Do you Need a Vest for Fly Fishing?

Updated: Feb 20

fly fishing vest

Fly fishing vests are one option to carry your gear while on the water. Most have ample capacity and compartments to fit more accessories than you'll ever need or use. I often hear the question: Do I need a vest for fly fishing? No, you do not need a vest for fly fishing. There are several alternatives you can choose from.

These include:

It's also important to remember that it might be best to combine some of these seven together depending upon the fly fishing situation.

I recall my first vest. After fly fishing "seriously" for about six months, I decided I "needed" one. If for no other reason than I saw so many other anglers wearing them, I felt like I wouldn't "fit it" without one. So I got online and ordered a middle of the road model.

When it arrived at my doorstep, I tore open the package and immediately started filling the pockets with all my fly fishing paraphernalia. Even though I put things in there I'd never used before (you know, those shiny do dads that look like "must haves" in the fly shop), there was still plenty of empty pocket space left. I was elated, that meant I could buy more stuff to fill the voids!

Fast forward to now. I can count the number of times I've used that vest on two hands. It looked like the best option to carry my gear when I purchased it, but I've since then tried several alternatives to a fishing vest. I'll share my thoughts on the pros and cons of seven of them, and the fly fishing situations they make the most sense for.

*Note: Throughout our years of fly fishing, we've tried several different options for carrying fly fishing gear. We've included links within this article to those options we have found fit our standards of quality. If you end up purchasing some of the items we've included links to, we may earn a small commission at no added expense to you. This revenue allows us to continue to spend time and energy on this site. Thanks!

Lanyard as a fly vest alternative

fly fishing lanyard

Often considered the "minimalistic" approach to carrying fly gear, lanyards are worn around the neck and hang down to about chest level. They're made of string, rope, or bungee material, and have various clips that you can attach and secure your gear to.

Best used for:

Seasons and streams that require little variety in fly selection or tippet sizes, or local waters that you know well enough to pair down your gear to the very essentials.

Not great for:

An unfamiliar stream that you'll have to use trial and error to figure out.

Pros of Lanyards

  • Lightweight and easy to carry

  • Inexpensive compared to other gear carrying options

  • Easy access to everything on it

Cons of Lanyards

  • Very limited capacity. They only allow you to carry the absolute essentials.

  • Can easily tangle with itself. Make sure to hang it up when not wearing it instead of laying it down. This will you save many frustrations!

Two of our favorites are:

For an option will all the bells and whistles:

For the ultimate minimalist approach:

Chest Pack as a fly vest alternative

fly fishing chest pack

These are constructed with strap(s) designed to go over your shoulder(s), with the carrying compartment positioned across your chest. The primary difference between the various models are their size and carrying capacities.

Best used for:

Times of the year or stretches of water where you'll need more than one fly box.

Not great for:

All day hiking/fishing trips. They might have enough room for a granola bar or two, but not much more food, and certainly not enough for water.