Reviews You Can Rely On

NRS Ninja Review

Providing out of the way, low profile protection that won't impede mobility
nrs ninja pfd review
Credit: NRS
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $148 List | $110.89 at REI
Pros:  Excellent paddling mobility, breathable and open design, comfortable fabric, works for short torsos
Cons:  Unbending and flat, rough straps
Manufacturer:   NRS
By Sara James and Maggie Nichols  ⋅  Aug 17, 2022
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76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 16
  • Flotation - 25% 7.0
  • Fit - 25% 7.0
  • Comfort and Mobility - 20% 9.0
  • Quality of Construction - 15% 8.0
  • Features and Versatility - 15% 7.0

Our Verdict

The NRS Ninja is a low-profile life vest with wide-open shoulders that preserve a huge range of mobility, making it ideal for paddling. Its comfortable inner fabric and wide range of adjustability make it easy to wear against your skin while you paddle hard up the river or across the lake. It has exceptionally paddle-friendly features like an off-center knife tab, an organizational pocket, and a large handwarmer pocket, and it is durable enough to see you through all manner of wild adventures. If you're a passionate paddler, we think you'll love this freeing option from NRS.

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nrs ninja pfd review
This Product
NRS Ninja
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $148 List
$110.89 at REI
$93.75 at Backcountry
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$123.75 at Backcountry
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$115 List
Check Price at REI
$100 List
$59.99 at Amazon
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Pros Excellent paddling mobility, breathable and open design, comfortable fabric, works for short torsosComfortable articulated fit, multiple pockets, thin ventilating backVery adjustable, great fit, comfortable, good sizing options, moves well, compatible with rescue harnessSoft straps, secure fit, good mobility for paddling, decent breathabilityUniversal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatile
Cons Unbending and flat, rough strapsNo bottom security buckle, can ride upNot cheap, full coverage can be hot, runs a bit largeBulky high back panel, pockets only have snap button closure, doesn't go large enough for all usersA bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot
Bottom Line Providing out of the way, low profile protection that won't impede mobilityWith a comfortable slimline profile and high functionality, this well-designed PFD was an all-around favoriteA highly adaptable, secure, and super comfortable women's PFD with great sizing optionsA comfortable PFD that does not feel as bulky as it looks but has some size limitationsA versatile, general-use vest that is good enough to get you out on the water safely and without discomfort
Rating Categories NRS Ninja Astral E-Ronny Astral Layla Stohlquist Flo Stohlquist Spectrum
Flotation (25%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
Fit (25%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort and Mobility (20%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Quality of Construction (15%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Features and Versatility (15%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Specs NRS Ninja Astral E-Ronny Astral Layla Stohlquist Flo Stohlquist Spectrum
Intended User Unisex Mens/Unisex Women's Women's Unisex
Intended Use Paddling and sailing Recreational, touring, fishing Whitewater, sea paddling, touring, SUP, sailing Canoeing, kayaking, sailing Canoeing, kayaking, sailing
Entry Style Pull over; side entry, 2 side clips Front zip Pull over; side entry, off-center 3/4 zip and bottom clip Front, center zip Front, center zip
Wear Type Vest Vest Vest Vest Vest
Sizes Available S/M (33-40")
L/XL (38-46")
XXL (42-50")
S/M (31-37”)
M/L (38-44”)
L/XL (45-51”)
XS/S (27-31")
S/M (31-37")
M/L (38-44")
L/XL (45-51")
XS/S (28-34")
M/L (34-40")
PLUS (40-46")
Universal (30-52")
Size We Tested S/M (33-40") M/L (38-44”) M/L (38-44”) M/L (34-40") Universal (30-52")
Measured Weight 34 oz 16 oz 28oz 21 oz 18 oz
Foam Type PVC-free, PE foam Gaia PVC-free foam Kapok fiber front, PVC-free PE foam back PVC-free, PE foam PE foam
Main Material 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon exterior, 200D nylon interior 300D diamond RPET 200 x 400D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D oxford liner
Claimed Designed Buoyancy 16.3 lbs 16 lbs 16.3 lbs 16.1lbs 16.5 lbs
USCG Classification Type III Type III / performance level 70 Type III Type III / performance level 70 Type III

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ninja is a unisex life vest that comes in three sizes. It's a low profile, Type III vest covered in 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon. The Ninja sports one large center pocket with compartments, as well as an attachment point and hand warmer pockets.

Performance Comparison


nrs ninja pfd review - the ninja is a low profile pfd that keeps your arms free for paddling.
The Ninja is a low profile PFD that keeps your arms free for paddling.
Credit: Sara James

Flotation


The Ninja is designed to deliver 16.3 pounds of flotation. Although it wasn't the most buoyant we tested, for a low-profile vest, it did exceptionally well, out-performing many much bulkier feeling vests.


When worn in the water, this secure PFD provides good flotation even if you are not actively treading water. Like all the vests tested, the Ninja will not turn an unconscious swimmer, but it will help a conscious, active swimmer stay afloat so they can get to rescue.

nrs ninja pfd review - floating in the ninja is not uncomfortable.
Floating in the Ninja is not uncomfortable.
Credit: Sara James

Fit


The NRS Ninja is advertised as fitting chest sizes from 33 to 50 inches.


