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MTI AdventureWear Journey Ultralight PFD Review

The MTI Journey Type III PFD
The MTI Journey Type III PFD

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.

The MTI Journey has large arm holes that are comfortable when paddling
The MTI Journey has large armholes that are comfortable when paddling.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. Weight – How heavy is it? Does carrying it require other tradeoffs in gear or consumables?
  4. Reliability – Will the PFD “work” 100% of the time?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. Comfort – Is the PFD comfortable to wear at all times or is it cumbersome for your intended activity?
  8. 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?
The solid back of the MTI Journey provides good postural support for packrafts that don't have seats and helps promote a more upright position.
The solid back of the MTI Journey provides good postural support for packrafts that don’t have seats and helps promote a more upright position.

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.

Disclosure: the author purchased this product with his own funds.

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  1. Hey–sorry to leave this comment here, but your question leaving page wouldn’t accept my comment ( or maybe I can’t add and it thought I was a robot) but anyway…

    Hey I just wanted to say thank you for a really great blog.

    My introduction to your blog started when i was getting ready for my 2014 AT Thru and saw Six Moons was having a sale. I googled “Starlite backpack reviews” and up comes your blog with a great review. ( I bought the pack and loved it–now have the Fusion 65–love it almost as much).

    I also Googled “Scotland Trails” ( last minute decision to be here as we couldn’t sty in mainland Europe for more than 90 days) and while your google entry wasn’t first it was there so I read it.

    While in Scotland I googled ” rainwear saturation” and up comes your MOST informative blog entry on rainwear–how I wish I’d read it before coming to Scotland! :)

    Anyway, it seems that no matter what my question relating to having fun outside is–you have a very thorough and informative blog entry for it and I wanted to thank you!

    Have a great day!

  2. Great review and I will be looking into this one. My biggest problem on the Fishing Kayak is so many PFD’s interfere with my Casting due to the size of the Arm holes being so small resulting in Blisters and skin worn away in the armpits.. . I don’t worry too much about hitting my head on anything when Kayaking as I do on my Bass Boat where often you can get “flipped off” by unsafe boaters coming to close to you rocking the boat so badly you can be “flipped Off!” and might hit your head on the Gunwale… Thanks for a good review..

    • Didn’t know that about fishing PFDs. No such problem with this PFD though. I cast so much it feels like my arm is going to fall off. I’ve gotten into traditional rod and reel fly fishing this year. Great sport in the evenings when I’m too tired to hike.

  3. Hi Philip,

    Thanks for the review. I recently bought a pack raft and need a PFD so this review is quite helpful for me.

    Do you have any suggestions for loop pack rafting trips in New England? I’d like to do some weekend hikes with rafting involved this fall.

    Thanks.. love the blog.

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