Before you can wade through your favorite streams and rivers, you’ll need to go through neck-deep piles of fly fishing gear. But, that’s why we’re here – to help you choose the best for you.
Chest packs are decidedly one of the most difficult products to select online.
You need something to carry all that essential gear, but how can you know if a particular chest pack is going to get-it-done from nothing more than a picture online?
Well, you don’t need to worry about that, because we’ve done all the research and found the three best options.
In a Hurry? Here's Our Top Pick
Umpqua Overlook 500 ZS
Why is it better than the rest?
3 Best Fly Fishing Chest Packs
With that in mind, let’s now take a closer look at our top picks.
Let’s dive into the specifics and review each chest pack individually. You can use the list below to jump and review specific models, or you can read along and go through all the information.
Best Overall: Umpqua Overlook 500 ZS
Our top pick is the Overlook 500 ZS from Umpqua. Umpqua is easily one of the most influential companies in the history of fly fishing.
In the early ’70s, Umpqua revolutionized the fly fishing world by providing nation-wide access to a huge array of high-quality fly patterns that were only available on a local level previously.
The Overlook 500 ZS maintains that high standard of quality that earned Umpqua their reputation all those years ago.
- Two internal retractor Hypalon attachment tabs
- Foam fly patch station (patch included)
- Full shoulder straps with complete 4-point back panel
- Two external stretch-mesh tippet/accessory pockets
- D-ring and web loops for net attachment
- Higher price
The wide shoulder straps are one of the key features of Umpqua’s Overlook 500 ZS. Scrawny support straps on some models become agonizing after a day of carrying the necessary gear around.
But the Overlook 500 ZS provides superb comfort and support with a wide shoulder strap to distribute the weight. The waist and shoulder straps feature sizing buckles that allow for ample adjustment with a snag-free design.
Umpqua also integrated as much mesh as possible into the design of the Overlook 500 ZS to prevent overheating the angler.
The contact surfaces of both the front and rear panels, as well as the shoulder straps, are primarily constructed from breathable mesh framed by 420 denier nylon. High wear areas are reinforced with rugged Ballistic Cordura.
The impressive storage options Umpqua has incorporated into this are unequaled. After all, packs primarily store gear, so we will cover storage capacity and some details.
The internal dimensions measure 5 x 12 x 9 inches, which is broken up into a number of storage compartments. Umpqua lists the Overlook 500 ZS as offering a large main compartment that can hold four large fly boxes.
That is going to depend on your fly boxes, but we enjoy the Bozeman Flyworks Waterproof Fly Boxes that measure 6 x 4 x 2 inches.
The front pocket is still generous but thinner and divided up into compartments that are ideal for smaller items like extra leaders, fishing licenses, strike indicators, etc.
You can also fit extra spools of tippet as long as you don’t stack them more than four high. The Overlook 500 ZS also sports two internal retractor attachment tabs.
The externals of the Overlook 500 ZS boast a couple of nipper stations, tool sheaths, a foam fly patch, two stretchy mesh pockets, and D-ring and loops for net attachment points. The back panel has a mesh pocket that can hold a light rain jacket.
If your needs change, the Overlook 500 ZS can change to suit them. For additional storage, Umpqua designed the 550-cubic-inch Mesh Back Compartment sold as a combination kit with the Overlook 500 ZS.
The Mesh Back Compartment is hydration-compatible and adds 550 cubic inches (9 liters) of compartment space. But what if you need even more storage like the storage required for longer hikes or multi-day trips?
Umpqua designed the Overlook 500 ZS to integrate with the Surveyor 2000 ZS Backpack which is sold separately.
In our experience, that’s a great balance between providing what you need without going overboard. After all, if you need a lightweight, high-speed pack, then you shouldn’t need to carry all the pounds you wanted to leave behind in the giant fly vest.
And with the popularity of fishing packs and hiking to reach untouched waters, the possibility of integration with a hiking pack is genius.
Umpqua recognized this sort of packs can be a tripping hazard if you can’t see your feet. Wading can be tricky as it is without the challenge of a giant blind spot on your chest.
The main compartment of the Overlook 500 ZS sports a unique taper to allow for improved visibility while wading.
The taper also promotes unobstructed arm movement while casting. Umpqua managed to wisely shape the external dimensions without sacrificing precious internal space.
- Dimensions: Large
- Backpack Compatible: Yes
- YKK zippers
- Body fabric – 420 Denier Nylon
Fishpond Thunderhead Chest Pack
Our second choice is the Thunderhead Chest Pack.
Fishpond gear is synonymous with quality and many of their products are the standard for guides and die-hard anglers.
The Fishpond Thunderhead is another rock-solid offering from Fishpond.
