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NRS Vapor Review

A simple, comfortable paddle vest that stays in place and provides a great value
nrs vapor pfd review
Credit: NRS
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $95 List | $71.19 at REI
Pros:  Great mobility, stays put, durable
Cons:  No pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathable
Manufacturer:   NRS
By Sara James and Maggie Nichols  ⋅  Aug 17, 2022
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67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#15 of 16
  • Flotation - 25% 6.0
  • Fit - 25% 7.0
  • Comfort and Mobility - 20% 8.0
  • Quality of Construction - 15% 7.0
  • Features and Versatility - 15% 5.0

Our Verdict

The NRS Vapor is a simple classic paddle jacket that's comfortable, easy to wear, and costs less than much of the competition. It's well-loved by our review team, regardless of gender. The full coverage panels are less breathable but quite flexible and work with pretty much any boat seat. Large "action" cut armholes keep edges from interfering with your stroke, and low adjustment points help keep this vest secure without inhibiting your breathing. It lacks pockets, strap management, or other features, but this clean jacket is uncomplicated and pleasant to wear.

Compare to Similar Products

 
nrs vapor pfd review
This Product
NRS Vapor
Awards Best Buy Award   Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $95 List
$71.19 at REI
$115 List
$84.89 at REI
$129.00 at Backcountry$115 List
Check Price at REI
$100 List
$59.99 at Amazon
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Pros Great mobility, stays put, durableSecure fit, pockets, highly adjustableSuper comfortable material, pocket, compatible with a Kokotat hydration packSoft straps, secure fit, good mobility for paddling, decent breathabilityUniversal size, easy to use, comfortable back, versatile
Cons No pockets, a bit long, full coverage is less breathablePockets only have button tab closure, bulky in placesOuter shell is not highly durable, bulky front panelBulky 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 A simple, comfortable paddle vest that stays in place and provides a great valueA comfortable and secure high back PFD that is easy to adjust in order to get just the right fightA comfortable high back PFD that is secure, easy to adjust, and has two mid-sized zippered breast pockets ready to carry your essentialsA 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 Vapor Stohlquist Ebb Kokatat Proteus Stohlquist Flo Stohlquist Spectrum
Flotation (25%)
6.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
Fit (25%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort and Mobility (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Quality of Construction (15%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Features and Versatility (15%)
5.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Specs NRS Vapor Stohlquist Ebb Kokatat Proteus Stohlquist Flo Stohlquist Spectrum
Intended User Unisex Unisex Unisex Women's Unisex
Intended Use Paddling Canoeing, kayaking, sailing Paddling Canoeing, kayaking, sailing Canoeing, kayaking, sailing
Entry Style Pull over; side entry,1 side clip Front, center zip Front, center zip and bottom clip Front, center zip Front, center zip
Wear Type Vest Vest Vest Vest Vest
Sizes Available XS/M (30-42")
L/XL (42-52")
XL/XXL (50-56")
S/M (33-39")
L/XL (40-46")
Plus (46-52")
XS/S (32-38")
M/L (40-46")
XL/2X (49-55)
XS/S (28-34")
M/L (34-40")
PLUS (40-46")
Universal (30-52")
Size We Tested XS/M (30-42") L/XL (40-46") M/L (40-46") M/L (34-40") Universal (30-52")
Measured Weight 28 oz 22 oz 31 oz 21 oz 18 oz
Foam Type Soft foam PE foam Gaia PVC-free foam PVC-free, PE foam PE foam
Main Material 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 240D ripstop nylon 100D polyester, 120D nylon 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D nylon liner 240D ripstop nylon shell, 200D oxford liner
Claimed Designed Buoyancy 16.3 lbs 16.25 lbs 16 lbs 16.1lbs 16.5 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 NRS Vapor is a unisex vest that comes in three sizes. It's a Type III PFD made of 400D urethane-coated ripstop nylon with a side entry buckle system.

Performance Comparison


nrs vapor pfd review - the nrs vapor is a low profile, no frills vest that is very...
The NRS Vapor is a low profile, no frills vest that is very comfortable for paddling.
Credit: Sara James

Flotation


The Vapor is designed to provide 16.3 pounds of buoyancy, surpassing US Coast Guard Type III certification requirements.


The flotation on the Vapor is spread out evenly across the PFD and is not concentrated in one area like some other designs. The secure fit means that if you find yourself in the water, you will have adequate flotation, and the jacket won't tend to float up by your ears, unlike some models tested.

nrs vapor pfd review - the secure wrap provided by this pfd provides a comfortable float.
The secure wrap provided by this PFD provides a comfortable float.
Credit: Sara James

Fit


The Vapor is available in three sizes, designed to fit paddlers with chest measurements from 30 to 56 inches. Each offered size spans a fairly wide range of chest circumferences. This PFD can be adjusted at the shoulders, lower torso, and waist, helping to contour the foam around different body shapes. Smaller paddlers were particularly fond of the Vapor as it gave them a tighter fit that's hard to find with some other jackets. Teens who have grown out of youth-specific PFDs may find that the smallest size accommodates them.


