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Fly Fishing Vest or Pack – Which Is Best?

When it comes to carrying your fly fishing gear on the water, having a good system really makes things easier. Fly fishing vests have been around forever, but packs have become very popular in recent years. It used to be that vests were the only option – fly fishing packs just weren’t a thing you could buy. Now vests are becoming a bit more obsolete, and packs have taken over.

There is no right or wrong choice, it’s more about personal preferences. When I first started fly fishing, all I had was a vest, and it worked well. I then got my first hip pack and really liked the ease of use. I am now a hip pack guy and it’s my preferred storage option.

This article will cover the pros and cons of each system, and will hopefully guide you in your decision. Since fly fishing products have advanced dramatically, there are now many good options for both packs and vests.

Fly Fishing Vests

Vests come to mind when most people think of fly fishers. It is really the one piece of gear that was a dead giveaway that someone fly fished. Vests back then were pretty minimal. There was less storage and they weren’t built very well. Today, companies like Simms are making high end vests with Gore-Tex that can cost $300.

I think this is the best starter vest on the market. It has a total of 19 pockets for maximum organization. The well padded collar keeps you comfortable even on long days, and it is extremely breathable. If you’re going to go with the vest route, I think Simms is a great brand to look into. The Freestone offers premium features without hurting the wallet too much.

Pros Of Vests

  • Less Bulk – Since vests are a clothing item, they feel much more normal to use than a hip pack. Your items are always on you, and you can reach for them easily.
  • Better For Minimalists – Since vests have more limited storage, it forces the angler to pick carefully what they bring along to the river.
  • Often Less Expensive – Getting into a decent vest usually costs less than a hip pack. This makes it an easy choice for the frugal angler on a budget.
  • Ease Of Use – With vests, all of your items are easy to grab quickly. You don’t have to dig around like you do with a pack.

Cons Of Vests

  • They Can Be Hot – Most vests aren’t very breathable , which can make them a burden in the summertime. You’ll find yourself sweating more with a vest than a hip pack.
  • Less Storage Space – In terms of cubic inches, vests offer less storage room than a hip pack. For anglers with lots of gear, they may not be the best option.
  • They Can Weigh You Down – With the weight of the vest and all of your fly fishing items on your shoulders, vests can feel heavier than a hip pack – especially over longer periods of fishing.
  • You Might Outgrow Them – Not in the sense of size, but you may find that the vest does not offer enough features as opposed to a hip pack. For anglers who amass lots of accessories, vests can not accommodate the storage needed.
  • They Are Not Waterproof – Vests are not very waterproof. With all of the submersible hip pack options nowadays, it is hard to choose a vest that will get waterlogged in the rain.

Overall, vests are a decent choice for new fly fishers. They definitely get the job done and will make your time on the water easier. However, when you progress and get more gear – you may outgrow the vest and opt for a pack.

Fly Fishing Packs

Packs are the new most popular way to store your fly fishing gear while on the water. Hip packs are one option, and sling packs are another. Hip packs are basically a large fanny pack with different storage compartments and D-rings. Sling packs sit diagonally across your back and they have a shoulder strap. When you need to grab something from your sling or waist pack, simply slide it around so it sits in front of you. Hip packs usually offer more storage space, while sling packs are better for the minimalist fly angler.

The Waterdance Pro is currently my favorite pack. It is extremely well designed with 610 cubic inches of storage. It has double water bottle holders, and a shoulder strap to offset weight. I actually started fly fishing with the original Waterdance, and I loved it. The Pro is a more deluxe version, and it’s priced quite reasonably in my opinion. I think for most fly anglers, it is a really beneficial pack.

Pros Of Packs

  • You Can Store More Gear – Many packs nowadays offer lots of cubic inches worth of storage space. This will often accommodate several fly boxes, and all of your accessories. This means that you don’t have to pick and choose what you bring with you. Just take whatever you need to the river!
  • They Are Often Submersible – Many packs offer waterproof zippers that can be submersed underwater. This means that when you’re wading deep or it’s raining, you don’t have to worry about your gear getting wet.
  • They Are Good For Warm Weather – Since packs aren’t a clothing item, they won’t cause you to overheat like a vest will. On those hot summer days, you can stay cool even when wearing a waist pack or a sling pack.
  • They Are Lightweight – Most fly fishing packs are feather weight. There is no real mass to them, which keeps the weight down for those longer days.

Cons Of Packs

  • They Can Get Pricey – Premium fly fishing packs have gotten expensive, with many in the $200-$300 range. This can seem overwhelming for beginners, because it is a larger investment.
  • They Can Become Unorganized – Although some packs have several zippers, some only have one large zipper compartment. This can make it easy to get unorganized.
  • They Can Become Heavy With Gear – Even though it is nice to load up a pack with all of your gear, they can be heavy and cause fatigue after a long day. Just because they have lots of storage space, doesn’t mean you should overload them.