The Thunderhead is fully water-resistant so your gear will only get wet when you want it to.
- 1680D TPU coated recycled nylon
- Fully waterproof TIZIP zipper closure on the main compartment
- Front stretch mesh pocket with zipper closure
- Lightweight foam back panel with an integrated net slot for holding long or short handle nets
- Interior organization with one zippered pocket, and one clear stash pocket for small gear
- The front zipper pouch is not very deep
The pack has a watertight design with a strong submersible zipper. You can take on deep wading, surf spray, or heavy rain without getting your gear soaked.
At only 16.8 oz. the pack itself adds very little weight to the shoulders of the angler wearing it. Fishpond also designed a supportive shoulder harness which provides it with a light feel even while carrying a substantial amount of gear.
If you are a serious angler that spends whole days on the water, then you know how important comfortable shoulder support is. And maybe you like to hike into remote fisheries.
Fishpond considered that and designed the pack to integrate with their fishing backpacks if an angler wants to carry additional gear.
The Thunderhead has what you need, but isn’t overloaded with useless features either. Packs and vests that cover you with thick padding can easily cause overheating.
Thankfully Fishpond designed the Thunderhead to avoid covering your back with much material.
We particularly like the ability to wear it very snug if needed. Most packs are adjustable but cannot be tightened enough to minimize movement. The Thunderhead allows for almost entirely eliminating movement if needed.
The main pocket on the Thunderhead provides space for everything you need and has plenty of room for a couple of medium fly boxes depending on dimensions.
The main pocket has an internal hanging sleeve that can hold thin accessories like leaders.
In addition to the primary pocket, the pack features a stretch mesh pocket with a zipper closure on the front of the pack that can fit a small fly box or accessories like indicators or dry shake.
The exterior of the pack keeps the distractions and snags to a minimum. It features exterior Hypalon tabs for tools and accessory attachment.
Fishpond added more tool storage options by incorporating areas for retractors, floatants, or zingers. It has a handy patch-on tippet tender and float holder.
The lightweight back panel offers an integrated net slot for holding your net whether that’s a short or long-handled net. But if you prefer a net release, Fishpond included a D-ring to provide for magnetic or clip releases.
As is to be expected, the quality of the materials and workmanship is truly premium. Fishpond uses a 1680D TPU coated recycled nylon to construct the Thunderhead Chest Pack.
One of our favorite features is the modular design. The pack can ride really high on your chest, or the straps can be removed entirely and the pass-through webbing allows for attachment to a wading belt or raft frame.
However you choose, the waterproof coating keeps your gear from getting hosed.
The ability to wear the pack high on your chest also allows your arms to move freely. Chest packs that ride above the level of your elbows tend to provide a better range of movement.
Whether you are casting, working a drift, or retrieving line, you would rarely grip your fly rod at chest level. Fishpond shows their knowledge and experience in the practical needs that anglers face on the water.
The smart design and reasonable price make the Thunderhead one of our top choices.
- Dimensions: Medium
- Backpack Compatible: Yes
- 1680D TPU coated recycled nylon
- Exterior Hypalon tabs
Temple Fork Outfitters 255 Chest Pack
Our third spot goes to the TFO 255MCP. Temple Fork Outfitters has a reputation for producing solid fishing tools at great prices that truly rival the feel and performance of high-end gear.
The TFO 255MCP advances that reputation with a rock-solid pack at a fair price. The TFO 255MCP is streamlined and high-speed. That is precisely what some anglers need, a fishing pack that is ready to rock and roll without all the distractions.
- Water-repellent fabrics
- Corrosion-resistant zippers with large zipper pulls
- One size fits most
- Adjustable waist and padded neck strap
- Multiple tabs and loops for accessories
- No noticable cons
With that in mind, TFO designed the 255MCP with a padded neck strap rather than full shoulder straps along with a back panel.
The neck strap has a thick pad and is very comfortable since the weight-carrying capacity will be less than that of a shoulder supported pack.
Not all neck straps are the same, and, accordingly, some will be more comfortable than others. When purchasing from the internet, it is beneficial to see if you can try it or other gear on to check the comfort.
Understandably, that is not always a possibility. Thankfully the waist and neck strap buckles on the TFO 255MCP provide a good amount of adjustment to help the pack ride comfortably.
If you fish in the hot sun then you know lightweight, cool-natured materials are key in keeping a full day on the water enjoyable.
Sweating profusely has a tendency to cut the day short when water supplies run dry anyhow. The TFO 255MCP keeps body contact to a minimum and has a very cooling effect in hot weather.
