Review: Orvis Chest Pack

Orvis' latest offering may convert even the most ardent vest wearers
orvis chest pack
Photo: Spencer Durrant

I’ve always been a vest guy. My granddad fished with a vest, my dad used a vest, and I used my dad’s vest until it met an untimely end thanks to a barbed-wire fence. Even though I had to retire my dad’s vest a few years after I started writing fishing gear reviews, I didn’t give a second thought to incorporating any of the backpacks, sling packs, and hip packs I’d tried out into my normal fishing routine. Those products, while good, just weren’t as comfortable for me as a fishing vest, and comfort is a huge priority for me while I’m on the water.

After a decade of experimenting with various products, I never thought I’d switch to using anything other than a vest to carry all my tackle. But then the new Orvis Chest Pack showed up on my desk and my perspective changed.

The primary issue I’ve always had with slings, backpacks, and hip packs was the pressure they put on my lower back.Vests, for whatever reason, never made my chronic back issues flare up, and that’s largely why I stuck with them for so long. I even have friends that have undergone back surgeries who have specifically had doctors recommend vests over other solutions specifically because of their back-friendly ergonomics.

Yet, after several months of fishing with the Orvis Chest Pack, I don’t know that I’ll use a vest again.

What Works

Comfort

The Orvis Chest Pack has so many fantastic features, but they’d all be moot if the pack itself wasn’t comfortable. No amount of functionality can compensate for a sore back. This pack’s comfort starts with its light weight which, at .88 pounds, barely moves the scale. In addition, its strap system is constructed with a mesh foam plate that sits right below my shoulder blades, helping to distribute the weight softly and evenly. When I let my friend and avid-angler Hyrum Weaver use the pack for an afternoon, the straps were the first thing to earn a bit of his praise.

On the inside face of the Chest Pack – the panel that’s against your chest – are two pieces of vented foam covered with mesh. That helps the Chest Pack rest comfortable against you without chafing, and the vented foam means the thing will breathe, too.

orvis chest pack
Photo: Spencer Durrant

There’s also a D-ring on the back of those straps for attaching a net, but Hyrum’s hood is in the way of it in the picture above.

Modularity

The straps are also completely detachable from the pack itself because Orvis built it to integrate into their Bug-Out Backpack system. For trips where you need the storage room a backpack offers, but still want all your tackle easily accessible, the Chest Pack can attach directly to the front straps of the new Bug-Out Backpack. That’s a level of functionality and thoughtful design that’s becoming a hallmark of what to expect from Orvis.

Storage

The Chest Pack has an advertised 4 liters of storage space, with most of that in the main compartment. That main compartment has two mesh pouches on either side, plus another mesh pouch on the front side of the pack. On the side closest to the angler’s body is a zippered compartment for waterproof storage, along with two smaller non-mesh pockets. Inside the waterproof pocket is a hanging clip for attaching your keys, so they don’t get lost in the crowd of gear.

On the left side of the pack is a zippered pocket that I’ve found is perfect for storing floatant.

The right side has almost the same pocket. The difference is that the right side has three sleeves sewn below a strap of heavy-duty nylon. The sleeves fit any size of forceps and hemostats I’ve shoved in there, and the nylon strap is perfect for closing the jaws of your hemostats against for secure carry. If you have hemostats attached to an elastic or plastic cord, you can easily clip one end of that to the nylon strap, secure the hemostats in the appropriately-sized sleeve, and not have to worry about the hemostats dropping out of the pack at all. That’s what my setup currently looks like.

Moving to the front of the pack, there’s a fold-out tippet dock that serves as a great place for storing extra leader, fly boxes, strike indicators, and anything else you may need. The dock provides a surprisingly stable platform for resting tools on when retying a rig, as well.

When I first got the Chest Pack, I doubted I’d be able to fit everything in there that I usually carry in my vest. After a long-overdue cleaning of my vest – throwing out old empty tippet spools, leader packages, and granola bar wrappers – I had room to spare in the Chest Pack.

