Norge PFD by Astral

/SW/'s Boat of the Year judges wore these high performance, eco-friendly life vests during on-the-water boat tests. "Gear Up" from our October 16, 2007, /SW eNewsletter/

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Astral

When we went hunting for personal flotation devices for our Boat of the Year judges and staff, we went to the folks at Annapolis Performance Sailing for a recommendation. They suggested Astral, a PFD manufacturer started by Philip Curry in 2003. While you may not recognize Curry or his new company, you'll remember Curry's last stab at PFDs, Lotus Designs, which he founded in 1993 and sold to Patagonia in 1999. One of the things we liked about Astral is its use of Kapok rather than Poly Vinyl Chloride for flotation. Suffice it to say that the manufacture of PVC and the product itself are both terrible for the environment, while Kapok, a tree grown in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, and northern South America, is a sustainable resource with a minimal environmental impact when used in PFDs. Used in some of Astral's PFDs, including the Norge model we tried, the Kapok stuffing is light, soft, and conforms to your torso. Kapok is nothing new, it's been used for over a century in lifejackets, but Astral's manufacturing process seals the Kapok in a polyurethane bladder which protects the material from water intrusion, guaranteeing a longer life for your Astral PFD than the lifejacket your grandfather wore during World War II.We liked the way the Astral Norge PFDs fit, and how easy they were to adjust. Stretchy shoulders, and straps that were easily adjusted, allowed for a lot of customization. While it wasn't cold enough to really test the fleece handwarmer pockets, we're sure they'll come in handy for frostbiters. What's most important, and as BOTY judges Barrett Holby and Chuck Allen can attest, the Norge PFDs work really well at keeping you afloat. The Norge is a U.S. Coast Guard-certified Type III PFD. $112, www.astralbuoyancy.com