Vest vs. Sling Pack vs. Hip Pack vs. Backpack and More

Which options fit your needs?

Pack options for anglers have exploded over the last decade or so, and vests have become lighter and more comfortable, with more technical features. With such a variety of tackle-storage options, there is no one answer to the question, “Which is better, a fly-fishing vest, a sling pack, waist pack, chest pack, or a hip pack?” for all experiences. However, you should treat a pack or vest as any tool designed for a collection of uses — wading from the car in spring, wet-wade hiking to backcountry lakes in late summer, float trips, and so on. Mix in those desired uses with a heavy dose of personal preference, and you’ll find the right pack for you.

To help you narrow down the best fly-fishing pack or vest for your needs, I talked to some of our endorsed guides from across the country to get their own personal preferences for fishing in different conditions. And, of course, you’re invited to share your bag or vest preferences in the comments below.

The Guides’ Take

“I find a time and place for each pack — waist, sling, or full backpack. On days guiding in Yellowstone National Park, I carry spare jackets, water bottles, first-aid kit, bear spray, snacks, and all of my fly boxes (plus a spare rod or two for clients) and use a backpack. When fishing for myself, I find that a larger sling pack does the trick for extra layers, some food and drink, and my fishing gear. When I’ve layered up in the colder months, I prefer not to have anything over my shoulders due to the bulk of my waders and clothing. That’s when the waist pack — and plentiful jacket pockets — best suits my needs. I guess the solution is to have one of each!” – Mike Mansfield has been guiding in Southwestern Montana for 20 years, formerly for Montana Angler.

Product developer and our resident Euro-nymphing expert, Jesse Haller, prefers a vest.

“The beauty of the options available today is that there is seldom a need to compromise when selecting a tackle-management system. On days when I’m primarily in a boat, I use a waterproof boat or tackle bag. This allows a handy storage system for my gear and keeps my flies dry and my body unencumbered with the weight of a vest. When I plan on wading for a day, whether it be on a river, stream or saltwater flat, I prefer to use a sling pack. This gives me enough space for fly boxes, tippet, leader, a rain jacket and water. This changes when I’m guiding clients and need to carry more gear, and beverages and lunch. Then I switch from the sling pack to a day-size backpack. If I’ll be on the river for a shorter period and not far from my vehicle, and when spot hopping from a vehicle, I prefer a good old-fashioned lightweight vest. The pockets in the vest give me ample room for fly boxes and other trinkets we reach for while on the stream and are easy to get to. During cooler weather when the bulk of my clothing is an issue, I’ll bail on the vest and either go to a sling pack or waist pack depending on how much tackle and other stuff I feel a need to take along.” – Joe Demalderis has been a full-time fly-fishing guide for over 25 years, named Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year in 2010. He owns Cross Current Guide Service and makes his home waters on the Upper Delaware River System.

“Chest pack, backpack, sling pack, etc. Choice. Choice. Choice. Guiding can be fairly physical so personally, I’ll use different packs depending on the trip; but very often I go back to the Orvis chest pack. It’s light, has plenty of room and I can move it around my body, so it’s out of the way. To me traveling light is key: I can move longer and faster without getting tired. A good pack that survives all the abuses will become your best friend. But again, as Truel Myers of the Orvis Fly-Fishing School says, ‘The situation will dictate what you’re going to do.’” – Antoine Bissieux taught thousands to fly fish at the Orvis Fly-Fishing School in Manchester, VT. Now you can find Antoine (The French Fly Fisherman) and his FJ Cruiser year-round on the Farmington River and surrounding rivers in Connecticut and the adjacent Northeast.

For backcountry trips, a backpack allows you to carry the essentials.

“Our home waters here in Arkansas have us using a boat as part of our daily program. For me, the boat bag is the key piece. It’s ‘home base’ and the mothership. I love this piece. It’s not too big, not too small and most importantly, not a fly-line trap. The next, almost as critically important, piece is the hip pack. When we drop the anchor and take off on foot, separating ourselves from the mothership, I will have the hip pack with the must-have essentials for our wading session.” – Jamie Rouse co-owns Rouse Fly Fishing with his wife Kati, based on the Little Red River in Arkansas. Jamie was Guide of the Year in 2007 and has been an Orvis Endorsed Guide since 2004.

