Review: Orvis Ultralight Vest

Has Orvis made the perfect fishing vest?
orvis ultralight fishing vest
Photo: Spencer Durrant

Orvis has put out an impressive amount of new gear in the past year. From the new Helios 3 rods to revamped waders, jackets, backpacks, and vests, it feels like everything in their catalog got updated.

The Helios 3 has garnered a lot of press, and rightfully so — I think it’s the best all-around fly rod on the market. But a few of their other products have been overshadowed by the H3’s fanfare. One of those is Orvis’ new Ultralight Vest.

Part of their new Ultralight Wading System, Orvis went back to the drawing board with this vest. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say they pared it down to the original Lee Wulff edition and added refinements.

I know vests aren’t as popular as sling packs and bags, but I’ve always been partial to them. No hip pack or sling pack matches the ease of access a vest does; at least, none that I’ve tried. For an angler like myself, the Ultralight Vest is a home-run. And I think it’s something that could lure anglers away from slings and hip packs as well.

What Works

Slim, Comfortable Design
A legitimate knock on fishing vests has always been how bulky they get. Pockets stack on top of pockets, creating an unbalanced load perched precariously on your shoulders. After a long day of fishing in my old Columbia PFG Vest my back ached like hell, due in large part to the mismatched load of tackle sagging on my shoulders for hours at a time.

Orvis tackled that problem first.

In the front, the bottom pockets are both wide and deep. These seem best-suited for holding fly boxes. They’re also built with such a low profile that you won’t run into the common problem of overstuffing bottom pockets and losing storage space in the pockets above those (you know, like when you’re throwing gear into a day pack and get the outside pocket, only to see it’s out of room thanks to bulging layers beneath it).

The deep, wide pockets keep your boxes, tippet spools, spare nippers, stomach pumps, flasks, and other paraphernalia in a strict organizational system.

On top of these are smaller pockets with built-in mesh dividers which keep fly boxes in place. The biggest problem I had — and I think many other anglers, as well — with vests was how much fly boxes, tippet, and every other accoutrement gets jumbled around.

Pair all of those pockets with dual fly patches on each shoulder, beneath which are hideaway ports for attaching hemostats and zingers, and it’s pretty impressive what Orvis packed onto this thing without making it wear like Kevlar.

Go Vertical

It’s also very much worth mentioning how incredibly functional the all-vertical zipper design is. Save for the back pocket, all zippers on the Ultralight vest are vertical, and it’s incredible how much easier it is to access my gear. It’s a more ergonomic motion, and it’s something you’ll notice right away.

orvis ultralight fishing vest
Photo: Spencer Durrant

Storage Space
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fly fish and he’ll fill any pack or bag bursting with gear he’ll likely never use.

That is the downside of too much storage space. The bigger the bag, the more stuff an angler will buy to fill it. That’s a helluva sales strategy, but it’s not so great for the angler.

Orvis did a good job of balancing the storage space in the Ultralight vest. You have 11 total pockets, 9 of which are zippered. Two mesh pockets, located inside the vest at the bottom, provide expandable space for larger or misshapen items.

I love the addition of the shoulder pockets. They’re incredibly easy to access, and I use them for holding floatant and a few small fly boxes.

Orvis added the traditional back pocket as well, which makes for great water bottle/dead fish storage.


As its name implies, the Ultralight vest is light. But how light is Ultralight, really?

According to Orvis, it’s 14.1oz.

The weight of other vests on the market are dictated mostly by their size. One popular, competing, full-size vests comes in at 25 oz. There are other vests that are as light on the scale as the Orvis Ultralight Vest, but those are minimalist vests that offer only a fraction of the storage.

If 14 oz doesn’t mean that much to you, rest assured that for a vest of this size, that the Ultralight vest unquestionably feels lighter than vests in the same class. In fact, straight out of the box I could tell it was lighter empty than any other vest, pack or, bag that offers similar storage that I’ve tried in the past few years.

Quality and Price

Ask anyone who’s worked in fly fishing for a while, and I’d bet a fly rod or two they’ll agree that the most common questions newcomers to the sport ask us center around gear; particularly, it’s cost.

My advice is the same every time. Buy the best you can afford. It won’t make you better at fishing, but it makes learning easier. You have the opportunity to excel more quickly with good gear.

The Ultralight is $139, and so far has stood up to my consistent abuse. It sat in the bottom of a drift boat through most of March. Since then, when not on the water, its near-constant home is the backseat of my truck, beneath a multi-rod storage tube and enough rain jackets to keep me dry through Noah’s flood. It’s a bit dirty, but otherwise in great shape. It’s built with typical Orvis attention to detail and quality.

What Doesn’t

Good Question
I’m not saying Orvis made a perfect product here. But I’m also saying that there’s not anything I’d be able to point out as a glaring red-flag. Not even a nitpick. The vest has dual loops for attaching a tippet holder across your chest – there goes the need for your chest pack – and one of the upper inside pockets has a clip for your car keys. If you’re like me and forget to close zippers, you won’t lose your keys when bending over.

I guess you could complain that it’s not waterproof. But then it’d be hard for the vest to breathe as well as it does.

That just leaves the price, which is $139.

Is that a lot for a vest? Not really, when you realize it’s essentially the angling version of a good backpacking pack. It’ll last as long as you take care of it, and it’s comfortable to fish in. What more can you ask?

Final Word

I’m going to recant my earlier statement. I actually do think Orvis has made the perfect fishing vest. The Ultralight Vest has everything I want — ample storage, lightweight, durable, breathable construction, slim pockets, vertical zippers — and a reasonable price.

I don’t see another fishing vest I’d take over this one. It’s just a damn fine piece of gear, and if you’re a vest type of angler, you owe it to yourself to look at this one. You’ll be surprised, I promise.