For the past two years I have been searching for one thing: the perfect sling pack.
Sling packs are strange in that they are inherently about compromise. No sling, no matter how good, can transfer weight as well as a backpack– the physics simply don’t work. Further, gear in slings will never be as easily accessible as in a hip or chest packs. However, what slings, at least in theory, do is combine the best of the two: more capacity than a hip or chest pack, more accessibility than a backpack.
Except most slings suck. They hold too little, require extra straps to remain even somewhat stable, have compartments with no organization whatsoever, or some combination of the three. I have never found one I was happy with.
Then, a few months ago, I stumbled onto something that looked truly different, the Vedavoo Beast Sling. It is early, but I’ve used it enough now to come up with some real opinions on what works and what doesn’t. Long story short, no, the pack isn’t perfect, but it is good.
Really. Really. Good.
WHAT IS IT? Vedavoo Beast Sling Pack
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $160
PROS? Stable with excellent gear accessability
CONS? Water bottle holder too small, lid could use more structure
WHO SHOULD BUY IT? Fly fishers who make regular half- to full-day trips.
WHO SHOULDN’T BUY IT? Fly fishers who will be doing exclusively extended back country trips, perhaps women (though there is a similar women specific model)
DID SOMEONE GIVE IT TO YOU FOR FREE? Nope, my wonderful wife bought it for me for Christmas.
Right off the bat Vedavoo gets the two most critical things right. First, the sling hangs off your non-casting shoulder. Fly casting isn’t the most difficult thing in the world, but it does require careful timing, just the sort of thing that a little extra weight on your casting shoulder can muck up. Even better, having the sling on this side allows your non-casting shoulder to absorb all the fatigue that comes from carrying a pack this big all day.
Second, the pack’s contents are instantly accessable. Rather than wasting a bunch of words trying to describe all the idiosyncrasies, I’ll just let Scott, the founder of Vedavoo, walk you through the pack.
The entire point of a sling pack is to give up a little bit of comfort/capacity relative to a backpack to gain gear accessibility. If the pack requires a bunch of clips and straps to stabilize itself, each of which has to be un-clipped every time you flip it around, it loses it’s entire raison d’êtr. Or for those of you who don’t like snooty French in their sling pack reviews: if you are going to use stabilizer strap, just get a backpack.
Which brings us to the central question of this review, is the pack actually stable enough?
The answer is unquestionably yes. The particular ledge in that picture above required some serious down climbing to get to, and despite the fact that I had the pack absurdly over loaded (more on that later), the pack stayed right where I wanted it to. How did they pull this off without adding and stabilizer straps? The answer is two-fold.
First is the shape of the pack itself. Unlike most slings which are shaped to be carried at an angle across the back, the Beast is shaped to keep the weight in as much of a straight-line vertically as possible. Second is the ring system connecting the strap to the main body of the pack, which allows for some play in the connection point and allows the pack to move with you. The result is an incredibly simple system that allows you to move freely while also accessing your gear instantly. It is genius, the kind of genius that only comes out of people iteratively fiddling with gear in their garage.
Speaking of interatively fiddling with gear, I do plan to make a couple of substantial changes to the pack. As it comes from the factory the water bottle holder is a stiff fabric with no give that will take a 21 oz Hydroflask, but will not take the industry standard Nalgene. 21 oz of water might get you through a day in Montana, but as a certified Desert Rat I can confidently say 21 oz will not cut it for a summer day in Arizona. To solve this I plan to open up the shell and either add a small bit of elastic or more nylon and some sort of a button closure system to allow for secure storage of larger bottles. In the meantime, a one and a half liter Camelbak fits perfectly in the sleeve behind the main compartment, and the good old Hydroflask works well as a coffee thermos. Not a bad compromise.
I also will be adding more structure to the top of the flap which closes the main compartment. When full and in the pack in front position, this flap’s top surface acts as an excellent “work bench,” holding all the little bits you don’t have enough hands for (flies, leaders, you name it). However, when empty the flap loses much of it’s rigidity, and much of it’s “work bench-y-ness” goes out the window. I’ll be experimenting with ways to ameliorate over the coming months and will keep you all updated on what works.
While we are picking nits, I have to be honest, I don’t have many more. The pack likes to be worn high and tight, which works fine for me, but I imagine might not be very comfortable for women (though there is a similar women specific model). The extra buckle on the main compartment seems completely superfluous given the strength of the velcro holding the pocket shut. While the hemo storage position in the suspension ring works really well for access, putting them away while the pack is behind you requires finding the spot blind and can be a bit of a chore. These are all very, very little things.
One problem that this pack does not have is capacity.
My load out for these days of fishing was:
- Four spools of tippet
- 5 leaders
- 2 Tacky Fly boxes
- Fishpond Nomad Net
- Stick on strike indicators
- 1.5 L Camelbak
- 21 oz Hydroflask
- First aid kit
- Patagonia sun gloves
- Schnee’s Wild Rag Bandana
- Railriders Weathertop Windbreaker
- Mefoto backpacker tripod
- Sony NEX-6 camera with a 16-50 PZ lens
Especially once I got the jacket into the pack it was at capacity, but as I said on twitter:
If you are going to carry more than this you need to switch over to a backpack, which will transfer weight better but be less accessible. I am fully confident that this pack is big enough for 95% of my trips, but may run a little short on space for a full-day back country trip where you spend as much time hiking as you do fishing. Frankly, not many people make trips like this.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that these packs are made by a small company right here in the USA. Because they are made this way you can have your’s in an absurd number of custom color combinations, with shoulder straps tailored to you. Hell, mine even came with a hand signed thank you note from the founder and a free tippet holder. None of these things matter if the pack is garbage, but because the pack is good you get to support a small company that appears to be grinding really hard at work they love. What’s better than that?
In sum, the Beast is a very very good pack. How will it hold up to years of desert fly fishing abuse? Time will tell, but all indications are looking good. It’s not the perfect sling pack (yet), but it is an incredible start.
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, has occasionally written for Backpacker Magazine, Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally written for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.