Fly fishing Vest vs Pack vs Sling Pack vs Chest Pack

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Fly Fishing Vest

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There’s nothing fly anglers like more than perfecting our fishing setup. Once we have our rods, reels and waders, one of the main questions that always arises is whether or not we should use a fly fishing pack or vest. There are pros and cons to all of both options, but depending on how you fish, there is a right pack for you.

Pack or Vest: How to Approach This Key Choice

When you’re looking to make your decision on which pack is best, identify your priorities and understand how long you’ll be on the water! If you’ll be gone for a full day and need gear, then get a pack. If it’s a day or car hopping and short stints on the water, a vest makes sense. However, it’s not always this easy. Take a look at weather, terrain and anything else that could impact your time on the water. Finally, make sure you understand your body and what’s most comfortable for you. Once you consider all of these things, you can make a decision.


Fly fishing vests absolutely have their place where they make the most sense to use. If you’re the type of fly angler who likes every essential item easily accessible and aren’t wanting to break the bank, then a fly fishing vest is a great option. You can store your fly boxes and any other fishing gear you might need for a day on the water.

  • Easy access is the main pro of a fly fishing vest. Front pockets are ideal with more than enough room for fly boxes, leader, tippet, forceps and other gear that you need.
  • Organization is another pro of fishing vests. With more pockets than you would likely ever need, you can keep everything in its own compartment and not worry about bulging pockets or misplacing any gear.
  • A vests ability to allow for deep wading is another pro. Where waist packs or sling packs would get wet, a fly fishing vest is shorter and allows you to head into water without having to store any gear.
  • The primary con to fishing vests is that it can get in the way. Where a waist pack or sling pack stays out of the way when you’re casting, a vest with filled pockets can hit your forearms and be the cause of unnecessary frustration on the water. Plus, if you’re fly fishing in the colder months, it can feel bulky on top of your waders and other layers.
  • Another con to fly fishing vests is they don’t completely protect gear. Where a sling pack or waist pack is heavier duty and more weatherproof, fly fishing vests are light and can easily let rain in and create headaches when trying to keep everything protected.
  • Finally, you’ll find that fly fishing vests don’t have the larger storage you may need for a full day on the water. Where a small backpack or sling pack could hold more gear, a vest is going to limit you to primarily fishing gear.

Our Favorite Vest: Patagonia Mesh Master II (buy here from Patagonia)


There is no shortage of fly fishing pack options for anglers. Companies are creating waist packs, chest packs, sling packs and backpacks that all have their place on the water. Again, the more time you spend on the water, the better understanding you’ll have of the type of pack you need.


  • The obvious pro for backpacks is the amount of storage. You have enough space for everything you would need for a day on the water! You can carry clothes, food, water bottles as well as extra layers like rain gear. You can carry all essential gear as well as any extra gear in case of emergencies.
  • Another reason to use a backpack is that it’s likely able to store an extra rod in case you’re going to find yourself fishing different types of water that need differently weighted rods.
  • Backpacks are likely the most comfortable pack you can use. Our bodies are used to carrying backpacks and they disperse the weight well for long hikes or days on the water.
  • A con to backpacks is that you cannot stay as organized as you would like. You’ll have to dig around to find fly boxes, extra clothes and snacks.
  • Another con to fly fishing backpacks is that they make it challenging to wade deep. They’ll sit low on your back, and limit you from getting above your waist unless you are using a waterproof backpage like the Simms Dry Creek or Patagonia Storm Surge.
  • Finally, most fly fishing backpacks are quite expensive. You’ll spend quite a bit more on a backpack than you would a sling pack or chest pack.

Our Favorite Backpack: Simms Flyweight Fishing Backpack (buy here from Simms)

Waist Packs

For what many would call a fanny pack, the fly fishing world calls them waist or hip packs. These are great for day trips and can carry just about everything you would need for a full day on the water.

  • Waist packs are not bulky. You can cinch them tightly around your waist and not even know they’re there when you’re moving spots or making a technical cast.
  • Hip packs are easily accessible. You can grab your fly boxes, leader wallet, strike indicators or any other essential gear you would need.
  • Hip packs are comfortable. You keep all of the weight on your hips and you won’t tire at the end of the day like you would wearing a traditional vest or vest.
  • A common frustration with hip packs is that they don’t have as much room as a backpack. You can carry fishing gear, but little else. No rain jacket, no water bladder or other necessities.
  • You’re limited in how deep you can wade with a hip pack. Wet wading is possible, but only up to your waist.
  • There are only so many pockets in a hip pack! You have enough for a fly box and a few accessories, but little else.

