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Thursday, July 12, 2018

The future of PFD design

As you know I am a stickler for the use of PFD's. It is far too easy to die in the water if you aren't wearing one. Even if you are a strong swimmer. The single biggest hurdle to getting people to wear pfd's is fit. To a lesser degree, they need to look cool, but really it is fit. They have to be comfortable when you are wearing them, or you won't wear them. PFD design is something I have been thinking about for a while, I have recently felt like a revolution in PFD design is right around the corner, and this morning I saw the first sneak peak. But first, a little of my personal history with PFD's.

Before I was an outdoor educator I worked in the photography industry (and film production before that.) I lived in New York City's West Village in a tiny apartment up a flight of stairs. I was already a kayaker but obviously couldn't store a seventeen foot touring kayak in my small apartment - it would actually fit in the apartment but there was no way to get it in the door! So what I did was rent kayaks as often as I could. Two or three times a month I journeyed out to Long Island and rented kayaks. Inadvertently this gave me a great background in how different boats paddled. What I did to make this a little more fun, was I bought myself a nice PFD and paddle, that I would travel with.


My first PFD was a Lotus designs Locean. It was side entry, and low profile and had a good pocket arrangement, and I loved it. I wore it long past when I should have retired it.


The reason I wore it as long as I did was I couldn't find a PFD to replace it that was of equal quality and fit. Lotus had been bought by Patagonia and within a few years had been shut down, and then Patagonia for out of the paddling business - which is a shame because they made some great paddle gear. It wasn't until I found the Astral Buoyancy 300r whitewater vest that I knew I had a replacement. I later learned that the reason that I liked the 300r - and Astral products in general - is that the founder, Phillip Curry was also the founder of Lotus designs. I then moved on to the Seawolf from Astral - which is the non-rescue version of the Greenjacket. Clearly Mr. Curry's design ethics sing to me. 

But part of the reason that people don't like PFD"s is that they look bulky - all pfd's do. I have never worn a PFD that was as comfortable as my Seawolf, but from the outside it looks uncomfortable and that is enough  reason for people to not try them on, let alone wear them. We need to fix that, and that is where the future of PFD's is headed. It should be near invisible when I am wearing it, but offer enough flotation and protection when I need it. 

Which is where I was mentally, this morning, when the following things occurred. I am following two women on Instagram who are doing the inside passage, their username is @paddlingnorth which is very similar to the title of the short films I released after my trip on the inside passage. They were called Paddle North. These two ladies are using drysuits made by Mustang Survival. Mustang Survival is famous for making what people call "Gumby Suits." Which are ocean going survival suits. Your oil tanker sinks in a hurricane in the North Atlantic, you put on a gumby suit and jump overboard. The suit keeps you warm and floating until the Coast Guard comes and saves you. 




The part of this that surprised me, was that I didn't know that Mustang made paddling Dry Suits. I know that a good function drysuit is hard to make, and that it is way more difficult than making a racket and pants for paddling. I also thought I knew everyone that made paddling drysuits, so I headed over to Mustangs Survivals website, and it turns out they don't make Paddling dry suits, yet. The Paddling North ladies are using prototype suits. Which is cool, something new is coming to market. But while I was on Mustangs website I realized that they are branching out to a lot of markets besides survival. The first thing I saw was this amazing sailing gear! Check out this Ocean Racing Drysuit!



This is the Darth Vader Suit of extreme ocean sailing! I'm telling you, this is going to end up in a sci fi movie. Okay, but then I found this. 

This is a combination of two things. The ugliest PFD I have ever seen - okay, maybe that is a little harsh, but it's boring, that front pocket seems useless, it doesn't have a real lash tab, and the adjustments on the side and top are lazy design. Sorry Mustang Designers, but unlike Gear Junkie I tell the truth. So ugly is the first thing, but what is the second thing? I said a combination of two things. Well, it is BRILLIANT! This ultra thin, and low profile PFD offers traditional foam floatation - albeit not much of it - but then offers the ability to inflate via co2. So it can be invisible (almost) until you need it to save your life. After pulling a handle the front of the PFD expands dramatically (it looks like a small section behind the head also inflates) increasing the amount of floatation. 

Here it is in action.



This idea is brilliant. But I would love to see what a designer like Phil Curry could do with this concept. Their target audience is SUP and Kayak, but for me as an educator it doesn't offer quite enough of a feature package to make it work for my day to day. But I suspect people will jump on this idea and run with it.

Apologies to Mustang for being a little harsh on the design, but those were my honest first thoughts. Want to change my mind? Send me one and I will review it here. An honest review. You could also send me one of those Darth Vader suits.

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