Feb 23, 2016

Sling Pack Showdown (2016)

Sling packs lead the way!

Sling packs are all the rage these days, and for good reason. There are several advantages of using a sling pack instead of a hip pack, chest pack or backpack. Slings offer more storage room than a chest pack, easier accessibility than a backpack, and the ability to keep your stuff higher off the water than a hip pack. Another reason why slings are great is that an angler can still have near full mobility without having a pack get in the way of casting. There is very little line catching or protruding gear to inhibit your range of motion. For all of these reasons, sling packs are the hottest selling storage system in the fishing industry.

We here at the Gorge Fly Shop carry quality sling packs from Fishpond, Umpqua and Simms. I have spent much of the winter so far studying, testing and playing with all of the slings that I could get my hands on. I prefer a smaller pack that carries just enough gear for a day of fishing. I don’t like packs that I can overload and turn into a dark pit of despair.

Why do I like a smaller pack? Steelhead fishermen (like me) tend to carry less gear, fly boxes, tools and accessories than trout fishermen, so they tend to use smaller packs. I carry one fly box (maybe two in the summer), a handful of sink tips, one spool of tippet, scissor clamps, and whatever I need for the day as far as clothes, food, drink and maybe some sunscreen.

Larger packs are better suited for those trout fishermen that carry thirteen different fly boxes, eight spools of tippet, three types of floatant and six different fishing tools along with a couple of spare spools, just in case. There are a couple of larger options here, but I prefer a smaller pack. Knowing that trout fishermen still dominate the industry, I have included two larger packs that would be excellent choices for the diehard trout bum, as well as anyone else that likes to bring more gear to the river than I do. Big cameras, sunscreen, bug spray and a change of clothes are often the norm for many anglers, and a larger pack should be considered if that is your game, regardless of the target species.

Enough of the intro! Here are the three (four) packs that I have been really digging this winter.
  1. Fishpond Summit Sling
  2. Simms Headwaters Sling (Large and Small)
  3. Umpqua Steamboat Sling
There are some similar features that all of these packs share. One is an external fly patch. This is a key for quick fly changes and preventing unnecessary pack entry. While the Umpqua Sling has a built-in patch, the Simms and Fishpond packs have Velcro pieces to easily attach fly patches. Another key feature is the cell phone/key stash pocket. All three packs have a small, secure pocket that is just big enough to store your most valuable items which do not need to be accessed quickly. Beyond those features, these packs are all unique and full of cool nooks and crannies.

Fishpond Summit Sling

Fishpond makes quite a few sling packs, seven at last count. Out of all of the choices from Fishpond, the Summit Sling definitely stands out from the crowd. I really like this pack. It is comfortable, easily accessible, provides the right accessory options, is constructed very sturdily and with two color schemes to choose from, it looks cool too. I believe that this is the most intuitive, well thought-out pack from Fishpond, or any other company.
  • 549 cubic inches
  • 13” x 8.5” x 9”
  • 32 oz
How is it unique? There are numerous attachment points on the outside of the pack allowing for dozens of accessory configurations. Whatever your choice of tools, or preference for location of said tools, this pack will allow you to access them with ease.

Fishpond Summit Sling
The interior of this pack is roomy, yet it is still compact. There are two bigger compartments that allow you to stash your larger items internally, while keeping your smaller gear in the external pockets. A third front pocket features a workbench area which is big enough to hold a fly box or two. It also folds down and stays rigid so that you can change a fly with ease without (hopefully) dropping small flies, tools and accessories in the river.
Net Stash Pocket

I can go on for days about how awesome this pack is, but I have to keep it brief. Real quickly; three more features that I like are the net stash pocket on the back (super cool!). While I don’t carry a net for steelhead fishing, as a former trout junkie, I appreciate this feature immensely. This allows you to access your net with ease, yet it doesn’t affect the overall comfort. A second cool feature is that this pack has the most comfortable, padded shoulder strap of any sling out there. I will touch on that more on that near the end. The last thing is truly unique to Fishpond; this pack, along with many of their other items, is made from recycled commercial fishing nets. I appreciate any company doing anything they can in helping to alleviate a huge worldwide issue. You can see that I believe that this is a great pack made by a great company.

Simms Waypoints Sling

Waypoints Sling - Small
  • 610 cubic inches
  • 22 oz.
  • 15” x 8 1/2” x 8”
For 2016, Simms has made a solid follow-up to their Headwaters Sling. It is a sweet sling pack that is sleek and minimal. A good alternative to our favorite Fishpond Summit Sling, this pack has less exterior features, but packs a good punch, especially when it comes to organization. There are two sizes, I prefer the small pack, but I will touch on both of them here.

Waypoints Sling - Large
  • 1037 cubic inches
  • 31 oz
  • 18” x 10” x 9.5”

The big difference between this and the Fishpond pack is internal vs. external organization. The Simms pack is all about organizing within the pack, offering several small pockets and dividers internally, while maintaining quick, easy and efficient access. Why? There is less chance of catching your line on your pack when everything is stored internally. While there are a couple of tool tabs on the outside, there are also several on the inside in convenient locations to store your tools.

