The problem with old-school vests is that there are no truly large pockets for big items like cameras, jackets, or even for truly large fly boxes. (Yes, there's usually a large zippered pocket between your shoulder blades, but it's so awkward to get in/out of that it's practically useless.) And all those little pockets on the front don't keep you organized, they keep you in a state of disarray because you never know what pocket your 6X tippet is in, or where to find your floatant. Many (if not most) fly fishers today are eschewing their fathers' vests for packs and slings that favor large compartments, and easier access to more stuff. Here are four of our favorites.
Leave No Flies Behind
From smallest to largest, these packs are (1) 462 cubic inches, (2) 504 cubic inches, (3) 900 cubic inches, and (4) 1,434 cubic inches.
Orvis Safe Passage Guide Sling Pack $140
This is a truly massive sling pack for the 'big fly ' guys who stow their streamer collections in old-school Plano boxes, and don't like to get caught short. At 900 cubic inches it's the largest true sling pack we looked at, and it's 360% larger than Orvis's original Safe Passage Sling Pack. It has a security strap to stop the sling from slipping around to the front while you are hiking or casting. Unclip the strap and you can swing the bag to the front for easy access to the pockets. There's a hemostat sheath on the strap so you don't have to swing the pack around every time you release a fish. Our tester used this bag for Spey casting on the Skeena River and said 'You can carry as much as you want with you, but unlike a chest pack or vest, your gear is out of the way while casting. The easy-grab zipper tabs are just one of the thoughtful features that make this bag work. '
Patagonia Sweet Pack Vest $200
Patagonia's uber-packvest isn't for roadside fishing or driftboat trips where the guide ties on flies for you. This is for all-day expeditions where you carry everything — think sunrise-to-sunset fishing in the Gros Ventre Wilderness. You need more than flies. You need food, extra clothes, camera, an extra rod, and lots of water. The Sweet Pack Vest has side compartments for rod tubes or water bottles, and two outside zippered compartments for fly boxes, tippet, and other essentials. The top compartment also has a waterproof TPU pouch for your wallet and cell phone. The main compartment has two stretch-mesh pockets for extra organization, and a sleeve for a hydration bladder (and exit for the hose). Patagonia's Minimalist Vest ($130) clips to the padded shoulder straps for extra storage and easy access while fishing.
Simms Headwaters Sling Bag $70
Our tester loved the lightweight, breathable back panel on the Simms Headwaters Sling Bag. 'When I'm walking long distances, I wear the bag as a lumbar pack, and the mesh and perforated foam keep my back dry and cool. Even if I dunk the pack, the back panel sheds water and dries quickly. ' The bag can also be worn as a sling (over one shoulder) or as a more traditional chest pack for match-the-hatch situations where you constantly need access to your boxes. When you are hiking, the sling strap detaches and hides inside the bag. Made of durable Cordura, the bag has two Velcro exterior pouches for leaders and tippet spools, and two larger zippered compartments for three or four large fly boxes. Inside, there are also small pouches with elastic tops to hold accessories like bug dope, split-shot, sunscreen, and other necessities.
Spite Hill Guide Pack $100
Can't decide between a lumbar pack and a sling? You don't have to. The Spite Hill Guide Pack can be worn as either. A quick-release tab loosens the waist belt so you can swing the pack to the front like a sling where you have easy access to all of your stuff. It's comfortable, and has the compartments you need to stay organized, but without the hassle of so many pockets so you can't find what you need. The waistbelt has expandable water bottle holders, and the small front compartment has magnetic closures on the front flap, and zippered mesh pockets inside for things like tippet spools and leader packages. The large compartment has a YKK heavy-duty zipper, and magnetic dividers inside to separate large items like cameras, fly boxes, extra reels, or a rain jacket.