Pack or Vest? Why I’m a Vest Guy

by | Sep 29, 2020 | 60 comments

The humble fishing vest fell out of favor for a while, but it’s back. The vest is not as popular as it once was, because there are a host of good options for carrying fishing gear these days. But the fishing vest has been updated — modernized. Vest design has benefited from the popularity of packs and fishing lanyards. And some of the best ideas, made common by fishing packs, are now found in the modern fishing vest. Life is good.

Let’s be clear. The tan, box-store-special, on sale for $20, isn’t much of a fishing vest. I know. I know. It served us well for decades. And I had one of my own. But these days, a good vest takes that traditional layout — the perfect arrangement of functional pockets — and refines it. Fly fishing companies now have a reason for the angle of every flap, the pull-direction of each zipper and the depth of every pocket. Materials are lighter. Vests are more waterproof, tougher and tear resistant. Some of them integrate a hybrid design, building pockets onto a mesh base to keep the vest ultra-light and cool. Some have removable backpacks or add-on pockets that are designed like a MOLLE system.

**Note ** Links to my favorite fishing vest are near the end of this article. 

Yes, the fishing vest has grown up. And, because I never left, I guess I’ve grown up with it. I’ve owned seven vests in my lifetime. But because I’ve been fishing for about forty years, seven isn’t all that many. I get about five years of wear from a vest now, and by the end, it’s pretty beat up. I enjoy old things, with collected history and memories. So I hang on to my vests until the end, and I don’t mind a bit of mending. I’ve replaced snaps, Velcro and zippers on my vests. And I’ll do it again, to keep a favorite vest going for one more season.

In my position, five years from a vest is a lot. Because I spend two to three hundred days a year on the water and I fish hard, my vests well outlast my waders, boots and fly lines. Only my rods and reels last longer.

“As river anglers, everything we need now and we might need later accompanies us when we leave the truck. Our gear must transport with ease or we won’t bring it. And it must store with convenience, or we won’t use it. The vest solves these two directives better than any other system.”

A good vest or pack is perhaps the smartest long-term investment you can make in your fly fishing gear. Not just because it holds up over time, but because we use it so often. Everything you need goes in the vest or pack. It’s there for transport and organization. Not only for standard things like fly boxes, tippet and nippers, it also carries your lunch, extra clothes, bug dope, raincoat, fishing license and maybe some TP — if you’re the prepared type. It’s home base for all rigging, modifying and adapting on the river.

A quality fishing vest or pack is where it all starts.

Patagonia’s Mesh Master II vest. Photo by Austin Dando

This or That?

Do you like a pack or a vest? It’s one of the questions I answer most frequently. Many Troutbitten readers have searched for advice on the topic, but this is the first Troutbitten article to dig into the benefits of either the vest or the pack. To be up front about it, this isn’t a balanced look at the advantages of all carrying systems. This is more of a love story with the fishing vest.

I acknowledge that I have strong preferences about these things. And my opinions are based on experience. Although I’ve stayed loyal to the vest, I’ve branched out and tried to replace it — many times. Like most anglers, I’m constantly searching for a better way, for efficiency and simplicity. And my loyalty, it seems, has been strong only because everything else has failed me. So I come back to the vest, always, to the tried and true — the faithful fishing vest.

While my preference is based around my own needs, it’s also a function of my own habits. I’ve carried my split shot in a round Skoal can (now a clear plastic puck) since I was a kid. And it has always been in the left, front, lower pocket — same place for forty years. Moving it anywhere else throws me off. And though I could get used to someplace new, all the other downsides of the packs I’ve tried have never made the switch worthwhile.

So, here’s why I love a good fishing vest as the best solution for carrying my gear.

Following that, I’ll address the various pack types: chest, hip and sling packs.

For the Love of the Vest

As river anglers, we don’t have the luxury of carrying tackle boxes on a boat. Everything we need now and we might need later accompanies us after we leave the truck. Our gear must transport with ease or we won’t bring it. And it must store with convenience, or we won’t use it. The vest solves these two directives better than any other system.

Your First Option

The inherent design of a fishing vest allows for more things to be a primary option.

Most of us carry enough gear that we have the stuff we expect to work, accompanied by the stuff we use when those primary options don’t work. My love for the vest is based here, in the ability to carry most of my gear up front. All my boxes, tools and spools are at the front of the vest and at the ready. That’s key, because I can easily transition from one tactic to the next without the inconvenience of digging through a backpack or rotating things from the back to the front.

Access is the point here. That’s the advantage. Whatever I need, whenever I want it. A good vest permits it. A good vest encourages it.

Photo by Austin Dando

Separation

A place for everything, and everything in its place. Having all of that gear up front means nothing if you must rummage through the contents of an oversized pocket to find what you need.

Good fishing vests are built with an abundance of separated storage. And I’d rather have thirty places to stash my gear than six or ten. Efficiency on the water is about organization, and having dedicated pockets for everything helps a lot.

