Are you man enough for a Fanny Pack?
One of the most common questions I come across in fly fishing discussions, besides whether to nymph with beads or swing for steelhead, is the matter of personal luggage used to carry all of one’s doo-dads when out fishing. There are many choices, from the traditional fly vest to all manner of packs worn either on the back, the chest, slung diagonally over one shoulder, or around the waist. It’s all a very personal matter of opinion, and yes – I’m going to give you my thoughts on my experiences with doo-dad carrying devices.
For reference, “doo-dads” may include such things as tippet spools, nippers, hemostats, fly boxes, leader wallet, floatant, dessicant, sink putty, Thingamabobbers, hook sharpening file, Monomaster, stream thermometer, camera, bug spray, sunscreen, handwarmers, TP, first aid kit, flashlight, Leatherman tool, wallet, fishing license, etc. Your list may vary, but I tend to carry a lot of crap necessary items.
Never had one so I can’t offer much there, other than that fact that I’m reminded of Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. I can see the advantages of having things right there in front of you at all times, so trying such a doo-dad carrying device is not out of the relm of possibilities. In other words, I’ll never say that I’ll never have a chest pack.
This gives me cause to harken back upon my days in the Boy Scouts, when ill-fitting and improperly-loaded backpacks were filled well past the Gross Combined Weight Bearing Capacity of both the youngsters and the packs. Given my tendency to carry as much as a device is capable of holding, it’s best that I don’t use a fly fishing backpack. I’m sure they work well for some folks, but it seems to me that if things are kept in a pack on your back, said things would be not readily accessed. However if you are hiking to a destination where you’ll need a ton of stuff I can certainly see the benefits to a backpack, especially one designed to carry rods and other fly fishing specific gear. If you use a backpack just be sure to check daily to make sure some hooligan didn’t hide a 5-pound rock in the bottom. If they did you want to find it immediately and not carry the rock around for several days before discovering it.
Ah, the old traditional fly vest (and some vests are anything but traditional). I had one for many years, and it held a lot of stuff. And that was the problem: it held so much that I felt compelled to take everything with me (see list of doo-dads above). I had a good system for stowing all manner of things in their own pockets, so I knew exactly where everything was when I needed it. The problem was that after a day of fishing I felt the strain of having carried what felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders. Also, during the hot summer months I didn’t like having all that material wrapped around my upper body (although according to the photo above one needn’t necessarily wear anything under the vest). Still, there was something I liked about the carrying capacity of a vest, and I moved away from it begrudgingly.
*Gasp* Just the sound of it causes uncomfortable shivers up and down my spine – so much so that I cannot even say the word. Butt after I did away with my vest I went with the Sage DXL Lumbar Fanny Pack. I liked it because when cinched snug around the waist it was like wearing a lower back support belt. The DXL Lumbar Fanny Pack has many nice features, though it is lacking a fly patch (easily remedied by adhering a velcro strip to the black plastic surface below the Sage logo). The pack is moderately sized and therefore limited what I could take with me. Lightening my load was undeniably a good thing, although I occasionally pined for a few of the items that I was forced to omit from the pack. The only thing I didn’t like about the DXL Lumbar F#nny Pack was that it was not very resistant to water. When exposed to wet conditions the pack tends to get damp, inside and out. When it happened to sit in the bottom of a drift boat on a rainy day, it would become waterlogged. And while I rarely wade deep enough for pack worn around the waist to get wet, that was also an issue on occasion. One day while fishing the Yakima River with Marck, a young lady who was part of a Rubber Hatch flotilla yelled to me, “Nice f#nny pack!” Usually I’m a fairly confident conversationalist, but this time I was left speechless in the face of the sarcastic comment. I became withdrawn because she was right: it is a f#nny pack. One would think that by the time a person gets to be my age, their self confidence would serve as a barrier to any negative outside forces. I never fully recovered from that sarcastic barb, so I kept looking for an improved option for carrying my stuff.
2009 saw a new offering to the marketplace that caught my attention: The Sage DXL Typhoon Waist Pack. Now there’s something I could live with – a waist pack (take THAT, Miss Smarty Pants!). I read a review of the pack over at Deneki Outdoors and was intrigued. I was also initially put off by the price tag of $200 for the large model, which is the one that I was interested in. I thought perhaps if I waited long enough the good folks at Sage would send me one as a “thank you” for publicly proclaiming to be a Sage Whore Poster Boy, but that offer never materialized. Some months later, in a moment of weakness while visiting my local fly shop (All About the Fly in Monroe, WA) I broke down under owner Ron Torda’s hard-sell pressure and bought one. The large size (the one with the large price tag).
The DXL Typhoon Large Waist Pack is in fact large (671 cubic inches), which in my assessment just means there’s more to love. And after doing some math I realized that the pack only costs 30 cents per cubic inch, so the price isn’t really as bad as I originally thought. The Typhoon Waist Pack is a waterproof/heavily water resistant combination of rubber-coated nylon and a heavy duty ripstop nylon material with one compartment that is completely submersible thanks to a dry suit-style zipper. Overall the waist pack is big enough that I can carry everything I want, including the kitchen sink. In fact this thing carries more than I ever dreamed of carrying in my old fly vest, but now the weight of the world is on my hips, where it should be.
The waterproof zipper compartment is roomy enough for carrying things that need to stay dry should one submerge oneself involuntarily while wearing the pack. This waterproof compartment is suitable for things such as a wallet, camera and perhaps blasting powder. The main storage compartment is a vast, cavernous place that’s capable of holding a few fly boxes, a case for sunglasses, a flask and even a shirt or article of clothing rolled up. There’s also room for lunch (I recommend placing the sandwich on top). Six inner divider pockets are slick for organizing all manner of small doo-dads. There is also a large velcro fly patch on the inside of the compartment. I opted instead to attach a smaller foam fly patch (not included) to the outside (just my personal preference). Waterproof (but not submersible) zippers secure the main compartment, which is then covered again by a storm flap that stays closed using a couple of magnets. Sometimes when I’ve overstuffed the pack the storm flap doesn’t want to stay covered due to the magnets not quite lining up. That’s easily remedied by reducing the amount of stuff I take with me. Again, this is not a bad thing.
The exterior of the pack has several points where zingers and a tippet spool can be attached (get creative). As noted there is a velcro strip for a fly patch, a couple of quickly-accessed pockets for oft-needed items such as floatant, and a couple of ingenious sheaths for holding hemostats/pliers. There are also a couple of magnetic spots to keep things like nippers from flopping around. Cargo straps on the bottom of the pack will hold a rain jacket when rolled up (I’ve enjoyed this feature several times), and a small, zippered mesh pocket on the waist belt is handy for keeping things that you may need quickly and often. I keep my waterproof point-and-shoot camera there so that I can quickly extract it for shooting photos of Marck’s nice fishes.
Even when loaded up with all that its capable of carrying, the Typhoon pack is very comfortable. The waist strap is extremely well padded and when cinched tight gives that lower back support which can be nice after wading a freestone river all day if you happen to have middle-aged back. There is also a removable, padded shoulder/neck strap: I like to wear it like a sling: over one shoulder so the pack sits on my hip. That makes it easier to get at stuff and it also serves as a nice arm rest. When worn this way it does not interfere with either arm when casting.
Another comforting thing is the fact that this is not a “f#nny” pack: it is a pack that is worn around the waist. This has allowed me to enjoy my DXL Typhoon Waist Pack to the fullest – guilt free of any awkward association having to do with the buttocks region. The pack is quite masculine and rugged, so it suits me to a T.
Oh, and it also has two nifty beverage holsters so I can carry a couple bottles of Zima with me.