Something just for the ladies! Here at APS we know it's hard to find gear that actually fits us women. So I've set out to look through our women's gear and take a good look at it. We have three women specific life jackets, Bella by Astral, Abba by Astral and BetSEA by Stohlquist. All three have there good and bad features and here's an in depth look.
Available in two new colors for the 2010 season, the Abba comes in a cool black and a flashy cranberry. It's the only women's life jacket that's made with organic Kapok floatation. It has a front zip entry, shorter torso then the unisex version and wicking side panels. Marine grade buckles and a snap closure pocket.
It was quite comfortable and the colors/style is a definite positive. Getting in and out of it is a breeze with the front zip entry. Zipper was free and clear and didn't have anything to get caught on. The fleece handwarmer pockets would be your favorite part on a cold day, no more having to stick your hangs between your chest and your PFD.
The new style of floatation, although eco-friendly, does feel different. It struck me as uncomfortable when I first put it on, but I think it was just different and would take a little getting used to. The rumor is that it breaks in and becomes quite comfortable with use. Next, the handwarmer pockets were zippered. Great for keeping items in your pocket. Slightly painful and annoying when you're trying to warm up your hands and there is a zipper on your wrist. Last, I didn't like the pocket change. This year's model has a snap closure which would appear to me to run the risk of loosing things out the side.
Overall it seems like a good life jacket, durable, short torso more fitting the women's body. The Kapok floatation looks like the bleeding edge in life jacket technology, if that even exists. Let the floatation break in a little and settle down and you have a great life jacket on your hands.
Feature packed, the Bella is full of layers. It has freestyle tectonics with multiple layers that all move freely of each other. There is mid back support, an adjustable sports bra and tons of adjustment points. Padded shoulder straps keep you comfortable while the cool details and designs keep you stylin'.
Although it might take a little bit to get all the adjustment points to where you like them, once you do it has a great fit. With the layers moving separately and the oversized arm holes make moving around easy. The top of the back has little padding and angles off, reducing the chance you will get caught on a lifeline or rigging while tacking.
The multiple layer system was tough to adjust and there was just a lot to deal with. There are adjustments for the sides, two on the front section, three buckles to get in. There was the most padding around the torso, which created a bulky feeling. My least favorite part was the "sports bra". It was more teeny weeny bikini then actual support. It didn't actually fit over my chest, but started in the middle and basically just didn't fit.
If a lifejacket with lots of adjustments is your thing, the Bella is right for you. If you're willing to put up with a learning curve on where everything should go then this will work. This is not a life jacket you can throw on the first time and expect it to be ready to go. The unrestricted movement and potential for a really good fit after you fiddle with it, makes this a good life jacket for some.
The BetSEA has scuptured front foam panels with contoured cups. The flotation is centered lower but the shorter torso makes it fit right below the chest. The shorter back and large armholes make moving around a breeze.
The women friendly padding was by far the best feature. It really does actually wrap around your body rather than crush your physique. Your chest fits into the built in cups making a flatter front. The cross chest cinch strap prevents ride up and the stretchy neoprene shoulders give you a good fit while remaining comfortable against the skin. Side mesh for breathability and the shorter torso makes it so your PFD doesn't get in the way when you're doing things. Extra wide armholes give you a full range of motion. The pocket has a D ring that great for keeping a whistle on and big enough to store most of the things you need on the water.
It doesn't have any frills or extras. No handwarmer pockets, extra storage pcokets. So if that's what you're looking for extras, this isn't it. The bottom webbing and closure could be more comfortable. It's not covered in neoprene like the shoulder strap.
From a fit and comfort standpoint there isn't anything better. It really does mold to your body instead of crush it. The armholes are wide enough for you to be able to do anything necessary. If you're looking for extra frills, pockets, handwarmers or new floatation, this isn't for you.
So now what?
All of the life jackets have good attributes and bad, but if I had to choose one I would go with the BetSEA. It's fit and comfortability certainly outweigh the fact that it doesn't have all the frills.
Also, I should introduce myself, being my first post and all. I'm Katie Cross and I started working at APS just about a year ago, but I'm just getting my blog sea legs on. I'm from Simsbury, CT and moved to Annapolis last year after graduating from the University of Delaware (go blue hens). I started sailing when I was 9 in Orleans, MA where I spent a lot of time in a 420. Now I sail anything and everything, a day on the water is a good day!