Pros: Well made,fly vest/backpack adjusts for personal size and load size - great balance and comfort.
Cons: Single size may not adjust to smaller framed individuals.
THE BEST BACKCOUNTRY FLY FISHING VEST -
FISHPOND WASATCH TECH PACK
Dimensions (unloaded): 9.5 in. x 5 in. x 17.5 in.
Volume (Backpack portion): 950 cu. in.
Weight: 2.62 lbs
Colors: Marsh/ Carbon or Deepwater Blue
Suggested Retail: $159 (2007), $169 (2008)
Sizes: One size fits most
PROS - Well constructed, versatile combination of fly fishing vest and backpack that adjusts for personal size and load size, with great balance and weight carrying comfort. Lots of innovative features for $160.
CONS Single size may not adjust to the smallest-framed individuals. Fly trays are convenient, but more susceptible to moisture than boxes.
BOTTOM LINE The best technical fly fishing vest on the market for those that need to carry a lot of gear.
Up until recently, Ive had a problem for a long time. Ive earned my living as a fly fishing instructor and guide for over two decades, and have spent thousands of days toting fly gear into, along, and out of rivers and streams; we often wade in deep, fast water. Ive always preferred the traditional short-style fly fishing vest for organizing my tackle, where its secure, but easily accessible. If well designed and properly fitted, vests distribute weight evenly and symmetrically across the shoulders and front and back, and stay high and dry above navel deep water.
My fly fishing buddies, over the years, have coaxed me into using their favored alternatives to the vest; Ive tried daypacks, hip sacks, shoulder bags, and chest packs. For one reason or another, they didnt fit my needs; not enough room, too low for staying dry, asymmetrical for poor balance in precarious conditions, etc., etc.
My problem was that my vest wasnt perfect either. As a guide, I often carried rainwear, extra fly boxes, water bottles, and sometimes two or three lunches. Even though I had a relatively high volume vest, at full capacity the stuff would expand inward as well as outward, making the non-adjustable vest uncomfortably tight, particularly when worn over cold weather clothing. Water bottles would gravitate to the bottom and dig into my back. I even had one guide friend with a similar problem who would wear his backpack over his loaded fly vest; a bold, yet doomed attempt at full-functionality!
It was almost love at first sight. When I saw the Fishpond Wasatch Tech Pack, tried it on and examined its design and features, I suspected right away that it might be the answer to my fly fishing needs. My early days in the mountaineering industry left me with a critical eye on how to carry a load efficiently, and this one felt right. I bought it, replacing my existing vest that I had used for over twenty years. Actually, I had used seven or eight vests of the same model during that time period, but they kept falling apart, partly from rugged use, partly from the lack of quality sewing reinforcement. The Fishpond Wasatch looks like it will hold up well with strong fabric, excellent line stitching and solid bar-tacking at stress corners where its needed. Ive had no problems with mine after several months of fishing.
The main advantage of the Wasatch is its backpack-style adjustability and stability. Once the vest is loaded with gear and drinking water, the shoulder straps can be tightened or loosened to accommodate your torso length, and then the side straps are adjusted for your girth and the amount of stuff youre carrying. With a full load of water in the bladder, the mass rests snugly and comfortably against the small of your back, and by tightening the side straps, the weight sits on your hip shelf, just like a good backpack. This reduces the weight on your shoulders, lowers your center of gravity, and improves your ability to balance in precarious situations. The front of the vest closes two ways; with an elasticized clip for a looser, relaxed fit and light loads, or a heavy duty zipper for a snug, stable ride. I love how the Wasatch fits me like a glove; zipped up, I can leap from boulder to boulder with minimal sway, even carrying fifteen pounds or more. The backpack has a narrow profile between the shoulders, allowing for greater freedom of movement than a traditional vest. Its easier to cast, particularly when double hauling for distance. The Wasatch comes in one size fits most. I'm 5'9" and around 160 lbs., but I have a relatively short torso length. Im about maxed out on shortening the shoulder straps, so small framed folks with shorter backs may have a difficulty adjusting this vest for a snug fit. Most big guys shouldnt have a problem, as there seems to be plenty of room for going larger. Fishpond says it should fit up to about XXL.
