Stohlquist Spectrum Review
Cons: A bit bulky for smaller people, mediocre durability, stiff, full coverage is hot
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Spectrum comes in one "universal" size and is a unisex PFD. It's a full-coverage US Coast Guard-approved Type III vest made of a 240D mini-ripstop nylon shell with a 200D oxford liner.
The Stohlquist Spectrum is designed to deliver 16 pounds 8 ounces of buoyancy, putting this PFD on the podium for this essential metric. This spec was confirmed during our in-house float testing, during which this jacket outperformed all the other products except the self-inflating PFDs.
Thanks to the secure fit, the Spectrum delivers a comfortable floating experience for all but the smallest of paddlers. For those with a small chest, the jacket tends to ride up when floating in the water. This can be annoying for swimmers, particularly in a white water scenario.
Despite being a budget PFD, the Spectrum offers the adjustability of a more expensive vest. It can be tailored to fit the shoulders, chest, and lower torso. An additional adjustable waist strap would further improve this vest for more petite paddlers; however, for most, it's pretty adequate without. The chest cinch strap was particularly appreciated for delivering a secure fit regardless of body shape.
The Spectrum is designed in one universal size that is advertised to fit chest sizes from 30 to 52 inches. Testers with 34-inch chests still found this jacket a bit bulky around the lower torso and had to overlap the side paneling to get a secure fit. Large paddlers reported higher ratings for the fit of this jacket.
Comfort and Mobility
As a full-coverage jacket, the Spectrum can be a bit warm on a hot day, especially for smaller paddlers. Though it does a decent job fitting its advertised users, our testers on the smaller end of that spectrum found they had to overlap the sides to get the right fit, making it even warmer and a bit too bulky for a comfortable paddle experience.
The material and straps on this PFD are reasonably comfortable to wear. We're impressed with how adjustable this jacket fits wearers of many sizes, though it's far from our first choice for overall comfort.
This jacket does a decent job when put to the paddling test, but we found that it's much better for larger wearers. Since it lacks a cinching strap on the very bottom, smaller folks had a harder time getting a secure fit. This translates into the PFD riding up while in the water. Larger paddlers were better able to get the right fit and found this jacket does a pretty good job of staying put and out of the way for swimming and paddling. Larger-circumferenced testers also didn't have such an issue with long strap tails dangling everywhere on their person. All in all, if this jacket fits your size, we think you'll be satisfied with its mobility.
Quality of Construction
The Spectrum consists of a 240D mini-ripstop nylon shell and a 200D oxford liner and is filled with lightweight PE foam. During our several months of testing, we noticed that the straps tended to fray fairly easily, though none of them reached a point where we felt like their structural integrity was significantly compromised.
The seams on our test model also had ends sticking out in many places, which could become an issue down the road. For a piece of gear that tends to have around a 5-year lifespan, the Spectrum is alright. At the time of this writing, it also comes with a lifetime manufacturer's warranty for any issues you may encounter along the way.
Features and Versatility
A basic life jacket, the Spectrum does a decent job for paddling. Its universal, non-specific design makes it a good choice for all kinds of paddling and water activities. With a full back, it's comfortable to lean back in a kayak seat of just about any height and feel supported. The shoulder adjustability enables you to shorten this jacket's torso if you wear it with a spray skirt. It weighs just 18 ounces, which makes the it one of the lightest vests we tested.
The Spectrum has a number of vertical and horizontal stash pockets that are easy to miss if you are not paying attention. Although useful for storing items such as chapstick or a river knife, none of these spots have closures, nor are there any attachment loops on the PFD. Expensive items will require a different, more secure location.
The Spectrum is on the lower end of the price range among the products we tested. If the ability to fit every family member is what you're after, we think this is a good choice. Smaller paddlers may want to consider another option, but otherwise, this is a budget deal that will be good enough to get most paddlers out on the water.
The Stohlquist Spectrum isn't a stand-out performer in any one category but is a decent option all around. What it's perfect for is being able to fit a bunch of different-sized water adventurers while being decently comfortable and secure. If you're after a no-nonsense life vest that can be worn by just about anyone, that's where this option shines.
— Sara James and Maggie Nichols
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