REVIEW: WW Rescue Vest Shakedown

WW Rescue Vest Shakedown: Ronin Pro/Descent/Green Jacket

These 3 rescue PFDs are arguably the best currently on the market in North America. Have a read on how some demanding local paddlers count on these vests to keep them afloat and safe on the river, or where ever their paddling adventures may take them.



MSRP: $224.95 BUY NOW

WEIGHT: 2lbs 13oz

COLORS: Black, Yellow, Red, Limited Editions


TESTER: Kim Russell/5’6”/120lbs (S/MRonin Pro)

Kim Russell has been paddling since 2001, and is a professional whitewater kayaker. She has been involved in the instruction aspect of the sport for over 5 years, and over the last few years, has been an avid creek/downriver racer.

Kim enjoying the fun moves on the Rogue River, OR


After paddling for over 11 seasons, I have paddled my fair share of PFDs. I think I started in a Kokatat MisFit, then moved to a Lotus Designs Lolita, an Astral Rescue Vest, two Kokatat Orbit’s, and am currently on my second Ronin Pro. While I paddle for Kokatat, and am therefore slightly biased, I would regardless, chose the Ronin Pro over any other safety vest on the market.

I choose to use the Ronin Pro PFD for many reasons. Classified as a Type V pfd with 16 pounds of evenly distributed flotation, an internal safety harness, a quick-release chest harness and tow-tether capabilities all packed into a low-profile shape. What isn’t there to love? Oh yea, it’s made with GAIA PVC-free foam! (Most pfd’s are made with PVC foam. When this foam breaks down, chemicals are released into the water. GAIA PVC-free foam, on the other hand, is environmentally friendly!

Fit:  As a smaller female paddler, fit is something I am picky about. The Ronin offers plenty of adjustments to fit a vast array of torso and girth dimensions: two side adjustment straps, and a low buckle. Once adjusted, the Ronin is locked down, and does not ride up, thanks also to the non-slip Hypalon Grip Panels that coat the inside of the vest. Adjustable padded shoulder straps offer adjustability for various torso lengths, as well as provide a comfortable platform when carrying your boat on long portages. With a low-profile cut, I do not find the Ronin to be bulky. Rather, the foam is evenly distributed, and offers protection in all the right places: chest, sides and back. When I flip over in this vest, I am confident that if I take a hit to my body, the foam will protect me. All in all, this vest is extremely comfortable, allows for great range of motion, and does not get in the way of your paddling.

Storage:  Two roomy front pockets allow room for all the necessities: head cozy, extra webbing, a knife, an energy bar, and more! What’s better: the zippers never unzip on their own, and are well placed so they don’t catch on other pieces of gear.

Rescue Capability:  The Ronin Pro comes with an internal safety harness, a quick release chest harness, as well as a stretch mesh sleeve built just for your tow tether. The system is easy to use, quick to deploy, and I have yet to have a boat prematurely release using this system. What’s more, with the full integration of the rescue system, there is no extra webbing hanging from the vest, meaning snag-free paddling for all!

Durability:  I have had my current Ronin for about a year and a half now. After a few overnights, lots of hike-in’s and many days on the water, my pfd has seen some serious wear and tear, but it definitely doesn’t show it. It may be a little sun-faded, but it otherwise looks as good as new: no cuts, no tears. The 500D Cordura will take whatever you throw at it.

The Ronin Pro is my go-to creeking vest. It offers plenty of flotation, and protection where it’s needed, has bomber rescue hardware, and is an extremely comfortable vest. This is a great vest for any paddler.

Kim taking flight off Hammering Spot on Canyon Creek, WA


Don’t be concerned if the PFD feels a little bulky the first few times out. The PFD does take a few paddles to “break-in” as the foam conforms to your body.



MSRP: $199.95 BUY NOW

WEIGHT: 3lbs 4oz

COLORS: Black, Yellow, Red


TESTER: Bryon Dorr/6’3”/170 lbs (L/XL Descent)

Bryon has been WW kayaking since ’99 and guiding/instructing for about as long. Bryon has been involved in all sides of the paddle sports industry and continues to help evolve and develop the sport he loves. Safety on the water is of highest priority for Bryon and he wears a rescue PFD while enjoying all types of paddling.

