Fly Fishing Gear Reviews

The Vest vs. the Packs

Call me a traditionalist if you must, but I think that one of Lee Wulff’s greatest gifts to anglers is the fly fishing vest. It has of course undergone numerous improvements over the decades since he hand-sewed his original vest. My current vest has a shoulder suspension system which makes it comfortable to wear, twenty-four pockets some of which are molded, two built-in zingers, a D-ring for a net, and is short enough to remain above the water when wading.

I have flirted with various packs, which are favored by the pre-gray set of anglers. But I remain convinced of the superiority of a vest for the type of fishing that I do. I mostly hike and wade, usually for more than a few hours at a time. Therefore, I must carry all the fishing equipment needed for a day of fishing plus food, water or filter bottle, clothes, rain jacket, first aid kit, and a net. Thus capacity is an important element. Waist or fanny packs, as well as the small to medium sized sling packs, simply do not have sufficient capacity. Most also lack a means of holding a net, thus requiring another accessary, like a belt with a slot for a net handle.

I must confess that I like organization. The old saying “a place for everything and everything in its place” is especially apt when fly fishing. With a vest, there is a pocket for each piece or related pieces of equipment. After years of fishing with my vest, I can find what I need with my eyes closed. Be it a box of dry or wet flies, leaders, tippet, floatant/dessicant, bug juice, lip balm, a spool of different line, or a camera, I know exactly where it is.

In contrast, packs have a limited number of compartments. Thus by design, many of these items are grouped together. This forces one to search a bit for a specific item within a compartment. I don’t want to waste my time doing this, especially during a short-lived hatch. Manufacturers seem to understand this, as they are beginning to place holders for some of the most frequently used items on the shoulder strap, placing them up front and immediately available.

So why do younger anglers gravitate to packs rather than a vest? In the shop, the most common reason they state to me is, “I don’t want anything in the front of me.” That seems odd. My arms are attached to my side! When walking or casting, they move to and fro, uninhibited by anything on my chest or my back. Perhaps it’s just a generational thing.

Fortunately, both vests and packs continue to be improved nearly every year. So maybe one day I’ll find an appealing pack that meets my needs, but for now, I’ll stay with my vest.

nelson nz, fly fishing for brown trout

written by Al Simpson, June, 2021.

5 thoughts on “The Vest vs. the Packs

  1. If you would, I could use a picture of you vest showing all compartments. Also, how many fly boxes do you take on these day fishing trips. I usually take way too many. I think that is my downfall which requires a big old bag 👍

    1. hello,
      i have the Simms G3 guide vest. the newest version has 24 pockets!
      yes, flies/fly boxes are always an issue. over the years i have gradually reduced the number i carry, as i realized i rarely use more than a few. so, i carry 2 boxes, one for subsurface flies, and one for dry/eme/rger flies. but, i always consider the hatch calendar and the river/lake i’m going to fish, and add a small container of flies unique to my plans, if necessary.

      if you visit the Simm’s website, you can view the various vests in detail.

      take care, and thanks for your interest.

  2. Hi Al, I’ve just picked up this article, and find it absolutely mirror’s my situation flitting between chest pack, sling pack, and back to a vest.
    Thank you for putting this situation into perspective.
    Paul Deaville

  3. Thanks for the article. New to fly fishing I started with a pack. I hike a lot and found a pack to be easier to go with. But as I’m progressing in fishing, I’m starting to gravitate away from a pack to something easier and less bulky. Any suggestions on a starter vest that will be good for a few years

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