When you’re wading in search of brook trout, you don’t have the luxury of a tackle bag. Instead, you’ve got to carry all the equipment you might need with you, and that means a good fly fishing vest.
An essential buy for fly anglers, a good vest has space for your flies, leader, tippet, pliers, net, insect repellent … well, you get the idea!
And it needs to be comfortable and hard-wearing, too!
We take our fly fishing seriously, and if you need advice on your next vest, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll find a brief buying guide as well as reviews of some of our favorite fly fishing vests:
Quick glance at the best fly fishing vests:
Table of Contents (clickable)
Simms’s Freestone fly fishing vest is a thoughtfully-designed, mid-range option between products like the G3 and the entry-level Anglatech. Packed with features that will appeal to fly fishermen, it’s a great choice if you want high performance at a reasonable price point.
Truly a purpose-built angling tool, it’s cut to fit high on your back and abdomen, keeping the gear it holds out of deep water. That’s essential in my experience, as vests that are long enough to hit your waist are going to get wet every time.
Made from durable, quick-drying nylon, it offers a padded collar and a breathable mesh liner. It closes in the front via an adjustable plastic fastener that’s tough as nails. The result is a lightweight, cool-wearing, comfortable vest that gets high marks from lots of anglers.
It tends to run true to size, and there’s no need to size up to get plenty of space for casting. The Freestone is well-designed, and your shirt or jacket size will fit well and give you plenty of “give” for angling.
Simms knows fly fishing, and in this vest, 19 pockets allow you to organize your fly fishing gear like a pro.
Two large vertical pockets on the chest can store fly boxes, and beneath their Velcro closures, you’ll find small stash pockets perfect for items like indicators. You’ll also have two Velcro slash pockets to either side of the chest opening.
You’ll also find a fly-drying patch on the left chest.
At your waist, expect two large, horizontal pockets that close with durable zippers, each wearing two flap-closure pockets.
On the inside, you’ll find two large mesh pockets at chest-level, plus four Velcro-closure drop pockets.
There’s also a large zippered pocket to the rear.
That’s enough storage for even the most gear-obsessed angler, and it’s thoughtfully arranged to provide quick, one-handed access.
You’ll also find two Hypalon attachments for tools on the chest and a D-ring for your net on the back, above the zippered pocket.
I doubt you can find a fly angler who’s not familiar with the Orvis brand, and it comes as no surprise their Pro vest is a worthy addition to our list.
Built from abrasion-resistant nylon with Spandex panels at the shoulders to increase comfort, the Pro is perhaps the easiest vest to wear that we review. Thoughtful design elements like capacious armholes, a padded collar, and stretchy, padded shoulders can entice you to forget you’re even wearing it.
And rather than a zippered front closure, you’ll find a single, adjustable fastener that moves up and down to allow for a custom fit.
Be forewarned, however, that the Orvis Pro is on the long side, and unlike higher-cut options, it has a tendency to get wet in deep water.
The Pro provides 18 pockets to organize your gear, and I think the way they’re laid out is nice.
Two medium-sized zippered pockets offer you plenty of chest storage, and each also holds a hideaway tool port and fly-drying patch. That’s a nice touch, and these ports work well.
Below them, you’ll find two large, compression-molded pockets with small zippered pockets on their fronts. There’s also a large, vertically zippered pocket to the right of the main opening.
To the rear, you’ll find a large mesh pocket that gives you access to the interior as well as the large zippered compartment.
The interior pockets are capacious stretch-mesh affairs, though I’d like to see some zippers or Velcro fasteners here, too.
Expect the usual D-ring for your net to the rear, as well as a loop or two for more tools.
Overall, this may be the most comfortable vest on our list, but while there’s plenty of space for gear, I think the vests from Simms offer more--and better--organizational options.
If you fish where the sun is blazing and the humidity leaves the air thick, you’ll appreciate Simms Headwaters Pro Mesh vest. Basically a hard-wearing nylon mesh with thoughtfully placed pockets, you’re simply not going to find a design that’s better for scorching temperatures.
As you’d expect from Simms, the collar is padded for comfort, and the vest itself is cut high to keep it out of deep water. A single adjustable connection closes the Headwaters vest, and it’s hard to fault this product for overall comfort.
In terms of storage, the Headwaters wears the majority of the pockets of the excellent Freestone, minus only the two vertical Velcro pockets on either side of the front seam. That doesn’t cut down much on storage, to be sure, and the Headwaters more than makes up for this in hot-weather comfort and extra mesh storage options in the rear.
And if that weren’t enough, the Headwaters adds two built-in retractors, one on each side of the chest. For my money, that’s huge, as having your nippers and hemostat securely attached but usable is awesome.
You still get two front D-rings for more tools and, of course, a D-ring to the rear for your net.
If you run hot or fish in a region where the heat is nigh unbearable, the Headwaters Pro Mesh is probably the best fly vest money can buy.
Simms’s G3 Guide fishing vest is probably as close to perfect as you’ll ever find. Designed with features you’ll quickly come to love, unless you’re fishing in intolerable heat, it’s very hard to equal.
The G3 Guide is cut high, as you’d expect, and that really helps to keep the lower pockets dry when you wade into deep water. The shoulders and collar are nicely padded, pretty much exactly like the other offerings from Simms.
