fit of this jacket.

stohlquist spectrum pfd review - adult men of a medium size or larger found the spectrum to be well...
Adult men of a medium size or larger found the Spectrum to be well suited to their body size.
Credit: Sara James

Comfort and Mobility


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, 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 too bulky for a comfortable paddle experience.


The material and straps on this PFD are reasonably comfortable to wear. We're impressed with how adjustable this jacket fits wearers of many sizes, though it's far from our first choice for overall comfort.

stohlquist spectrum pfd review - the arm holes on the spectrum are large giving your arms full range...
The arm holes on the Spectrum are large giving your arms full range of movement for paddling - or cuddling your dog.
Credit: Sara James

This jacket does a decent job when put to the paddling 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 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.

stohlquist spectrum pfd review - plenty of room to paddle in this jacket.
Plenty of room to paddle in this jacket.
Credit: Sara James

Quality of Construction


The Spectrum consists of a 240D mini-ripstop nylon shell and 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 on our test model also had ends sticking out in many places, which could become an issue down the road. For a piece of gear that tends to have around a 5-year lifespan, the Spectrum is alright. At the time of this writing, it also comes with a lifetime manufacturer's warranty for any issues you may encounter along the way.

stohlquist spectrum pfd review - the outer shell is made of  240d mini-ripstop nylon and is designed...
The outer shell is made of 240D mini-ripstop nylon and is designed to withstand the use and abuse of regular kayaking outings.
Credit: Cheyenne Summers

Features and Versatility


A basic life jacket, the Spectrum does a decent job for paddling. Its universal, non-specific design makes it a 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. The shoulder adjustability enables you to shorten this jacket's torso if you wear it with a spray skirt. It weighs just 18 ounces, which makes the it one of the lightest vests we tested.


The Spectrum has a number of vertical and horizontal stash pockets that are easy to miss if you are not paying attention. Although useful for storing items such as chapstick or a river knife, none of these spots have closures, nor are there any attachment loops on the PFD. Expensive items will require a different, more secure location.

stohlquist spectrum pfd review - the numerous stash pockets on the stohlquist spectrum are great for...
The numerous stash pockets on the Stohlquist Spectrum are great for storing non valuables such as snacks or a small sunscreen tube.
Credit: Sara James

Value


The Spectrum is on the lower end of the price range among the products we tested. If the ability to fit every family member is what you're after, we think this is a good choice. Smaller paddlers may want to consider another option, but otherwise, this is a budget deal that will be good enough to get most paddlers out on the water.

Conclusion


The Stohlquist Spectrum isn't a stand-out performer in any one category but is a decent option all around. What it's perfect for is being able to fit a 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.

stohlquist spectrum pfd review - an affordable jacket that is good enough to get you out on the water...
An affordable jacket that is good enough to get you out on the water safely and without any discomfort
Credit: Sara James

Sara James and Maggie Nichols
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