There’s a reason why this PFD has been a favorite for female rafters and paddlers for over 20 years. It’s simple: it’s a fantastic design, specifically for women with a curvier shape.
“Our founder introduced this style of PFD almost 20 years ago, and we’ve found that no other life jacket conforms better to a curvy body,” writes Astral. A big claim, but one that’s proved true.
I’ve worn this PFD both in flatwater and whitewater (Class I-Class III), for 2 years and counting. Unlike most PFDs, it’s been super comfortable and very durable thus far. And, it fits a variety of shapes and sizes. If you are petite, no problem — this PFD comes in an XS size. If you have a larger chest, the padded, conforming design on the front of the jacket and adjustable size range makes for a stellar fit, too.
In short: The Astral Layla is built to prioritize comfort with hinged sides, sculpted chest support, and a side entry zipper. The design is super solid, and any woman shopping for a PFD that wants both comfort and performance, and plans on frequent use (like raft guides, canoeists, and adventure racers) should consider the Layla to top their list.
Bonus: right now, it’s 25% off through Astral and REI.
Astral Layla PFD
- Materials 200d x 400d ripstop nylon shell, 200d high-tenacity nylon liner
- Foam Organic kapok, PVC-Free Gaia PE Foam
- Webbing Polypro
- Hardware Heavy-duty acetal plastic
- Number of straps 6
- Classification Type III
- Knife lash loop Yes
- Pocket Yes
- Adjustable fit yes
- Sizes XS, S/M, M/L, LXL (chest sizes 27"-51")
- Very comfortable no matter the chest size!
- Great range of motion; no rubbing near arms while paddling
- Durable, lasts forever!*
- Good float protection if you take a swim
- No hi-vis color options
- Knife loop is in the wrong spot when sitting (canoes, kayaks)
- Higher price point
Astral Layla Women’s PFD Review
The Astral Layla PFD is one of the best I’ve ever worn, hands down. I’ve taken it on a variety of trips over the years, and the stitching and face fabric overall has proved very durable over time (2+ year of frequent testing and wear).
Aside from the durable fabric and nice design, where this PFD truly excels is its comfort — especially with the larger range of motion required when you are kayaking, canoeing, or SUPing. You want something to protect you and provide buoyancy in case you end up in the river. But you also want something nonrestrictive and comfortable. Those last two qualities are hard to find in a PFD.
Thankfully, I’ve found it in this one, and the bonus is it’s women’s-specific. It comes in two great colors (the dark purple, pictured above, and Glacier Blue).
The Highlight: Side Zipper Entry
The side entry zipper is truly a fantastic design. And no, the zipper doesn’t rub or get in the way when you lift your arms or rotate.
The front panel is perfectly offset from the two side panels (one by the zipper, and the other paneled with a stretch mesh fabric and stitching). There are two nylon adjustable straps on each side, but instead of excess foam, there’s more nice mesh paneling here. You can secure the straps down, and have full Type III PFD protection, while still retaining some venting and breathability on the sides.
The fit of the Astral Layla PFD is stellar. It’s hard to describe how different it feels from other PFDs, but I think the biggest points that contribute to this better fit and comfort are the articulated design, hinged front panel, and side zipper.
The front panel is contoured to support women with bigger chests and curves. That same front panel is articulated with a hinged cut finished with mesh material. Both the mesh paneling on the sides and the organic kapok — the foam itself — are super, super soft, and comfortable too.
The back panel of this PFD is almost as impressive as the front — it offers a ton of comfort thanks to the same kapok foam, and the smooth, flat surface area makes it really great for sitting against a kayak seat or backrest on long paddle days. The Astral Layla PFD is a 10/10.
I don’t think the comfort can be described any better, except maybe in this comment from one reviewer back in 2022: “I plan to wear it for my Viking funeral when I am sent out to sea and my kayak lit on fire. I love it that much. Comfortable enough to be PJs.”
Anonymous Leslie, I wholeheartedly agree. The Layla is about as comfortable as a PFD could be.
While some may look at a $180 MSRP price tag as high, ultimately, this isn’t a con for me. It’s a pretty great price. I know several whitewater Type III PFDs that are $200 or more. The Astral Layla PFD is a great fit for whitewater or flat water. And it provides a lot of durability in the long run.
But even with the greatest gear, there’s bound to be some cons. If I had to knock this PFD, it’d be that there are too many straps. Or, what we as paddlers (and some backpackers) call the dreaded danglers.
There are two straps on each side of the body that adjust, which is great for fit and super important. But there are also two straps that adjust on the shoulders, and the strap for the buckle at the waist. (And the tiny strap on the pocket buckle. But I don’t count that, as it’s never annoyed me.)
Finally, another con is the knife lash position on the left chest panel. Depending on the size of your knife and how you paddle (like when seated in a kayak), it could get in the way. I haven’t experienced this, but the lash point does look slightly higher on the vest than compared to my other whitewater PFD.
Astral Layla PFD Review: Conclusion
PFDs are one of those things that are terrible to blindly buy at face value online. It’s just so hard to know what size will provide the right fit, or how comfortable it will be. And female paddlers typically have it harder when finding the right PFD that is also good for more technical, high-performance paddling. All that said, the Astral Layla PFD is one that women can trust to be comfortable and capable on the water.
Simply put, this is one of my favorite PFDs for active paddling. I’ve worn it kayaking and SUPing more times than I can count. I plan to wear it on a point-to-point Colorado River trip this weekend, and an upcoming float trip this summer. Especially if I am doing anything above Class I, the snug fit, great range of motion, and ample pocket storage on the women’s Layla are fantastic.