Layout

Thirty pockets doesn’t mean much if those pockets aren’t designed for a fisherman. And here, in the golden age of fly fishing, we have a wealth of vest and pack options that were designed by and for dedicated anglers.

The pocket and closure layout of a good fishing vest allows the angler to flow between changes. With thoughtful placement of zingers and tool access, modern fishing vests offer the most room for options within that flow.

Convenience

Combine all three points above, and it boils down to convenience. A well-designed fishing vest allows for everything at hand — all that we need now and that which we might need later. It’s a quick, convenient carrying system for the angler who values versatility above all else.

More

— A vest is arguably easier to wash than most packs, because it can be thrown in the washer.

— Fly fishing vests are shorter than they were a decade ago. Standard vests used to come down to the beltline. And we had to search for a “shorty” vest to get something that wouldn’t dip in the water while wading deep. Now, the standard vest length is much higher, often just below the ribcage. And that’s a good thing.

Photo by Austin Dando

Downsides

It wouldn’t be fair to skip over three important downsides of a fishing vest. These are the most common complaints:

For some, the fishing vest hangs on the shoulders too much. Modern designs have improved upon this with yoke systems to distribute the weight more like a backpack. Hey, the weight has to be somewhere, and if you’re carrying much gear, the only solution for getting it off your neck and shoulders is a hip pack (addressed below).

Some anglers complain that a vest is too warm. Yes. It covers more of your body than most packs. For me, that becomes an issue only in the heat of summer. And I offset any extra heat by wet wading, dipping my hat in cold water or wearing the right shirt. Modern vest materials are light and breathable — nothing like the tan cotton vest that your Granddad wore.

Vests put all of your working tools and gear up front. As noted above, that’s a strong, positive point for me. But for others, bumping into bulging pockets with their forearms is restrictive. My friend, Sawyer, is a bass guy who fishes mostly from a boat. And when he fly fishes trout rivers with me, he hates a vest because he’s used to carrying nearly nothing. While on the boat, most of Sawyer’s gear is in tackle boxes or meticulously distributed throughout his craft.

Sawyer likes a sling pack. But that comes with its own set of issues.

Here’s a brief rundown of all that.

Pack Types and Why They Fail (For Me)

I’ve owned and fished with many different pack solutions. Much of my exploration with fishing packs happened over five years ago. So I haven’t fished with some of the newest pack designs. But I try them on regularly, in shops and on the river. I borrow them from time to time to see what I’m missing. Point is, the failings of a chest pack are the same as they were a decade ago. Just as the failings of a vest are the same.

Please remember: What I say here is what works for me. Every solution has its imperfections. But I find that a vest comes closest to covering my own set of needs. Yup. I’m a vest guy.

My Simms G3 guide vest this morning. Damp, from a much needed rain. The layout and features on this vest are the best I’ve seen. (More below)

Chest Packs

If I was to wear anything other than a vest, it would be a chest pack. Some are roomy enough to store a fair amount of gear up front. And the weight distribution is often better than a vest, with straps like a backpack.

The downside? You never have as much dedicated and separated storage in a chest pack as a vest — especially up front. You can stuff a bunch of extra fly boxes and things in the back section of your chest pack, but it takes longer to access them. There’s just not as much room for organizing and separating gear in a chest pack compared to a vest.

Chest packs also block vision to your feet. Look down, and you see the chest pack instead of your wading boots. That’s a deal breaker for some.

Hip Packs

Carrying all your fishing gear on the hips seems like a great idea at first. It keeps the arms and shoulders free to move and cast. It keeps all the weight on your hips. And as every hiker knows, that’s a much better place on your frame to carry weight than your shoulders.

For my own system, I carry all the heavy things on a utility belt: net, camera, water bottle, wading staff. All of this is placed on my belt and directly carried at my hips. My vest is the place for all the fishing gear, and that’s heavy enough.

READ: Troutbitten | Let’s Rethink the Wading Belt
READ: Troutbitten | What About the Wading Staff? Thoughts on Choosing and Carrying a Wading Stick

The problems with hip packs are clear. There’s simply not enough storage room for the versatile angler. Pockets and space are limited, and half of what you need is often behind you. Worse yet, wading near the beltline soaks your gear. These days, you can buy waterproof hip packs. They keep the water out, but the zippers are stiffer. Pockets are fewer and material is less flexible.

Sling Packs

I spent a lot of years with a nylon creel that could fairly be classified as an early sling pack. At the time, I fished minnows on a spinning reel. I did one thing on the water. I had no need for versatility, so I carried a handful of items. The creel was enough storage room. But even then, the strap weighed on my neck by the end of a long day, and I knew I needed a better system.

Modern sling packs are slick designs. And like the hip pack, they seem like a great idea for a while. I’ve owned two modern sling packs, and I had high hopes for each. They were well designed and solidly built, but the inherent flaws of a sling pack are unavoidable.

