About the Reviewers
We’re two intermediate-level open-deck canoeists, based in Hokkaido in northern Japan. We paddle a mix of whitewater (CII to CIII) and exposed flatwater in our Novacraft Prospector 16 open deck canoes, with some multi-day tripping. We paddle exclusively in the far north of Japan, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido (see all routes we’ve paddled here). We’ve not paddled much with any other life vests other than these Neptunes, so take that as it may.
These Kokatat Neptune PFDs are touring-specific, so they have a lot of individual pockets for storage. Hydration bladder compatible without any extra add-ons. After 55 days of use they still look like new.
They’re fine for canoeing, but are more sea-kayaking oriented – the upper chest buoyancy can get a little bit in the way when paddling in cold conditions in a canoe (i.e., when wearing extra layers under drysuit).
The Neptune PFDs are super comfy, have held up to sun, abuse, and plenty of miles, and have lots of built-in storage. They’ll carry a walkie-talkie in the chest pocket too. Hydration bladder compatible.
Pockets and storage
Each of the two main pockets on the front of the vest have two compartments – the main zippered compartment, and then a stretchy mesh ‘outer’ pocket on the outside of each pocket. The stretchy outer pockets are great for stuffing far too many energy bars into. The more you stuff into the outer pockets, the more difficult it is to get anything in or out of the inner main pockets though. Therefore, I usually put seldom-used emergency stuff in the main pockets, and anything I might need on the water (snacks, smartphone etc.) in the outer pockets.
Living up to Kokatat expectations, these vests have hardly faded over the three years and 55 days of paddling we’ve done in them. Most surprising is the durability of the reflective material on the shoulders. I expected this to crack and peel after a couple of seasons, but it’s still pliable and doesn’t show any indication of wear and tear.
Hydration Bladder compatibility
The Kokatat Neptune PFDs have a sleeve in the back of them that takes a 1.5-litre hydration bladder. We haven’t used bladders for canoeing, but we have used them while sea kayaking, where access to a water bottle can be a little more convoluted. With all the padding of the vest back, you can’t feel the bladder when it’s in there.
Officially, the vests are designed to take a Kokatat-branded HydraPak Elite reservoir. I was in a bit of a hurry when we needed a bladder for our vests, so we picked up two Platypus Big Zip EVO 1.5L (50 oz.) bladders.
These fit fine in my M/L size vest, but they’re a little too long for Haidee’s XS/S size vest. The bottom of the bladder sticks out the bottom of her vest by about 7cm. Maybe the Kokatat branded reservoir is slightly shorter, but even then, it would be a tight fit in the smaller vest. The Platypus Big Zip EVO 1.5L bladder is 33cm long and 21.6cm wide, so for the smaller vest you’d want a bladder that’s shorter and no wider than the Platypus.
What we don’t like
This is a fantastic PFD, but there is one minor gripe.
Not 100% suited for canoeing?
This PFD is marketed more as a sea kayaking vest. On a couple of very long days (10hrs+) flatwater canoeing, I’ve found the inner/upper side of my top arm tends to rub on the upper part of the chest flotation.
In this sense, something like the Kokatat Hustler or similar low profile vest might be a better cross-over PFD.
A great PFD that has the technical features that paddlers should be looking for in an expedition PFD. Comfy for all sea kayaking, and most canoeing situations. If you plan on doing a lot of long flatwater days in a canoe, however, you might want to look at a lower-profile PFD, such as the Kokatat Hustler or Hustle vest