Julie Schoenfeld is a founder at Outsoul, working to connect outdoor guides with new clients. Julie is a former professional climbing instructor and has worked as the Director of Digital Development of Rock and Ice Magazine. In her free time, Julie can be found crimping up her latest project, backpacking and mountain biking through the mossy forests of the Pacific Northwest, skiing backcountry powder, or paddling her local waterways. Photos by Bryan Aulick.
Some gear can function fine for men and women alike — sleeping bags, skis, baggy raincoats — they don’t necessarily need a gender-specific stamp. Before I used the Astral Layla lifejacket, I was pretty sure that a PFD would fall into that category as well. After paddling in the curve-hugging, women’s-specific Layla, I will never go back to a unisex model.
The Astral Layla is a PFD specifically designed to provide women the comfort and freedom of movement they need on the water. The side zipper, curved princess seams, stretchy v-neck collar and boob cups create a close-fitting shape that doesn’t smash down the girls.
I tested the Layla while on a week-long sea kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands. By the end of the trip, the foam had broken in and formed to my body, the front pouch was full of my essentials, and I wore the Layla in comfort on long days of paddling.
When I first put on the Layla and began adjusting the straps, I expected to feel the usual squeeze. But it just didn’t happen. The hinged princess seams and boob cups left plenty of room for my bosom, and the jacket hugged my torso securely without feeling like a compression wrap.
The Layla is made with a strategic combination of soft Organic Kapok Foam, PVC Free Gaia Foam, and PE Foam that creates a flexible, slim jacket. After a few days of paddling, the foam broke-in and the jacket felt like it moved with me. I often left it on for portages or while loading the boats because it was just so darn comfortable.
I’m 5’4”, 130 pounds, B cup, and the small/medium fit me perfectly, with plenty of room for layering. My paddling partner who is about the same size as me, but a bit bustier, also found the small/medium to be a good fit.
My favorite feature of the Layla was the large, stretchy chest pocket. It was the perfect size for stashing snacks, chap stick, a phone (in a waterproof case) or sunglasses while on the water. I also loved the 3/4 zip side entry, which made it easy to get the Layla on and off even over bulky jackets.
Another cool feature of the Layla is the Organic Kapok Foam — a foam made from organically grown natural fibers. I was happy to be using gear created from sustainable materials. Additionally, all Astral products are PVC-free so I didn’t have to worry about absorbing toxins from my lifejacket.
While of sea kayaking the Layla fit comfortably in my seat and didn’t cause any hot spots. I’ve also worn the Layla standup paddleboarding, and it was equally comfy for that. This lifejacket would be a great choice for whitewater kayaking, rafting, or any other water sport where freedom of movement is important.
My Layla is Rosa Red, a nice bright color, which I appreciated when paddling near boat traffic. And, although it’s not exactly a fashion item, I liked the slight v-neck collar and felt pretty sleek in my lifejacket.
The fit of the Layla was outstanding, and a huge step-up in comfort over a unisex lifejacket. User-friendly features and sustainable materials are also great additions. I highly recommend the Astral Layla to women looking for a lifejacket for any activity on the water.