Sling packs are primarily designed to carry most of your gear behind you. So when you need to change your rigging, all too often it requires the extra step of slinging the pack around to the front. Anyone who says that’s not a big deal hasn’t done it fifty times a day for a full season. For anyone who changes and adapts regularly, the sling pack is a flawed option.

Companies have responded to the complaints about limited storage in sling packs by making them bigger, but a sling pack always puts the weight on one shoulder. Some now have a chest strap to help distribute the weight. But unbuckling that is just another step necessary every time you need access to the sling pouch. “The trouble is, you think you have time.” ― Jack Kornfield

Carrying a net is problematic while wearing a sling pack too. Where should it attach? Put it on the pack, and it must sling around every time you access the pouch. That’s inconvenient. I’ve seen anglers who remove their net before they sling the pack to the front. That’s even more inconvenient. A net holster on the belt is probably the best solution while wearing a sling pack, but the pouch and the movement — back to front — still makes this a chore.

River is a big fan of the fishing vest. His treats are stored in a left side pocket.

Evolution

There’s an ever-pressing drive for simplicity that creeps into the seasoned angler. We want to carry less and fish lighter. We know we save time by limiting our gear. And carrying everything you own to the river is not only heavy, it’s confusing.

Believe it or not, I’m a minimalist at heart. Like so many of us, I search for ways to limit the gear I carry, yet still be prepared for any situation. In reality, it takes more gear than I can stash into a couple of shirt pockets or easily fit into a hip pack or a sling. And because I want my gear perfectly organized and immediately accessible, I’m a vest guy.

Which Vest?

As you might have guessed, I’m picky about the necessary features in a vest. So I do my research, shopping long and hard for just the right vest. When Patagonia changed their vest design a few years ago, some of the changes didn’t work for me. I found everything I needed along with some pleasant surprises in the Simms G3 Guide Vest. It’s perfect. I particularly love the molded pockets, the placement of the zingers and D-rings, the stacked chest and lower pockets, and the zipper/clasp adjustable closure system. It’s a sweet vest.

A full Troutbitten gear review on the Simms G3 Guide Vest is coming. It will be the second installment in the 100 Day Gear Review series. I have about sixty days on the vest now. So in a month or so, I’ll post a full review. Barring any catastrophic or unusual failure, it’s safe to say this vest will be holding tough with no issues at the 100 day mark.

** Note **  The partnerships and the support of this industry are part of what keeps Troutbitten going. And I’m proud that Troutbitten is a Simms affiliate. You can read my policy on gear reviews HERE. And if you decide to buy the Simms vest (or if you buy any other Simms product), Troutbitten receives a commission of the sale, at no additional cost to you, when you click through any of these links. So thank you for your support.

** Buy the Simms G3 Guide Vest HERE to Support Troutbitten **

What’s your system?

That’s the system that meets my needs and keeps me efficient on the water. Each of my closest Troutbitten friends has a different system that works for him and her. What’s yours?

Leave a comment below. Because sharing your own carrying system may spark a good idea in the next angler.

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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60 Comments

  1. Timely article Dom….I just happen to be in that” searching for just the right pack/vest/belt/system” mind-frame these days. I’m a fairly new angler (less than a year) and I’ve been experimenting and thinking about this very thing a lot of late.

    MOST of my fishing is on still water, and most of that is at locations where I’m reasonably close to my truck, so I don’t strictly NEED to have everything on my person….but I prefer to. And for those times that I am entirely on foot, or wading down the river, I really want to be completely self-contained and untethered from the vehicle.

    All of the points you make are good ones, and for the most part in line with my own thinking. However, one big difference is I really don’t like a bunch of “stuff” on my chest, and I do find it restrictive for arm movement, vision looking down, and such.

    Also, on the one hand I like to keep excess stuff to a minimum in terms of actual gear, but I also like to be prepared with things like raingear, small med/emergency kit, water, etc. And I VERY much hate having weight on my shoulders (especially weight that is loose and floppy like most vests keep it). Most of that “stuff” is most efficiently carried on the back, or otherwise suspended from the hips.

    So far, my favorite things I’ve tried are: 1) the Fishpond Switchback……everything is suspended on my hips, plenty of storage for gear/flies (but not things like lunch, raingear, etc.), nice net holster, and it’s really easy to swing it back/behind and out of my way, but quickly and easily pull it forward to access my bits; and 2) the Umpqua Swiftwater ZS….which carries everything I could possibly want or need, keeps the heavier, non-gear bits on my back and hips but the I-need-this-right-now bits easily accessible (with lots of separate pockets/compartments), and most importantly is trim, secure and nothing flops around or hangs in my way. The main thing I don’t like about the Swiftwater is the lack of a good place for my net.

    Neither of these solutions is perfect or “the one” just yet though. There are times when the Switchback is “not enough” and the Swiftwater is “too much”. Hmmmm. I’ve been wanting to find a vest that I really like, but have yet to find it.