We found paddlers smaller than the advertised 33 inches could also comfortably wear this jacket. There are three points of adjustment to help you get everything just right.

nrs ninja pfd review - the ninja is a bit bulky and flat but it's all concentrated in the...
The Ninja is a bit bulky and flat but it's all concentrated in the middle, leaving you free to move while still fully protected.
Credit: Sara James

Comfort and Mobility


The Ninja has some of the softest interior fabric of any of the models we tested, making it incredibly comfortable to wear against bare skin. Our testers unanimously agree on this point. Though the back of the vest is fairly thick, it also rides pretty low on the torso. Lowering the straps down to the bottoms of the ribs makes this vest more comfortable to wear when breathing heavily because it's less restrictive around the lungs. Because of its low profile design with concentrated flotation, it's more adjustable to shorter torsos and can be more comfortable for shorter paddlers restricted by the length of some standard life vests.


We aren't in love with the feel of the straps, though, and find them a tad scratchier and less well-protected than we would like. NRS aimed for more mobility in the shoulder strap design, keeping things minimal. The downside here is a slight reduction in comfort. When properly adjusted, the bottom cinch strap also digs in a bit around the sides. As a low-profile vest with concentrated areas of padding, those areas are far thicker than on a regular PFD. Though the Ninja is made of six small panels, the arrangement of these panels keeps them from flexing and bending around your torso. This effect is exaggerated on thinner paddlers and medium-to-large-breasted women. Not all of our testers were stoked about the side entry system either, though once you get used to it, we think it's just as easy as any front zip jacket, with shoulder strap tails that can be tucked away into the front panel.

nrs ninja pfd review - the profile of this leave room for ample range of movement making it...
The profile of this leave room for ample range of movement making it a popular choice among paddlers
Credit: Sara James

Because the Ninja concentrates all the padding into such a small, low area, the shoulder mobility of this PFD is unmatched by any other jacket-style model we tested. Riding low on the torso, this vest expertly stays put while you paddle or when you take a spill in the water. The shoulder straps run a bit narrow, handily staying out of the way of your shoulder rotation, though they do cut in close to the neck. Added padding keeps them comfortable and less abrasive.

nrs ninja pfd review - when kayaking, some paddlers found the narrow shoulder straps of the...
When kayaking, some paddlers found the narrow shoulder straps of the Ninja abrasive on their neck.
Credit: Sara James

The only mobility issues we have with this vest are tied to its unbending shape and the subsequent struggles with fit that many women testers experience. Because it's difficult to fit over breasts or wrap tightly around smaller individuals, we were less able to get the right fit to keep it snugly in place in the water. That side, those who can get the right fit loved the added mobility of this low-profile model.

nrs ninja pfd review - the shoulder straps of the ninja have padding to keep them from...
The shoulder straps of the Ninja have padding to keep them from rubbing too much against your neck.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Quality of Construction


NRS has a reputation for making quality products, and the Ninja does not disappoint. Though it's constructed of standard materials — 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon exterior, 200D nylon interior, and PVC-free foam — it's clearly been made to withstand some hearty adventures. The seams are reinforced, and the straps are thick and durable, minor scratchiness aside. The plastic clips and buckles are sturdy and had no problem buckling even after we tossed them in the sand while wet.


Nothing on this PFD broke or frayed during testing. Even the extra features, loops, and specialty pockets in the front pouch are well designed and sturdy.

nrs ninja pfd review - the ninja is an impressively constructed pfd.
The Ninja is an impressively constructed PFD.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Features and Versatility


Designed for paddlers, we can't find any paddle sport that doesn't work well for the Ninja. It fits shorter torsos well and is conveniently out of the way for paddle strokes of pretty much any kind. It even has a nice cozy hand warmer pocket between the two layers of padding. It features a slightly off-center knife tab and a single pocket with two zippers, drain holes in the bottom, and sides that prevent the whole thing from flopping open and spilling your contents. This once singular pocket has been reimagined from previous versions and now includes a host of small pockets with daisy chains inside plus a smaller interior zippered pocket with a key clip. It's almost like wearing a tiny tackle box on your chest, ready to keep you organized or just hold one large snack without all those extras getting in the way.


Despite its compact design, the Ninja weighs 34 ounces, making it among the heaviest jackets we tested. Still, wearing it doesn't feel unduly heavy, so we don't hold the weight against this vest too much. Though the Ninja is a pretty specific paddler's design, we found it comfortable across many activities because of its openness. Yet, due to its concentration of padding into smaller, thicker areas, this isn't the best vest for lounging comfortably on the pontoon bench or leaning back in your favorite fishing chair. It's a more specific vest that's best suited to paddling and paddling hard.

nrs ninja pfd review - the front pocket of the ninja has all kinds of small, organizational...
The front pocket of the Ninja has all kinds of small, organizational features we love to use.
Credit: Cheyenne Summers

Value


Though not the most expensive option we tested, the Ninja doesn't come cheap, and there's a reason for that. The specific design, clear paddler-centric fit, and obvious quality craftsmanship make it an above-average performer. If you're truly intense about your paddle sports, we think the value of this model is worth the price. If you're a bit more casual about paddling, the Ninja is still a good value, but there are some other options for less that may also suit your needs.

Conclusion


The NRS Ninja is a low-profile PFD built with the avid paddler in mind. Its top-notch performance, mobility, and durability make it our top choice for paddling pretty much any watercraft. It features a high level of comfort and freedom to move that comes in handy during intense paddles. Though it's not the best fit for women or thin folks, it's a great choice for many hardcore paddle enthusiasts.

nrs ninja pfd review - the low profile of the ninja making is a top pick for paddlers.
The low profile of the Ninja making is a top pick for paddlers.
Credit: Sara James

Sara James and Maggie Nichols
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