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Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 2:08 am
by Alm
Have purchased Patagonia Mesh Back PFD (formerly Lotus Mildwater); I don't know where exactly they've added the foam in this new model, but if this is in front, I should've better bought an old (recalled) Mildwater. New Mesh Back has a lot of foam in front, with the following consequences:

1) When my top hand is approaching the center line in some agressive or correction stroke, the arm (between the elbow and shoulder) comes in contact with this thick foam, and this is a little annoying. Not a big problem - top hand isn't supposed to cross the center line with a GP normal forward stroke, if I'm correct.
2) This bulky front interferes with FC sprayskirt - it is pressed to the skirt at some points, essentially sitting on it. This won't happen if you're taller than 5'8", - but I am 5'7". As a result, the torso is rotating inside the PFD, while PFD foam front almost doesn't move. Correct me if I'm wrong - there should be both rotation of torso inside and some rotation of PFD relatively to the skirt. When FPD rotation is hampered, efficiency suffers (and skirt too, as some little rotation of PFD results in gradual abrasion of skirt at those points of clsoe contact). Though, my FC skirt has been abraded much more at the back, where it's fold is trapped between my back and the backrest.

Leaving infatable PFD aside (can't take CO2 cartridge to airplanes), mesh-back PFD is the only design that works with tall seats like FC and Longhaul - especially with sprayskirt. There are suprisingly few mesh-backs out there, I think I know all of them, - and none is sold locally in Vancouver.
a) NRS Clearwater - similar to Patagonia, but with zipper (I like it), larger pockets (I like this too), and shorter mesh area - the foam on shoulders extends 2" lower than in Patagonia, judging by photos, so (hopefully!) it will have less foam in front than Patagonia.
b) Few "fishing mesh-backs", unlikely suitable, as they are not designed for active body movements or using with sprayskirts.
c) Stohlquist Trekker (women version is called Cruiser), MTI Solaris and Extrasport Breakwater - all with a very short mesh section, so short that it all will be under the spraskirt funnel (this sucks in terms of ventilation, but might mean less bulky front).
d) Kokatat Bahia (for some reason called "mesh back", but it only has a mesh vent in the middle of the back),
e) Some mesh-backs with "kapok" filler which I don't want to consider at all.

Before I throw away another $100 on mail-order of Clearwater from NRS (my first candidate) - did anybody try these other mesh-backs?

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 12:39 pm
by kayakamper

Thanks for posting a report on mesh back PFD's. Always complete and detailed as usual for your writings. I do not have experience with mesh backs, but am interested in a new PFD. Unlike you, my torso is tall enough to have most foam back PFD's sit over the Feathercraft seat. I am not sure I would like more foam up front though.

I am curious, how does the extra foam in front affect reentry on a self rescue.
It sounds like it would want to force you on your back or make it harder to land on the back deck ( because of extra thickness ) when you are in the water? Have you tried it in the water yet?

Like you, I am anxious to hear responses from those out there who have mesh back PFD experience.


Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 1:36 pm
by Alm
No, I didn't try it in water yet. Local waters never seem to warm up enough. Since there is very little foam at the back (at shoulders mostly), it should keep you face-up in water (which is allright). Lower body weight will keep you more-less vertical anyway, - you won't be floating flat on your back. Here is Patagonia (darn, it's now $20 cheaper than I paid): ... eptid=1952. To see the back, click on Larger Image and in the opened window - on More Views. The foam is about 60% thicker than usual PFD, so this extra inch in itself shouldn't be an obstacle in entering the boat. I would expect front buckles (in lieu of zipper in this vest) to be more of an obstacle during re-entry.

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 9:11 pm
by kayakamper
I just took a look at it. It seems to have adequate foam on the upper back, but I am not crazy about the buckles on the front. I would prefer zipper only so you don't catch it on re-entry. As you know, there are plenty of bungee hooks and obstacles on the rear deck of Feathercrafts.

I guess I am over analizing the buckles as I have a tow strap that hooks on the front of my current PFD as well as a whistle...never been in the way before :roll: .

I do like the high mesh back though. Should leave you 'feeling' the seat back better.


Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 9:16 pm
by Alm
An update on NRS vs Patagonia. Tried Patagonia in summer 2008 (no re-entries, sorry), it worked well for paddling in FC. Few weeks ago bought NRS Clearwater ... eptid=1682 and tried it on in FC in a living room (it's winter already). In a nutshell - Patagonia won, and NRS goes back to the store.

What I did like about NRS:
1) Zipper on front opening. I don't know why Patagonia is using buckles, - they are slower and less convenient to use (in my subjective opinion), and consume precious surface on front panels, where a lot of items is attached in long trips, especially with an upwind sail rig where you paddle less and can afford being all covered with gadgets like Christmas tree - knife, VHF, whistle, strobe or other emergency light, PLB (on the list) and at least 2 (preferably 2.5) pockets with other things. Without buckles I could attach the knife almost at the crack between the front panels, so it wouldn't take prime real estate at the shoulder strap.