    One last option I’ve been doing a lot lately is much more minimalist (though this does assume that my truck is not too far away). I wear just the waistbelt from the Swiftwater, put my net in the holster, hang my forceps/nippers/Ketchum from it, put a small fly box and 4x tippet in my shirt pocket, and a bottle of floatant in my pants pocket….and nothing more. Everything else – raingear, lunch, water, tools, more flies, other leaders/tippet, etc., etc. is back in the truck. Works great in those circumstances.

    d.

    Reply
    • Awesome, sometimes It seems like I’m the only guy on the River these days with a vest. It is fairly new, light, extremely adjustable and a gazzilion pockets, love it. Also, when I start peeling off layers while drugging and moving around the water working up a sweat, there’s a nice large pocket on the back to store stuff.

      Reply
    • As usual, your coverage for Fly Fishing vests is very detailed. Being the geezer of the group i’d like to share my long-term favorite “vest.” It’s one invention by Jean Petitjean, the Swiss Genius. I Use his rip-stop, zipper-assembled vest. It’s sections can become anything I need for any particular venture, and it’s washable. It has served me for decades. what a wonderful dog.

      Reply
    • My personal favorite is the Fishpond Gore Range Tech Pack- good combination between a vest and a pack, with plenty of storage in the front and back. I like that the front pockets are roomy, without being bulky, and don’t impede forearm movement. The fit is very adjustable and the material is light but sturdy. The padded shoulder straps ‘ease the load’. I’m very satisfied with the construction, practicality, and function. Good price, too.

      Reply
    • I believe there is NO ONE SYSTEM. The time of the year and where I’m at dictates what system I use. I utilized one system for years but found it was good in spring and fall but not summer and winter. There is a time of year you need almost every fly in your arsenal and other times you need 2 small boxes. Also you have seasons that call for back up clothing and other seasons where your not even wearing waders.I could go on and on but u get my drift. The william joseph combo chest and backpack was an awesome piece of equipment and served me well for years. Ive converted to the simms waterproof backpack for fall and winter [including steelhead] and the orvis waterproof hip pack with neck support strap that I wear on my left hip the rest of the year. No one package fits all applications. My theory keeps companies like simms and orvis very successful.

      Reply
      • Ha. Yes it does, Dave. Nice.

        I understand your point. And it’s a good one. I did it that way for a few years too. What I found was that it complicated things too much for me. By trying to simplify and carry just what I needed and changing packs, I complicated my life. Felt like I was always changing packs. I either needed multiple sets of all my tools and gear, or I needed to move them over from one pack to the next. I was alwys guessing what I would need, and I seemed to guess wrong. I hated being out there thinking, “Well, I would have brought my streamers if I would have known I’d see this.”

        So after a while, I decided to have one option. Granted, I take the bug spray out of my vest once that season is over. And the winter gloves go in.

        Cheers.
        Dom

        Reply
    • Great article! One question: what do you do in strong rain? Vest over or under rain jacket? Cheers.

      Reply
  2. Dom, appreciate the article and looking forward to the review of the Simms G3 Guide Vest at the 100 day mark.

    Vests have the stigma of being uncool, but I’m open to the idea that they’re the right option for me. I have a Patagonia sling pack that is fine, but it hurts my upper back at the end of the day (the bulk sticks out high and behind me because it balances on the shoulder). I got so annoyed with switching it back and forth to access gear that I wear a lanyard on top of it. I’ve essentially created a worse version of a vest.

    When you guide my girlfriend and me, the thing that sticks out most is how much faster you are. Knots, access, split shot, flies, etc. you can put 3 different options in front of fish before I can swap out 1. It seems silly on land or in an article, but small slow moments easily add up to 100 or more missed opportunities to get a fish per day.

    Reply
    • Thank you, thank you! All my friends try to tell I’m not cool for liking my best! I have a place for everything and easy access. They can dig through their packs while I’m fishing! It’s cool to be not cool!

      Reply
  3. Great article. This past season I moved to a vest (got the Orvis Pro which I love) and haven’t looked back. Realized how much I love the very specific pockets and compartments for organization. Like you said, I’d rather have 30 pockets than 6 or 8.

    Question for you: I see in the the first picture above, on the upper left side of the vest, you have a box labeled C&F Design? I’ve seen a similar style box on a picture of the Orvis Pro vest in their catalogue but I can’t figure out what the box is, what its called or what its purpose is. Can you enlighten me?

    Reply
  4. Dom,

    Very informative and well written as usual. I have fished for over 50 years and still use my vest when fishing for trout in the spring and fall because I never know exactly what the trout will be feeding on and want to be prepared for anything. However, about 10 years ago I bought my first sling pack to use while steelhead fishing. It works great for this purpose since I only need a couple of fly boxes, a few tippet spools, an assortment of split shot and some floats. I can also attach my wading stick to it. I carry a large net separately. IT’s relatively light weight and easy to wear over a fleece and rain jacket.

