While some fly anglers now prefer waist and sling packs to vests, there is still a big role for vests in a wide variety of fishing situations.
Vests can’t be beaten for being able to store a wide range of gear in a compartmentalized way.
The best vests on the market – which we’ve reviewed here – allow you to carry all you need without sacrificing comfort or freedom of movement.
Best Fly Fishing Vests in 2023: Quick Picks
The Fishpond Upstream Tech takes the title for the best overall fishing vest. It's comfortable, has unique features, such as its designated rear net pocket, and is extremely durable.
The Simms Tributary Vest is the best budget fishing vest on the market. For under $100, you're getting a comfortable vest that has a modern twist on some classic designs.
Best Fly Fishing Vest: Full Reviews
The Simms Tributary is a new twist on a classic design. It looks similar to your father's or mother's old vest but has 21st-century features that give you everything you need. You have a necessary padded collar, four large front pockets, as well as several smaller pockets for any other valuable accessories. Fly anglers of all levels are going to appreciate what this lightweight, comfortable vest has to offer. For around $80, you cannot go wrong.
- Fly box pockets- You have two pockets on each chest that are perfect for your medium-sized fly boxes.
- D-Ring- Anglers are often frustrated about a lack of d-rings on fly fishing vests, but Simms has a D-ring on the back that gives you a chance to attach it without it feeling too heavy or awkward.
- Comfort- The Simms Tributary fly fishing vest is comfortable. The padded collar, padded shoulder straps, and breathable mesh isn't going to feel too heavy on a warm summer day, and it won't get in the way when it's over all your warm clothes.
If you're the type who doesn't want to notice that they're even wearing a vest, the Patagonia Mesh Master II is the ideal option for you. It's a simple design with eight front pockets, perfect for storing all the fishing gear you would need. Almost the entire vest is mesh, besides a small amount on the back. It comes in two sizes, S/M and L/ XL, and has all the pockets and necessary D-Loops for your time on the water. This is a quality fishing vest for around $100!
- Two large back pockets- The Patagonia Mesh Master II has two pockets on the back that are a bit larger. They can carry rain gear or even bigger fly boxes that wouldn't fit in front pockets. Most fishing vests don't have quality back pockets, but this vest does.
- Vertical fly box pockets- Vertical fly box pockets are ideal for fly fishing vests. If they sit sideways, your vest will feel bulky, and you can feel a bit uncomfortable as you're fishing. While it's a small detail, it does make a big difference.
- Velcro and zippered pockets- Where many fly fishing vests have only velcro pockets, Patagonia provides fly fishermen with both zippered and velcro. You can put essentials in the zippered pockets and other accessories in the velcro.
If you know fly fishing, you know Fishpond and the quality of their products. The Fishpond Upstream Tech has 14 interior and exterior compartments for all your storage needs. This vest even has adjustable shoulder straps! If you're interested in a heavy-duty, high-quality vest that doesn't pull any punches in terms of storage, then the Fishpond Upstream Tech is the best option on the market. For around $180, you're getting a wonderful vest.
- Integrated Net Slot- Where most fly fishing vests have a D-ring to hang your net, the Fishpond Upstream Tech has a slot on the back panel that holds your net. This way, it doesn't swing and get hooked as you're traversing along the banks.
- Adjustable Straps- As mentioned earlier, the Fishpond Upstream Tech has adjustable waist straps and shoulder straps. You can make it fit regardless of your size. Most fly fishing vests do not have adjustable straps, so if this is a key feature for you, then purchase this vest.
- No Wasted Space- Fishpond doesn't waste space on the Upstream Tech vest. The two large pockets on the bottom are zippered and can hold fly boxes, your license, and any other valuables you might have. The d-rings can hold forceps, nippers, and even tippet spools.
The Orvis PRO vest is one of the more unique vests on the market. What looks heavy and too much is comfortable and breathable. There are 18 total pockets, with 10 being on the outside, 6 on the inside, and two on the back. There are main zippered pockets and mesh pockets ranging in size. You even have two hidden fly drying patches, as well as a plethora of daisy chain gear loops and a padded collar. If you consider yourself to be a diehard angler, then the Orvis Pro is up for the challenge. It's more speedy at $225, but the features are impressive, to say the least.
