I am a gear-head. I love keeping up with the unique and creative products that fly fishing companies come to market with. In this Gear Review, I want to focus on what packs and bags are best for each fisherman. We won’t dive into specific bags, but I’d like to touch on the different types of bags on the market; vests, chest packs, hip packs, sling packs and backpacks and what they bring to the table. Eh, who are we fooling? I may slip a couple of my favorites in.
I work as a gear salesman and this is one of the top questions I get. “How do I figure out what bag will work best for me?”
Let’s break them down!
Old Faithful: The Vest
The first pack we’ll talk about is the vest. Don’t laugh, people still use them. We all started our fishing career with one and most likely still have it hanging in the closet. They are super practical and make it easy to carry a ton of small gear. Most importantly, they are comfortable and make flies and other gear easy to access while wading. There are, however, a couple downsides to vests. The first being the limited storage. It is tricky to carry anything larger than a medium size fly box. Then, when you fit it all, it is a game of memory trying to remember what pocket everything is in. Where are we supposed to put our extra layers, water, lunch, brews? Personally, this is a deal breaker. I may over pack, but I like to be prepared. The vest is perfect for an angler who is making a quick trip to the stream and doesn’t plan on being out all day. Fishing with a vest is ideal if you’re fishing close to home, campsite or out of a car.
Always Right There: The Chest Pack
The chest pack is designed for the speedy, lightweight, cover a lot of water fisherman. They are small, stealthy, and super practical if you are the type of person who likes to hike miles upstream. Nothing is more annoying than bags getting hung up on every branch that crosses the path. The chest pack is high and tight. It keeps everything in your wheelhouse where flies are literally under your nose. Make sure to eat a good breakfast because the downside is, well, they’re small. The chest pack is perfect for the more mild days when there is not a need for extra layers. The days where we throw a water and our flies in a bag and go.
’90s Style: The Fanny… Err, Hip Pack
The hip pack or sometimes called the lumbar pack, I think, is the most comfortable of these five options. Bring back the fanny pack! The hip pack is best suited for small stream fishing. It will obviously limit your wading depth capabilities. I would invest in a completely waterproof hip pack just so you don’t have to worry about wading a little too deep and having to dry out fly boxes at the end of every trip. Most hip packs come equipped with a shoulder strap to help take some of the load off your hips and to keep the pack from swiveling around your waist. Storage wise, the hip pack gets it done! Most hip bags have room for a jacket, all your equipment, net slot and some even have mesh drink holders. Overall, hip packs are a pretty appealing option when it comes to comfort and storage. A great all around bag.
Over the Shoulder: The Sling Pack
The sling pack is one of the most popular packs around the fly fishing community. It makes sense because these bags are super compact, lightweight and easy to access. The smaller sling packs are great for quick trips to the stream. Good luck trying to fish anything more than essential gear and a bottle of water. As the packs get bigger, the more clunky and uncomfortable they become. The larger packs can fit a lot for gear, but I have found they start to cut into your shoulder and wreak havoc on your lower back toward the end of a full day fishing. On the bright side, the sling is easy to swing around your torso and access all your flies and gear. I think this is why the sling pack is so popular among fishermen.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink: The Backpack
My personal favorite is the backpack. Simple, cheap, and easy if you are just getting started in fly fishing. We all have that old L.L. Bean (with our initials) or a Jansport laying around from our middle or high school days. That one will do the trick! They store extra layers, plenty of water, fly gear, and snacks. Backpacks are great for long days on the water or backcountry fishing treks. The only issue I have found with a backpack is their ease of access. It can be tricky to get into the pack while wading. I make a trip to the bank to pull items out of the bag for fear of dropping something in the water. Besides that, the backpack is a simple yet practical bag that will “do it all” for most fisherman. I would like to add, although not a “must,” that getting a backpack with a waist belt and at least water resistant materials will go a long way in comfort and performance on the water.
As you look through Smooth Angler pictures on our site and social media you will see the same pack over and over again. My pack of choice is the Patagonia Sweet Pack Vest and it is pretty “shhhhweeet”. It is a 2 in 1 back/vest. I get the best of both worlds. I am able to pack a lot of gear and also have my flies, tippet, nips, etc. all right in front of me. This pack is also perfect to use as carry on for those cross the globe fishing trips. The vest pops off and it turns into a nifty little backpack. You can see why it’s one of my favorites. Again, well done Patagonia.
There really isn’t one. What works best for you is a matter of opinion. The vest, chest pack, hip pack, sling pack and backpack are the most common fly fishing bags you will see on the water. Don’t worry what everyone else is using or their brands. Find something that works for you, that’s comfortable, and that fits your fishing style. If the bag isn’t working, change it up! We all enjoy fly fishing too much to be uncomfortable. Plus, there is a stellar resale market for lightly used bags. Like you, people trying to hunt down their dream pack. I found mine and it is totally worth it!