Like the Fishpond pack, there is a rigid workbench that folds out flat to allow for intricate fly changes. The small pack holds a decent sized fly box in the foldout area, while the large pack can hold several boxes. Both feature a Velcro piece on the outside for attaching a fly patch or the included Velcro tippet and floatant holders. This pack is very lightweight, ergonomic and comfortable. There is sufficient ventilation and padding on the back of the pack, which is very nice and will provide sufficient airflow during a day of fishing in the heat.
Simms Waypoints Sling - Small
A couple of cool features are the magnetic tool ports and compression straps. You can just tap your hemostats against the magnet and they will stay easily accessible. The straps are great for when your pack is stuffed. Pull them tight and compress the pack down to a more manageable size. They are also great for storing a jacket on the outside. The pack overall has a lightweight, minimalist feel to it, yet it has solid construction and strong materials.
Simms Waypoints Sling - Large
The large pack has enough room to stash the kitchen sink along with all of your gear, yet it will stay fairly organized. The small pack will hold everything I need for a day, yet is not so small that I have to remove items in order to find what I need.
Simms always produces high quality gear that will stand up to the test and this new Waypoints Small Sling Pack is no different.

Umpqua Steamboat Sling ZS
  • 1200 cubic inches!!!
  • 24 oz – I weighed it as it is not advertised.
While I touched on this pack in my UMPQUA ZERO SWEEP REVIEW, this pack deserves to stand with the Simms and Fishpond packs at the top of the food chain.

This pack is great for a couple of reasons. The Zero Sweep technology really creates a sleek, snag free pack. Umpqua truly believes that by creating a smooth, snag-free system, the angler can have more quality time on the water, and less time untangling your line from straps and buckles. This is done by creating recessed ports to store your tools, yet keeping them easily and quickly accessible. This pack features rounded smooth surfaces and nicely organized pockets and compartments.

Front main pocket
Main pocket rear
The internal organization in the Steamboat Sling is better than either of the other two packs. There are plenty of variously sized pockets within the compartments to stash all of your gear while keeping it organized and easy to reach. There are two large compartments; I would use one for your fishing gear and one for shore items like a jacket, food and camera. This pack does not have a workbench-style pocket exclusively for fly boxes and small tools, but this keeps the pack more flush and low-profile than the other options out there. For steelheaders, this is not an issue. Trout fishermen are more likely to need a flip-down area to change small flies, and tend to change them more often than spey casters.
Back of Steamboat
This pack is much bigger than the Fishpond pack, and even bigger than the large Simms pack, yet it does keep a low profile, even when full. It doesn’t feel like it is as big as it is. There is plenty of room for everything that you could possibly want to put in a sling pack. The fabric has a more heavy-duty feel to it than either of the other packs, although it weighs less than the large sling pack, plus it has a larger capacity. The fabric is tough and will stand up to heavy abuse.

Let’s talk about the straps. To me, it is the most important feature of a good pack. Why does this matter? Anyone that has done any multi-day backpacking trips with heavy packs knows that comfortable straps on a pack make all the difference when you are wearing them all day. An hour or two is no big deal, but a full day or two or three in a row can really start to dig into your shoulders if it doesn’t fit comfortably. I haven’t had the privilege of doing any rigorous field testing on these packs, and most of us won’t get that privilege before we have to choose a pack. If I had to choose a pack based on only one feature, it would be how comfortable the straps are.
Back Of Summit

The Fishpond pack has the most comfortable strap of the bunch. I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone that is going to wear this pack every day all summer, especially if it is going to be loaded up with gear. The Simms strap is much lighter and less padded. It is still well constructed and will not fold over on itself when the pack is full, but it is definitely on the minimalist side of the dial. The Umpqua strap is right in the middle. It has very ample padding, easy adjustments and sturdy construction. It has more padding that the Fishpond pack, but it is a slightly harder padding, which is not quite as comfortable right out of the box, yet will likely wear in really nicely after months of abuse.
Back of Small Waypoints

All three Sling packs that I reviewed here have some cool features and are all unique in feel and organization, yet each would be a great addition to any fisherman’s arsenal. They are all built to the highest standards and have been designed by fishermen for fishermen. You could buy and wear any of these packs with confidence.

The Gorge Fly Shop Team


"Fly Fish the World with Us"


  1. i have the Umpqua Steamboat, and have fished it a few times hunting steelhead. It is the best packa/vest/fanny packs I have ever had. fits flush to back, you can hardly tell it's there, but holds two large fly boxes, heads and tips, misc items as well as rain jacket, thermos, lunch. Just fantastic!

  2. Love the Fishpond Summit for all the reasons you stated above! I considered the ORVIS sling, but the Fishpond seems so much more useful, like the TPE attachment points for a jacket, etc. I also like the additional attachment points like the D-ring on the strap pad ( can hang a net in traditional "vest style") and the velcro for quickly attaching a small fly patch (like either of two Umpqua makes) ...Very convenient! I used to use a Umpqua Ledges waist pack....The sling is so much better, especially over a rain jacket during steelheading...Can't go wrong with any decent Sling.

  3. when i bought my sling pack a couple of years ago, my first selection criteria was that the bag had to be waterproof. i really like the internal and organization features for the bags you reviewed, but the lack of waterproofness makes them no-gos for my purposes.

    1. Garthman, Thanks...I understand completely and I am taking note that we need to do a good Waterproof Sling review. Look for it in the future.

  4. Sometimes I need to carry more stuff for a long walk, so I go back to my backpack with a waist pack below. But, wouldn't you know, I often find myself in a situation where I wade too deep, and get everything in the waist pack wet. I need either one of those expensive waterproof waist packs or a bigger sling!

    1. Hey Paul, Good to hear from you. Or go with option C...Waterproof Sling Pack...After my last drowning of my fly boxes I too have been considering the waterproof option. Best, Greg


  © 'and' Steelhead.com Mike Prine 2009-2014

Back to TOP