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MTI Headwater R-Spec Lifejacket $210
The Good: Exceptional Buoyancy, plenty of pockets, fleece hand-warming pockets.
The Bad: Buoyancy means bulk, this jacket is designed for professional high performance, not flatwater paddling.
The Awesome: Professional grade design, construction, and extra features will make other jackets feel inferior. Don’t let it go to your head, that class IV is still gonna chew you up.
Sometimes playing on the water involves an unplanned spill into it. When those moments come along, it’s important to make it safely back into the boat or on shore without drinking too much of the river. Keeping that head above water won’t happen with just any Personal Floatation Device (PFD), more buoyancy (26lbs of floatation in this jacket) means your head stays farther above the froth. The Headwater R-Spec is a class V full rescue vest designed with Coast Guard approved rescue harness with a quick release buckle, professional grade reflective strips, and lash points on the wide shoulder straps. (For a less outfitted offering, MTI also makes the same vest in a class III style without the rescue components here). The jacket is equipped with two chest pockets, two front waist pockets, and fleece hand warmer pockets. Inside the jacket is an integrated airflow system and an open mesh material that dries fast to fend off uncomfortable sweaty backs during long paddles.
We took this jacket out paddling on rough waters in Northern California, using it for both kayaking and SUPing (SUPed?). The buoyant vest had plenty of lift to make re-mounting kayaks and Paddleboards easy after (multiple) spills during rapids. Plenty of pockets and anchor points made it easy to keep cameras and other items within reach. The wide straps and inside mesh material kept the jacket comfortable and fast drying after crawling back into the boat after a swim. The additional padding is a bit bulky compared to less buoyant jackets so something like the Cascade with about 15 lbs of floatation would be more appropriate for flatwater adventure.
So if churning whitewater is in your summer plans, take a serious look at the outfitted Headwater lifejacket.