Our Favorite Waist Pack: Orvis Guide Fly Fishing Hip Pack (Check Price at Amazon)

Sling Packs

Sling packs sit over one shoulder and give anglers a chance to carry a bit more gear and access it easily. All of the weight and gear is going to be on your back.

  • The amount of gear you can carry with a sling pack is comparable to what you would find in a backpack. Rain gear, fly lines, snacks, and water bottles are all able to be carried.
  • Sling packs are designed to have all necessary fly tools accessible. Forceps, a net, and anything else you need can be attached to the outside.
  • A sling pack is easy to swing around to the front when you need to change a fly or unhook a fish.
  • The one shoulder strap can be uncomfortable for certain anglers. It feels as if too much weight is on one side.
  • If yours doesn’t have a chest strap, you’ll find that it’s not overly balanced if it only has the shoulder strap.
  • Similar to backpacks, sling packs are usually quite expensive. You’re going to pay more than a vest or hip pack.

Our Favorite Sling Pack: Patagonia Stealth Sling Pack (buy here from Patagonia direct)

Chest Packs

You can imagine a chest pack to be similar size to a waist pack instead it sits higher on your body. Chest packs are great for anglers on smaller day trips.


  • Chest pack pros are easy to find. The major pro of a chest pack is that you don’t have to worry about wading deep. It sits far above your belly button, so it won’t get wet.
  • Another pro is that the chest pack is easily accessible. It’s even higher than a waist pack so you can get a good look at everything you need.
  • They’re perfect for day trips! You aren’t going to fit a ton, but whatever you need for fishing, you’ll have.
  • You can’t carry a full days worth of gear in a chest pack! There’s no food or water that’s going to be stored, so keep that in mind.
  • Organization can be a bit of an issue with a chest pack since it’s a little smaller than most packs.
  • The excess of straps can be uncomfortable if you’re moving quite a bit with a fully loaded small chest pack.

Our Favorite Chest Pack: Fishpond Canyon Creek Chest Pack (check price on Amazon)

Pack vs Vest: When to Use Each

Using a vest means everything you need is within easy grasp in front of your torso.

Stream fishing day trips

If you’re spending time on a stream for only a day, you won’t need a ton of storage. Fly boxes and a few other accessories are all that’s necessary. Odds are, you’ll be moving quite a bit, so depending on the weather a vest is a great option. You can make your casts and quickly change out gear as needed.

Salmon/steelheading trips

Salmon and steelhead fishing usually pairs with challenging fishing conditions. It may require winter clothing and always requires a landing net. Bring a sling pack or backpack for salmon and steelhead trips! You need the room.

Lake Fishing

If you’re lake fishing, you may be in a boat or have hiked a decent ways to get to a lake. A sling pack or chest pack would work in case you need to wade to get closer to the fish.

Throwing Big Streamers

Throwing big streamers requires big streamer boxes. Streamer boxes are best fit into a backpack or sling pack.

Overnight Trips

If you’re going on an overnight trip, a backpack combined with a chest pack is a great option. You can carry any gear you’d need for the overnight in your backpack and strap on the chest pack when needed.

Boat/kayak/float tube fishing

Boat fishing can be done with a vest. You don’t want to be wearing anything that could hit other people or make it challenging to maneuver. Keep your vest with you!

Other Options: Lanyard and Fly Box

If you’re a true minimalist, a neck lanyard and fly boxes may be all you need. The fly box attaches to your lanyard along with forceps and a couple other accessories.

Final Thoughts on Choosing a Vest or Pack

 Choosing a pack or a vest will always be a matter of own personal preferences for fishing in different conditions.

At the end of the day, choosing a pack or a vest is personal preference. The vest vs pack debate isn’t going anywhere! Packs are going to store more than a vest, but lack in organization. Vests are going to be easy to use, but don’t have a ton of storage. If you want a safe choice, purchase a sling pack and you’ll be pleased with the performance!

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Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.
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