How To Choose The Right Fly Fishing Vest

These are pictures of fly fishing vests so people know what they look like.

A big question for fly fishermen and women is how do I choose the right fly fishing vest? Finding the best fly fishing vest is a tricky task, as there’s a number of different options on the market.

When it comes to spending time on the river, it’s incredibly important to choose the best fly vest you can afford. Now, this isn’t to say it’s imperative you spend $150+ on a vest, stick within your budget, but remember this is the second most used piece of equipment you’ll use.

Well, maybe third, if you’re counting waders. And on that note, not all fly fishing vests are created equal. When you’re standing in the middle of the river, with fish biting (or, not biting, but you’re still waist deep in rushing water), the last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around with your vest trying to locate a certain piece of tackle. If I’m talking to anybody but my wife, I’m telling them to buy the most expensive vest they can afford, because that’s how we roll.

Ok, maybe a little exaggeration on that last part.

Regardless, choose a vest that not only fits your budget, but also your fishing style. Do you like to use a backpack when you fly fish? Would you prefer to only use a vest? These are both big keys to choosing something that will serve you well on the water and it may be worth paying a bit more to get something that you like rather than “what works”.

Our 7 Best Fly Fishing Vests

What should I be looking for when choosing a fly fishing vest?

The easy route is to start talking about features. How many pockets there are, how easy these pockets open, backpack space, the durability, technology (pole strap, retractors) and so on.

However, we’d be out of line to assume budget doesn’t matter.. when it clearly means everything. The first, and most important thing to consider when you’re evaluating a vest is budget.

Picture of headwaters pro fishing vest.
Simms Headwaters Pro Fishing Vest

Can you afford a $150 Simms Headwaters Vest? Then buy it (because it’s good). If you can’t afford it, find something that’s offers the best quality, not features, at a price you can afford. A fly vest should stand the test of time, not offer every feature under the sun for a $40 price tag.

And yes, those $40 fly vests with every feature and shiny objects do exist, but we don’t highly recommend buying one. Why? When we make a recommendation, we want it to be the right recommendation.  If it’s too good to be true, then it just might be.

Bottom line, look to buy the best quality vest you can afford.  It’ll last you the longest, and have it will most likely provide the best comfort that a fly fishing vest has to offer.

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Evaluating durability in a vest

A couple things on this.

It’s very hard to evaluate how long a vest will last online, but there are a couple things to look for… product reviews are a great place to start.  People have most likely purchased the vest before you, and sometimes they will leave their opinions on it.  Amazon, Cabela’s, Aventuron and other fly fishing websites like AvidMax all sell fly fishing vests that will probably have product reviews.

Another way to tell if a vest is of high quality, is to see if it has a warranty from the company that crafted it.  If the vest has a lifetime warranty on it, you can probably assume that the vest is of great quality.  There is no way that a fly fishing company would offer a lifetime warranty on a vest that sucks, because they know that the vest isn’t good.  By offering a lifetime warranty on the vest, it tells us that the vest is actually pretty solid.

If you can get into a fly shop and actually try a vest on, that helps too.  But, it’s not required.  You might not have a fly fishing shop near you, leaving you with nowhere to go but online.  And that’s perfectly fine.

Going back to the cheap vests will all the bells and whistles.

The problem with the fly fishing vests that have all the bells and whistles for only 40 dollars, is that they usually don’t last very long.  There has to be a balance of the money coming into the product, think about it.  If you spend $40, you might be getting all the latest and greatest features in your vest, but you would most likely losing out on great comfort and quality.

Why is it that some brands can charge $200 for a vest, whereas some only charge $40?  It’s because the brands that charge those high price points create fly fishing vests with high quality, comfort, and include all the fancy new features too.  They’re also trusted because they’ve made great products for years.

With that being said, you really do get what you pay for with a vest. The first things to go are going to be zippers and buckles, so if a vest you fancy has a lot of them (the best true budget option would use only velcro and buttons) make sure you know what you’re getting in to.

If you’re new to the sport, brands like Orvis, Fishpond, Allen, Redington, Simms and Cabela’s are all brands you can trust.