- Different Sizes- Many fly fishing vests are one size fits all. The Orvis Pro comes in medium, large, extra large, and double extra large. If you want a fit that's more specific to your size, then the Orvis Pro vest is for you.
- Interior Pockets- Interior pockets are another rarity on fly fishing vests. The mesh interior pockets are able to hold keys, snacks, or anything you would like to keep dry in case of a rain storm or any other precipitation. Too often, we have to waste pockets with essentials that should be filled with fishing gear! Orvis thought of this and helped us out with the design.
- Comfort- This vest has quite a few pockets and a decent amount of material, but it's comfortable. You won't find that it's too bulky when you're casting or too hot on summer days. You'll keep the necessary features as well as the comfort.
The Simms G3 Guide Vest is one of Simms top of the line vests. There are 22 total pockets with mesh lining to keep you comfortable. Velcro pockets, zippered pockets, and a padded collar are just a few of the features you'll find on this vest. It's a bit shorter, so you can easily wet wade. Similar to the Orvis Pro vest, you can purchase the Simms G3 Guide vest in a variety of sizes to best fit you. This is Simms's top-of-the-line vest, and it's going to cost you around $250, but you get what you pay for!
- Retractors- Retractors are not necessary features on vests, but they sure make life easier. You can hook your forceps or any other tools that you need to these. You don't have to worry about losing anything in transport.
- Weather-resistant back pocket- The knock against fly fishing vests for years is that they aren't weatherproof. The Simms G3 Guide vest has a weatherproof pocket at the back to hold rain gear or anything you don't want completely soaked in the case of inclement weather.
- Third-Hand Rod Holder- Perhaps the most unique feature of the G3 Guide vest is the third-hand rod holder. While waist packs will often have a third hand, vests almost never do. Simms, including this feature, is smart and makes life even easier. You don't have to drop your rod in the water or find a place to balance it on the bank.
Columbia has found its way back into the world of fishing with their PFG product launch. The Henry's Fork vest is the ultimate lightweight vest, but it still has 12 pockets to fit all of your fly fishing gear. It has all the necessary front pockets for your fly boxes, fishing license, and other essential gear. Being a shorter fishing vest, you think you would be limited in what you have access to, but the front and back pockets make for an excellent fishing vest. For a new fishing vest, it's hard to spend under $100, but Columbia makes this possible.
- Beverage Pocket- Columbia understands that fishing can be an exhausting activity, and refreshments are always necessary. There's a pocket on your right side that's perfect for holding a smaller water bottle. While it's a small feature, it makes your life easier and keeps you on the water longer.
- Solo Back Pocket- Many modern fishing vests have dual pockets on the back. Columbia has one large zippered pocket that is more than capable of holding your rain gear or any other larger items you might have.
- It's Not Too Busy- While this isn't a specific feature, Columbia strived to make this vest comfortable and functional. You won't find yourself dealing with two dozen pockets and losing any of the smaller items that you need. For a fly fishing vest, you can't go wrong with this option.
If affordability is at the top of your list, the Redington Clark Fork Mesh Fishing Vest should be one of the first vests you look at. It has a dozen pockets and a padded collar, so you aren't going to skimp on the absolutely necessary features that you might need. Your essential fly fishing gear is all going to have a place in this vest. You have two large pockets for fly boxes and multiple smaller front pockets for tippet spools, strike indicators, and any other smaller tackle. For less than $50, you have a winner with the Redington Clark Fork Mesh Fishing Vest.
- Third hand - The third hand on the Redington Clark Fork vest isn't extremely high quality, but it's there. If you need to slide your rod into the holder while you're unhooking a fish or tying on a new fly, you can. You would think Redington would pass on this feature due to the price, but they didn't.
- One large back pocket - As mentioned with the Columbia vest, Redington gives anglers one large pocket on the back of the vest to store extra layers, large fly boxes, or even water and snacks.
- Mesh everywhere - Almost this entire vest is made out of mesh. If you're fishing on an extraordinarily warm day, this Redington vest is not going to give you a reason to take it off or leave the water. Even on those cold days, there isn't too much material that it's going to get in the way or make casting difficult.
