I've used it for:
- Canoe racing
- Wilderness canoeing in Canada
- Fitness kayaking in a surf-ski
The vest continues to be quite comfortable. I value the mesh inner lining. I've never had the desire to take it off even when it was extremely hot/humid. This thing is darn comfortable!
The flotation above the shoulders was presumably originally intended to provide padding for portaging a canoe (i.e., the canoe's center thwart was supposed to sit on it as you carried the inverted canoe). When I tried portaging with it, I didn't find that the padding up there helped much, if at all. Frankly, when I was portaging, most of the weight of the thwart was not on the padding. This was quite some time ago (25 years) so I can't recall any further details of its portaging performance beyond that.
Why isn't it rated higher?
Well, it has no pockets. Further, it seems like all the PVC up above the shoulders is kind of wasted (i.e., doesn't provide flotation because it isn't in the water and the padding doesn't seem very useful either even when portaging). Further, it would be nice if it were better suited to being used with some sort of hydration system. Also, this thing uses closed cell foam (i.e., PVC) as flotation. Apparently producing this stuff is very rough on the environment. So it would be nice to have a PVC-free flotation, like Gaia.
But if you are looking for a great value in PFDs for paddle sports, it is difficult to imagine a better value at this time than the Stearns Gatsby vest. IF/when I replace this, my next PFD may end up being a Mocke Paddling Jacket (imported from South Africa, intended for surf-skiing).