Every now and then, there is an item that comes out that just makes you stand back and think “hey, that’s smart!” Our team at the Compleat Angler had that very reaction to the Fishpond Switchback Belt System and so have many of our customers. This unassuming pack really has changed what should be expected in a hip pack. With an innovative design and Fishpond top-tier construction the Fishpond Switchback Belt System is a safe buy for anyone looking to get into the hip pack game. Here is our take on the new Switchback system.
First off, it’s safe to say that chest and hip packs equal vests in terms of the number of units sold nationwide. Here at our shop, they surpass vests by a substantial margin and that’s been the case for a few reasons. To begin with, hip packs are much less cumbersome than most vests and yet still offer plenty of capacity (whereas vests can be often have too much capacity). Hip packs can also be worn no matter what an angler decides to layer with, whereas a vest can be tight over winter layers. Lastly, vests can be complicated with pockets in pockets in pockets. Many of our anglers have trouble just finding their gear let alone remembering where they put everything. I’m not saying the vest is a bad option at all. I fished with a vest for years and it will be around long after I’m gone. However, many anglers opt for a tackle system that is more simplified. Hence, hip packs.
Yet, for all these benefits, hip packs do have drawbacks. They tend to slide down if not synched on tight which can be a nuisance if you end up having to adjust your pack fifty times a day. They can also be uncomfortable because they are designed to be tight on the body, yet still need to be slid around to the front when in use? This to me seems like an obvious design flaw. Hip packs also have all their gear attachment points at the belt line. If you don’t have waders that accommodate forceps, nippers, or other accessories then those things are oriented in an awkward spot. Long story short, there are drawbacks to many hip packs on the market today. Part of what I like about what Fishpond has done, is that they’ve taken a long hard look at hip packs and developed a remarkably angler-friendly pack that has everything you could want in this type of tackle system.
The most obvious design feature of the Fishpond Switchback Belt System is the harness. The entire pack was built around the belt and shoulder strap. And it shows. The belt is substantial, wide with oversized buckles - it is the foundation for the whole system. The shoulder strap itself is a great feature. You no longer have to worry about the hip pack sliding down. Once adjusted it will stay put which is a great feature for long days on the water. In addition, the shoulder strap is designed with great attachment points. This keeps your tippet, nippers, forceps and floatant right where you need it. This is a feature not found on any other hip pack. It may seem like a small thing, however having those tools out of the way and right were you need them makes a big difference.
The harness serves two purposes. First, it will keep the pack secure to the body and prevent it from sliding down. Secondly, the pack has been attached to the belt with a loop. It is not sewn in a fixed position so it allows the pack to slide back a forth. This is a huge benefit of the Fishpond Switchback belt system. The pack itself can be slid almost completely behind you while you are fishing and then brought forward when you need to get into the pack. And this can all be done without any adjustment of the pack itself - the belt and shoulder straps stay in place while the pack itself can be moved from back to front with ease. This is a great feature that many of our customers rave about. It just makes everything easier.
Another smart features is that the Fishpond Switchback Belt System can also be configured to sit on the left or right side of the body. Both the pack and the shoulder strap can be easily switched it’s as simple as unthreading both front buckles, moving the pack to the desired side, and reattaching the buckles. The shoulder strap simply unclips at the bottom and reattaches on the opposite side. It’s a very simple and user-friendly design.
The Fishpond Switchback Belt System also incorporates a net holder with attachment points for a zinger as well. This will keep your net secure and easily accessible. The pack itself has two zippered main compartments as well as two identical front pockets. The Switchback is failry minimalist in its design but will accommodate a wide variety of gear for multiple situations. About the only thing you could not put in this bag would be a big streamer box. Fishpond accessories can also be added to this pack, making is even more versatile. For example, rod holders and water bottle holders can be easily clipped to the pack if needed, making the Fishpond Switchback Belt System well suited for most fly fishing situations.
One major drawback of the Fishpond Switchback Belt System is that the pack itself is not waterproof. At the Compleat Angler we have seen an increase in anglers purchasing waterproof packs to keep things like phones, wallets, and even fly boxes dry. There is something to be said for waterproof packs and the benefits are obvious. Especially when it comes to hip packs that hang at or below the belt line, a waterproof bag is certainly advantageous depending on where you are fishing. If you plan on carrying something that cannot get wet and will possibly be wading waist deep, than this may not be the pack for you. Another thing to consider is the inevitable trip-and-fall into the river scenario. At some point every angler goes down. Whether chasing a fish or the errant miss-step, it’s only a matter of time before we all go swimming. The Fishpond Switchback Belt System will offer little protection if submerged so that is something to consider when looking that this particular pack.
On the whole, I have found that the benefits of the Switchback outweigh the drawbacks. And our customers agree. The Fishpond Switchback Belt System is a well-thought-out tackle system with some great features. Having a waterproof phone case and sealed fly boxes are a work-around for the lack of waterproofing for this pack and at the end of the day this tackle system offers things not found in any other hip pack. If you are in the market for a new hip pack, or are looking for something different than what you are currently using, check out the Fishpond Switchback Belt System. It’s a great, versatile option at a fair price.
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