Product Pro-File: NRS Ninja PFD Series

We got to chat with Danny Mongno - Product and Field Marketing Manager at NRS where we managed to learn a bit more about the newly updated Ninja PFD Line.

Welcome to “The Product Pro-File” at Kayak Session! This new section is all about helping paddlers learn more about the latest products on the paddlesports market. By chatting with designers and experts within the brands, we uncover the design and function behind these products. Explore the stories, craftsmanship, and innovative features that make these products stand out. Join us as we bring you exclusive insights to help you to make the right decisions for your paddling sessions.

We got to chat with Danny Mongno – Product and Field Marketing Manager at NRS where we managed to learn a bit more about the newly updated Ninja PFD Line.

We got to chat with Danny Mongno - Product and Field Marketing Manager at NRS where we managed to learn a bit more about the newly updated Ninja PFD Line.

I have been truly blessed to never have a proper job outside of paddle sports, since I was 16 years old.  Paddling has given me so much. Countless friends (even meeting my wife) travel to amazing locations, people I consider my most important mentors and the ability to shape the direction of paddlers lives and now product designs.  I still self-identify as a paddler, which I find important in being legitimate in my job in both marketing and product development. I find myself just as happy in any craft or water, from river to coast, from seated to standing (I’ll even catch a fish if you give me the opportunity.)  With all of this, I believe my biggest responsibility is to always being looking for ways to pay it forward and share the stoke that has been instilled in me.  Officially, my role at NRS is Field Marketing and Product Manager.  After 15 years of getting acquainted with the paddling scene in Western North Carolina, I am back in NY living in the Adirondack Mountains (with plenty of water to recreate on.)

We Re-Launched the Ninja in 2024, and yes, it was unveiled at the Paddle Sports Show last September; we even got to win the Product of the Year Awards in the Apparel Category! The original design was unique in our use of two main panels in the front.  This allowed the front panel to float freely and give a better freedom of rotational movement. The Ninja fit within the niche of super low-profile.  Although there were some others like it at the time, the floating front panel was a unique innovation to NRS. This came out during the BOOM of play boating, so it was the first piece of gear that earned our attention from kayakers. Plus, come on, the two-part panel system also created the hand warmers… game changer!

The next two generations were really just face lifts and some updates to pocket designs and colours.  In Gen 3 we did introduce our ‘Strap Garages,’ which are a pretty cool way to keep extra shoulder strap webbing from slapping you in the face, when you were getting beat down in your favourite pour over.    Okay, so let’s move on to 2018 and this was one area where product development at NRS started to progress. This was when we really started utilising our Athlete Program to give more detailed feedback. The next domino to fall was 2022. We have a real genius in PFD design in our Head of Product Development, David Blue (also our COO.)

In 2022 we had a variety of key pieces fall into place that changed this for NRS, and in my honest opinion, in PFD’s overall, for ever.  These advancements in design and prototype ability led us to ‘ORBIT Fit.’ Essentially, without giving up too many secrets, we are shaping and sewing the shell of the PFD to be round (hence ‘ORBIT’) right out of the box.

It is ‘ORBIT Fit’ that is truly the DNA of the new Ninja series.

How many categories does the Ninja Series split into? Are there different segments to these categories?

For many retailers, the previous generations of the Ninja were one of their, if not their, best-selling PFD.  So, when we worked on the redesign, it only made sense to try to address as many paddlers as we could, with a platform they are telling us they like. For 2024 we have the standard version of the Ninja.  This will cover a variety of paddlers from recreational, to whitewater, to SUP to touring.  It will also give a great price point option. Then, for coastal paddlers we have the Ninja OS (Off Shore.)  This model will have more reflective accenting and attachment points.  It also has a pocket, within the clam shell pocket, that will accommodate a GPS or VH radio.  Further speaking to the touring paddler, both the Ninja OS and Ninja are compatible with our new PFD mounted hydration pack, the ‘Swig.’ Even that is pretty well thought out, with innovative attachment clips that are designed to pull free in the event of an unforeseen snag.  Then, the joke we all used when presenting the 2024 line to retailers is “if 2 Ninja’s are good… well then 3 are even better.”  With the 3rd, we wanted to address the rescue PFD category. 

To date, all the rescue PFD’s (NRS included) also incorporated features like additional floatation, rib protection, additional pockets, etc.  It all had purpose, but for the grade II-III paddler or a coastal sea kayak leader, it could be too much and frankly… too much of an investment.  So, the 2024 Ninja Pro offers the smallest profile, lightest weight, lowest cost, full-service rescue PFD.  We know it will open up a lot of options to those that have swift water training or want to set up a short tow in the coastal environment.  

We got to chat with Danny Mongno - Product and Field Marketing Manager at NRS where we managed to learn a bit more about the newly updated Ninja PFD Line.

