I’ve been a lover of waist packs for years, and have gone through several, alternately switching back to vests now and again, but always winding up back where I started. I’ve been using one exclusively for the past year, the Mountainsmith Tour, but another (the Simms Headwaters Waist Pack) recently came my way and I thought it worth doing a little comparison/contrast. So let’s go…
Simms Headwaters Waist Pack
Simms’s Headwaters Waist Pack is a fairly new addition to the small pack lineup, but I’ve already seen quite a few of them out and about. The pack is beautifully built, with heavy cordura for most of the outer and the inside being a combination of nylon and elastic mesh pocketing.
Simms goes for form and function here. The pack is essentially five compartments – a main accessible from the top, and two zippered compartments forward of it. The main compartment and the first in front contain numerous zippered and/or velcro-ed pockets – there is plenty of organizational capability within. The main compartment flap was also fitted with magnets so you didn’t have to repeatedly zip and unzip. The last compartment is hard covered, a box – with a velcro-enabled fly patch it would make a good bench, and it’s just big enough for a large waterproof C&F box too. The last two compartments are like water bottle holders, only they’re too small for most water bottles – they have cordura flaps over their tops (secured via velcro), and have just enough padding to keep a point-n-shoot camera (or cell phone…ugh) safe.
The lumbar section has an ample supply of padding, as do the waist straps. With three fly boxes, a camera, a GPS (yes, I get lost even on waters I’ve fished a hundred times) leaders, split shot, a net dangling off the back, and a few energy bars tucked inside the pack felt quite comfortable on both my waist and slung over my shoulder. The waist straps also hold various elastic and rubber/velcro gizmo holders – good for securing tippet spool holders, clippers, clamps, etc. for easy access.
After stuffing the pack full, I found it a little cramped. The main compartment can only hold two large boxes, and if you carry leader material in spools (my Maxima obsession shines through), you can’t really double them up in any of the pockets without furthering the crowded-ness. In addition, I did my best to organize various items into all those pockets, but still found myself fumbling around a bit to find what I wanted. Call it overcomplexity (or simple-mindedness on the part of the tester), but after three outings I was still searching, searching, searching.
What I like
- Build quality
- Magnetic top flap
- Snag free thinking
What I don’t like
- Usable capacity
- Overabundance of pockets/dividers
Volume – 810 cu. in.
Dimensions – 15” x 9” x 6”
Weight – estimated 1 lbs 3oz
Retail price – $99.00
Mountainsmith Tour Pack
The Mountainsmith Tour Pack has been a staple of my gear diet for going on two years. It’s a popular item among day hikers, and certainly not built specifically for fly fishing. I’ve had to make it work, with a few key chain rings, zingers, and miscellaneous clips added on.
We’re talking minimalist design here. The Mountainsmith has a large main compartment with one zippered pocket within, and another zippered pocket on the front. The side pockets (again, suited for water bottles), are mesh with drawstrings, and are big enough to hold a one-liter Nalgene bottle. I use one to keep tippet out of the way (attached to a zinger) and the other to hold a camera
that I never actually use since I catch so few fish in a small LowePro case.
Due to the scarcity of compartments, the Mountainsmith Tour feels big. Very big. It will comfortably fit four large waterproof C&F boxes in the main compartment (or two boxes and a philly cheese steak sandwich – I’ve given those up but it doesn’t mean you have to) as well as odds and ends in the front pocket. Leaders are stored in the main area’s zippered pocket, and I’ve hung my clippers and clamp on the waist strap, secured by a zinger/small d-ring combination. The pack was originally built for day hiking, so as expected it is very comfortable even when fully loaded.
From the “nothing is perfect” files, carrying a net is always a pain when using waist packs, and with the Mountainsmith that is no different. You’re forced to stuff it inside the waist strap or directly behind, or dangling it off the pack. The former reduces comfort, and the latter just makes for something else to wrap your line around. I still haven’t found a good solution there. Further, the Mountainsmith is full of straps (more to snag on), and God forbid you actually get one of your flies hooked into those side mesh pockets. It’s history, even with barbs crimped down.
What I like
- Large main compartment
- Minimalist feel
What I don’t like
- Use of mesh means snag-prone
- Lots of straps also means snag-prone
Volume – 488 cu. in.
Dimensions – 10” x 11.5” x 5”
Weight – 1 lbs 5oz
Retail price – $70.00
If you are a
complete dork traditionalist, you are probably still using a vest. Personally, I’m an absolute tool but I’ve still given up the vest for good. If you’re heading down that road yourself (being a tool, giving up your vest, or both) there are plenty of choices out there designed by fly fishers for fly fishers, and the Simms Headwaters Guide Pack is certainly a worthy choice.
A fishing buddy who also owns the Simms pack asked me what I thought about it. When I said I was still on the fence he noted it often takes a while to get it right with new gear, and that my lengthy excursion with the Mountainsmith meant it might take even longer to get my last leg over. I agree. It comes to moving down the learning curve with a new piece of gear, or sticking with what you already have dialed in tight. I’ve already made a big investment in waterproof boxes and various accessories to make my life easy with the Mountainsmith, and am simply unwilling to go down that path again. It’s about choice, and choice alone. The Simms Headwaters pack gets two thumbs up, it’s just that for me the Mountainsmith gets three.
MG signing off (to see how many licks it actually takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop)
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Simms pack was won at the South Platte Pro-Am Carp Slam. The MountainSmith pack was paid for out of some full-time financial and technology (and part-time fly fishing) hack’s pocketbook.