Anybody who has been paying close attention to our ongoing YouTube bimonthly show, “Long Haul” will have noticed that I typically don the same front-entry black Slippery Switch Molded vest. Not only is it super comfortable, smartly molded and well-built, but it also looks really cool – and that’s something that most folks can’t say about a life vest. You just feel like Batman wearing the dang thing (no matter how out of shape you are). Alas, Slippery discontinued the Switch a couple of years ago, and with it countless dad’s dreams of looking like the caped crusader.
So when The Watercraft Journal welcomed Slippery Wetsuits on as an official sponsor for Long Haul, we were provided quite a bit new gear to try out and show off on camera. One of those was Slippery’s new Array Side Entry Neo vest. A tad more flashy than our usual taste, the red-and-silver faux camouflage pattern is also available in yellow-and-blue (ideal for you Yamaha or Sea-Doo racers) and bright green-and-charcoal for the Kawasaki guys. Also adding to our initial hesitation towards the new Array Neo vest was its side-entry design.
Typically, side-entries are more racer-oriented and less geared for the leisurely or casual rider looking for both comfort and breathability. We’ve reviewed several side-entry vests here at The Watercraft Journal and have found them to range from “usable” all the way to “two sheets of plywood stitched together with backpack-grade canvas.” Yet, knowing that Slippery consistently uses the best materials and prides itself on superior molds, we slipped on the Array Neo and didn’t look back too longingly at our old Switch vest. Immediately we noticed that the Array was cut very different from previous side-entries, and were surprised at how open and spacious the neck and armholes were.
In fact, the range of motion provided by the Array Neo is superior to most vests (front and side-entry) that we’ve tested in our 5 years of publishing product and riding gear reviews. Slippery smartly broke up the PVC inner foam into smaller sections, hinging the panels to give the utmost in flexibility. Interestingly, much of the flotation foam has been relocated around the abdomen. At first blush it might feel like you’ve suddenly packed on a few extra pounds, but what you’ll see is that the back and chest are now open to breathe and move much more freely. Side-to-side motion is also a lot more open as the stretchy interior permits more natural movement.
Unlike nylon or other neoprene vests, Slippery uses soft knit fabric for all skin-contacting interior panels with neoprene exterior for comfort and mobility. Featuring an integrated belt system with two 1 1/2-inch belts with quick-lock buckles that are hidden inside the outer casing, and a thick, coated full zip side opening, the vest is smartly secured and easily removed (no more wriggling out of a clingy wet vest). And not to worry, the deceptively thin Array Neo vest is a 100-percent US Coast Guard-approved Type 3 PFD (Personal Flotation Device) in case your local lake patrol are sticklers for that sort of thing. Although relatively frills free, it does also include a durable D-ring for connecting a lanyard.
After a few months’ use, we noticed that the buckles were rubbing a black smudge onto the bright red neoprene material. Even with a few soaks in a bath of JetRenu soap the markings didn’t vanish. We also noted that the laminated coating on the front and rear panels were beginning to discolor at a faster rate than the uncoated surfaces. Again, we typically prefer more subdued hues for our riding gear, so the difference in reds stood out to our eyes. Nevertheless, the Array Side-Entry Neo vest from Slippery Wetsuits (retain $99.95 – available at RIVA Racing for $89.95) was a definite pleasant surprise. For those who disdain having the front buckles, this is the side-entry that will actually let you freely move, breathe comfortably and not feel like you’re wearing a sandwich board.