Right now, I have the main compartment packed with one Original Tacky Box, a Day Pack Tacky Box, and three other boxes similar in size to the Day Pack box. Stuffed on top of the boxes is a pair of the new Orvis PRO Insulated Convertible Mitts.

The left side pocket has a bottle of Loon’s Loscha and a bottle of Frog’s Fanny. The right pocket has my hemostats, and the front tippet dock has two 100-yard spools of Stroft 5.5x, tippet rings, and a half-dozen indicators.

All of that fits comfortably in the Chest Pack, and it doesn’t feel bulky at all. Heck, I don’t even really feel the weight of that gear, either, thanks to how well-distributed the weight is thanks to the aforementioned strap system.

Unless you’re used to carrying an entire fly shop with you on every fishing trip, the Chest Pack has more than enough room for all your tackle.

Tippet Whippet

The Tippet Whippet is the reason there’s so much room in the Chest Pack for storing all your other tackle. This new feature is one of the more brilliant innovations in product design I’ve seen in years.

By recessing the tippet storage, Orvis has effectively eliminated the issue of spools of tippet dangling in inconvenient places while fishing. The solid bar that holds all the tippet spools in place doesn’t move much, which is great because that allows the tippet spools to spin freely. Orvis says you can fit up to six spools of tippet in the Tippet Whippet, and I reckon that should be enough for just about anyone.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Tippet Whippet—which Orvis has also included on its new waist and sling packs—gets integrated in other products, but it’s absolutely fantastic on the Chest Pack. The way the tippet spools sit, it’s easy to glance down and find the right size of tippet you need, without the usual digging through loose spools that I endured when using a vest.

Doesn’t Snag Line

One of my biggest concerns with using any kind of chest or sling pack was the likelihood of snagging line on it while casting. My vest already offered enough snagging points, what with all the dangling zippers and various angling accoutrements.

After a month of fishing with the Orvis Chest Pack, I’ve had no line-snagging issues. In fact, I’d argue I’ve likely had fewer snags on the Chest Pack than with my vest. It’s largely due, I think, to the smooth corners and lack of anything actually hanging outside the Chest Pack. Aside from the Tippet Whippet – which is recessed to prevent exactly this problem – there’s nothing on the Chest Pack that’ll reach out and grab your fly line.

Construction

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the construction of the Chest Pack. Orvis’s partnership with Cordura originated with their PRO waders, but they’ve extended it now to the Chest Pack, only with a twist. The Chest Pack is built from 100% recycled “Eco Cordura” fabric, but it feels just as durable as the classic Cordura we’re all familiar with. With that serving as the outer shell, the Chest Pack should survive just about any abuse you care to put it through.

The liner is 100% recycled 200-denier polyester, so unless you stab the lining with fly hooks, you shouldn’t have to worry about it wearing out anytime soon, either.

Price

With all the features packed into it, I expected the Orvis Chest Pack to retail for more than $119. At that price, it’s worth a look from most anglers.

What Doesn’t

No Cup Holder

Yes, it seems impossible to integrate a cup holder into a chest pack without producing a useless, nightmare of a product. But a guy can dream, can’t he?

Final Word

It’s clear that Orvis designed the Orvis Chest Pack with great attention to detail, and did so successfully, leaving little to wish for either in terms of durability or functionality. After more than a decade as a dyed-in-the-wool vest wearer, the Orvis Check Pack has convinced me to hang up my vest, and that’s no small feat. It is easily one of the most well-built, thoughtfully-designed pieces of gear I own, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

BUY THE ORVIS CHEST PACK

Comments

Nice detailed article. My best bud tried a chest pack a few years back. He liked the features, but visibility right in front of his feet was a problem. He put it on the shelf and is back to a vest. I am a vest guy and have several including my dad's. I wear them all periodically. Guess I'm just old fashioned after 60+ years of wearing those vests

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