Periodically I search the world-wide-web checking-out price differences between the Basic vs. Deluxe models of the Stearns Puddle Jumper. The Stearns Puddle Jumper is a U.S. Coast Guard Approved, Type III PFD for kids, 30-50 lbs. A PFD is a personal flotation device. Generally speaking, retailers sell the two Puddle Jumper models at a $5 price-point difference. While the retail price fluctuates, especially in geographical locations where extreme seasons are experienced… spring, summer, winter, fall… still the difference in price is usually and approximately $5.
The Price Difference
Is the $5 difference in price the correct “determining-factor” when deciding which Puddle Jumper to buy? I think not. Not when you consider that a “better” life jacket has a greater probability of saving a life. What is a life worth? A life is priceless, right? Perhaps, however, I have rushed into an opinion. When I force myself to remember the many people who are standing in front of tough economic times, $5 becomes a relative amount of money. Young couples with young children, young people new to a career and therefore occupying entry-level positions, have limited resources. Then there are the people who are still in school, still preparing for their intended career who also have limited resources. In front of tough economic times $5 is most definitely a relative thing. Depending on life-circumstances a $5 meal can be as life-saving as a child’s life-jacket!
Other Considerations: Design & Fabric
If, however, a $5 price difference is not the driving determinant there are other differences that should be highlighted and considered.
First, note the similarities between the two models:
Similarities: Basic vs Deluxe Models
- Both made with bright-colored fabrics.
- Both made with animal designs applied and/or woven into the fabric.
- Both constructed with polyethylene foam.
- Both made for children 30-50 lbs (13.6 kg – 22.7 kg).
- Both provide a vest that fits comfortably over a child’s chest and arm pieces thus providing stability to the child while in water.
- Both are Coast Guard approved Type III performance.
Second, note the two major differences between the models: Design and Fabric:
- Basic Model is made with simple animal designs.
- Deluxe Model is made with more detailed animal designs.
Regarding the design, if your child becomes attached to a particular animal character he or she will want to “be with it” and will therefore want to wear the Puddle Jumper. The child who wants to wear a “flotation aid” because it is a friend versus the child who merely submits to an imposed rule: “a life vest must be worn” is a state-of-affairs that too frequently leads to life versus death, or vice-versa. Any flotation device, including the Puddle Jumper, can only save a life when it is worn. If your child is attracted to an animal character, then by all means buy the Puddle Jumper with the design your child is attracted to. With the “animal character” strapped across his or her chest your child is safer in the water, and, better able to adjust when stressful unexpected situations occur while in a pool, lake or at the beach.
- Basic Model, Nylon Fabric
- Deluxe Model, Woven Polyester
The type of fabric used to construct the Puddle Jumper is another difference to consider between the two models. Both nylon and polyester are lightweight and durable fabrics. Both are synthetic fabrics. Neither is a better fabric. They even share many of the same properties.
- Easy Care
- Wrinkle Resistant
- Stretch Resistant
- Shrink Resistant
- Softer (historically)
- Faster Drying
- Easier to Dye
- Abrasion Resistant
Historically nylon was considered the smoother softer fabric, as compared to polyester. Over time, however, refined manufacturing capabilities have resulted in a softer polyester fabric that in many ways matches nylon. This is true enough that Stearns is now able to make the claim that the Deluxe Puddle Jumper has the “softer” feel, and therefore causes less chafing against your child’s skin.
Polyester dries faster. This is due to its’ water-wicking ability. Polyester is hydrophobic, which means it expels water to the surface of the fabric’s fibers where the water then evaporates. Nylon, on the other hand, absorbs water and therefore dries slower. The hydrophobic property of polyester goes to the feel of the fabric when strapped around your child’s chest and arms. Your child will not feel wet and chilled. As kids become accustomed to the Puddle Jumper they become almost oblivious to the fact that they are wearing a flotation aid. As this set of circumstances evolves the likelihood increases that your child will be wearing his or her Puddle Jumper at the most important time: while in the water, at the life-saving moment when it is needed.
Also compare the color-fastness of the two fabrics. Bright colored fabric is a key feature of the Puddle Jumper. It attracts and delights kids. The bright colors are also a safety feature; the bright colors help you, parent or guardian, to easily see your little one as they frolic about in the water. Therefore, a comparison of polyester and nylon in light of their colorfast properties is important. Polyester absorbs more color (more dye). This, again, is because of polyester’s water-wicking property. Since the polyester expels water when in the dye solution more dye bonds to the polyester fibers.
Conclusion: Which Puddle Jumper Model Is Best?
So what is the bottom-line? Which Stearns Puddle Jumper is the “best?” The answer begins with a quote from the U.S. Coast Guard. They say, “The perfect life-preserver, life-jacket, or PFD (personal flotation device) has not yet been designed.” Given these state-of-affairs respecting life-jackets, even so the Coast Guard is still willing to point to characteristics of a life-jacket that make it “the best”:
- It’s the one you’re willing to wear!
- It’s the one that saves your life every time it’s needed.
- It’s the one that matches your needs!
Given all of the above information, and knowing that the Stearns Puddle Jumper is Coast Guard approved only for kids, and only if they weigh between 30 and 50 lbs (not for adults users, nor for infants) the prospective list of Puddle Jumper users is narrowed, irrespective of design or model.
For this narrowed list of users, children 30-50 lbs… our most vulnerable swimmers… the answer as to which model is “best” is simple.
IF the extra $5 doesn’t break the piggy bank and deprive your family of its’ next meal, and, IF the detailed animal design on the chest-band of the Puddle Jumper attracts your child’s attention and affection, then spend the extra $5. Buy the Deluxe Puddle Jumper. And, since polyester fabric is softer and more water-resistant and therefore more comfortable, increasing the likelihood that your child will wear the Puddle Jumper, then again the answer is simple, buy the Deluxe model.