It was only a matter of time before we saw a product like this introduced to the market. Making a sling pack interchangeable from left to right hand seems like it would be an obvious design feature and yet very few sling packs on the market have incorporated this type of flexibility. In a sport where one of the most famous personalities was named “Lefty” it seems like a bit of a head-scratcher that no one picked up on the issue.
Well, happily, Simms finally has, producing a sling pack that will work for you Southpaws out there and not just the boring old right-handers. And to top it off, they’ve introduced this pack in two sizes: if you’re the minimalist who only takes the bare essentials, or the pack mule sho can’t bear the thought of leaving gear behind, there is a size to suit your needs. Here is our take on the new Simms Freestone Ambidextrous Sling and the Ambidextrous Tactical Sling.
Our Take: A Smart Solution to a Real Problem
Slings have certainly grown in popularity over the last 5-10 years, though they tend to be a little polarizing. Anglers either love them or hate them. But for those who do love them, and if they are left-handed (or have switched temporarily to left-handed casting due to the conditions or perhaps an injury) they’ve been largely out of luck. I know what you are thinking: “why can’t left-handed anglers just throw it over the other shoulder?” Well, if you did that with a right-handed sling the pack would be situated upside down when it slid behind you. Not a big problem when the pack is zipped closed but it’s a pretty big one when you go to open it up and accidentally dump your gear in the water (I cringe at the thought of all the fly boxes that have been sent down river without anglers having any clue that they just lost hundreds of dollars worth of flies. And even worse when the hatch changes and they realize that they’re out of luck).
Many anglers who are new to slings don’t realize that there is a right and wrong side. Most people just go into a shop, try one on (which is awkward at first), and make the purchase not fully understanding that they pack they just bought only works with one casting hand. It’s not until later that they realize it is not the right pack. Fundamentally, this is the problem that the Freestone Ambidextrous Sling Pack was designed to solve.
How the Ambidextrous Feature Works
The crux of the Ambidextrous Sling revolves around a movable strap system. The shoulder strap is fixed at the top of the pack and is easily switched from side to side using a series of sewn loops and buckles at the bottom. To switch from right to left hand, it’s as easy as moving two buckles (the shoulder and cross body straps) and you’re ready to fish. After switching it back and forth a few times, I can tell you it really is that easy. I timed myself doing it a few times and it takes less that sixty seconds without much effort at all. Additionally, Simms has incorporated a cross-body strap that can be switched as well. So no matter which side you fish, you still have the ability to keep the sling nice and tight to the body while fishing, giving you the ability to not only get the side right, but also get a nearly custom fit (also useful for when you are layering up in cold weather and need a little extra room). It’s well designed.
Okay, so they’ve solved the problem for lefties - what about the rest of the pack’s features? At first glance, the Freestone Ambidextrous looks good, coming in a nice neutral color (steel gray) that keeps a low profile and won’t spook fish. The pack has been nicely detailed with a Simms logo front and center and Simms orange highlights throughout. A small but nice touch. There are also plenty attachment points for various gear and accessories. It’s a well thought-out and practical system that covers all of the basics you would expect from a brand like Simms and which looks good into the bargain.
The Simms Freestone Ambidextrous Sling Pack -- the larger of the two -- have a couple of other cool design elements to consider as well. The main compartment has four zippers on one track allowing the pack to be unzipped right-side-up no matter which side it’s worn on. A clever touch from Simms was to also incorporate snaps for each side of this zipper ensuring that the pack won’t open inadvertently when being shifted around the body multiple times a day. Both size packs have this and will give you peace of minds during those long days on the water or hikes through the woods.
The packs are well compartmentalized and have an integrated net holder which is really nice to have on a sling as well. Granted, swinging any sling around with a net on it is not the most graceful maneuver; having a net holster when you need it is much more convenient than the alternative. The net holster can also function as additional storage but beware that these items will not be completely secure. A cheap carabiner, attached to both whatever you store here and on the side of the pack, is a good way to make sure you don’t lose it.
Standard versus Tactical Sizes
The Freestone Ambidextrous Tactical Sling Pack is the smaller of the two and is a good size for a few fly boxes, all your terminal tackle, and maybe a water bottle. Plenty big enough for the essentials but not much else. The Tactical is not as wide so you will need to be conscious about what you bring with you when you go fishing but is a great size for minimalist anglers who need a little bit more capacity than waders provide.
The standard Freestone Ambidextrous Sling Pack is significantly larger than the Tactical and has roughly twice the capacity. With a deeper and wider main compartment, this will hold about as much as your average backpack. If you need to bring a lunch, water, and an extra layer as well as your flies and terminal tackle, this is the best option. I will say that at first glance this sling pack looks big. In fact, my initial impression was that it was way too big. However, once I tried the pack on I was surprised at how comfortable it was. I loaded the pack up with twelve 16.9oz water bottles to simulate an overloaded pack and it was definitely manageable. Although I would never recommend lugging around over 1.5 gallons worth of weight for a whole day of fishing, you could certainly do it with this pack.
Our Recommendation: A Smart Upgrade if you like Slings
So is it worth the springing for a new sling? If you are a sling aficionados who is thinking about a new pack, we think it makes sense for two reasons: first, you don’t lose any features with either the standard or tactical sizes as they have all of the features that any any serious would need to make the most of their time on the water (with the only exception being the lack of a designated water bottle sleeve, these packs have it all). And second, you get the option of being able to easily switch sides if you ever need to - whether it’s a temporary move on account of the wind, or a longer-term one due to a casting arm injury -- that kind of flexibility is great to have built in. All in all, we think this was a pretty great solution by Simms.
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