    About five years ago I purchased my first hip pack for fishing during the dogs days of summer, primarily for smallmouth and panfish on local streams and for fishing in the Rockies for trout. I also use a lanyard for my tippet spools, nippers, and hemostats. I love having the weight off my shoulders and the side pockets are great for carrying a water bottle and bear spray when fishing in the Rockies where Grizzlies reside. I carry 2 or 3 fly boxes with an assortment of streamers (mostly wooly buggers and squirrel and herls, nymphs and dry flies. I have never found the trout in the Rocky Mountain streams I’ve fished as fussy as the browns in PA streams. My current hip pack is Trout Pond’s Waterdance Guide Pack. My sling pack is from Orvis, but I don’t know the model.

    Bottom line: the traditional vest is still the way to go when fishing for trout in PA. When fishing out west I prefer wet wading and using a hip pack. I also prefer the hip pack when fishing for smallmouth and panfish in the summer and the sling pack for steelhead fishing.

    Reply
  5. Hi Dom,
    Yes I’m a vest guy but I haven’t been able to figure out how to carry enough water.
    I think part of my problem for an all day trip is did I hydrate enough the day before.
    Nevertheless I think I would like to be able to have equivalent to 3 bottles of water (48 oz). That’s too much for a belt. For now I’m never too far away from my car so I can take a break and get another bottle. Still thinking. Maybe a hydraulics reservoir? Have you tried those? I believe you use a water filtration system but I don’t trust those.

    Reply
    • I’m actually surprised Simms or Patagonia haven’t added a hydration reservoir into a bag/pack. REI and Men’s Health both have good articles on choosing one (via google.)

      Reply
      • I’m kind of glad they don’t. Personally, I don’t care for the hydration bladders. They are a hassle to clean and fill. The water also warms too much. Just not for me. So I’d rather keep the cost of the vest down by not building in something that I’ll remove.

        Just me.
        Dom

        Reply
    • Try using a lifestraw and drinking out of the creek. When I’m camp fishing I always have two small water bottles and when I use them up I refill with creek water and drink them with the life straw.

      Reply
    • Hi Mike,

      If you don’t trust the water filtration, then the only was is to carry it. I’ve been through this too. And I do use a Lifestraw bottle at times. But much more often, I carry the Nalgene bottle on my belt that you have seen. I choose the Nalgene bottle because it’s very light and durable, easy to clean and a quick removal cap. I don’t care for any fancy caps or nozzles. And I don’t want insulation that adds bulk and weight. I’ve find with whatever temp the water is. The Nalgene litre bottles are often close but not enough for a full day in the summer heat. At that point I either add a second Nalgene bottle, getting me up to two litres, or I carry a standard, plastic, disposable water bottle inside my waders and above the belt line at the back.

      Make sense?

      Dom

      Reply
    • Hey Mike – Just curious why you don’t trust a water filtration system? Not sure where you are fishing, but most trout rivers are not heavily chemical laden and the water filtration systems work just fine to remove giardia, etc.

      I use a sawyer mini (20 bucks) that screws onto a cheap 750ml smartwater bottle (1$, extremely light). Been doing this for years and works well. I took a lot of notice on what the hardcore backpackers use to cut weight yet still provide reasonable solutions for water.

      Reply
  6. My first vest was a Patagonia mesh vest that I bought thirty years ago (?). I’ve since owned Simms vests, and bought them for my sons.
    They are simply the best fishing item I own. From the back cargo pockets which hold a Nalgene bottle or filter bottle (upper) to the expansive lower pocket which can stow a poncho or rain jacket, to the front compartments…all is beautifully separated and adequate for a day on the river. Everything in its place…the inside pockets hold my leader wallet, Loon wader repair goop, extra tippet, license, and my flask. The outside pockets hold all my fly boxes, split shot, indicators, floatant, and anchor the zingers for my tools and my tippet holder. No bulky pack sticking out of my body, no compartments to wade through in search of anything, no appendage on my hip to get soaked when I have to wade deep, nothing on my back to flip frontwise.
    My current vest has lasted twenty years, and I’ve replaced a fly patch. A retractable zinger has broken, and a zipper has become slightly unwieldy. That’s all.
    I’ll take function over form all day long, and when form and function complement each other, life is good.

    Reply
  7. Great article. I, too, have lived the chest pack when they first arrived. They were ‘ok’. I always found my way back to my favorite vest: Orvis Battenkill Pro Guide Vest. I think it is the best vest Orvis ever sold and one of the best, period.

    Reply
  8. Dom,

    You make a compelling argument. And during my first 36 years of fly fishing I used an Orvis Super Tackle Pack vest which is still in great shape..miraculously. It had way more pockets than I could fill but, because it had all that available space, I attempted to fill it over the years.

