Life jacket technology has not changed much since it was first developed – remaining relatively bulky and unwieldy even to this day. But the Wingman is billed by its designers as “the first life jacket you’ll want to wear,” and at 1.5 lbs – and an average thickness of just 1 cm – that claim just might be true.
The jacket’s design is so simple, it is surprising that no one has come up with it before. The PFD uses a collapsible bladder that rapidly inflates with the simple pull of a ripcord, making it much more stable and buoyant in a flash. Deflated, the bladder is folded and stored in compartments on the jacket under zippers that are designed to pop open under pressure. The system uses both replaceable CO₂ cartridges and a backup tube that allows the wearer to inflate the bladder manually should the need arise. The jacket even comes equipped with a load-bearing strap that allows the wearer to be safely and securely lifted out of the water by the PFD itself.
As a result of its compact size, the Wingman allows for unrestricted movement and can accommodate a variety of accessories that help make it more attractive for any watersport. By reducing the size of the flotation components, the jacket is able to have a tapered profile to allows arms and shoulders a full range of motion; something that is generally not possible in other PFDs. In addition, the small size now provides room for optional components such as a modular pack system for chest pouches and camera mounts, a waistpack system for additional storage, and an integrated hydration sleeve and zippered front pocket. There is even a headphone channel that guides cables neatly from that pocket to an optional cover shirt that provides a further streamlined profile for swimmers and surfers.
On paper, the Wingman looks like an obvious winner, but it still needs to prove itself in the wild. While it resolves a major inconvenience, and provides an opportunity for refreshed development in many sports, there are still some issues with its design. For example, what if a person has been knocked unconscious or is unable to operate the rip-cord? Or what happens if the CO₂ cartridge malfunctions due to user error in an environment where the backup system is not viable? While it is doubtful that anyone is going to use an untested technology in highly hazardous conditions, these issues and others will need to be addressed once the jacket hits the market. The Wingman is not available for sale just yet, but pre-orders can be made on the company’s KickStarter page.
What do you think? Would you wear a life vest more often if it were much smaller and more comfortable?