Bryon taking photos and running safety on Canyon Creek of the Stilly, WA (Photo: Michael Gordon)


I’ve been in search of a quality do everything PFD since I started paddling. It is really hard to find a PFD that does it all: minimally restricts movement, has a quality location for a rescue knife, has a large out of the way pocket, is super durable, and has a rescue belt. I went through a few basic non-rescue PFDs when I first started and quickly learned that I need a rescue PFD for all of the different types of paddling that I enjoy and guide on: creeking, river running, playboating, sea kayaking, touring, and surf kayaking. My first rescue vest was a Lotus P-Vest. This vest was super comfortable, easy to put on/take off, and had all the basic features you need. After many years of faithful duty my red P-Vest had turned pink, had large tears in the outer material, and the foam just didn’t float me like it should. The search for a replacement was extremely hard. In the end I narrowed it down to European models that weren’t US Coast Guard approved, and for that matter could not be purchased in North America. Through a contact I was able to procure a Palm Sidewinder directly from Palm in the UK. This was a super durable jacket with a huge pocket that treated me well. The big downside to this jacket, besides technically being illegal to guide with in the US, is its sheer bulk. I have to admit that this vest did get in my way sometimes, especially for things like freestyle kayaking and sea kayak recoveries.

When the Stohlquist Descent hit the market I was a buyer at the Next Adventure Paddle Sports Center ( and got to preview the vest at the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show. My first impression was that Stohlquist had stepped outside the box a bit and built a really interesting platform for what could be an incredible vest. Ethan Ebersold (, the local Stohlquist rep, really wanted my feedback on the vest, after comments at OR and seeing that new gear twinkle in my eye, and made sure I had one to try when they first hit the market. I have to say that this PFD hasn’t left my gear bag since! The jacket rides high on the body, which did take some getting used to, but in the end is incredibly comfortable and allows for complete freedom of movement. The reinforced shoulder straps are amazing for carrying boats on long portages and barely feel like they’re there when boating. The front inner pocket expands to accommodate just about anything you could need on your person and the outer pocket is the perfect size for a cold beverage while enjoying a leisurely float. The contoured “Wrapture” foam feels really secure and has protected my torso from many an impact while creeking. The lash tab is ideal for quick and easy knife access and keeps the knife completely out of the way. I use the Stohlquist Squeeze Lock Knife ( and would highly recommend it.

The bottom line is that the Stohlquist Descent is an amazing PFD that really allows you complete freedom of motion while giving you all the comfort and rescue features that you need. This is the PFD that I use everyday that I’m on the water and I haven’t seen anything out there that would change that, although the gear lover in me looks forward to the next great thing.

Bryon boofing large on the Little Klickitat, WA (Photo: Heather Herbeck)


The Descent allows for side entry, but I find it much easier to keep the side zip zippered and the rescue belt attached. This makes it a pull over the head model and makes getting the vest on and off much less time consuming. You just need to remember to loosen all the adjustments to get it over your head and then to snug them all up once you have it on.



MSRP: $239.95 BUY NOW

WEIGHT: 2lbs 11.0oz

COLORS: Red, Blue, Limited Editions (LE)


TESTER: Ryan Scott/6’1”/170lbs (L/XL Green Jacket)

Ryan has been paddling and calling the Columbia River Gorge home since 1999. He has logged over 700 runs down the infamous Little White Salmon River over the years and hiked into some of the most remote canyons in Washington State. His desire to explore is translated through his ongoing video work and passion to just get out there and see what is beyond the pages of the guidebooks.

Ryan showing off his boof technique (Photo: Ryan Scott)


If you are serious about whitewater kayaking this is the vest for you. I have had my Green Jacket for almost 2 years now and it is by far the most comfortable, versatile, and un-restrictive life jacket I have owned.

The low cut sides accompanied with the two piece floating system in the front of the PFD offers a snug fit around your stomach and allows unlimited mobility in any situation. Like most rescue vest the Green Jacket comes with a Quick Release rescue belt, Stainless steel oval rings and 15.5lbs of buoyancy. The vest also offers rope ready storage behind the front pocket and an extra Spectra safety loop for emergency extractions which I have used on several occasions to aid in rescue situations.

I have taken good care of my PFD, storing it dry and out of sunlight, and so far the structural integrity is still well above it’s expected condition. It’s always a huge sense of relief when you find a piece of gear that really works! This vest has kept me on the river paddling safe and happy and I will continue to keep this piece with my gear collection at all times. Well done Asrtal!

Ryan leading the way and styling the drops on Hoffstadt Creek, WA


Get the pocket rope that is made for the Astral PFD. It is a great accessory and it is the best piece of advice I could give any creekboater, “Always have a rope with you when you’re out of your boat.” It fits out of the way and it is always there for you, and your friends when the moment arrives.



In the end these are all really solid performers and should be checked out when buying your next Rescue PFD.  Your best bet is to try them on, as everyone’s bodies are shaped different. Find one that fits properly: snuggly and comfortably. See you on the river soon, hopefully not while having to rescue your fellow paddler with your new Rescue PFD 🙂

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