Northwest River Supplies (NRS) has a reputation for making really good river gear. They've got a very diverse selection of products ranging from 18 foot Grand Canyon slaying rafts + frames, to winter kayaking pogies and gloves. When they announced that they had a new PFD design, we were eager to see what they had built. For a reseller, NRS is a dream come true. Their products are well made, price conscious, functional and backed by a great warranty and superior customer service. The Ninja is no exception. It's basically a freestyle PFD that can be used for play boating, body boarding, Stand Up Paddling, river running and situations where you do not need a tow tether (rescue system) attached to your PFD.
Because of the low profile design, it is easy to forget that you are wearing a PFD when paddling. The fact that it has over 16 lbs of flotation makes this an even bigger statement. It's really easy to put on, paddles or swims really well, and comes off with ease. The pocket up front is a nice feature - especially the little clip inside of it that makes sure that your car keys do not accidentally end up in the river bed. As for colors, the Ninja is available in the standard issue black, moss green and red. There is also a special edition PFD that is only available in red, white and blue. This is the official PFD of The US Freestyle Team. Here are some more details about this vest:
The NRS Ninja is an extremely comfortable PFD and has 16.5 lbs flotation. This is more than The Astral Green Jacket has, and about the same as The Kokatat Ronin Pro.
This PFD swims really well. The flotation is lower on your body, and your arms are free to move easily. If you are a river surfer or body boarder, get one.
The side entry mechanism is functional, comfortable and allows for a custom fit. There are 2 adjustment sliders on each side, that also have a quick release fastex buckle. You also have the option, of using the Ninja as a pull over or side entry PFD (side entry is easier and you do not lose your fitting every time you take it on and off).
Great for paddlers with short torso's. The shoulder adjusters are easy to cinch down on.
There are quite a few bells and whistles for a price point PFD like this. This includes reflective piping, a front pocket with quick release buckle (and little locking clip inside), hand warmers (between foam layers) and of course the red,white and blue US Freestyle Team official color scheme. What is really cool, is that NRS donates $10 from the purchase of every single team edition vest to The US Freestyle Team.
PRICE. The NRS Ninja comes in at $119.95. This is roughly 2/3rds the cost of a comparable vest like The Astral Willis. Basically, you are paying entry level pricing for a great mid range PFD.
It would be cool if the Ninja was compatible with a 2" QR belt - similar to The Astral Tempo 200. SUP'ers and downriver paddlers both use quick release belts often. This jacket has enough flotation to be used for these applications, it is just missing the belt loops for a rescue system. Who knows? Maybe NRS will come out with something like this in 2012...
A little bit of fleece in the hand warmers would be cool.
The NRS Ninja is a lot of PFD for the money. It literally has 16.5 lbs of flotation, and great volume distribution for just over $100. After wearing this vest for a few weeks, I have come to appreciate it's simple and clean functionality. It adjusts easily, is super comfortable, allows for a wide range of motion, and is available in a really cool US Freestyle Kayak Team version. It's not a rescue vest, but that isn't really the purpose of the Ninja. It's a great frestyle, body boarding and down river paddling jacket. The only draw back is that it is not compatible with quick release rescue systems, which are good for stand up paddling, instruction, creeking or anyone who wants the ability to tow a boat or stand up board. Who knows? Maybe NRS will keep the great design of the Ninja and add a rescue system to? That would be cool...