While our male and smaller busted female testers love the fit of the Vapor, those with larger busts were slightly less impressed. The foam panels on this jacket are not quite as flexible or conforming as some other jackets, and, as a result, some users had issues getting a secure fit.

nrs vapor pfd review - the nrs vapor and its sister the siren have the same foam profile...
The NRS Vapor and its sister the Siren have the same foam profile boasting six panels that are supposed to help the PFD conform to your body shape and move as you move.
Credit: Sara James

Comfort and Mobility


Like many other NRS life vests we tested, the Vapor is pretty universally comfortable. The interior is a softer material than the exterior, making it pleasant to wear against the skin all day, wet or dry. Rather than concentrating flotation in specific areas, the Vapor's padding is spread more evenly around the jacket, keeping it thinner and avoiding excessively bulky areas like some other vests. These thinner panels are also more flexible and easier to wear comfortably. This mentioned above was appreciated by our women testers, though there is a limit to the body proportions that this unisex PFD can easily accommodate.


The extended coverage of this jacket is compatible with seatbacks of any height. With its side entry system, any discomfort from a zipper is also eliminated. The two adjustment points on either side are located low on the jacket, helping to provide a secure fit that won't inhibit your breathing.

nrs vapor pfd review - the bottom strap hangs off the foam a bit and requires some...
The bottom strap hangs off the foam a bit and requires some finagling to find the most comfortable tightness for sitting down.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

The shoulder straps on the Vapor are elongated to help pull it on and off more easily. However, there are no loops, tabs, pockets, or other ways to manage these loose tails once the vest is on, and they dangle awkwardly in the front. And as you'd expect, the full coverage is also less breathable than options with mesh back panels. Though the sides are open, and the shoulders are fairly exposed as well, both of which help mitigate the lack of breathable panels. Overall, this jacket is a comfortable option but lacks some of the thoughtful extra details found on several other models.

nrs vapor pfd review - the slim line no-frills finish of the vapor is part of its inherent...
The slim line no-frills finish of the Vapor is part of its inherent attraction.
Credit: Sara James

The Vapor features "action cut" armholes perfect for expertly wielding a paddle. To add to that, they've included softer material on the front of the arm cutouts to make it more enjoyable if your bare biceps touch the sides of the jacket during your paddle stroke. It's not quite as low profile as a few other vests and inflatable belts we tested, but it does a great job of staying out of your way on the water. Like so many other NRS vests, the Vapor also features a 6-panel design to help facilitate motion. Unlike many other PFDs, the Vapor's front and back panels are each made of three separate internal foam flotation pads. This helps eliminate the feeling of wearing a stiff styrofoam shield and makes it much easier to flex, move, and enjoy your paddling adventure.

nrs vapor pfd review - the shoulder straps help to secure a comfortable fit on the vapor pfd.
The shoulder straps help to secure a comfortable fit on the Vapor PFD.
Credit: Sara James

The adjustable, secure straps are lower on the vest, letting you find your perfect fit without compromising your ability to move and breathe. This also helps hold this vest in place even when you jump off your SUP or tip your kayak. Some paddle jackets pile the back flotation behind your head to keep the foam line above the seat; however, the Vapor maintains full coverage across the back, keeping the padding low and out of your way if you do find yourself swimming. Though no vest can match the freedom of an inflatable belt option, the combination of security and mobility the Vapor provides are among the best.

nrs vapor pfd review - the open shoulder design of the vapor makes it easy and comfortable...
The open shoulder design of the Vapor makes it easy and comfortable to paddle in.
Credit: Sara James

Quality of Construction


The Vapor is high-quality with hidden seams and sturdy materials, and it both looks and feels robust. While some cheap life jackets skimp on construction, including scratchy materials and sloppy seams, this is not the case with the Vapor.


This PFD is easy to clean after use, and the total lack of features and pockets aids this process and avoids the inevitable zip fail. It's also easier to hang a side entry PFD on a hanger without needing to close it, or the loop on the back lets you quickly rest it on a hook.

nrs vapor pfd review - we have no complaints about the durability of the vapor.
We have no complaints about the durability of the Vapor.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Features and Versatility


A no-nonsense paddle jacket, the Vapor fits the bill without the frill. It's a great jacket to wear for paddling and even a comfortable option for spending all day on your friend's speedboat. However, it lacks any extra features. It has no pockets, knife tab, or extra loops to clip a whistle. It does have a single loop on the top of the back panel for hanging, but that's it. And unlike many of its competitors, the Vapor has no strap management tabs or loops to hold loose tails out of your way.


While most of us are used to the comfortable feeling of putting on a front-zip vest, a side entry PFD can take some getting used to. Once you are, though, it quickly becomes fairly convenient. The Vapor is more comfortable to wear tightened than hanging loose — a great way to make staying safe an unconscious habit. This is an asset to an otherwise quite plain — but effective — paddle jacket.

nrs vapor pfd review - though it lacks any pockets or outstanding features, the vapor does...
Though it lacks any pockets or outstanding features, the Vapor does have panels on the front of the armholes (grey, on our model) to keep the insides of your arms from rubbing as you paddle.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


While many paddle jackets come with hefty price tags, the Vapor is on the low side of the spectrum. Without sacrificing usability or quality, NRS offers this simple but effective vest at a more affordable price that's worth the modest investment.

Conclusion


The NRS Vapor is a straightforward paddle PFD that takes away the frills and features to lower its price. This option is comfortable and easy to wear without inhibiting your paddling. It's not the fanciest vest we tested, but it's a simple solution that offers great performance for a lower price than many others.

nrs vapor pfd review - what adventures will you have in your new pfd?
What adventures will you have in your new PFD?
Credit: Sara James

Sara James and Maggie Nichols
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