Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for best fly fishing vests

If you fly fish, you know that even a simple trip to your local stream can quickly become a gear nightmare. Between the floatants and weights, leaders and line cleaners, tools and boxes of flies, tackle can quickly overwhelm you and suck much of the fun out of the whole experience of fly fishing. If only there was a simple way to organize all of this essential fishing stuff.

There is, and it’s called a fly fishing vest. These wearable tackle boxes provide you with a simple way to organize your gear and take everything with you when you wade out into the river, lake, or stream.

Unfortunately, poor quality vests abound, particularly online. This guide casts beyond those to examine some of the best fly fishing vests on the market. We highlight the features you should be focusing on, the factors that go into a high quality vest, and what you can expect to pay for them.

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Some vests incorporate a large back pocket, which can double as a compact day pack to store your lunch, snacks, or other items you don’t need immediately at hand.

Key considerations


Of all the factors you will need to consider before deciding on a fly fishing vest, construction is one of the most important. These vests take a beating, are hung up wet, and then sit around for an extended period of time waiting to do it all over again. A vest has to be rugged enough to manage this for more than a season or two.

You have two primary options when choosing a construction material: mesh and fabric.

  • Mesh. This netted material breathes better than fabric and can be cooler on hot days. It can also stretch, which improves your mobility.
  • Fabric. While not as breathable as mesh, fabric does tend to be more durable, although actual durability can vary depending on what type of fabric it is. Some popular fabrics used in fly fishing vests are nylon, polyester, and cotton.

Some who fish find that a mesh/fabric combination provides both strength and breathability. A number of these combination vests feature fabric that can be zipped down and tied/stored (similar to a tent flap), leaving mesh panels that aid in cooling.


Is the vest available in various sizes? Check size charts carefully to be sure that what you are buying is going to fit (and consider buying a size or two up, as fly fishing vests tend to run on the short side). Some vests are “one size fits most,” although these should have some way to adjust them, so that the “one size” may actually have a fair degree of flexibility built into it.


Your vest – when fully loaded with gear – is going to be heavy enough. You don’t want to be dragging around a bunch of extra weight in the form of the vest itself. A lighter-weight vest will be more comfortable when the summer heat starts kicking in.


Both size and weight are important elements in a larger question: How comfortable is the vest? A quality vest should evenly distribute weight over your shoulders and back, so there are no stress points that form with repeated use. A vest should have shoulder straps or a belt that can help distribute the weight.

Padding in a vest will improve comfort, as will having enough room in the vest to allow for a full range of motion to cast, set hooks, and perform other essential fishing moves.


When you think fly fishing vests, pockets are probably the first feature that immediately springs to mind. A quality vest should have enough pockets of varying sizes to handle all the items you use for fly fishing. Large pockets are best for tools and fly boxes, while smaller ones can be used to store weights, leaders, and other gear. Specialized pockets can also be used to hold a beverage.

While pockets are essential, having too many can also be a hindrance, prompting you to  overpack. This will leave the vest bulky, heavy, and maze-like every time you search for something.


Pockets aren’t going to be all that beneficial if your gear keeps falling out of them. You should be able to secure some, if not all, pockets on the vest. Velcro is the easiest and cheapest method, but try to find a vest with rugged zippers to really secure your belongings.

Accessory loops

Accessory loops or straps provide another way to carry additional equipment. These are particularly well-suited for use with rods, nets, water bottles, and other larger tools or equipment.


While not a standard feature, some vests do incorporate reflective strips or material. This safety feature allows you to be more easily seen both during the day and at night.

Best fly fishing vest prices

Quality vests start out around $30 and can range up to $100 or more. The majority will fall on the lower end of the range. Pricier options will feature higher quality, better durability, and better or more secure pockets. More expensive fly fishing vests will also tend to feature a higher level of ergonomic design, so you can comfortably wear them for a longer period of time.

"A vest made from nylon or polyester will tend to be lighter and dry more quickly than one made from cotton."


  • Before wading out onto the water, spend some time to logically organize the gear in your vest so that you don’t waste precious fishing time going pocket to pocket hunting for items.
  • If you like to carry a water bladder, be sure that the back pocket of any vest you buy will accommodate your hydration reservoir.
  • A vest with pockets made from a stretchable material will be able to accommodate bulky  items such as larger fly boxes.
  • Vests should feature an inner or outer loop, so that you can easily hang it up between uses.
  • Do a last-minute check before heading for the water to verify that every item in your vest is essential. Even a comfortable vest will wear you down if it is overloaded with non-essential gear.
  • Choose a lighter color vest if you plan on fishing at the height of summer. A lighter color will reflect sunlight better and retain less heat, which equals a cooler fishing trip.
  • If you have the choice, consider buying up a size when selecting a vest. A roomier vest may ride more comfortably on your chest and stomach and provide better freedom of motion.
  • Removable panels in a fly fishing vest (or those that zip down) can help to vent it better when the temperatures soar.
  • Before throwing a vest in the wash, check the label to verify that it is machine washable. Some manufacturers recommend dry cleaning their vests.
  • With their variety of pockets suitable for lenses and other photography gear, fly fishing vests are also great for photographers on the go.
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Don’t be limited by the name. Fly fishing vests can be an important part of your setup, regardless of what kind of fishing you engage in.


Q. Do fly fishing vests double as life vests?
While a great safety feature to have – even if you’re just stream casting – the majority of these do not have floatation capabilities. Some do serve double duty as a fishing vest and a life vest (note the Amarine-made vest above), but the buoyant foam used in these vests may leave them feeling bulky.

Q. Are fly fishing vests waterproof?
Some offer no waterproofing, while others have selective waterproofing, so you have some secure pockets to protect your wallet, phone, or other valuables. If you want to really safeguard your belongings, place them in a Ziploc bag before storing them in a pocket.

Q. Can I use my vest for activities other than fly fishing?
Assuming it’s comfortable for the given situation, a vest’s multiple pockets can be handy if you’re into hunting, bird watching, photography, hiking, or engaging in a variety of other sports.

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