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Home / Articles / TO (IN)VEST OR SIMPLY SLING IT? SELECTING A NEW PACK OR VEST By Vagabond Fly
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TO (IN)VEST OR SIMPLY SLING IT? SELECTING A NEW PACK OR VEST By Vagabond Fly

The start of a new seasons sees most bolting to their local fly-shop to buy those flies that are delivering the goods, the basic essentials and to drop some cash on that all import piece of equipment that will hold all these in one convenient place – on your person.

The traditional fly-vest has seen many renditions and advancements over the years but essentially has stayed true to form. Enough space to carry an entire fly-shop’s worth of paraphernalia and fly-boxes to target from high-altitude-emerger-sipping brownies to 8/0 Semper smashing Geets; because you never know.

In this article we take a casual stab at the all essential but often overlooked vests, chest-packs, slings and lumbar/waist packs. Each of these have their blatant pros-&-cons and a fit for each individual’s needs but should be purchased for longevity and the selection process should be as intricate as when selecting a new rod or reel. It is all about keeping you on the water, both efficiently and comfortably, and making sure you can handle everything a day on the water chucks at you.

Technical Considerations

We hate to break it to you, but if you fish in varied conditions and for several different species you probably will not get away with a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but considering some of the following might just narrow it down for you.

  • Waterproofing vs. Water Resistant

Be honest with yourself and with your bank account…

Truly waterproof and fully submersible packs require a substantial initial outlay but if truly essential it is totally worth the investment. If you are regularly (as in every time you head out) faced with situations where your pack fills with water and all its content gets soaked (especially in the salt), then waterproof is for you. Equally so if you carry expensive cameras and electronics with you. Also think about whether a roll-top waterproof pack will do or if you want the convenience of a truly submersible zippered pack – their prices differ vastly.

If you are occasionally caught in the rain or miss-judge the depth of a river and have to dry out your gear overnight, then water resistant will do just fine.

Waterproof & Fully Submersible: Patagonia Stormfront Range / Fishpond Thunderhead Sling

Water Resistant : Orvis Gale Force Range

  • How much space do you really need?

Think about the majority of fishing you will be doing with the item in question. Will you be hiking into the outback and need to carry in your lunch, rain jacket and water with you or will you be fishing within casting distance from the car/boat/lodge? Are you happy with the grip ‘n grin cellphone photos or are you carrying a DSLR with you? Also consider the tools and fly-boxes you will actually be tagging along, many of us fall in love with the idea of the minimalistic approach but suck at pulling it off. Whichever one it is OWN UP to it and buy accordingly.

Carry-It-All : Simms Waypoints Backpack & Chest Pack combo / Patagonia Sweet Fly Fishing Packvest

The Minimalist : Patagonia Stealth Atom Sling / Fishpond Medicine Bow Chest Pack

The Perfect In-Betweener : Orvis Safe Passage Guide Sling Pack

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  • Comfort Rules the Castle

Comfort. Think about this for a second as not many of us do. Sure many of these Vests & Packs look the business in the shop and even more so when fully loaded strapped on and we stare into the mirror and give ourselves that nod of approval. This is the same mirror we use to hit that tricky spot between our shoulder blades with chafe cream after the first full day out with the new item. Take any and every discomfort you feel whilst trying it on for the first time, multiply that by 10,000 and that should give you a glimpse into the scale of pain you will be in after a day on the water. Some non-negotiables that come to mind per item are:

Sling Packs should spread the weight AROUND your upper-body not be overly biased to one shoulder and should always stay in place whilst fishing.

Backpacks should not hang on your shoulders but should have a waist straps that places the majority of the weight on your hips. Aching shoulders and a throbbing headache at the end of a day are clear indications that the weight is hanging from your shoulders.

Hip and lumber packs should not dangle below your glutes. The weight should be on your hips and the main straps should be broad and padded and not cut into you.

Vests should have either a zip or clip in the front to keep it from ‘spreading their wings’ when moving/casting. The weight should be spread across both shoulders equally – learn to pack your vest accordingly.