“As a guide along the Colorado Front Range, I’m primarily wade-fishing. I’ve used vests, hip packs, but decided I prefer the sling packs. Besides storing everything I need, it’s comfortable on my back, easily keeps my net secure, and rides a little higher for those deeper river crossings. When I do have an opportunity to float, I put the sling in a drop bag and have access to whatever I need.” – Scott Dickson has been working and guiding in the fly-fishing industry since 1999. Primarily a walk wade guide for Trouts Fly Fishing, he puts in many miles hiking around the Deckers area of the South Platte River, as well as the Dream Stream, Blue, Eagle, and Colorado.

A regular-size sling pack is perfect to wet-wading on small stream when you don’t need to carry lots of flies.

So is one vest or one bag all you need? You can certainly fish a variety of conditions enjoyably with one tackle storage solution for all of your fishing — you may find, however, that your sling pack can be cumbersome on long hikes to alpine lakes, or your vest can’t store a rain jacket and water bottle for longer days wading from the car. With that in mind, here are some pros and cons of selecting a single vest or pack as your only tackle storage solution.

Fly-Fishing Vest


  • Everything you need is within easy grasp in front of your torso.
  • Wears seamlessly over light layers like a fishing shirt or a shell without insulating layers.


  • Limited storage for bigger items.
  • Can feel bulky when layered over winter clothing and a shell.

Sling Pack


  • Fits a ton of gear, generally second only to a backpack.
  • Easy access to everything you need, whether it’s forceps on the chest strap, or your tippet spool and interior compartments within reach at the swing of the bag under your arm.


  • Not as comfortable as a backpack for longer treks.

Hip Pack


  • Carries almost as much as a sling pack, while remaining less bulky.
  • Stays out of the way when you don’t need it, but is easily accessible when you do.


  • Smaller capacity than a sling pack or backpack.
  • Needs to be waterproof if you plan to wade past your waist.

Chest Pack


  • As accessible as a vest.
  • Can carry larger fly boxes.
  • Outside zipper panels usually act as a convenient tray when opened.


  • Smaller capacity than other pack options.
  • Can be uncomfortable when wading or walking longer distances.

Fly-Fishing Backpack

Bug-Out Daypack (left), PRO Waterproof Backpack 30L, and PRO Waterproof Roll Top Backpack 20L


  • Can carry everything you need for a day on the water, including clothing layers for changing weather, food, big streamer boxes, and more.
  • Comfortable on long treks to alpine lakes and creeks, or remote river accesses.


  • More difficult to access most pockets than other pack options.
  • Unnecessarily bulky for wading short distances from the car, lodge, or boat.

Boat Bag


  • It’s designed for a day on a boat and lugging everything you need.


  • It’s designed for a day on a boat.

Orvis Carry It All


  • It’s a great way to organize your gear in the car.


  • It doesn’t accommodate 2-piece or some longer fly rods.

Still not sure which fly-fishing pack would be best for you? Stop in a store and try some on. Walk around and see how they feel. Do you already have a favorite? Let us know in the comments.

25 thoughts on “Vest vs. Sling Pack vs. Hip Pack vs. Backpack and More”

  1. If you’re a beginner, the selection process can be simplified by the issue of hydration. Some people can go hours without water and some can’t. If you need to have a bottle of water with you, then a vest or chest pack are probably not the right options. Go with either a sling pack or a lumbar pack. Both provide for secure storage of a water bottle.

  2. A neck lanyard and a small chest pack used together are light and can carry plenty of items on an hours long fishing day. I also carry a Nalgene bottle filled with water and a collapsible staff on my belt. Works great!

    1. After a day last weekend scampering over the rocks in Shenandoah National Park, I’m thinking your sling-and-lanyard approach might be a big improvement over my current vest. It was cumbersome when layered over a rain coat and other layers. My only question now is waterproof or not.

