As I paged through my February edition of Sea Kayaker magazine I noticed that we can now purchase a 'Voyageur PFD for seniors', a new product from MTI adventure wear. Since the mean age of touring sea kayakers is approximately 67 years old and I've been a doddering member of AARP for five years myself, I thought I'd check out the features on this new piece of gear. I'm not sure how the 'high back' features benefits we ancients, maybe it prevents our head from lolling back if we doze off during a crossing, but the long yellow zipper pulls are an obvious asset for locating zippers if we don't have our trifocal Ray Ban's on. This lifejacket does have an expandable pocket for said Ray Ban's however, as well as a big fleece lined pocket for arthritic fingers and a large patch on the front to keep the paddlers name, address, and phone number handy in case it was forgotten during a 'senior moment'. As innovative as these features are, I don't think they go quite far enough and I have a couple suggestions for added features.
I see a spot for a whistle on the left breast pocket. If they added one of those seven day pill containers underneath it, I think that would really benefit we geriatrics. Along those lines, embedding a couple of carbon fiber paddles and a having a plug in port like the iPad connector in many new cars would allow the paramedics to just plug the defibrillator in, yell 'clear', and nail the unconscious paddler with the voltage. One of the crucial issues concerning we senior paddlers is incontinence on a long crossing. While many males have perfected the 'peeing brace', opening the spray skirt and locating one's unit while wearing a wet or dry suit can be problematic and very difficult in rough seas. I would suggest a detachable leg catheter bag on the back of the lifejacket that can be used in conjunction with a condom catheter (sorry ladies, I don't think the Foley cath would be a good choice for this feature) to offer peace of mind on the long crossings. Finally, some sort of inflatable lumbar support for our weak backs would really make this a lifejacket that we paddlers in our dotage could get behind.
I like MTI and think they make a fine lifejacket, but I couldn't leave the bat on my shoulder when I saw this new marketing attempt. Way back in 2008 I did a post on specialized marketing for ridiculous things like socks. If you are thinking of a new pfd and like the features on the Voyager, by all means buy it. If you have a perfectly good lifejacket that's comfortable and function on the other hand, I don't think you need to run out and grab this one to enhance your senior paddling experience. I witnessed what I think was the ultimate in multi function outdoor gear on Saturday night as I watched the Packers school the Vikings at the Frontier Bar in scenic downtown Cedar, WI. At halftime of the game the WoodFondlingBarrister walked into the bar. He had arrived via snow machine but did not look the part of the typical 'belthead', a endearing nickname that we 'tree huggers' (XC skiers) have for our snowmobile riding brethren. Gleaming full face helmets, clothing in colors not found in nature, and multiple corporate logos ala' NASCAR is the typical snowmobile clothing. The WFB strolled in with a set of canvas coveralls, accented by a shapeless logo free blue jacket, and a stocking cap topped by a bicycle helmet. Since there were no other snowmobilers in there to see it, we were forced to remark on his outfit and not in a positive, life affirming manner. Nonetheless he assured us that his thrown together ensemble had gotten him from home to the Frontier and he was pretty confident that it would get him back.
Good gear is what works for you. Form, fit, and function with the strong emphasis on the latter two is a good mantra when choosing new gear. It's obvious that the WoodFondlingBarrister placed 0% emphasis on form but the somewhat ludicrous gear did the trick. In the end I guess that's what we need in outdoor gear although if a couple extra bucks nets you a bit of 'form' that's all good as well.