Chest Packs, especially when heavy, should not have all the weight suspended from the back of your neck. Also look for versions that come with a body/waist strap that acts as additional support and stop the pack from smacking you in the face every time you bend over.

All of the above should be met without impeding on your natural movements and not force you to change your casting style or the manner in which you fish.

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  • Efficiency

The problem with numerous pockets is numerous pockets; most of us suffer from the habit of filling every possible pocket with ‘stuff’ and not with the true essentials. In the ideal world we buy a pack or vest based on what we should (not want, not need) take along for the average day out, instead we tag along as much as the zips and seams can handle.

We are not enlisting you in the army calling for military precision but you cannot argue the value of being able to reach for your box of dries, change your fly, apply floatant and then make the cast; all this without taking your eyes off that rising beast sipping Mays in the current. Do not underplay the importance of knowing where everything is and the ability to reach for it without hesitation – it will allow you to focus on the fish and not the fisherman.

  • Snag-Free

For some inexplicable reason we as fly fishers want to show the world every gadget we own and love dangling these from zingers, straps and D-rings. Nothing we can do about this habit, but there is nothing worse than a Vest or Pack that comes festooned with potential line snags. Most top-end manufacturers have made it a priority to reduce these potential catastrophes and every year we see new innovative ways of hiding straps, clips and attachment points. The less clutter and potential snags the better, especially at the front of the angler.

Snag-Free and Efficiency go hand in hand and should live in synergy – i.e. it is pointless if the only place to attach your nippers is on the back of the pack.

  • A Place to attach a net

Very often an afterthought, but if you are fishing for potential trophies or larger fish species and simply want to make sure the fish are handled humanely a soft-bag net is crucial so make sure there is a place to attach a net that keeps it out of the way but also allows you to easily grab hold of it when the time is right.

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The Pros & Cons of each Solution

The list for each, mostly the pros, are countless but here we attempted to give you those that always come up in discussions or jump at us during reviews.

Fly Vests

Pros

  • Allows you to really take along an arsenal of flies and tools without being overly bulky
  • Several of these now come with an incorporated backpack giving you the additional benefit of carrying other essentials (i.e. food) for a long day out
  • No distraction when reaching for essentials, everything is right there in front of you

Cons

  • With too many pockets and stash points tools often ‘disappear’ into the abyss
  • All potential snag-points are placed in front of the angler
  • Often impedes the angler’s natural casting stroke and arm movements

Slings

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Pros

  • Most if not all snag-points are placed on the angler’s back
  • With very little on your chest you are able to move naturally and freely
  • Most only require one hand to swing around, get to your gear and lock it back in place

Cons

  • Have to swing it around to reach the majority of your gear
  • If you have to swing the pack from back to front often chafe can become a reality

Lumbar Hip Packs

Pros

  • ALL potential snags are at the back and out of the way
  • There is zero weight on your shoulders and your arms are free to move no matter how wide and elaborate your casting action is

Cons

  • Deep wading is not possible unless you splurge out on a fully submersible version
  • All tools and essential are at the back or on your side requiring you to continuously swing the pack to the front – this is why broad comfortable straps are so crucial
  • Often space is limited and if too big they become uncomfortable to carry and sit awkwardly on your lower back

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Chest Packs

Pros

  • Especially compared to vests, most of the bulk is distributed towards the center of the angler’s chest as opposed to under his arms
  • Usually restricts you to the amount of gear you can pack
  • Every essential item is easy to reach and on the front

Cons

  • Certain overly large models extend too far ahead of the angler getting in the way of your arms’ movement
  • All potential line snags are right in front of you
  • Very few actually distribute the weight off your neck which can be excruciatingly uncomfortable

Hopefully as you read through the article the vests and packs you have been looking at tick most of the boxes, if not, keep on searching. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of trying an item before you buy. Head over to your trusted fly-shop that stocks a selection of packs and vests and take your time to try on and fit each potential item. Be sure to load it with some fly-boxes and other tools to see how easily you can get to these and how the loaded item sits. Then, lock-&-load and get out there!

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