The back panel features five very nice raised vent pads to keep the angler comfortable during summer fishing. TFO discovered a great balance between utility and comfort without minimizing the TFO 255MCP any more than necessary.
And with no rear panel covering the angler’s back, the TFO 255MCP is ideal for summertime fishing.
There are 5 primary pockets on the TFO 255MCP. The main pocket somewhat resembles a 12-inch square that tapers from the bottom up. TFO provides ample storage in this large pocket that can fit multiple fly boxes depending on the size.
But it’s safe to say there should be plenty of room for 2-3 average size fly boxes.
The additional 4 primary pockets can also store spare fly boxes if needed. The pockets also feature secondary internal pockets that are perfect for small items like dry shake, extra leaders, and indicators.
And the front of the TFO 255MCP features a molded drop-down pocket with a removable wavy-foam fly patch for quick access to your favorite patterns.
The externals of the TFO 255MCP provide generous storage in assorted mesh pockets. It has a rugged construction overall with durable water-repellent fabrics, corrosion-resistant zippers that will endure the destructive effects of saltwater, and all the primary pockets sporting big zipper pulls.
Of course, there are multiple attachment points, tabs, and loops for accessories. The only feature we wished was available is a D-ring on the back of the neck strap to attach a net.
A key part of safe wading is being able to see where you are stepping. A good fishing pack needs to stay out of the way while casting as well.
That does more than just help you to enjoy yourself–it keeps you safe when you hike a few miles out of the way to your favorite stretch of the river.
It gets annoying to have a big and blocky item bouncing off your arm every time you cast. And you can snag your line on the pack if it is in the way all the time. It can really be sub-optimal, to say the least.
Also, as we previously mentioned, packs that stand out from the chest too much are a real tripping hazard when you’re rock hopping and navigating demanding terrain. Functionality is important not only to keep you happy but to also keep you safe.
The shape of the TFO 255MCP maximizes your range of vision because it’s unique taper doesn’t block your vision on the sides. That is exactly where you will be placing your feet as you walk.
That same taper also optimizes the range of movement, so your casting arm can move about freely without the annoyance of a pack bouncing off your arm.
Given the function, comfort, and great price point of the TFO 255MCP, we don’t hesitate to recommend it as one of our top-rated fishing tools.
- Dimensions: Medium
- Backpack Compatible: No
- 5 Pockets with oversized zippers
- Molded front pocket with removable foam fly patch
Top Fly Fishing Chest Pack Benefits
Fishing vests have a whole lot of fabric, a whole lot of pockets, carry a whole lot of weight, and retain a whole lot of heat. Most fly anglers start with a fishing vest and eventually find it to be a miserable sweater.
Summertime fishing in a vest is great if you’re trying to drop water weight, but all the extra pockets get filled with useless little gizmos and boxes that rarely get cracked open. Eventually, the fishing vest becomes a burden.
Fishing backpacks, hip packs, or waist packs are no help, either. The first two will not allow you easy access to your tools, since they will be at inconvenient positions. The last one will cause difficulty, especially when you’re wading, since you’ll sometimes be more than waist-deep in water.
Chest packs, on the other hand, are made to be carried on the most reasonable part of the body for those fishing for streamers and nymphs alike. They certainly beat lumbar packs in this category.
These packs streamline the storage of your fishing gear. You can find micro designs that are the ultimate lightweight gear carriers as well as larger options to carry more fly boxes and tackle boxes.
In addition to enough storage space available for your essential gear, some of these packs feature hydration pouches, but even if they don’t, they have enough space to store a few water bottles or your own hydration pouch for long sessions.
Today’s industry-leading manufacturers also design their chest packs to be compatible with their backpacks, offering more convenience. Some, like MaximumCatch, take it even a step further with designs that can entertain a vest, a sling pack, a backpack, and a chest pack just in one product. So if you end up wanting more storage in the future, it’s worth investing in the more adaptable models.
Some of us wade deep. In fact, some of us get a few splashes over the waders and even take on a little water. Admittedly that isn’t always done on purpose either.
Wet gear isn’t the end of the world. Particularly if it’s simple enough to set your things out to dry. But, if wet gear can be avoided, then obviously that’s ideal.
After all, we wear waders, buy waterproof fly boxes, and wear rain gear in the rain. Maybe a waterproof chest pack or fly fishing sling pack is worth considering.
These packs are the answer to a ton of problems. You can find one in every size. Many companies minimize surface contact to make the angler feel much cooler than being wrapped in a traditional fly fishing vest.
They are lightweight and can ride high on the angler’s chest for deep-water wading. Good chest packs won’t snag your line or get in the way while casting.
In fact, the best one is the one you don’t even notice you are wearing until you need a fly, tippet, or some forceps to release your quarry.