The company line: "We built our new Sweet Pack Vest for anglers willing to go the extra mile (or ten) in search of the sweet spot. This daypack/fishing vest combo is engineered to comfortably carry and organize everything you need on the trail and on the water. Made from tough, highly water resistant 840-denier coated ballistics nylon with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, the Sweet Pack Vest’s main compartment features multiple fishing-specific interior organizing pockets, exterior lash points on pack and shoulder straps, dual side water bottle pockets and an internal hydration bladder pocket. Up front, the vest maximizes comfort and convenience with lightweight, breathable mesh construction and easy-access vertical pockets. When fishing fast and light—or closer to the car—the vest easily detaches from the pack to be worn alone."
Fly fishing packs and vests are, in my opinion, highly personal and often mission-specific items. This is so much the case that I have yet to own one that I absolutely love. Ultimately, almost all of them do things well, but make sacrifices or have flaws that prevent them from being an effective all-around solution.
The Patagonia Sweet Pack Vest does not purport to be an all-around solution. It’s designed to be a daypack for anglers on foot who intend to be out on the trail and the water for an entire day. In most regards, the system does an excellent job of delivering on its promises, save for one significant flaw.
- 840-denier water-resistant coated ballistics nylon is highly water repellent, durable and protects contents
- Main pack with large interior pocket and interior reel/spool pockets; mesh and polyester interior pockets for fly boxes, tippets and other gear
- Multiple 100% nylon attachment/lash points on front of padded shoulder straps as well as the exterior of pack
- Dual, nylon/spandex, expandable water bottle pockets with security keepers; interior hydration pocket holds bladder
- Exterior YKK® zippers are highly water repellent; stretch-woven polyester covers foam on back for ventilation and comfort
- Vertical pocket configuration on vest for convenient organization; breathable mesh body for lightweight performance
- Mesh vest can be worn alone or attached to front of pack
- Outer pack: 840-denier 100% ballistics nylon. Interior: 200-denier 100% polyester. Back: stretch-woven polyester over foam. All with a polyurethane coating and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. Vest: 100% polyester mesh body with 420-denier 100% ballistics nylon pockets
This system does several things very well. The pack, which measures a robust 24 liters (1465 cu in), easily swallows up a full day’s worth of gear. Its 840-denier coated nylon prioritizes durability and thus weighs 1417 grams (50 oz). Rain gear, first aid kit, food, water, spares, keys, phone, wallet, etc., all found homes no problem. The supplemental compartment on the outside of the pack is of excellent dimensions as well. Inside the very top compartment is an integrated waterproof, “zip lock,” compartment, which is a fantastic feature. It’s perfectly placed for phones, wallets and keys.
There are enough daisy chains to strap on as many pieces of externally carried gear that any angler could require. The external padding where the pack actually meets the carrier’s back is well padded and does an excellent job of providing good ventilation.
As for the vest portion, it connects securely via four D-rings on the shoulder straps and hip belt (more on the hip belt in a bit). The vest has the right number and placement of pockets on both sides and all of the external pockets have sturdy grab tabs that make entry very convenient: no struggling with the requisite Velcro to access your fly boxes, leaders, tippet, etc. Internal mesh pockets on both sides are present as well.
Although I can't present evidence regarding long-term durability, as my copy has yet to endure the rigors of an entire season, it appears durable enough to stand up to heavy use and could do double duty for all kinds of outings, both in the hills and in town.
Unfortunately, in the opinion of this user, the system has a major flaw that’s surprising from an experienced, high quality company like Patagonia: the hip strap.
On packs of this size, specifically those designed to accomodate the loads that come along with anglers spending a full day on foot, the waist strap is anemic and is void of support or padding of any kind. It is also quite narrow, which means it rides up around the waist and not on the hips. With this pack’s relatively high capacity, and the need to carry some heavy items (liquids, food, rain gear, emergency gear and first aid, etc.) it’s essential the hip belt transfer significant weight off of the shoulders and on to the hips. This is the first rule for the fitting of most backpacks and this one fails.
Because of the long list of everything else the Sweet Pack Vest gets right, I would love this system if it weren’t for this one, rather surprising, flaw.
The circa 2010 Simms Headwaters Day Pack that I own has a substantial padded hip strap with small pockets on it as well. It does an excellent job of staying in place, shifting weight off of the shoulders and on to the hips. Within the first two hours of using the Patagonia Fish Pack and Vest, my shoulders ached and I had to keep forcing the hip strap down off of my waist. Not a good situation when you’ve got at least six more hours of hauling line, high-sticking and wading to go.
The fix on this pack should be easy enough for Patagonia to make. If they make it, and make it soon, it would be an excellent tool for full-day, on-trail fly fishing missions.