Wow, good question. So, working backwards, the Ninja series launches Spring of 2024 at your local retailer (later in some parts of the World, when you consider the various distribution centres.) We even started showing it to the folks in charge of purchasing for paddle sports shops, back in April of 2023.  I swam in the initial prototypes, that were sewn in house, in December of 2022.  David started planning for ‘ORBIT Fit’ idea a year before that.  To say it’s a process, is really an understatement.  So loosely, to consider all the design work, prototype work, then ‘dressing the PFD’ (considering paddler feedback on pocket design, knife tab location, buckle placement, etc) then the UL approval process.  It’s two years or more from concept to delivery.

What part did you personally play in the process and how does that work with the NRS team, are they involved too?

I am always making sure that as a company, we only take credit for success as a team. You can’t be a successful sales rep by just selling. Purchasing needs to order the goods.  Marketing needs to create demand and the warehouse team needs to receive, store, and then ship. Then of course there is the customer service team, if you don’t support the gear you sell… your brand will fail.  So, it’s the same thing on the product development side.  We are without a doubt a team, and nothing happens if we all don’t do our part.  My small contribution, frankly… is being a paddler. I am tasked with knowing what the market wants and where any new products would fit.  Are we being innovative in that space, or would we just be a “me too” company?  Knowing where to improve current products, based on experience in the field, on the water.  Working with paddlers of all shapes, sizes and ability levels. I am so honoured to also work with the Marketing Team, in this case specific to managing our Athlete Program.  Through this role, I am getting feedback from some of the World’s best paddlers.  More so than ever we are using their feedback to drive design, features, even colour ways. The cool thing, when you look at the diversity in our Athlete Program, is that feedback is coming from 16-year freestyle paddlers to 54 year sea paddlers.  Women, men, people of all shapes and sizes.

We got to chat with Danny Mongno - Product and Field Marketing Manager at NRS where we managed to learn a bit more about the newly updated Ninja PFD Line.

What specific features can we find on the Ninja series that we didn’t before, and one’s you are the proudest of?

Specific to your question, “what am I most proud of?” It’s the fit. ‘ORBIT FIT’ is legit and people really, at the very least, should give it a try. It was designed to be gender-neutral; it fits all body shapes really well. Being 5’4” myself and working with so many female paddlers, it was purposely designed to be shorter. Often, spray skirts are never taken into account. So, although it looks good standing, we were sure it FIT GOOD, paddling.

I am BLOWN AWAY on how it fits me and how it fits others I put it on. And to go with the round nature of ‘ORBIT FIT’ and to help it better wrap around the body, we now also offer ‘Graded Size.’ NRS was also guilty of this, as the majority of PFDs on the market are the same exact size and buoyancy. This means someone that is 105lbs is forced to wear the same PFD as someone who is 220lbs. And let us not forget, PFD fit really does not come into play until we are swimming. Too big, it rides up and is too hard to manoeuvre in. So graded size offers three different platform sizes and three different buoyancy values. This TRULY gives paddlers of all sizes a significantly better fit, on land or in the water.

What specific features can we find on the Ninja series that we didn’t before, and one’s you are the proudest of?

Further still, we also have a great sustainability story. 100% made from recycled materials makes up our nylon outer and inner materials. We are also using a 100% PVC foam for buoyancy.” (This foam construction is also SUPER lightweight and cuts down on massive amounts of wasted foam in the manufacturing process.)
The ‘Dressing’ as I referred to it earlier. This is where the attention to detail and the Athlete feedback really came in. The knife attachment is now protected by the clam shell pocket. The pocket essentially acts like a ramp, to shield the knife from raft chicken lines, sea kayak deck lines, or anything a whitewater kayaker can get tangled in. You hate a fixed blade knife, you say? Cool, we thought of that. Behind the knife tab is a pocket to store a folding knife. Continuous webbing. This is the safest way to build a PFD, when taking into account rescues. The shoulder straps run through the shell of the PFD, front and back. They criss-cross (inside the PFD in front and back) and then get bar tacked into the waistband. There is no way for the shoulder straps to break free. The shoulder adjustment buckles have been moved to accommodate shouldering a raft or kayak. On the Ninja Pro, we tucked the quick-release buckle out of the way and moved to aluminium buckles at every adjustment point.

As a team, we can truly say we worked to cover every detail and do our best to meet every request. It was a HUGE lift that took a ton of time and investment from a lot of people. But, we could not be more proud of the teamwork and innovation that went into getting the Ninja Family to where it ended up.

We got to chat with Danny Mongno - Product and Field Marketing Manager at NRS where we managed to learn a bit more about the newly updated Ninja PFD Line.

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Check out the Ninja Series on NRS website here (EU)
Check out the Ninja Series on NRS website here (US)
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Check out below some technical info on the Ninja Series! Including the features, colours and much more.

