Toting gear while fishing has been a challenge for anglers ever since they started using a line and pole. Multi-pocketed vests provided the best option for most of the late 19th century until well into the 21st century, but today many fly fishers opt for packs instead.
I’ve used an array of backpacks, sling packs, and hip packs over the last few years, and I’ve also talked to guides, pro anglers, and other recreational casters about their preferences and experiences. With all that in mind, I sought out some of the latest offerings and had a handful of testers join in in checking out their performance. Here’s what we found.
LL Bean Waterproof Lumbar Pack
The Waterproof Lumbar Pack earned the respect of testers for its ability to carry lots of gear in a fully waterproof compact form. The Lumbar Pack offers just over 700 cubic inches of storage space, but I could fit a couple large fly boxes inside, along with a small first aid kit, a bit of lunch, and a mirrorless camera. An exterior pocket can hold miscellaneous fishing accessories (tippets, nippers, etc.) securely. That kit proved more than enough for a day of fishing on remote creeks that required a few miles of hiking to access. Most importantly, though, the Lumbar hipbelt kept the pack stable and secure even when I had to scramble over downed logs and across rugged talus slopes. On the water, the Lumbar Pack served me well with its small fly patch on the front for easy access to regularly used flies. Its waterproof design ensured no matter what the weather or wading conditions threw at me, my gear stayed dry throughout. The LL Bean Waterproof Lumbar Pack is ideal for the angler who wants to make fast and light hikes into remote waters. (Price: $99 – LLBean.com)
Orvis Safe Passage Guide Sling
When it comes to toting your angling gear along with other essentials for a long day on the river, Orvis Safe Passage Guide Sling Pack functions far better than those old-school multi-pocketed vests. The Guide Sling’s broad carry straps rides securely and comfortably on the shoulder in its carrying position on your back. When you need to tie on a new fly, slip on a rain jacket, or dig out your lunch, the pack slides smoothly into work position on your chest where you’ll find several pockets for organizing your gear.
The huge main compartment easily stores a light jacket, a stash of snacks, and a few fly boxes. A water bottle sleeve keeps beverages close at hand, and a selection of slots, clips and sleeves store your tippets, nippers, scissors/clamps, and tools. The Guide Sling is roomy, rides comfortably, and stays out of your way when fishing. The only knock anyone had on the Guide Sling came from smaller anglers (especially women under 5’5” tall) who felt the pack was too big to fit securely on their backs. (Price: $129 – Orvis.com)
Fishpond Summit Sling
The women who tested packs, dubbed this their favorite sling. Of course, most of the men loved it too. The pack bag of the Fishpond Summit Sling is considerably smaller than the Orvis Guide Sling (13” x 8.5” x 9” versus 20” x 7.5” x 11’) but that helps the Summit Sling fit more snugly, with an acceptable reduction in volume. As tester Donna M, said, “smaller just means learning to carry less unnecessary stuff, so it’s lighter, too.” The Summit Sling sports a much-appreciated drop-shelf on the front, with a foam fly patch inside, for a secure place to change flies, apply floatant, or work on leaders/tippets. A sleeve on the sling’s back panel allows anglers to slip a net handle in for secure carrying, or nets can be hung from the tough rings attached to the pack and shoulder strap. Multiple hypalon patches on the pack offer ample attachment points for tool zingers and clips. The Summit Sling is a great option for anglers who need a smaller pack for a better fit, or who just want to avoid overloading themselves with extra gear. (Price: $100 – FishpondUSA.com)
Patagonia Hybrid Pack Vest
Anglers who still like the look and functionality of traditional fly fishing vests, but need more gear carrying capacity than a simple vest allows, will love the Patagonia Hybrid Pack Vest. This product features a large zip-top pack bag on the back. The pack provides enough space for a lunch, camera, jacket, and more. A bungee strap system adds extra carrying capacity — I used it to securely carry an extra rod in case I wanted to change up during the day. The front of the Hybrid features the vest component. Drawing from some of Patagonia’s core angling vests, the Hybrid Pack Vest sports multiple pockets for keeping fishing tools, fly boxes, and other angling accessories close-at-hand while fishing. Widely adjustable side straps allow a perfect fit that keeps the pack component secure no matter how heavily loaded, while letting the vest ride comfortably in front without binding. The Hybrid Pack Vest succeeds in providing anglers with both a traditional fishing vest, and a modern wading pack in one package. (Price: $99 – Patagonia.com)