    I reached a point in my life a couple of years ago when I decided that I needed to reevaluate what I was carrying and started eliminating anything I hadn’t used in two years or more. It was at that point I realized I could be carrying something way more compact and more comfortable. I switched to a chest pack and haven’t looked back. It’s not perfect. But it suits me. My evaluation is thus:

    Vest pros: pockets, lots of pockets; lots of frontal area to attach gadgets, zingers, etc.; Roomy pocket for rain gear, lunch, etc.

    Vest cons: too many pockets?; no adjustment for layering of seasonal clothing..it’s either too loose, fits just right, or is too tight to put on (summer, spring and fall, winter); occasionally gets wet on the bottom when deep wading; can interfere with line hand motions when stripping depending on pocket placement.

    Chest pack pros: lots of adjustment for seasonal layering of clothing; allows deeper wading without immersion; everything is directly in front of you, no maneuvering required; weight distribution is comfortable (I did add my own T-strap in the back that attaches to my staff/secondary wading belt); much cooler in the summer; no interference with my line hand when stripping (I wear my pack high on the chest).

    Chest pack cons: limited pockets (although mine will hold six fly boxes); less frontal area to pin on gadgets/retractors; no large back pocket for lunch and rain gear (I now use a small hunting backpack over the chest pack to carry those items when storms threaten or it’s going to be a long day).

    So there’s my two cents.

    Cheers!

    Alton

    Reply
  9. Nice article!
    I too am a “vest-man”, for all the reasons you sighted. I’ve tried other systems, and found only one that I do use in special circumstances, the Fishpond Pack Vest. It combines a vest front with a 3-compartment back pack. I use this in cold or wet weather when I need to carry more clothing than I can fit in my Simms Guide Vest. The back pack structure distributes the added weight nicely. The downside is that there are fewer front pockets than my vest, forcing me to arrange things a bit differently, which sometimes seems confusing.
    Thanks again for your columns; looking forward to your other gear reviews.

    Reply
  10. I prefer pack… because I mostly only fish Native brooks. So I end up sleeping over night a lot. In wild areas.

    Reply
  11. I love my vest, it has a compartment for separating things that don’t need to be together.

    But, I didn’t know I was supposed to wash it. I fish in the rain every month just to keep it clean.
    Rick

    Reply
    • Fair point. Washing does deplete some of the fishing mojo. So I recommend the delicate cycle.

      Dom

      Reply
  12. That is a fine looking pup.

    Reply
  13. Hi Domenick!…I had a fishpond vest that served me well and I have switched to the orvis pro light and less pockets…less gear that I think I need…I knew I was carrying too much stuff when I showed one of my friends a fish picture and they said they didn’t know what to look at …the fish or all the gear!!!!….sooooo….I had to re think the gear bit…second, River is way toooooo coool….I am thinking it is time for you to start writing children’s books with your dog as the host!!!!……just an idea but run it past your boys…..this is all GOOOD STUFF!!

    Reply
    • I use a small Fanny pack with two fly boxes of what I’m using that day plus tippet and my tools attached plus a backpack to hold everything else. Rain jacket, food+water, altnerate rigging, the less commonly used tippets and flies, etc. often I’m lugging extra stuff for my buddies. The next best option IMO is the best. Still a fantastic option that overcomes deep wading problems

      Reply
  14. The fly-fishing vest is an iconic piece of equipment – a tackle box you can wear, yet it is looked upon by younger anglers as a tool from the past. Today, the number of anglers who wear vests is shrinking. Decades ago, I traded in my vest for a pack, and I’m glad I did. I prefer the use of a dual front-and-rear fishing pack over any other carrying device. It is less restrictive, adjustable, and easy to wear over layers of winter clothing. For me, waist packs sit too low and are likely to get submerged, and slings and backpacks throw me off balance. The front-and-rear dual pack I use provides me more freedom to cast than a traditional vest. With a dual pack, weight is equally distributed. Since it’s tight to my body I don’t get snagged as often when trailblazing or busting through brush. I carry food, water, a lightweight raincoat, gloves, and such in the rear pack compartment and my fly-fishing tools and accessories in the front chest pack.

    Reply
    • I started out with a small chest pack as I only fished a small stream. I found it awkward and in the way. I switched to a fishpond sling and was happy with that however it was just a little too small if I needed to pack for a full day or needed rain gear. I now have an Orvis guide sling and it’s the perfect size. I keep items used frequently on the strap with retractors, hemos, nippers, indicators, floatant, etc. I have my net attached to my back on the strap with a retractor at the handle and a magnet at the hoop to the base of the sling, keeps the net out of the brush when hiking and when I swing the sling to the front, I separate the hoop magnet from the sling and it hangs from the handle out of the way. I have rigging foams and tippet spools on a retractors on the back of the sling that I can reach with out moving the sling to the front. So everything I need is at arms reach and out of my way when not needed. It’s worked well for me. I’ve considered a vest but I worry that it would interfere like a chest pack. Never had back or shoulder issues with a sling.