NINJA

Category:Low-Profile Life Jackets, Women’s Life Jackets, Side-Entry Life Jackets
Performance Level:Level 70
Profile:Low
Design Flotation:XS/M: 65N / 14.5 lbs  M/L: 70N / 15.75 lbs  XL/XXL: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
Outer Fabric:100% recycled 420 denier ripstop nylon
Lining:100% recycled 200 denier nylon; 70 denier knit polyester
Entry System:Side buckle
Pockets:2 – Front
Adjustment System:2 – Side2 – Shoulder2 – Waist
Features:Recycled construction, Spacious drop-down compartmentalised front pocket, Hand warmer pocket, 3M® reflective accents, Shoulder strap keepers, Rescue knife lash tab, Folding knife sleeve

Category:
Low-Profile Life Jackets
Women's Life Jackets
Side-Entry Life Jackets
Performance Level:
Level 70
Profile:
Low
Design Flotation:
XS/M: 65N / 14.5 lbs  
M/L: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
XL/XXL: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
Outer Fabric:
100% recycled 420 denier ripstop nylon
Lining:
100% recycled 200 denier nylon; 70 denier knit polyester
Entry System:
Side buckle
Pockets:
2 - Front
Adjustment System:
2 - Side
2 - Shoulder
2 - Waist
Features:
Recycled construction
Spacious drop-down compartmentalized front pocket
Hand warmer pocket
3M® reflective accents
Shoulder strap keepers
Rescue knife lash tab
Folding knife sleeve

NINJA OS

Category:Low-Profile Life Jackets, Women’s Life Jackets, Side-Entry Life Jackets
Performance Level:Level 70
Profile:Low
Design Flotation:XS/M: 65N / 14.5 lbs  M/L: 70N / 15.75 lbs  XL/XXL: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
Outer Fabric:100% recycled 420 denier ripstop nylon
Lining:100% recycled 200 denier nylon; 100% recycled 70 denier knit polyester
Entry System:Side buckle
Pockets:2 – Front
Lash Tabs:1 – Front
Adjustment System:2 – Side2 – Shoulder2 – Waist
Features:Recycled construction, Spacious drop-down compartmentalised front pocket, Removable (hook-and-loop attachment) inner pocket for radio or GPSH and warmer pocket, 3M® reflective accents, Shoulder strap keepers, Rescue knife lash tab, Folding knife sleeve

Category:
Low-Profile Life Jackets
Women's Life Jackets
Side-Entry Life Jackets
Performance Level:
Level 70
Profile:
Low
Design Flotation:
XS/M: 65N / 14.5 lbs  
M/L: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
XL/XXL: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
Outer Fabric:
100% recycled 420 denier ripstop nylon
Lining:
100% recycled 200 denier nylon; 100% recycled 70 denier knit polyester
Entry System:
Side buckle
Pockets:
2 - Front
Lash Tabs:
1 - Front
Adjustment System:
2 - Side
2 - Shoulder
2 - Waist
Features:
Recycled construction
Spacious drop-down compartmentalized front pocket
Removable (hook-and-loop attachment) inner pocket for radio or GPS
Hand warmer pocket
3M® reflective accents
Shoulder strap keepers
Rescue knife lash tab
Folding knife sleeve

NINJA PRO

Category:Rescue Life Jackets, Women’s Life Jackets, Side-Entry Life Jackets
US Coast Guard Type:V
Profile:Medium
Design Flotation:XS/M: 70N / 15.75 lbs  M/L: 70N / 15.75 lbs  XL/XXL: 75N / 16.75 lbs  
Outer Fabric:100% recycled 420 denier ripstop nylon
Lining:100% recycled 200 denier nylon; 70 denier knit polyester
Entry System:Side buckle
Pockets:2 – Front
Lash Tabs:1 – Front
Adjustment System:2 – Side2 – Shoulder2 – Waist
Features:Recycled construction, Rescue tow tether with aluminIum attachment ring, Interconnected internal webbing harness, Rescue knife lash tab, Folding knife sleeve, 3M® reflective accents, Shoulder strap keepers, Spacious compartmentalised clamshell pocket, Hand warmer pocket

Category:
Rescue Life Jackets
Women's Life Jackets
Side-Entry Life Jackets
US Coast Guard Type:
V
Profile:
Medium
Design Flotation:
XS/M: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
M/L: 70N / 15.75 lbs  
XL/XXL: 75N / 16.75 lbs  
Outer Fabric:
100% recycled 420 denier ripstop nylon
Lining:
100% recycled 200 denier nylon; 70 denier knit polyester
Entry System:
Side buckle
Pockets:
2 - Front
Lash Tabs:
1 - Front
Adjustment System:
2 - Side
2 - Shoulder
2 - Waist
Features:
Recycled construction
Rescue tow tether with aluminum attachment ring
Interconnected internal webbing harness
Rescue knife lash tab
Folding knife sleeve
3M® reflective accents
Shoulder strap keepers
Spacious compartmentalized clamshell pocket
Hand warmer pocket
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