The MTI AdventureWear Journey PFD life vest is a lightweight Type 3 PFD that weighs just 14.4 ounces (in a size L/XL – smaller sizes are also available), making it an excellent option if you’re looking for a well-tested and bombproof commercially available life jacket for packrafting. Weight is a prime consideration for packrafting, a sport that combines backpacking on foot with paddling in inflatable boats on whitewater or flatwater as a means of travel or backcountry recreation. If you have to carry a boat, paddle, and PFD any distance, you want them to be as lightweight as possible.
The Journey is made using foam which makes it virtually foolproof compared to inflatable PFDs, (See How to Choose a Packrafting PFD for a good discussion of Packrafting specific PFD requirements) as long as you wear it on the water and it’s fitted properly. The advantage of a foam PFD over a manually or automatically triggered inflatable PFD is that it’s always activated and armed, regardless if you’re conscious or unconscious, and requires virtually no maintenance. Priced at just $53.95, the MTI Journey PFD is also an excellent value compared to many more costly and heavier PFDs available today.
Not to discount the value of the MTI Journey, but it is a basic, no frills PFD, without any pockets or attachment points for a rescue knife if you feel you need one. It has two non-adjustable shoulder straps and two tiers of adjustable side straps for adjusting vest volume, one at chest level and one around your waist. Covered with a brightly colored and tough 300 denier polyester fabric, there’s a beefy center zipper and reflective strips on the shoulder straps for high visibility. Large armholes provide plenty of clearance for paddling without any chafing or constriction.
Intended for use canoeing, kayaking, and sailing, the MTI Journey PFD life vest is a USCG certified Type III vest with 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. It’s easy to swim while wearing the vest, a key requirement if you know you’ll need to self-rescue when paddling whitewater or for other more “active” water sports. However, as a Type III vest, the Journey is not guaranteed to keep your head out of the water if you’re unconscious, and whether it does or not will depend on your physical dimensions and the fit of the vest.
Packrafting Evaluation Criteria
When evaluating a PFD for backpacking and packrafting use, it’s useful to evaluate a life vest or PFD along with the following additional variables:
- Compactness – How easy is it to transport the PFD when backpacking? For example, a foam PFD may be bulkier than an inflatable PFD and require a large backpack or external attachment on the outside of your pack.
- Durability – How durable is the PFD in rough conditions? For example, would it remain usable if you attach it to the outside of your backpack and bushwack through dense foliage?
- Weight – How heavy is it? Does carrying it require other tradeoffs in gear or consumables?
- Reliability – Will the PFD “work” 100% of the time?
- Passive Use – Will the PFD work if you’re unconscious or incapacitated? Does the PFD require extra steps to inflate or put on when needed for use or do you wear it a ready-to-use state?
- Assisted Rescue – Does the PFD rely on rescue assistance from others or is it sufficient if you’re alone and need to be self-reliant?
- Comfort – Is the PFD comfortable to wear at all times or is it cumbersome for your intended activity?
- Multi-function – Can you use the PFD for multiple purposes, such as sleeping pad, seat cushioning, or seat insulation in a packraft with an uninsulated floor? Does it help enable other activities, such as fishing?
How does the MTI Journey PFD rate on these additional dimensions?
- Compactness: Bulky, and probably best carried on the outside of a backpack
- Durability: Highly durable with a thick polyester shell so you can strap it to the outside of your backpack
- Weights: Very low weight. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a commercially manufactured and USCG PFD that weighs less.
- Reliability: Very reliable. Foam vests always do their job without complaint or extra maintenance.
- Passive use: Depends on your personal fit, but the vest is likely to keep your head out of the water given its design. Type III vests don’t guarantee this though. Type I vests do but have many other disadvantages.
- Comfort: The Journey is quite comfortable to wear for long periods of time and provides additional torso insulation in cold weather or cold water. It may interfere with Packraft spray skirts since it has a full back, so best check the fit if you use one.
- Multi-function: The rigid foam back of the MTI Journey can be used a “seat-back” in packrafts that don’t provide one.
While it is a foam PFD and therefore a bit bulky to pack, the Journey is durable enough that you can attach it to the outside of your backpack without having to worry about puncturing it in heavy vegetation. This is a real concern when packrafting because you’re likely to spend significant time off-trail to get river or flatwater access (unless you can find a boat ramp in the “wilderness”.)
While no life vest is perfect for all needs and conditions, the MTI AdventureWear Journey is without a doubt a best buy if you’re looking for a packrafting PFD that weights less than one pound and can be used for whitewater or flatwater packrafting.
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