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The air pockets/openings work very well and provide notable cooling. This is designed to be worn high, so it does not interfere with the cockpit coaming in normal paddling or rolling. Some PFDs have low upper back, which exposes your upper vertebrae to potential knocks on rocks underwater in white water use. This one has padding way up, which not only provides cushioning but also aids in floating your upper body better than something that is primarily low around your waist.
The mesh pocket is easy to open with one hand - just pull down on the short strap. Closing requires a look down and a careful alignment to get a satisfying click.
One "issue" for me is the overly long shoulder straps that tend to flap in the wind and smack me in the face - need to wrap them around themselves a few times so the stay put in winds. Also, the lack of a pocket suitable for a marine radio is a minus but that makes the PFD compact, so a plus too (can't have it both ways...) Lastly, mine is a green color - while cute, it is low visibility. Get a brighter color!
The ventilation is superb under it, NO HIVES. I still get a little heat rash from it, but I do not get hives. It sits really well on me in my Tsunami, I also have used it on a SOT twice. Fit is good and it stays in place in the water too. The fact that I still get a rash keeps if from rating a perfect 10, but it really is close.
When I first used it the first thing I noticed was the freedom of movement and lack of awkward bulk. It does ride a bit high behind the shoulders but I think that is because of my short back -- that looks a little strange but is not at all uncomfortable, in fact it helps to ventilate. The second thing I noticed was that I didn't notice that I was wearing a PFD at all after paddling for a while! The mesh lining and perforated flotation foam actually work to enhance air circulation and I seemed to sweat no more under the vest than I did in places that were not beneath it. I have had it out 4 times now and have never felt that I wanted to take it off while paddling even in sweltering conditions (something I was often tempted to do with the Lola.)
My only complaint, and the reason for a 9 rather than 10, is that the pockets are kind of lame. There is one large mesh pocket with a single snap flap -- no zipper. I would not store anything in there without clipping it to the d-ring inside because the pouch is not at all secure. The second "pocket" is just a shallow mesh opening above the chest, within the lining, too tiny to hold much more than a chapstick and whistle (both tethered.) I've pretty much just used it to stash my thin gloves when I wasn't using them, but I suspect they could have popped out if I had rolled.
The materials and quality of Astral's construction are outstanding, as I would expect from folks who apparently were originally involved with Lotus Designs. Very nice-looking.
Overall I think this is a great vest for anyone who wants an amazingly cool and comfortable PFD that won't chafe your underarms or feel bulky while paddling. It's the only "unisex" vest that has fit my 36DD chest well. Price is upper mid-range at around $100USD, plus or minus a few bucks.
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