The final vest on this list is the Simms Freestone. This is Simms' middle-of-the-road vest that's more manageable in price but still has all of the features that would make you successful on the water. It has 19 total pockets, all of which have their own necessary features that make keep your gear organized. Some vests have too many pockets, but this has a more traditional fishing vest style, but there are a few more pockets and features that modernize it. This vest is less than $130 and well worth the money.
- Large Vertical Pockets- The best fly fishing vests have large vertical pockets to store your fly boxes. As mentioned earlier, horizontal pockets don't help fully balance things. Vertical pockets are the best for keeping everything in place.
- Padded Collar- Comfortable collars on fly fishing vests are vital. The more you load in your fishing vest, the more uncomfortable it can get. Having a padded collar allows you to stay comfortable and not have anything rubbing as you're fishing.
- Gear Loops- Any good fly fishing vest has properly placed gear loops. Simms has the loops in the perfect places, so you aren't knocking into your forceps or sunglasses. Make sure your next fly fishing vest has its gear loops in the right place.
Fishing Vest Buyer’s Guide
Types of Fly Fishing Vests
Fly fishing vests have evolved in massive ways since they were first invented. These days, you have full vests, slim line vests, as well as full mesh and full fabric vests. Shorter fishing vests made completely out of mesh are perfect for anglers who are on the move and need as little intrusion as possible.
Full fabric vests are perfect for the diehard angler who stays on the banks or on the boat and needs a solid vest to hold everything in place. The best fly fishing vest is going to be the one that fits all of your needs and style of fishing.
Number of Pockets
Most fly fishing vests have somewhere between 12-25 pockets. You’re rarely going to need more than 15 pockets on your vest. This amount of pockets is perfect for fly boxes, leader, line, indicators, and all other tackle that you need. You’ll also be able to carry extra clothes and even some refreshments to help you stay on the water even longer.
Size and Fit
The best development within fly fishing vests is that they’re no longer made with the one size fits all mentality. Companies are beginning to make fishing vests ranging from size small to double extra large. Choose your size and find one that fits your body type. The ideal fit is going to be a bit more form-fitting. If it hangs too far off of your body, it’s going to get in the way of your casting. Fly fishermen don’t want anything inhibiting their casting motion!
You can find fly fishing vests anywhere from $30 to nearly $300. In fly fishing, the more you spend, the higher quality gear you’re going to get. If you want a decent fly fishing vest, then you’re better off spending somewhere around $75 to $150! If you pay this price, you’ll find that the vest has all of the necessary features and is going to be extremely durable! Fish with it as much as you want, and it’ll be up for the challenge.
Comfort is another vital feature of fly fishing vests. Padded shoulder straps, comfortable collars, and adjustable waist straps are all features you should want. The more you can make it fit, the better everything is going to feel.
Fly Fishing Vest FAQs
How Should a Fishing Vest Fit?
A fly fishing vest doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect and tailored, but the more form-fitting it is, the better off it’ll feel. It’s not going to hang off of you, and the features are going to make more sense if the vest fits better. You want it to be as much of a “slim” fit as possible. Adjustable shoulder straps are one way to make sure your vest fits well.
Do I Really Need a Fishing Vest?
While you don’t need a fishing vest, you need something to carry your gear. Waist packs, sling packs, backpacks, and chest packs are all alternatives you can choose from. Fly fishing vests are easy to use and comfortable, but it’s not the only option.
Are Fishing Vests Waterproof?
Fishing vests are not waterproof. Since many are made of mesh, your gear isn’t going to stay completely dry. Make sure it’s within bags or sealed boxes to stay dry.
What Else Is Important?
D-rings, zippered and velcro pockets, gear loops, and adjustable straps are all other important features of fishing vests. Fly fishermen and women are particular with their gear, so find out what you like and then purchase the proper vest.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Best Fly Fishing Vest
The best fly fishing vests are the ones that fit everything you need on the water. Understand what type of packer you are and make your decision based on that. You’ll find that fishing vests limit you in what you can bring on the water, but that’s okay. A quality vest is going to last you for years and create many memories with you.