2) Thinner foam in front panels - about 1/2" thinner than in Patagonia.

What I didn't like about NRS:
1) Too wide front panels - from left armpit to right. There is 8 cm (3.5") gap between the panels, they don't meet each other for some reason (the gap is covered by fabric with zipper). So even though each panel is approximately same wide as in Patagonia, they go deeper/farther under armpits at the sides.

2) Inner edge of the front panel at the armpit (on the surface close to the torso) isn't rounded. The other edge that makes the armpit opening (on the surface facing outwards) is rounded, but the the edge along the inner surface is right-angle brick, and it feels uncomfortable when upper hand during a stroke comes close to the torso.

3) Pockets. I didn't like stretch-mesh pockets of Patagonia - they are too small, but I didn't like "bellowing pockets" of NRS even more. First, they are on Velcro. Small 1"*1" patches of Velcro can be difficult to align without looking, and they won't stay put if there is something too big in the pocket (sunblock and GPS for some reason, for example, or snack), and it is difficult to press hard the flap Velcro to the pocket Velcro when there is something soft in the pocket, like gloves. Sunblock in combination with gloves might sound odd, but those using Greenland paddle will understand (and those sailing - too). Good old Fastex buckles like on zillion of other PFDs is so much better.

Also, the "bellow" design of pockets - the bellow (see that crack in the middle) is kept compacted by elastic band at the top, and this band gets in the way when I put something in the pocket.

4) The fabric is more loose around the foam than in Patagonia. It is also more "crackling", - though this could be my imagination.

5) The back foam panel (on shoulder blades" is wider and too longer than in Patagonia, back panel of Patagonia feels more comfortable. I have to mention, though, that all other mesh-backs have this back foam even longer than NRS.

Please don't take my word to the bank, and by all means try either one if you feel like. NRS is OK for boats like FC, and I would've probably kept it (replacing Velcro with buckles on pockets), and wouldn't have even tried Patagonia (because I don't like buckles on the front opening), if I didn't have Patagonia already. But, since I have Patagonia, I will keep it and will think about replacing front buckles with zipper, and possibly some other minor changes.

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Fri Jan 30, 2009 1:41 am
by KanonBear
There seems to be a sale on the Mesh Back at NRS right now: ... eptid=1952
But is this the post-recall PFD? The Mesh Back isn't even listed on the Patagonia website anymore.

It seems as though the majority of folks here favor the Mesh Back. How is it's buoyancy compared to other PFDs that have more of a back? How do people feel about the buckles? I tend to like zippers a bit more. Speaking of which, does anyone have any thoughts on the NRS Groove? Besides the fact that it looks as if you can walk into a club with it?


Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Fri Jan 30, 2009 5:47 pm
by seajak
Another mesh back PFD which hasn't been mentioned is the MTI Orleans. It also has very thick front panels (about 2 1/4") and the thickness continues right to the bottom, so it is necessary to wear it high to avoid interference. However, as there are two straps at the side but no "waist" strap, it would be hard to prevent the PFD riding up in the water. It closes with a zip with no gap between the panels so the front of the PFD becomes very rigid. There is a small elastic pocket on one side and an equally small expanding pocket on the other, certainly not enough for a normal kayaking load. I have one but have never used it on the water as a trial on land showed that it would interfere with good torso rotation. I think it would be a good PFD for a casual paddler but I much prefer my side opening PFD with its voluminous front pockets and hydration bladder in the back.


Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Wed Apr 08, 2009 10:28 pm
by paddlesheep
I use two different pfd's, one of them a mesh back Kokatat Bahia. It is much more comfortable in a high back seat than my other, MTI, pfd. Only problem is it has just one pocket. There's an touring model sold in the US that I haven't seen up here that has an electronics pocket plus two side pockets that I plan to buy. For my size and weight (6" 220lbs) it's the best fitting pfd I've tried, and it floats me just fine when I've practiced self rescue with it.

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Thu Apr 09, 2009 2:50 am
by Alm
Fresh impressions and thoughts. Have finished Baja trip 2 weeks ago, in Patagonia Meshback. Well... It is a good PFD for hot weather, but Baja in March, especially when sailing, and especially when cold Northern blows - not too hot. Daytime temps were at least 19C (70F), I didn't measure, but with a "chill factor" caused by wind it was perceived as 14C on windy days (plus, splashes of cold water). As long as it was calm and I was paddling, Meshback was OK, and I even was occasionally taking it off and shoving under the deck bungey (K1 with 2 inflatable amas is a trimaran, impossible to capsize in calm weather). But as soon as EL Norte picked up, I put on 1) fleece vest, 2) Meshback - which didn't make me too warm as I was sailing South and cold wind was at my back, so on top of PFD I also put 3) rain jacket, - as a wind-breaker.