Instead of a single adjustable fastener, the G3 wears a heavy-duty zipper up the front. Whether this is an improvement or not is up for debate, and it’s worth noting that this vest is a touch warmer than the Freestone and certainly a great deal warmer than the Headwaters.
That said, it’s certainly a very comfortable vest, and it fits true to size.
To my eye, the G3 wears thicker, more durable rip-stop nylon as well, and if you make long, nasty hikes through brush to your favorite spots, that’s something you’ll appreciate.
The G3 Guide’s storage is unmatched: 24 pockets, all thoughtfully arranged, allow you to store all your fly fishing essentials.
On the front, this vest offers everything the Headwaters does, plus two more weather-proofed horizontal zippered pockets, two additional zippered compartments on the chest cargo pockets, and an extra fly-drying patch on the right side.
Simms attached four D-rings up front for gear, plus two built-in retractors with magnetic docking. I can’t imagine any angler who might need this many, but what all these D-rings offer are unparalleled options for where to attach your tools.
That’s awesome, as the G3 is as close to custom as you’ll find!
On the interior, you’ll find four Velcro drop pockets, and on the back, the usual deep bellows pocket, the zippered compartment up high, and of course, a D-ring for your net.
As Simms’s top of the line product, the G3 Guide isn’t cheap. But real-world fly anglers are uniformly satisfied with the money they’ve spent on this excellent fishing vest, and in my opinion, it’s well worth the money.
Anglatech’s “backpack” is really a vest, and though it’s relatively inexpensive, it’s a good option for anglers who can’t afford the Simms and Orvis price point.
To my eye, the Anglatech looks like a modified PFD, which makes a lot of sense. It’s cut reasonably high, has a narrow back, and sports the adjustable closures common to its life-saving brethren. Available in a single size, you use these closures to provide fit, and they do a reasonable job.
This vest closes with a central zipper, and in this case, that’s a weakness to attend to. It frequently fails, either breaking entirely, coming unzipped, or just functioning poorly. Anticipate some needed jury-rigging.
And of course, you can’t expect the level of comfort you’ll get from Simms and Orvis, but the Anglatech can be made to fit almost anyone.
This fishing vest wears some interior padding, which is good, but that concession to comfort is going to heat things up a bit. Probably the warmest vest on our list, I’d recommend reserving it for cooler weather. As if Anglatech was reading my review, they’ve nodded to this reservation by adding a 1.5-liter water reservoir at the rear with a handy drinking tube on the left chest.
That’s a nice touch, and hydration is important!
The front offers two large vertical pockets with two separate zippered spaces in each. They’re plenty big, and you can definitely stow a fly box or two where you can reach them. There’s also a mesh drop pocket on either side, and two slash zippered pockets up high.
That doesn’t give you a lot of options for storage, to be sure, but the good news is that you can’t run out of places to tie-on tools. Pretty much everywhere you look, there’s either a reinforced eye or loop for attaching nippers, hemostats, or anything else you might need. And with so many points of attachment, customizing your tool positions is simple.
In the back, you’ll find a big zippered pocket to access the water bladder, and plenty of space to store rain gear, line, or pretty much anything else you might need. There are also a few ripstop nylon loops for attaching things other than your net. Expect the usual D-ring up high.
I don’t want to be overly critical of the Anglatech fishing vest. It’s a solid option for anglers on a tight budget, and it offers lots of tool attachment options as well as reasonable storage.
As a budget-friendly spring and fall fly fishing vest, it’s certainly worth a second look.
It may seem strange at first that I rate comfort so highly, but think about it: if your fly fishing vest rubs you the wrong way, fits poorly, or roasts you alive in the sun, you’re not going to wear it.
Look for features like mesh panels, adjustable straps, and true-to-size fit.
Adjustable closures, padded collars, stretch panels, and other features designed to improve fit and comfort are icing on the cake.
With everything from tippet to floats, fly dressing to your flies themselves, the primary purpose of a fly fishing vest is to keep your gear organized and ready to hand.
You’ll want pockets of various sizes: some small ones for fly dressing or indicators, as well as large ones for spools of tippet or leader and, of course, your fly boxes.
But don’t forget things like sunscreen, insect repellent, a knife-- as you already know, the list gets long quick!
You’ll want a vest that has a good mix of pocket options to fit the things you plan to bring.
I also consider how accessible these pockets are. Can I open the pocket, get what I need, put it back, and secure the pocket again--all with one hand? Are they zippered, buttoned, elasticized, or Velcro-closure?
What about interior pockets? Rear pockets?
Finally, retractors are really nice for items like hemostats and pliers because they keep your tools where you need them and enable you to use them without losing them in the water. I also like to see a few D-rings for rigging a line nipper or other useful tool where I can get at it easily.
It’s not essential to have retractors, but once you use them, you’ll see why a vest that offers them is worth the money you’ll pay for it!
Everything from the zippers to the seams to the primary fabric itself needs to be able to take a beating.
Be sure that the zippered closures--especially the one on the front of the vest--are of high quality. If you’ve ever had a zipper separate or catch on an interior lining, you know just how important that can be!
The fabric from which the vest is constructed should be durable ripstop nylon, preferably treated with a water repellant from the manufacturer. That will help keep you and your gear dry while you fish, and it should help shed fish slime, dirt, and mud as well.
We hope that this article has helped you pick your next fly fishing vest, and if it has, we’d love to hear from you!
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