  3. I really like the concept of a sling pack. What I can’t understand is why all of the major manufacturers design them to hang off the right shoulder. This is most peoples casting shoulder and creates extra strain on it. A left shoulder sling pack would be great!

    1. A few brands make them interchangeable. Check out the spider-wire or field & stream slings. Just remember your casting shoulder is also the shoulder that is up the most. Your other shoulder is usually working down… a sling on that side would be more likely to slip off.

  4. I’m a lefty and accessories points on the Orvis sling pack are made for righties (I tried it on in the Orvis store and used a friends older model. I’m an avid Orvis fan but went to Vedavoo for sling packs (Check them out, Kyle!). I love my Galeforce back pack-the older model is still kicking for the last 3 years. Orvis, thanks for another informative article.

    1. I have purchased a left shoulder Vedavoo sling pack. Its not perfect but certainly the best sling I have ever used.
      I think I saw in a video recently though with a left shoulder sling pack made by Orvis in it. Julia is it possible that Orvis has come to their senses and is going to sell a left shoulder sling pack in the future?

    2. I use a lanyard & small waterproof hip pack with water bottle carrier…or if i want to go light I use a lanyard and life straw…i graduated from the vest in the 90’s…

  5. I used a pack for years and decided to try a vest a few months ago. I prefer the vest! My vest has lots of pockets and places to hook accessories. It’s easy!!! I like to keep it simple.!!!

    1. I have an old Cabella vest and I’m thinking of upgrading but don’t know which one to choose. After reading your thoughts on a vest I too like to keep it simple ! Thanks Lisa, Best regards and Happy Fishing

  6. I have a Columbia Henry’s Fork vest that I have worn fo 40 years and won’t give it up. Works well for me. Have a waist pack, sling pack and chest pack and they sit idol. Don’t really care for any of them. Guess I am just so used to the vest and don’t want to change.

  7. For the flats chasing bonefish … I’ve tried them all. Keep coming back to the smaller Orvis sling pack.

    Water easily accessible (with a straw lid on the bottle). Raincoat fits inside. Room for everything else I’ll need in the boat or away from the boat wading. The XLT Fly Trap tippet bar keeps tippet and top flies readily at hand. I’ve cut off the chest strap. Useless.

    Waterproof versions? Naw. So the stuff gets wet so what.

    1. When you’re carrying an expensive camera, an extra layer, or don’t want to have to air dry out all your fly boxes, keeping things dry is extremely important.

  8. I use a fishpond tech vest. Has a backpack on the back for hydration bladder, extra clothing, rain gear, and lunch…the front has tons of pockets in and out. The straps are adjustable at the shoulders and waist so even with bulky cold weather gear on it’s still not to bad. I stay thirsty all the time and need a camel pack type deal so even when I did a chest or lumbar pack I carried a small backpack for the hydro bladder and lunch

  9. Just a thought why don’t vests have slanted pocket. \/ for fly boxes. I would think getting the boxes in and out would be easier

  10. I am a Sling kind of angler, nothing in front for casting without trouble, fly lines will find the place to get caught, you can count on that. Then, I have a minimalist, half day sling, 3 boxes, net holder, nippers, hemostats and a leader wallet for making a mini tip with my floating line, you can do that with a 4 weight and fish soft hackles like a dream. For a full day, a mid size sling will do the trick to carry a half full water bottle, same fly boxes, extra spool, lightweight rain jacket or other layer. Big guide sling for streamer full day or multi day fishing trip when you fill with gloves, sun screen, extra spools, big big fly box, rain jacket, extra rod. Also got a water resistant, roll top backpack for rainy dump, days, when it never stops raining cats and dogs, that´s your weapon of choice.

  11. I have an ugly stick sling pack and have unsuccessfully spent two years trying to figure out how to wear it. Either the padded strap isn’t in place on my shoulder or the compartments are sideways when I slide the pack around. Is it me or poor design?

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