Life vest

I use a 35-year old Stearns ribbed whitewater vest from my college days. It's definitely old school! Modern vests have many advantages over it (like keeping an unconscious body face-up). But unlike many folks I know that have the newfangled ones, I wear mine whenever I'm on the water. :D
Favorite life jackets or PFD's (personal flotation devices) are so influenced by an individuals body type that it's hard to make suggestions. Fit is just so important--you want a PFD that offers adequate flotation, but if it's uncomfortable or restrictive, you aren't as likely to wear it. I think Astral makes the best PFDs on the market--they offer a range of styles of PFD to suite different body types and different paddling situations. The Astral crew has consistently been leading the industry in innovative designs for the past decade or so (these same folks created Lotus designs before Patagonia bought them--and then dropped paddling gear from there line). Their vests allow tons of freedom of movement both paddling and, should you wind up in the water, swimming. They have recently come out with some great PFDs that are ventilated to allow more air movement through the foam panels making for a less sweaty fit--something you may really appreciate in the hot and humid southeast (check out the V-8 for ventilation). They're also one of the most environmentally friendly makers of PFDs--they offer some vests using organic Kapok for flotation and they recycle their foam scraps into really cool deluxe dog beds (hopefully a truck bed/camping mattress soon too!). Definitely worth checking them out:

p.s. No, I don't work for Astral, I just really believe in their products.


Regarding your long used/loved old Stearns: I too have been one to keep PFDs for a long time--Until I swam on the Ocoee (class III-IV) a couple of years ago. It'd been a long time since I'd taken a big swim and man, I sure would've liked to floating a little higher.

Good point, Noel. I don't run whitewater anymore, though, so my old Stearns is probably sufficient for my quiet water paddling. I have been toying with the idea of a modern PFD for awhile, though. Maybe it's time to use my REI rebate!
I use different PFDs for rivers than I do for flatwater (mostly Freestyle) paddling. For the river, I like having extra pockets & attachment points; for Freestyle, they're extraneous & get in the way. The important point, as discussed above, is to make sure it fits your body type, and is comfortable to wear while you're paddling. The rest is just details.