NRS Zen Rescue PFD
Buoyancy: 17.5 lbs.
Reviewer Info: 5’10″, 170 lbs.
Test Locations: Pandora’s Box; Vallecito; Front Range Colorado creeks; Grand Canyon of the Stikine; Buffalo Fork (packrafting); Gore Canyon, play boating
Days tested: 30+
Northwest River Supply (or NRS) recently released the Zen Rescue PFD, a minimalist rescue PFD with all the swiftwater features a rescue vest needs. The vest’s design is based on the low-profile Ninja PFD that’s popular with playboaters, and at $189.95, the Zen is relatively inexpensive for a rescue PFD.
I first used the Zen for a packrafting expedition in the North Buffalo Fork, Wyoming. While I wanted a rescue vest for the trip, I didn’t want something that would be heavy and bulky to carry. The Zen fit the bill.
Since that trip, I’ve also used it extensively for whitewater kayaking runs such as Colorado classics and the Stikine.
Fit / Side Entry
The Zen is less bulky than many rescue PFDs I’ve used—the front panel’s foam doesn’t protrude as far in front of my chest as it does with the Green Jacket or the Ronin. There’s also less material around the sides of my torso near my ribs. This keeps the vest from restricting my movements, but it also offers less rib protection.
The Zen is a side-entry PFD, unlike the pull-over style Astral Green Jacket that I’ve used for the past several seasons. The side entry is very comfortable, and it’s conveniently easy to pull on when I’m wearing bulky layers. If you get a shoulder injury, it’s also easier to remove the vest without having to cut it off.
My only complaint with the side-entry vest is that I have to readjust my rescue belt every time I put the PFD on or take it off. Granted, this is the case with any side-entry rescue PFD. With my Green Jacket, I could always leave the belt system attached—I’d just pull it on and it would be ready to go.
I appreciate the number of adjustable straps on the sides and the shoulders of the Zen, which allow me to customize the fit. With the Green Vest, I couldn’t adjust the shoulder straps, so I couldn’t control where the vest sat on my torso.
The Zen seems to fit true to size. At 5’10 and 170 lbs., I typically wear a large in Kokatat, Astral, and NRS vests. I bought the large Zen, which was the right choice.
According to NRS, this vest has 17.5 lbs. of PVC free flotation. That means that it has a higher level of buoyancy than the Stohlquist Descent (16.5 lbs) and the Astral Green Jacket (16.4 lbs), but it’s comparable to Kokatat’s Maximus Prime and the Ronin Pro rescue vests. To be honest, I didn’t notice a big difference in flotation between the Zen and the other vests I’ve worn while I was swimming in heavily aerated water during a packrafting trip to Montana.
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