      Reply
  15. Well I started out a sling guy, then switched to a left handed sling cause the right shoulder was jot right after a day of fishing. I finally switched to a vest about 6 months ago. I like the Orvis ultra light vest. If I need to carry more stuff with me I have a waterproof backpack from drift that I use to carry the extras like water, lunch. I dump the pack Streamside and fish with the vest. If I move it goes with me.

    Reply
  16. I’ve ran the gamut. Started with the vest, then slimmed down to a 2 pocket vest from Filson. Then I tried the first generation Orvis sling. Cool piece, absolutely hated it. Was constantly readjusting the sling as I reached or leaned forward. Then went to the hip pack. And not even a “fishing specific” hip pack. The hip pack is what I’ve stayed with. My only requirement is that it has a pouch for a water bottle. The biggest downside, for me, with a hip pack: sliding it behind me then back in front as I need gear. I’m short, so my hip pack does often get soaked while wading. Much like you, though, I have specific pockets/areas for specific gear. You could blind fold me and ask for my gink and a strike indicator and I could hand it to to you without one wrong move. Great write up. John

    Reply
  17. Great article
    Needs a comma though
    “Because I spend two to three hundred days a year on the water, and I fish hard(,) My vests well outlast my waders, boots and fly lines.

    Reply
    • Got it. Thank you, G.

      For the record, I’m always open to proofreading mistakes. It’s tough for me to catch everything.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  18. Hey Dom, related question here … you mention you use the same wading system (vest/utility belt) while wet wading as well as in waders. Have you found a pair of wet wading pants that can accommodate the 2 inch nylon belts through the belt loops? Or do you just use the belt without threading it through the loops of the wet wading pants? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Mike.

      I completely ignore the belt loops on waders or wading pants. Always have.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  19. My personal favorite is the Fishpond Gore Range Tech Pack- good combination between a vest and a pack, with plenty of storage in the front and back. I like that the front pockets are roomy, without being bulky, and don’t impede forearm movement. The fit is very adjustable and the material is light but sturdy. The padded shoulder straps ‘ease the load’. I’m very satisfied with the construction, practicality, and function. Good price, too.

    Reply
  20. I’m a vest guy also. My vest is the Fishpond Wasatch. Bulky but carries everything with three collapsible pockets on the back to carry extra stuff for long hikes or all day fishing (i.e. lunch or a Camelbak water bag).

    Reply
    • Nice pack … That thing is a beast!

      Reply
  21. I use a sling pack because of my aching back. I’ve started carrying less stuff so its lighter and I can carry a water Bottle and a small water proof camera

    Reply
  22. Yup, I’m a vest guy also. It’s just good to have all your stuff handy. I’ve got the Patagonia hybrid vest. I fish all year so the wool gloves stay in the back, as well as my dry fly reel and lunch! I do feel a bit over prepared at times, but I find turning that hip pack around for access too much of a pain to warrant the simplicity and stealth. I especially like my net suspended from the neck D-ring.

    Reply
  23. A female perspective. I am a novice angler and had to make a decision on what storage garment to purchase earlier this Summer. I came to the Simms vest as my choice for several reasons. Female anatomy being what it is, I would have liked more weight on my hips, but my previous waist pack was getting submerged too often. Chest packs are just weird on a woman’s chest. Sling packs are ok but lack the up front aspect of the vest, which Dom points out, as well as being asymmetrical. I also find that because things are in front I can remain more still, if that makes sense. The Simms vest, when really cinched up with the internal bungees doesn’t flop around much and rides quite high on my torso. I love the big pockets in back for a rain jacket or shed layer. On a recent trip I discovered that a backpack fits pretty well over top the vest and let’s me fish pretty comfortably with extra backcountry stuff on board. Some women may find the vest goofy looking, but so are climbing harnesses and bike helmets, but I think prefer to think they are badass pieces of tech! One con is it does make me sweat a bit in Georgia in Summer, but that seems unavoidable, and wet wading offsets that on all but the hottest days. The high tech fabric of the vest breathes remarkably well. Another con is I can’t access my wader pocket or hand warmer area easily, but a chest pack must have similar issues. I guess I’ll need winter gloves, if Dom has a gear suggestion for those…

    Reply
  24. Hi Dom,

    I’ll stick with my Orvis Sling pack. Put the vest away 15 + years ago and haven’t looked back. They are a nightmare to find stuff in especially ones that carry more gear or boxes. More pockets…more time spent looking! I’ll put my sling pack up against any vest for ease of use…any! Name it. That’s my 02 s worth. That maybe all its worth, but I will bet you $20 that more fly fishermen now use some sort of pack now days than any other vest.

    Reply
    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the comment.

      To your last point, I agree, fewer people now use a vest. I addressed that in the first paragraph.

      I can’t understand any point about not being able to find what you’re looking for. I’ve heard their said before. But organization of the vest is our own responsibility and not the failing of the vest design. Know what I mean? Just find a place for your stuff and put it there.