The Fishpond Wasatch Tech Pack is an integrated fly vest/ backpack that fits most anglers with adjustable, contoured padded shoulder and side waist straps. Three rear pockets in the backpack organize gear that you dont need immediately. The largest of these compartments has a zippered expander to increase the pack volume when needed. The front has two pre-molded zip down fly benches with removable foam fly holders, as well as six large zippered front pockets and four interior zippered mesh pockets. Two of the pockets, at the chest, have seam-sealed waterproof fabric and splash proof zippers for near-waterproof protection. Numerous gear attachment tabs, cord loops, d-rings, and a nifty hemostat keeper organize your tools and accessories. The pack has a built-in rod tube holder with compression straps for security, and hydration reservoir pocket that will accommodate bladders up to 100 ounces. The bladder tube exits on the shoulder strap for ease of use. The 2007 model that I own is mainly constructed of lightweight, durable 420 Denier, rip-stop nylon fabric with padded, air mesh lining. The 2008 Wasatch is being upgraded with waterproof/ breathable fabric throughout and will cost $10 more.
Innovative, integrated, expandable backpack-vest design
One-size-fits-most adjustable shoulder and side waist straps
Padded, contoured shoulder straps for load-carrying control and comfort
Three large backpack cargo pockets -Expandable main cargo pocket on backpack
Two molded, zip-down fly benches with replaceable foam
Two water-resistant pockets with taped seams and splash-proof YKK zippers -Six large front pockets
Four large interior mesh pockets on front
Gear attachment tabs, cord loops, and D-ring net lash
Lightweight, durable 420 denier rip-stop fabric with padded air-mesh lining (2007), replaced by waterproof/breathable fabric for 2008
Built-in rod tube holder with compression straps
Interior hydration pouch/tube port hydration reservoir purchased separately 52 ounces( 1.54 liters) or 100
POCKETS, POCKETS, POCKETS
No more freakin water bottles! The Wasatch has a Velcro closure hydration pouch that opens on the top inside-back of the vest. Fishpond sells their optional Waterlog polyurethane reservoirs in 52 and 100 ounce sizes ($20 and $24 respectively) or you can use your own. Although Ive used hydration-system packs for trail running, Ive never been able to incorporate one into my previous fly fishing outfits. Boy, let me count the advantages of this system if youve never used one before. Firstly, water is instantly available, so youll drink more often. With my old vest, getting water out of the back was a hassle, so Id often end up dehydrated with water left over at the end of the day. Secondly, when water bottles are empty, youre still stuck with the bulk. But the bladder collapses as you drink. The side straps on the Wasatch can then be adjusted to maintain a perfect fit as it empties. Thirdly, the water in the bladder, as opposed to bottles, seemed to stay cooler all day in warm weather, due, perhaps, to the insulating qualities of the pack and the interior padded mesh lining. The Fishpond polyurethane bladder had virtually no after-taste and the best on-off bite valve Ive ever used. You can cut the tube, which exits handily on a shoulder strap port, to the length that best suits you.
Yipee, no outer Velcro pockets! The only Velcro closures on this vest are the previously described hydration pouch, and two map-style pockets in the inner mesh lining of the chest, so no worries, thats where they belong! I simply hate Velcro closure outer pockets, as I consider them a waste of valuable space. Velcro is convenient, but cannot be relied on to secure your valuables. A tree branch can easily open a linty Velcro pocket without you knowing it. Or try going for a swim; a great way to have a yard sale! The several Velcro pockets on my old vest went unused, so I was as happy as a clam to see Fishpond put quality zippers on every external pocket of the Wasatch. Two of these are YKK splash proof zippers that close chest pockets lined with waterproof, seam sealed fabric. Fishpond does not claim these pockets to be absolutely water tight, but they should protect a wallet, small camera, or other items you dont want wet from a quick dunking.
