NRS Ninja Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Excellent paddling mobility, breathable and open design, comfortable fabric, works for short torsos
Cons: Bulky, unbending and flat, rough straps
Compare to Similar Products
|Price||$147.95 at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
$119.95 at REI
|$164.95 at Amazon|
Compare at 3 sellers
|$94.95 at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
$48.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Excellent paddling mobility, breathable and open design, comfortable fabric, works for short torsos||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||Bulky, unbending and flat, rough straps||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||Providing out of the way, low profile protection that won't impede mobility||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 stays in place and provides a great value||Surprisingly good performance and a comfortable fit while staying on a budget|
|Rating Categories||NRS Ninja||Astral V-Eight||Astral Layla||NRS Vapor||Onyx MoveVent Curve|
|Specs||NRS Ninja||Astral V-Eight||Astral Layla||NRS Vapor||Onyx MoveVent Curve|
|Intended Use||Paddling (low profile)||Recreational, fishing, touring||Whitewater, sea paddling, touring, SUP||Paddling||Paddling|
|Entry Style||Pull over; side entry, 2 side clips||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||S/M (33-40")
|Size We Tested||S/M (33-40")||S/M (31-37")||S/M (31-37")||XS/M (30-42")||M/L (36-44")|
|Measured Weight||34 oz||20 oz||26 oz||28 oz||17 oz|
|Foam Type||PVC-free, PE foam||PE foam & EVA foam||Kapok fiber front, PVC-free PE foam back||Soft foam||Soft, lightweight foam|
|Main Material||400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon exterior, 200D nylon interior||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 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 has some of the softest interior fabric of any of the models we tested. It's much softer than the slick-feeling fabric of the average jacket, 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, which allows a reasonable level of comfort when you take a break to lean back during your epic paddle. By lowering the straps down to the bottoms of the ribs, this vest is 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 who are 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 small drop in comfort. The bottom cinch strap also tends to dig in a bit around the sides when properly adjusted. As a low-profile vest with concentrated areas of padding, those areas are far thicker than on a regular PFD. Though 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 on 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.
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, cutting right across the sides of the neck, handily staying out of the way of your shoulder rotation as well. Added padding keeps them comfortable and less abrasive.
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 have with it. Because it's difficult to fit over breasts or wrap tightly around smaller individuals, we were less able to get the right security of fit to keep it snugly in place in the water without also uncomfortably squeezing the ribs and stomach. Our male testers didn't experience this issue, and among female testers, it was only among the very slim body types. Those who can get the right fit loved the added mobility of this low-profile model.
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 handwarmer pocket in between the two layers of padding, helping to warm up your chilly digits. It features a slightly off-center knife tab and a single, zippered 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 and daisy chains inside and 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, we don't think it feels unduly heavy when wearing it, 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 to be comfortable across activities because of how open it is. However, by concentrating 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 has a reputation for making some 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 working 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.
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 what you'll pay. 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.
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 aboard 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 adventurers, it's a great choice for many hardcore paddle enthusiasts.
— Maggie Brandenburg
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More