      Lastly, I’m glad you found the option that works for you. Like I said above, I certainly don’t think that a vest is perfect for everyone.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  25. Hey Dom. I’m just like u like trying new things. I have found that the Fishpond Thunderhead waterproof sling pack works great for me. It had a spot for the net so that it’s not hanging off you sling pack.

    Reply
  26. Reading your article from my experiences if I were a writer would have written that word for word! Five years ago when I retired I sold a shotgun and bought a new fly rod and Simms vest. Been trying to wear both of them out without much success. Chest pack now contains smallmouth bass gear for the convenience of not having to repack the vest.

    Reply
  27. I’ll share my system that works well for me. As background, I’m often hiking in to fish somewhat remote waters without cell coverage, and usually without seeing anyone else. Evening temps, except in the dead summer, can be dangerous if I happened to get stuck in there (e.g. broken leg, etc.). I am fishing hard, often 8h+ days, non-stop, with constant wading upstream and rock-hopping up the side of the mountain.

    I have easily put >150 days of hard use on an older model Patagonia Sweet Pack/Vest combo (~30L backpack with integrated fishing vest in front) over the past 5+ years. This has held up flawlessly without issue. I carry a bare-bones emergency kit (basic first aid, waterproof emergency satellite locator beacon registered w/NOAA in case I ever get in real trouble, i.e. broken bones from a bad fall), a lightweight water purification system (sawyer mini + cheap plastic water bottle), raingear (marmot precip jacket), and a backpacking/camping quilt that compresses down to the size of a hamburger, weighs almost nothing, is water resistant, and provides incredible warmth per weight.

    Retractable net, and retractable lightweight trekking pole are attached to either side of the back of my pack. Relevant terrain map is in my pack, and I always have a fully charged phone with a pre-downloaded terrain map as well so I can use GPS to get out if need to.

    There is still enough space left over in the pack after this to pack layers in the dead of winter – usually a fleece, and then a synthetic down outer shell that compresses down and is very light.

    The only flaw of this pack/vest combo is that there is no true hip belt/straps to distribute the weight on your hips. Your shoulders are carrying it the whole time. If patagonia fixed this, it would be perfect IMO.

    I wish someone would make a vest/pack combo that had a legitimate hip belt, and also could be adjusted for different torso lengths. Would probably require Orvis teaming up with Osprey, but I would be first in line to buy it.

    Reply
    • Greg: I hear you on the hip belt/straps issue. I solved this by using a combination of two Fishpond items- The Gore Range Tech Pack (which is more vest than pack, and keeps most of my essentials in the front, close at hand) and their West Bank Wading Belt. The pack has a D-ring for net attachment, but I use either that or the net ‘pocket’ on the wading belt. The wading belt has a rail that is useful for hanging things on, with side placement keeping my vest pockets free. Works for me.

      Reply
  28. My current system is a little different… I do day trips into the Smokies (10+ hours) when I can. So I’m typically a few miles into the back country before fishing.

    I have a Cabelas guidewear shirt (MK1 or MK2 only… you can get them on ebay) great pockets for putting in a small nymph box, small dry box, tippet and sundries you need to hand.

    2 large zippered pockets. 2 large velcro pockets and one small zippered all right there.

    Then I have a backback with water bottles, food for the day and a larger box or 2 and other stuff you don’t really need to hand.

    99% of the time the only gear I touch is in the pockets on the shirt.

    I loosen the backpack strap more on the casting shoulder when fishing so it reduces strain.

    Food and water is gone by the hike out and makes it easier with the lighter backback.

    It’s worked so well that I’ve started to do the same on tailwaters too.

    Reply
  29. Are any of the pockets on the G3 water resistant in case you fall in? I like the idea of the vest but I like completely waterproof packs like the Simms or Fishpond

    Reply
    • Good question. Answer is no. None of the material is waterproof. It is designed to shed rain and water. But it is not waterproof.

      Waterproofing traps heat. And to me, that’s not good.

      Waterproof material also requires closures, like zippers, that area significantly more difficult to open and close — often requiring two hands and always requiring more force. To me, that’s not good either.

      Personally, I don’t want a waterproof pack or vest for exactly those reasons. If i want to protect something from rain or fall ins, I use a zip lock bag.

      Again, as mentioned above, I recognize that my goals are different than others.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  30. Dom,

    What don’t you like about the Patagonia vest? It is cheaper and I like the company a lot.

    Reply
    • Hi Joe. I like the company as well. And as i mentioned above, my previous two vests were Patagonia. Their current vest offerings break too far away from the standard time tested layout.

      The Hybrid vest is far too small.

      The Mesh Master and Convertible Vest both have the same pocket layout that also has much less room and dedicated storage than the standard layout. It starts with the bottom pockets. Huge difference there compared to the Simms.

      Reply
      • Helpful, thank you. Hope to fish with you soon

        Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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