Product Reviews

Wind River Headwaters Vest
by Al Campbell


Anybody who has ever fished with me and tried to lift my fly vest knows I carry too much gear. I have considered ways to reduce the stuff I carry, but can't force myself to do it. I just believe I need all that stuff. However, a fly vest is somewhat akin to an oven on a hot, sunny summer day, so I'm always on the lookout for something with better airflow that will carry all my stuff.

I've spent hours digging through the pockets of various strap type vests, chest packs and such at fly shows, but nothing I looked at had enough pockets to carry all my stuff. Most of the time, the pockets were to small or too few; or they didn't have pockets at all but instead had two large pouches, one in front and one in back. I needed something bigger and more organized, but there wasn't anything like it on the market.

Headwaters Vest

In April, Jim Seigle (the product representative for Wind River Products) sent me a couple of strap style vests to try out and abuse for a while. Right away I knew they were far different than anything I had looked at in the past. Either vest would probably fit my needs, but I needed to compare them to see which one I liked the most. I had a hard time finding someone to model the vests. My neighbor (an avid flyfisher) was willing, but he wanted to rummage through my fly boxes to see what I had that he needed. I also conned a new flyfisher into wearing it for photos by telling him he needed to try it out to see how different it feels. Castle Creek is a nicer setting than my neighbor's front yard.

Before I describe each vest individually, let me explain the things they both have in common. Both vests have an identical large rear pack with a built-in 1-liter hydration system (water bag), complete with a hose from the water pouch to the strap near your head. The hose has a bite valve so getting a quick drink is as easy as putting the valve in your mouth, biting and drinking. Both vests convert to a smaller fanny pack to keep minimalists happy or keep you cool on the hottest days. In either configuration, they have a d-ring to attach a net to. In the strap vest configuration, they both have a bungee style raincoat or jacket holder on the rear pack. Both have built-in zingers to attach forceps or other hardware to, and both come with a real wool patch for drying your flies.

The South Fork Vest has a large front pack with three large, zippered pockets. It has specialized inside pockets for leaders, tippets and other useful stuff, so nothing gets lost in the jungle, so to speak. It holds almost all the stuff my regular vest holds, but came up two small boxes worth of capacity shy of holding all my fly boxes up front, so I used it for my bass fishing stuff. With a single pack up front and a single pack on back, it goes on like a sweater (you put it on over your head). It isn't what I would call really unique, but I would call it very well designed, larger than most, and built as sturdy as a truck. It will probably last a lifetime of regular use. I like the fact that it isn't nearly as hot as my regular vest.

Headwaters Vest

I was able to empty my regular vest into the Headwaters Vest (the one in the pictures), fill the water bag, and still have room for a lunch or a camera in the back. It has two roomy packs in the front and the common hydration pack in the back. Like its sibling, it has zippered pockets and inside pockets for the small stuff we always carry, but can rarely find without a search of all the vest pockets. Combined, the two front packs hold just about two small fly boxes more than the single pack of the South Fork. One thing I liked a lot about the Headwaters Vest is the buckle between the two front packs, so this vest you put on like any other vest instead of over your head.

Both vest designs are very breathable and much cooler in the summer heat. Both can be adjusted to fit the biggest or smallest person. I think the Headwaters Vest is a little more open to allow more airflow, especially on that chubby belly of mine. The heavy cordura fabric on all the packs is waterproofed from the inside so all my stuff stays dry in those unexpected thunderstorms that pop up in the early summer afternoons. The inside surfaces of the rear pack and the front packs of the Headwaters vest that touch the fisherman are mesh lined for breathability. The nylon web material that goes over the shoulders is wide enough to be comfortable when worn all day, even with all the stuff I carry.

At first I thought the roughly $110 retail price tag for the South Fork and the $130 tag for the Headwaters vest were awfully steep, but then I did some comparing. Filson offers a nice strap vest without the hydration system similar to the Headwaters Vest for about $40 more. They also offer something similar to the South Fork without the hydration system for about $15 more. Cabelas offers something similar to the Headwaters Vest with smaller front packs and fewer adjustments for sizes (you have to buy the right size) for about $120, but they sell the hydration system for it separately (for another $15). Orvis offers something nearly identical to the Cabelas system and includes the hydration system for $95, but neither one will come close to holding all my gear, and none of them convert to a fanny pack. None of the offerings from the competition are as breathable or hold as much stuff. Considering size, features and price, I would say that the Wind River strap type vests offer as much or more for my money; and the Headwaters Vest is large enough to hold all my stuff. I can't say that about any of the offerings from their competition.

If you're in the market for something cooler than that hot vest you've been wearing, but you won't compromise on the amount of gear you want to carry, one of these vests might be what you have been looking for. After nearly four months of testing, I'm pleased with both, and especially the Headwaters vest for my everyday fishing needs.

If you are a retailer, you can obtain either vest by contacting Wind River at:

Wind River
(company contact person is: Jim Siegle - siegles@chaffee.net)
5610 County Road 1
Erie, CO 80516
Ph: (303) 652-0648
Fax: (303) 652-0653

Or you can visit them on the web at www.windrivergear.com ~ Al Campbell


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