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I was on my way home from a long day of fishing high-country cutthroat streams when a buddy called and asked if I was busy tomorrow.

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“You wanna go float the Green?”

I agreed immediately, even though I was seven hours from the Green and it was already dark. If I drove through the night – with just a quick stop for a few hours of sleep in the truck – I’d be there in time.

The float was fantastic, and at the end of it I opted to make one more stop before going home. The next morning, I drove to a remote section of river in Wyoming and spent the day hiking and fishing back to my truck. By the time I got home that night, I was completely exhausted.

As I unpacked my truck, I sighed at the mess my gear was in. Fly boxes and floatant were in my vest, but the extra tippet and nippers I’d needed that afternoon was in my day pack. My water filter was missing entirely, and I thought I’d lost a reel. None of my gear was where it belonged, mostly because nothing had a defined place. Add the rush of two unplanned trips – one on a drift boat, the other hiking through Wyoming – and it’s no wonder I couldn’t find what I needed.

Over the years, I’d tried to mitigate the mess by stuffing everything into slings, vests, and even hip packs, but I always ran out of space. Plus, those packs all hurt my back in numerous ways. I’d resigned myself to a messy system of daypacks that weren’t designed for fly fishing, stuffing my shirt pockets full of extra tackle, and hoping for the best.

Earlier this year, when Orvis introduced its new collection of angler-focused bags and packs, I saw what I thought was a solution to my problems with packing and hauling tackle: the new Orvis Bug Out Fly-Fishing Backpack.

From a dedicated drop-bottom rod tube holder to docking stations on the shoulder straps, the Bug Out Backpack looked like everything I needed in a fly fishing pack. After a few months of hard use, the Bug Out Backpack proved itself to be almost exactly that.

What Works

Storage Room + Organization

Like every other angler I know, I have more gear than I’ll ever use and I tend to haul more tackle than I need. Yet the 25 liters of storage space in the Bug Out Backpack leaves me with extra room, even after I stuff it full of fly boxes, extra reels, tippet, clothes, and various other outdoor necessities.

Orvis did a fantastic job of maximizing the storage space in this backpack. The top of the pack provides access to a shallow storage section that’s a perfect place for gear you need to access frequently, or for your sandwich and snacks. It also has a zippered sleeve that fits sunglasses, which is a fun feature I used more often than I thought I would.

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The pack’s main storage compartment is roomy and features a zippered mesh pocket and a removable divider, so you can keep your gear organized. There are two ways to access it: from the top, through a secondary zipper in the shallow storage section, or directly via a zippered panel on the side of the pack. So if you want to bypass your snacks and sandwich or whatever you have stowed in the shallow storage section up top, you simply tip the Bug Out Backpack on its side, unzip, and you have access to everything in the main compartment. This is where the removable divider really comes in handy, neatly separating everything in the main compartment.

The front of the pack offers access to a padded pocket designed to fit either a hydration bladder or a laptop. Orvis designed the Bug Out Backpack with more than one use in mind – which is evident throughout the product – but you really see that philosophy shine through here.

Anglers like me, who travel with a laptop or tablet for editing photography on the fly, or for watching movies when it’s impossible to sleep, love this kind of dedicated space. For the anglers who fly or drive to their destinations more often than hike and camp, the Bug Out Backpack suddenly becomes a great airplane carry-on, and fits great in the front seat of a car. Versatility is key in fly fishing – especially in our gear.

Those who carry a net while fishing have two options: Orvis placed a D-ring for hanging nets on retractors at the top of the Bug Out Backpack or you can slide long-handled nets into the holder provided on the back of the bag.

On the left side of the pack is a combo water bottle/rod tube holder (pictured at top). This is my favorite feature of the Bug Out Backpack. I can’t count how often I’ve stuffed rod tubes into water bottle pockets on day packs, only to have the tubes fall out, lean into my head, or smack into low-hanging limbs.

Orvis designed the Bug Out Backpack’s water bottle pocket with a drop-bottom. It’s a long sleeve that drops down far enough to put the top of a rod tube almost level with the top of the pack. It’s a fantastic feature that really shows off the attention to detail Orvis is known for. I think it’s the pack’s biggest selling point. I’m not aware of another backpack on the market that has a drop-bottom compartment for carrying fly rods.

