As a Trauma Intensive Care Nurse for the last ten years, a private boater, and a commercial rafting guide, safety on the river is of the utmost importance to me. As a woman on the river, however, I quickly discovered not all gear is made with us slay-dies in mind. I struggled to find a PFD that fit "the girls", was comfortable for all-day wear, and didn’t limit my paddle power and motion. I settled on a rescue jacket that I liked well enough and while the fit was never quite perfect, I felt like a badass with all my straps, enormous pockets, and quick-release rescue belt.
Nevertheless, swift water trained and all, I filled my pockets to the brim with all kinds of crap and headed out on the river! All was well until the first time I flipped and this enormous pocket...coupled with my well-endowedness and front-mounted rescue knife...made it incredibly difficult for me to get back on and in my raft in the swift current of our high water year here in Colorado.
I participated in rigorous guide training this year, flipping my raft in rapids on purpose, as many as 8 times in one day. The exhaustion of swimming and the extra stuff on my chest was just too much when trying to pull myself back in. That’s when I took a step back and started debating what I really needed. Did I really need all this stuff in my pockets? How often am I really going to be the one live bait v-lowered in a rescue scenario? As a kayaker last season, I witnessed a tow tether connected to a swamped creek boat wrap on a bridge pylon and the rescue belt not release when the kayaker towing the unmanned boat started to sink under the water. Is that how I want to practice rescues anyway? Do I HAVE to have a quick-release belt?
After trying on every PFD imaginable, I found the Astral YTV to be BY FAR the MOST comfortable PFD for my large chest. The low profile makes it incredibly easy for me to slide back into my raft or inflatable kayak. The rescue knife mount has been moved higher so I no longer get stuck on it trying to get back in the raft or cut my dried out hands on it when rowing multi-day trips. The pockets are smaller but I am still able to keep everything I NEED.
I can fit all the equipment for a z-drag kit on my person still: two locking carabiners and a pulley fit nestled in one pocket with my prusiks. I wear a high weight rated throw bag on my waist along with 20 feet of daisy chained webbing as my flip-line which I can utilize as a self equalizing anchor. My other pocket has ‘comfort essentials’, chapstick with SPF, a pocketknife/multitool, a stick of sunscreen, cash $$$ from my TIPS BABY, and maybe a phone number or two from guys on the river who watch me absolutely PIT THE GNAR in my sick YTV PFD. Coupled with a waterproof watch and an absolutely necessary ear-piercing FOX 40 whistle on my shoulder strap, I push out of eddys with the confidence that I know these things:
- I can get back on and in fast. SO fast other guides may not even notice I was launched out and I won’t owe any swim beers!
- I have everything on my person I need in a rescue scenario, not buried in a dry bag that may be swept downstream or could be underwater if river-forbid my boat was wrapped.
- If that once in 10 year v-lower scenario arises for me, I’ll be the one on shore managing the ropes and one of my 167 river friends with a quick release belt can be the live bait. As the most trained medical person generally on my trips, I shouldn’t be one in the water anyway.
- At 16.5 lbs of float it has the same amount of buoyancy as the $270 rescue PFDs.
- Weighing in at only 1.76 lbs it is one of the lightest, most comfortable PFDs I found on the market. It is HALF the weight of most rescue PFDs.
- After watching two guides with side zip PFDs have their zippers come undone this year in bad swims and get pulled out of the water with only the bottom buckle preventing their jacket from sliding off, I love the assurance of knowing this sucker isn’t coming off me. Astral’s freestyle inspired Torso Lock foam platform in the YTV is a big part of that.
- Astral is a fabulous company who makes quality products and has partnered with Catawba Brewing to produce a canned session IPA called ‘bootie beer’ which is delicious and I love them for that. HA!
8) As a raft guide on a tight budget this PFD is easy on the wallet at $119.95. That’s LESS than HALF of most rescue jackets (and it comes in several awesome colors to suit your river style).
I hope this helps you fabulous river running women in your quest to find the perfect PFD for you.
Cheers and best wishes for all dry hair days but also remember as Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”. Be safe out there.
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” - Loren Eiseley