So now I'm thinking of warmer PFD for winter in Baja :-) ... First on the list is Stohlquist Trekker (called "Drifter" in women version) It has mesh exactly where I need it - below the sprayskirt. The problem with Feathercrafts and other "skirted" kayaks is not a "high seat of recreational kayaks" as retailers usually write, but a high sprayskirt that goes over the seat, so PFD back panel rests on the skirt. (In Folbots, Kleppers and other boats with no skirt or with PFD going under the skirt funnel, ride-up is less of a problem). In Meshback the mesh covers lower 2/3 of the back, so it is bundled up above the skirt without causing ride-up and leaving enough exposed area to make me cold. Stohlquist Trekker only has mesh in the lower 1/3 of the back (judging by the photos, as nobody sells it in Vancouver), so the foam will cover my back to the skirt, and will end just where it should, to prevent a ride-up (I hope). It has 2 decent pockets. It is possible that the Trekker's front panel will rest on the skirt, so it will still ride-up - well, I'll have to take a chance. Nobody sells them locally.

Paddlesheep - I thought of this Kokatat Bahia that you mentioned. I saw it in Vancouver MEC store - it DOES have a foam, albeit very thin, in the lower back, and normal thick foam in the upper back, and a 2" mesh section in between. This thin lower foam will bundle up above my FC skirt, causing a ride-up, I'm afraid. The other version that you mentioned - Kokatat Bahia Tour - has same back as your regular Bahia, and has the front identical to Kokatat MSfit Tour (which is a good front design for touring - 3 pockets, men love it and often buy it too).

Paddlesheep, paddler's height makes a difference. I'm 3" shorter than you - assuming 2" less in legs and 1" less in torso, any PFD sits on me 1" closer to the skirt (and to the top of the seat) than on you. So if Kokatat Bahia is short enough in the back for you not to ride-up, it might not work for me. When the lower back foam panel in the Bahia rests against the skirt, the mesh gap is compressed first, and if this isn't enough, the whole thing rides up. May be this shrinkable mesh section is enough for your longer torso. (Also, depends on what kayak you use - like I said, with Folbots and Kleppers it's not the same as with FC).

PS: for those who don't plan on flying, there is more comfortable solution - inflatable PFD. Helly Hansen has many models, including non-automated version for kayakers (doesn't inflate until you pull the cord, as opposed to boaters PFD that inflates when it gets wet, no kidding). Mustang Outfitters in Vancouver have them. Many airlines don't allow cartridges with compressed air, unfortunately.

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Sat Apr 11, 2009 5:23 am
by Alm
Today I stopped by one store to have a look at Stohlquist Drifter (women's version of the Trekker mentioned above), with the mesh only in the lower 1/3 of the back. They didn't have it that early in the season (website said they did), but I discovered Stohlquist Asea (the link is to a different store). Nobody ever said that Asea is one of "meshbacks", but it has SAME mesh in the lower 1/3 of the back as Trekker and Drifter. 2 pockets of Asea are of the convenient "fixed" shape like in Kokatat (they seem small and flat on the photo, but they are roomy). Dammit, it has buckle closure in front, not a zipper. Usable, but I prefer zipper. Will anybody ever come up with a good PFD for me, I wonder...

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Mon May 18, 2009 8:45 am
by mussopo
Have you already checked these from Tribord?: ... n-3583509/
From what I've seen here in Decathlon it stays high in the torso (it seems not to interfere with spray skirt neither with back seat rest) no need for shoulder strap adjustment (they have several sizes, and these are sort of elastic). Its back has foam padding thickness as the front does (no mesh in the back), and there's possibility to carry approx. 1l of water in back pouch.
There're two front pockets (one with mesh in the front, and a "bigger" back one).
Apparently Decathlon doesn't include any water bag for this PFD in the announced price.

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Mon May 18, 2009 3:13 pm
by Alm
Correction - women's version of Stohlquist Trekker is called Cruiser. Drifter is a different model.

This Tribord is in UK, not sure if they take mail-orders, and the layout of the mesh and foam on the back is not clear from the photo. Overall, it looks like not suitable for kayaking (even though my purpose is more sailing than paddling in that PDF). Shoulder straps are not adjustable and pockets are not where I need them to be. Besides, I don't like side-entry PFDs.

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Mon May 18, 2009 8:22 pm
by paddlesheep
LL Bean sells a zip front mesh back pfd with two front pockets ... &cat4=8098

I don't know anything about it though, other than they describe it as "mesh back".

Re: Mesh back PFD(s)

Posted: Mon May 18, 2009 10:15 pm
by Alm
paddlesheep wrote:LL Bean sells a zip front mesh back pfd with two front pockets ... &cat4=8098

I don't know anything about it though, other than they describe it as "mesh back".
Don't know this one either. Front looks very similar to Stohlquist Trekker/Cruiser. Too bad they don't show the back.