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Orvis really went the extra mile not just to squeeze every bit of storage space possible out of this pack, but to make that storage space as effective and easy-to-use as possible. Pockets and zippers are intuitively and often optimally placed, a fact that becomes increasingly apparent the more you use the pack.

Build Quality and Durability

Orvis has fully embraced using Cordura fabric on just about everything imaginable. The Bug Out Backpack is made from 100% recycled Cordura ECO fabric, which is surprisingly abrasion and puncture resistant. The zippers are snug, and feel like they’ll handle abuse with ease. After several months of on-the-water duty, riding in the back of my truck, being shoved to the bottom of a drift boat, and so on, the Bug Out Backpack doesn’t look any worse for the wear.

Time will tell how well it stands up to a full season of high-country use and abuse, but I’ve found I’m often harder on my gear in my drift boat than anywhere else. Packs get strewn underfoot, stepped on, dunked in water, and covered in moss, rocks, and other debris. The fact that the Bug Out Backpack doesn’t show any signs of wear is an indication that it’s likely to last through multiple seasons of long, bushwack-filled day-hikes to my favorite secluded lakes and streams.

Integration with Other Products

The new packs Orvis introduced for 2021—the Bug Out Backpack, Chest Pack, and Chest/Hip pack—are all designed to integrate seamlessly. And so, ever since I started fishing the new Orvis Chest Pack, I’ve been eager to see how well it integrated with the Bug Out Backpack. While I can’t speak to how the Chest/Hip pack works with the Bug Out Backpack, I’ve absolutely loved the integration with my Chest Pack.

Thanks to two recessed clips on the front straps of the Bug Out Backpack, I can clip my Chest Pack directly to the front of the Bug Out bag. Once the Chest Pack is clipped on to the Bug Out Backpack, the combo becomes the best fly gear storage system I’ve ever used. All of my flies, tippet, nippers, floatant, and other terminal tackle is nestled right in my chest. Everything else is stored in the easy-to-access pockets of the backpack. It’s really a slick way to have the better part of an entire fly shop with you, wherever you happen to be fishing.

Versatility

I know I’ve spoken to this already, but it bears repeating: the Orvis Bug Out Backpack is among the most versatile fishing packs I’ve seen in a long time. Need something that stores extra rain gear, snacks, reels, and flies for a drift boat trip? Or something small and compact enough to function as an airplane carry-on? Or what about a lightweight, but durable, day pack for hiking through the backcountry? The Bug Out Backpack does it all. For its size and price, it’s a remarkably versatile piece of equipment.

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What Doesn’t Work

Hip Straps

I appreciate the inclusion of the hip straps, but they’re just a bit too small to do much good. For an athletically overweight (read: fat) angler like myself, I need a bit more support. I do like that the hip straps can be tucked away if you don’t need them, but I’d prefer more support if they’re included at all. I understand the pack only holds 25 liters of gear, but if anyone can find the heaviest 25 liters of stuff to haul around all day, it’s fly anglers.

No second water bottle pocket

Since the only water bottle holder on this pack doubles as a rod tube holder, you’re slightly out of luck if you want easy-to-reach water and plan on packing a rod tube with you. Certainly, you can stuff a water bottle in the shallow pocket above the main compartment, or even in the main compartment itself, which you can access quickly via the right side zipper. This issue is also mitigated by the pocket dedicated to a water bladder or your laptop, if you prefer water bladders over bottles.

Final Word

The Orvis Bug Out Fly-Fishing Backpack is one of the most thoughtfully-designed pieces of gear I’ve ever used. Everything on the pack has a functional purpose and Orvis didn’t add any unnecessary window dressing. It’s incredibly versatile, has room for a boat load of gear, and I love the innovative rod tube holder. Many of the Bug Out Backpacks features are game changers for fly fishing day packs, and I won’t be the least bit surprised to see several of them copied by other brands.

The Bug Out Backpack is the best angling-focused backpack I’ve found, and one that is designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of anglers. Whether you’re on the flats, high in the Rockies, or somewhere in between, the Bug Out Backpack is likely the gear-carrying answer you’ve been looking for.

BUY THE ORVIS BUG OUT FLY-FISHING BACKPACK

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing guide and writer from Utah. He runs the Utah Fly Fishing Company, is the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a contributor to Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>