MTI Solaris Review
Cons: A bit bulky, half back a little low, not the most durable
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The unisex Solaris comes in three sizes. It's a half-back Type III vest made of a 300D polyester shell with a 200D polyester liner.
While we initially liked the lack of zipper on this front-clip vest, we soon realized that the placement of the clips and straps are a little too low to easily get a comfortable, secure fit. And though the top is slightly tapered, it tapers too high to be of much help for women whose breasts aren't located at the base of their throat. The entire front of the vest is also rather stiff and unbending, making it difficult to pull snug around your torso without it getting in the way of a near-body paddle stroke. The half-back works well with low touring seats and is thin enough that leaning back on a full seat isn't too terrible. However, if you're a shorter person or have a slightly taller seat back in your boat, the lower coverage may be in conflict with your comfort. The bottom strap is also located under the front panels, which means it cuts uncomfortably into your stomach when you sit.
If you can stand having the bottom strap cinched down securely, the Solaris stays in place as you plunge into the water. Based on the discomfort we felt while wearing this tightly and sitting for long periods of time, though, we doubt many will be inclined to suffer through this feeling. With the bottom strap less than snug, the Solaris does ride up in the water, as you'd expect from a loose vest. Our 5'4" main tester found herself unable to get a proper fit in the Solaris because it's too tall for her torso, meaning it rides up every time she gets in the water. This added area of padding without ventilation can also make the Solaris a bit warm to paddle in on a hot day. While the arm areas are wide enough for a decent paddle stroke, the bulkiness of the bottom combined with its proclivity for riding up in the water makes this vest hard to swim in it without hitting the sides.
Assuming the back works with the seat height in your preferred craft, the Solaris is decent as a paddle jacket. It's also full of useful features that our organizational nerds were big fans of. This vest has multiple pockets that open out to the sides as well as large cargo pockets. One has a velcroed flip-top while the other zips open. Numerous bungee loops provide attachment points for smaller items, and the shoulder containment loops are also reflective. The Solaris even comes with a tethered emergency whistle right on the front of the jacket, giving you extra peace of mind if you do fall off the pontoon or powerboat. It weighs just 20 ounces, about average among vests we tested.
Though the 300D polyester shell is thicker than many other PFDs we tested, its 200D polyester liner is about average, and neither are ripstop, which can be a longevity issue, especially if you're rough on your gear. The Solaris is filled with EPE/PE foam, which is fairly standard among models in our review. We noticed some sloppy seams and ends sticking out and starting to unravel after a few months of testing. The ends of some of the straps are also a little too easily frayed for our liking. MTI does offer a lifetime limited manufacturer warranty to the original owner and recommends that if the jacket is faded, it should be replaced.
Retailing for a below-average price among contenders we tested, the low-scoring Solaris isn't even the cheapest PFD in this review. Unless you're really gaga for the features and pockets it has, we're just not convinced the price is worth what you get.
The MTI Solaris, unfortunately, didn't score very well in our testing and is our team's least favorite life jacket of the bunch we tested. It's not a terrible choice and has a lot of pockets for organizing whatever you may need on the water, but we think there are many better options available.
— Maggie Brandenburg