New Life Jacket from Australia’s Vaikobi!

First off, whilst we’ve been advised that the US Coast Guard actually prefers the term life jacket now, Vaikobi’s official name for this new vest is “PFD.” Since that’s what the manufacturer is referring to it as, so shall we call it that for the purposes of this review, as it relates specifically to the product.

I first heard Vaikobi was coming out with a new design of their performance life jacket, specially for racers, at last year’s Gorge Downwind Championships in Hood River, and I boy, was I excited!  The biggest change: the pockets and entry design.  Their popular low-profile jacket – the Ocean Racing Performance PFD -has a front zipper entry and two zippered pockets with a vertical opening.  Sometimes the zipper closure could be temperamental.  And several folks I know lost keys and phones trying to open and close and retrieve items out of the pockets, even after they were redesigned and enlarged in their second version of the life jacket. The mesh, as all mesh is, was easily torn by keys. And even the V.2 pockets still were a tough fit for mobile phones and my personal locator beacon – which is key for me on ocean downwind runs. (NOTE: Vaikobi now has a third version of this jacket out, with a different mesh and even  larger pockets – another testament to this company’s commitment to its users and to constant improvement – one of the many reasons why we love them!)

So, just after the holidays, I ordered the new VXP , which retails from $135 in the US, 10 bucks more than Vaikobi’s also new Performance PFD. The biggest difference is that the VXP has a hydration sleeve on the back and the front pocket closes with Velcro instead of a zipper. The VXP pocket is solid fabric, not mesh. For me, that hydration sleeve on the back is key.

The VXP is high vis yellow. And it features Vaikobi’s signature form fitting foam which is super comfy while still providing adequate buoyancy.

The VXP is a side-entry life jacket, which essentially means you don it over your head, with the side buckle open, then close the buckle and tighten. The VXP has two tightening straps – one at the bottom or “waist” of the jacket and one at about chest level.  I have to admit, it took a while for me to dial in the fit just right with this configuration. I am going to chalk that up to the nylon webbing being new and stiff.  Over time, with use, that should improve.

The VXP does not have shoulder tightening straps, like its cousin the Ocean Racing Performance PFD. I was a bit concerned at first that either I needed a small rather than the medium size or that the new design was not going to allow me to get the jacket as tight as it needs to be.

I am happy to report I was able to get the jacket tight enough to meet my safety test – not being able to pull the jacket up to my ear lobes. And yet, like the Vaikobi products I’ve used in the past, the VXP was comfortable. Super comfortable, in fact. I might be better off in a small, but the VXP is so comfy I really don’t want to send it back for an exchange!!

The new kangaroo pocket design is great! Definitely big enough to accommodate the phone as well as my PLB. It has lashing points inside the pocket to secure your stuff and access to your gear is going to be easier, since you are not futzing with vertical zippers. The jacket also features a lashing point for a safety light just above the pocket, as well as reflective striping.

The jacket carries the ISO 12402-5 (Level 50) international safety certification, like Vaikobi’s other life jackets. The US Coast Guard will likely be considering the acceptance of this certification in the future, as part of its on-going effort to recognize international safety standards and harmonize them with US standards.  Bottom line, these work, and the US Coast Guard wants you to wear a life jacket PERIOD.  And if you’ll wear the one that’s comfortable, because it’s comfortable, well then. There you go. Read what we wrote about that a couple of year ago.  

Is this jacket going to replace my Astral Blue for whitewater sup or cold water paddling? Probably not…but then again neither would any other life jacket in winter- I like the extra padding and safety features for the more concerning conditions. But in the summer, the new VXP is going to be awesome on all my craft – SUP, OC and surf ski.  I just wish I had had that kangaroo pocket sooner – it would have been great to have whilst teaching!