There is a reason companies like this have been around for some time. The product speaks for itself.

How much space do you need in a vest?

One of the reasons I’m such a fan of the Fishpond Wasatch Vest is the space it offers. As you get further and further into your fly fishing career, you’re going to find that you’ll want to take more on the water.

Picture of Fishpond Wasatch.
Fishpond Wasatch Tech Pack Vest

Personally, my big space eater is fly boxes. Before I switched to Tacky Fly boxes, real estate in my vest was dominated by boxes (and candy bars, who doesn’t love a Snickers on the water?).

The short answer is, if you’re serious about fly fishing, you’re going to use more space in your vest.  If you’re just occasionally heading out to the river here and there, by all means pick up a lower end model of fishing vest.  It might not be the best quality, but that might not matter as much to you.  And that’s just fine!

Also, don’t forget to look for things like D-Rings (tippet line holders, line clippers, etc) and in the case of some packs, water bladders.

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What type of pockets do you prefer?

Would you rather fumble around in a pocket and save a hundred bucks, or have fold down fly benches with built in foam?

Experienced fly fishermen carry several boxes on the river (with everything from Nymphs to Streamers) and some like quick access to the flies that are hitting. This is where the bench style pockets suit an angler well.

Personally, I don’t mind keeping things completely organized with my fly boxes, so I don’t actually use the bench a bunch. On most vests, you can actually replace/remove this foam (which is what I ended up doing).

In addition, do you like floppy pockets? Do you fly in to your fishing spots? If that’s the case and you want to keep your vest loaded, a structurally sound pocket on your vest could come in handy.

What’s on the back of the fly fishing vest you’re after?

Do you use a separate back or chest pack? Do you carry water, onto the water? What’s your fishing style?

These are all questions that matter when you’re trying to choose the perfect vest for your next trip to the river.

If you’re the angler that prefers to put everything in one place, get a vest that offers a backpack built in.

Another option is buying something similar to the Allen vest that literally doesn’t have back side to it.  If you’re heading on walking distance trips, you could easily get away without a backpack. Do you fish to eat? If that’s the case make sure you get a setup where transportation and keeping the fish cool works well.

picture of allen gallatin ultra light fishing vest
Allen Gallatin Ultra Light Vest

Is the vest comfortable?

Comfort is another big topic to look into, when choosing a great fly fishing vest.  There is nothing worse than taking a day trip out to the river, just to find out the you have a strap cutting into your shoulder while you fish.

It really does struggle, so keep that in mind.  Make sure that vest you are purchasing has great comfort options with padding and breathable material.

One reason that a lot of anglers dislike fly fishing vests, is because they are super hot.  Well, if you get a vest that offers breathability, you won’t have that issue.  And part of the problem with getting a breathable vest is they’re typically not super cheap.  Unless you get a minimalist vest, then it’s usually not a big deal.

But if you want a vest that has a lot of storage, definitely make sure that it comes ventilated.

Do you need the vest to be waterproof?

Another big and awesome question.  Does it need to keep the water out?  Some vests offer water proof protection for cell phones or fly boxes, but not all of them.

When you are getting a vest, consider the waterproof/ resistant aspect of it.  Is there at least one completely sealed pocket for my phone?  The price of a new phone is a whole lot more expensive than the price of an elite fly fishing vest.

And maybe you’ve found a vest that you like, but it doesn’t have a waterproof storage pocket.  I would at least recommend getting a sealed waterproof phone pouch…  It could come in handy sometime.

The 7 Best Fly Fishing Vest Reviews

Simms Headwaters Pro Fishing Vest

Editor’s Choice Best Overall Fishing Vest

Pros:

  • 20 Pockets
  • Lightweight (15oz)
  • Breathable/ cool
  • Water resistant coating
  • Built on rod holder
  • Net D-Ring on back

Cons:

  • Price

As mentioned above, the Simms Headwaters Pro fly fishing vest is one of the best fly vests on the market.  It’s one of the highest quality of fishing vests on the market, and has a lot of storage to hold your gear.  The vest is lightweight, breathable and comfortable, unlike many other cheaper fishing vests.  Simms is one of the best fishing apparel brands in the world, and are very trusted.