The first feature most people notice on the lower-front of the Wasatch and other Fishpond vests is the molded, fly benches. These two semi-rigid, oval pockets zip open, fold down to rest horizontally, and hold Velcro removable foam strip fly trays. You can buy additional trays for $14 a pair. Its a cool idea that saves the weight of fly boxes, and this convenient feature will be used and appreciated by many. Personally, I have too many flies in too many boxes and transfer stuff all the time, depending on the type of fishing Im doing. So I removed the fly trays and put a small fly box in one of the pockets and a waterproof, digital camera in the other; the molded shell protects the camera nicely from impact. Also, I like to keep my flies as dry as possible, as rusted hooks equal worthless flies. The fly benches could be more exposed to accidental immersion, or rainfall when changing flies,but its not a big deal for shallow water or dry weather. Unless your rain jacket is substantially oversized, it probably wont fit comfortably over a loaded Wasatch. Although it has two small water resistant pockets, a heavy downpour could allow water into some of the compartments, like most uncovered backpacks. This is not an issue for me, as I always have to assume the worst full immersion scenario and will pack any water sensitive objects into zip-lock bags.
With three individual pockets in the backpack, eight pockets on the front, and an additional four zippered, mesh pockets inside, the Wasatch is well equipped for even the most anal organizer. Many of the pockets have fabric or mesh dividers for further subdivisions. Three of the pockets have leash clips for attaching things such as car keys. The largest compartment of the backpack has a nifty zipper that, when opened, expands the volume of the pack to hold more stuff. I like the large front pockets behind the fly benches. Theyre slightly padded to maintain their shape and protect the contents, and theyre large enough to hold my favorite monster fly box, the waterproof C & F Design.
COMPANY PROFILE AND CUSTOMER SUPPORT. . .
The amazing thing about Fishpond is that the company has only been around since year 2000, yet has made some impressive in-roads in the highly competitive fly tackle industry. Fishpond builds vests, packs, bags, luggage, tools and accessories, mainly for anglers and mainly sold in specialty shops. Their stuff is innovative, colorfully attractive, and well made. Although their products are not inexpensive, they usually represent a very good value for the money; normally a formula for success in any industry.
Fishpond was founded by John Le Coq and Dave Thompson, two Coloradan fly fishing buddies who thought they had better ideas for designing fly tackle and accessories. They started with a tippet dispenser, a clipper, and some soft-sided fly cases and chest packs. Things grew quickly after that. Today, there are almost twenty different models of fly vests and packs alone. Expect Fishpond to grow as they continue to excel with new storage products.
Fishpond, however, is still a small company, with six support employees on staff and about ten sales representatives. Creative headquarters remains in Silverthorne, Colorado with the warehouse/ distribution center located in Lenexa, just southwest of Kansas City, Kansas. Like most sewn outdoor goods these days, Fishpond products are constructed in China to save labor costs, while most of the high quality materials are sourced in Japan.
Fishpond soft goods, including their vests and packs, are covered by a lifetime warranty. If something fails during normal use, or due to a defect in materials or workmanship, return it to Fishpond and they will repair or replace it free-of-charge. This warranty doesnt apply to accidental damage, misuse, mishandling or alteration. Youre responsible for the shipping and insurance to send it Fishpond, and theyll return it to you on their dime. Fishpond hard goods are covered by a limited one-year warranty.
The Fishpond Wasatch Tech Pack is the most functional piece of gear that Ive ever used for carrying my fly tackle. The harmonious blend of vest and pack offers the best of both worlds, with a variety of easily accessible, secure pockets, extra storage capacity, and a solid versatility to adapt to differing fishing situations. The adjustable harness affords a custom fit, for most people, which will provide better balance, safety, and athletic performance than similar equipment. The optional hydration system is clean and efficient. The Wasatch is filled with well-thought-out gadgetry, right down to the wonderfully simple forceps holder. Ive yet to find anything significant that I dont like. Im even enamored with the colorful Native American motif decorating the pieces of nylon webbing used for reinforcing the Wasatch and almost every other Fishpond product. I guess Im bored with olive drab. FIVE STARS
Not everyone needs a vest like the Wasatch. If you fish near your car, or can fit most of your preferred tackle in your shirt pockets, keep it simple. Currently available are two smaller capacity Fishpond Tech Packs, the Open Range ($139) and the Gore Range ($119). Like the Wasatch, these vests will cost $10 more in 2008 with the addition of waterproof/breathable fabric. If you carry more gear than I, you can check out the new Fishpond Wildhorse Tech Pack when its available in 2008: same features as the Wasatch, but with a larger volume backpack ($189).
Reviewer. . .
Having been in the fly fishing industry for over 25 years as a guide, fly fishing school director, writer, and manufacturers sales representative, Ive been fortunate to fish with a wide array of fly equipment from almost all of the top makers.