After nearly 8 years of use my trusty Ultra Trek PFD finally gave up the ghost. Actually, the PFD is still perfectly serviceable from a safety perspective. However the material around some of the zips on the pockets has deteriorated, snagged in the zippers and popped one and the other is hard to use. As these are side zippers I don’t have a secure spot for my PLB and some other bits and pieces so I decided to retire this PFD from regular use and relegate it to back-up and loaner purposes.
The Ultra Trek PFD has been and still is a fine PFD. It remains 100% functional where it counts – after nearly 8 years of use under the tropical sun that is a worthy achievement. I would recommend them – and they are very competitively priced relative to their quality.
But the grass is always greener elsewhere! So I began the research into alternatives. Criteria were:
- 1. A true ‘paddlers’ vest designed to sit right, stay put on the torso and still be comfortable for long days – i.e. sea kayaking ‘expedition’ style.
2. Durable materials, quality construction.
3. Large hydration bladder pocket (non-negotiable).
4. Good number of pockets and solutions to attaching gear to the PDF.
I looked into a number of options, but finding something with all of the above was limiting. The large hydration pocket was surprisingly rare – I guess it is only here in the tropics that front of mind if you fall in is whether you have enough water to survive the next few hours. Just for paddling I also want to have water very easily available – two things ruin your day fast up here: 1. Getting dehydrated; 2. Getting sunburnt.
In the end I ended up finding the UK brand Palm, and their Kaikoura Tour PFD (they call them buoyancy aids over there). From my research I could see this was developed (and subsequently modified over several model updates) with lots of input from sea kayakers. It had also been very favourably received by a kayak fishers over there for the excellent pockets and storage. There is a real art to getting pockets right so they are not intrusive to paddling, are easily accessible and hold the bits and pieces you need. Looks simple when done right, but very many designs fail at it.
To my original criteria:
- 1. This is firstly designed as an expedition paddlers first PFD. Best of all, the model has been around for a while and things that didn’t work changed and improved – so the current model appears free of ‘bugs’.
2. Looking at the existing reviews (just google ‘Palm Kaikoura Tour review’) showed excellent construction and refinements. High quality materials, all the stress points in the stitching are bar tacked and nice neoprene under the arms to minimise chaffing.
3. It has a very large hydration bladder pocket – 3 litres fits easily.
4. Lash points are much more numerous than most other PFDs. There are buckles and clips within the pockets as well as out, so now my PLB doesn’t need to have a lanyard sticking out of a pocket. There are also a couple of fleece lined 'hand warmer' pockets with no zip. They'll get zero use as hand warmers up here but they are perfect for stashing a couple of objects fairly securely for quick and easy access (e.g. some trolling sinkers and soft plastic scent). One thing I am not keen on is the two lashing buckles on the front of the vest have a deliberate split so you can pull anything attached there free with a good yank. I would prefer the no pull security and won’t be using these.
The pricing of this thing is premium, but not too bad directly out of the UK. I couldn’t find it for sale in Australia but it is available in New Zealand. Straight up I will agree the Ultra PFD is better value, but at the same time this PFD appears to deliver enough quality, refinement and comfort improvements to justify its price for many.
Out of the box it is everything it says it is, fits very comfortably and my gear stows nice and neatly (carrying more on me than I used to be able to). A couple of crappy photos below. The vest is designed to sit quite high (this is a sea kayak comfort thing) and is quite bulbous at the front (wife says like bad man boobs ). I don't think this will be in the way paddling though (no reviews have suggested an issue) but I guess I will only know for sure after it gets some ocean time.
First test is out to the Palm Islands in a couple of days – That is a 22km ocean crossing to camp and then likely another 20-30km exploring so should be a good first test.