Picture of Simms Headwaters Pro Fishing Vest, gear that should be owned.
Simms Headwaters Pro Fishing Vest

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Fishpond Wasatch Tech Pack

Editor’s Choice For Best Vest and Pack Combo

Pros:

  • Vest and pack combination allows for plenty of storage
  • Water bladder compatible
  • Comfortable
  • Quality build
  • Drop down fly benches
  • Fishpond lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Price
  • Water bladder not included

The Fishpond Wasatch Tech Pack is the best fly fishing vest and pack combinations available in 2020.  It is built by Fishpond, who have a great reputation for building top end fishing gear (tacky box).  Because the Tech Pack has both a vest and a pack, it has a lot of room to store extra fly boxes or food.  Not only that, but this vest has a lifetime warranty on manufacture’s defects on it, which will ensure the lifetime of your vest.  Take this one fly fishing, hiking or camping… you’ll have room to carry your gear.

This is a picture of the fishpond wasatch tech pack fly fishing vest.
Fishpond Wasatch Tech Pack Vest

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Orvis Pro Vest 

Editor’s Choice For The Most Comfortable Fly Fishing Vest

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight, abrasion resistance material
  • 18 pockets (10 exterior, 6 interior, 2 back)
  • Gear loops
  • Tri ring net holder

Cons:

  • Very spendy

The Orvis Pro Fishing vest is another fishing vest with a high end price tag, but you get what you pay for.  This vest is built with lightweight and abrasion resistant material to allow for long lasting durability and comfort.  It has 18 pockets for a lot of storage space, and gear loops to hold your nippers.  Orvis is a great fly fishing brand that we at Fly Fish and Camp recommend.

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Simms Freestone Vest

Editor’s Choice For Best Value Fly Fishing Vest

Pros:

  • 19 pockets
  • Padded collar
  • Lightweight (17oz)
  • Breathable material (nylon and polyester)
  • Great price

Cons:

  • Less storage dividers than other vests

The Simms Freestone Fishing vest is a great vest for fly anglers that want the best, but don’t want to pay the high end prices.  It has ample storage space with 19 pockets, a padded collar, and is made of lightweight and breathable material.  The vest itself might not have as much storage as a Fishpond Wasatch, but you also don’t have to pay the same price.  Simms is one of the cleanest and highest quality of fishing brands on the market.

This is a picture of the Simms Freestone Fishing Vest
Simms Freestone Fishing Vest

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Columbia Henry Fork V Vest 

Editor’s Choice For Best Minimalist Fly Fishing Vest

Pros:

  • Super Lightweight (100% polyester)
  • Comfortable + equal weight distribution design
  • Omni shield
  • 12 pockets
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Less storage than other vests
This is a picture of the Columbia Fork V fly fishing vest.
Columbia Henry’s Fork V Vest

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Allen Gallatin Ultra Light Vest

Editor’s Choice For Best Fly Fishing Vest Under $50

Pros:

  • Very optimized storage
  • Inexpensive
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Great fly fishing vest or around the house vest
  • No back strap

Cons:

  • Quality concerns

This vest is one of those vests that can be used as a fly fishing vest, or an around the house type vest.  It’s very minimalistic and is very inexpensive for the amount of space that it has to offer.  There might be some quality concerns here, but the reviews on amazon show that it appears to be a quality vest.

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Gihuo Fly Vest

Pros:

  • Minimalist fishing vest
  • Inexpensive
  • Decent storage space

Cons:

  • Quality concerns

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Related: Simms Freestone Fly Fishing Vest: Best Quality For Price Vest?

So all in all, choosing the perfect fly fishing vest comes down to.. you.

When you’re in the store, you’re looking online, ask yourself the above questions and match a vest to your budget.  If I was to recommend any vest on this list without budget a factor, I would suggest the Simms Headwaters Pro vest.  Otherwise I really like the Fishpond Wasatch.  Both are made with some of the highest quality materials and workmanship.   The storage is also second to none.

Regardless of what you choose, buy something that will fit your needs.  Hope this article helped, best of luck and tight lines my friend!

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