Saturday, 8 January 2011

Thoughts on Chestpacks

Soon after I started fly fishing I developed an addiction I suspect every fly fisherman develops. The length of the addiction seems to differ from person to person - some lose it after a brief period whilst others never do, even after 40 years of fishing. I’m referring to the insatiable desire of fly fishermen to own every manner of fly fishing tackle and paraphernalia under the sun. No thought is given to the strict necessity of the tackle, if it’s fly fishing related and there is the remotest chance you may need it, you have to own it. Things like hook sharpeners, thermometers, leader straighteners, weighing scales, tape measures, the trusty Leatherman, fly dryers – you know the sort of thing I’m talking about, the type of thing that looks flashy and important hanging from the ends of multiple zingers. And that's not even starting on the innumerable colour coded fly boxes.

And yet half of the time trout manage to outwit the arsenal of gadgetry we throw at them and the other half, I suspect, they're pretty much only interested in the fly at the end of the line. In addition, owning so many gizmos and gimmicks requires a bulky fly fishing vest with plentiful pockets capable of sustaining the unwieldy weight of apparatus that will mostly never see the light of day. Eventually - for the majority of anglers at least - the penny does drop, perhaps the day you get lost taking a shortcut to the car park and have to hike to civilisation loaded down like a pack mule. There isn’t any good reason to carry around unnecessary and excess baggage that will never be used.

I’ve now flipped right over to the other end of the spectrum, even calling myself a “minimalist.” I carry with me when fishing one fly box, a couple of spools of tippet and a spare leader, fly floatant and sinkant, strike indicators and forceps. I now use a chest pack instead of a vest, but I’m still trying to find the right one.  What I look for in a chestpack is something lightweight and compact, fitting securely and snugly to my chest and comfortable to wear. A good chestpack is one that you will hardly pay any attention to when fishing. I also like the idea of it having a net ring so I can carry a net if I need to.  

I’ve tried 3:

-          the detachable chest pack that comes with the Orvis Safe Passage Waist and Chest Combo, which I originally purchased for wading the flats of Los Roques.

Photo from

-          The Fishpond Arroyo chestpack

Photo from
-          The William Joseph Watermark Midge chestpack

Photo from
Orvis Safe Passage Chestpack

This is a light and compact pack, with just enough space to make it perfect for a short session such as a late evening trip to the river after work. It doesn’t contain enough space for a full day on the river, when I would combine it with a small backpack to carry food and water, a raincoat and camera with accessories. I also found the straps were more comfortable when crossed over in an X shape (to carry the weight on the centre of your back) rather than in the fashion shown in the advertising material which places the weight largely on your neck. If you carry more items than those I have identified above then this isn’t the pack for you. One further downfall is that there isn’t anywhere to attach a net, although Orvis has recently released an upgrade “Safe Passage DS Compact” chestpack which addresses the two faults I experienced with the original “Safe Passage” – it has a net ring and also introduces more typical backpack type shoulder straps to spread the weight load more evenly.

Photo from
The upgrade version shown above retails for £49.00.

Fishpond Arroyo Chestpack

This bag gets 10 out of 10 for looks but overall I am quite disappointed with it. Again, the strap design places the majority of the weight on your neck, and to ensure that the bag remains firmly on your chest without it bouncing around too much, you have to tightly tighten the torso strap which feels quite constricting (especially in warm temperatures). Getting into the main compartment is also quite frustrating at times because the zip length is smaller than the width of the pack. On the plus side, it has enough space to easily fit in extras such as my sunglasses case and a compact camera. The Fishpond Arroyo retails for £49.99.

William Joseph Watermark Midge Chestpack

I have only recently purchased this pack and haven’t had a chance to field test it, but it looks and feels the part. It has substantially more carrying capacity than both the Orvis and Fishpond packs and it also has a similar sized rear pack (sufficient size for a sandwich, a bottle of water and more). It also feels more comfortable on than both the Fishpond and the Orvis pack because of the shoulder strap design (although the Orvis upgrade with shoulder straps looks pretty comfy too). Having said that though, the shoulder straps are quite wide fitting and I think it may not be suitable for most ladies and children. It is essentially a combined backpack and chestpack, and I wouldn’t want anything bigger. It retails for £44.99 but there is at least one retailer currently selling it for £29.99.

It all comes down to your own personal preference and I would recommend trying the pack on before purchasing it. If you are in the market for a chestpack I hope the above helps.


  1. Justin,

    I've gone back to a proper bag, for river fishing now. I use a copy of a Hardy test, but made for hunting. It has a wide stap and works a dream.

    I have tried packs mainly Simms, but found them all to small, as I like to take a small lunch, and drink, rain mac, and camera. That way I can stay out longer, or just sit and enjoy a siesta?

    It does not look cool, like a chestpack, but I rarely meet a sole on my travels.

  2. Hi Richard. I disagree, a Hardy bag (or lookalike) adds some 'style' to the look! If I used a bigger bag I would carry more, a small bag restricts me only to what I find is necessary. But for a full day hiking upstream I also take along a small, lightweight and waterproof backpack to carry my lunch, water and rain Mac.

  3. great article Justin.
    I've read it several times on diff occasions. what are your thought's/review on the midge chest pack now please?
    I am in the market, but I want to find one that is like my current old worn out and no longer made good 'waist bag', that can be moved up to function as a chest pack when doing some occasional deep wading.
    And also is larger than these ones you've featured.
    Have you seen any fishing waist bags on the market?