Swiftwater Tech Vest Review

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The Swiftwater Tech Vest by Umpqua is the real deal. Photo By: Louis Cahill

For over a decade, I’ve had an old fly fishing vest in my garage, hanging on a coat hanger, next to an ever growing number of unfixable leaky waders. The only reason I kept it around all these years, was in case I had a gear-less buddy show up that wanted to go fly fishing with me. Yet, even when that happened, I rarely pulled it off the coat hanger. There just wasn’t a real need, since I’m usually carrying everything needed anyway, and more importantly, I’m the one that does all the rigging. When the fly fishing pack fad hit the scene strong, around 2000 (give or take a few years), like most, I was quick to jump on the chest and waist pack bandwagon. Years passed, and I never looked back.

It was a pretty easy decision for me to make at the time. For starers, I was tired of having to chase my gear down the river, because I forgot to zip back up my fly vest pockets. When you’re wearing thirty pockets on your chest, it can be a real challenge to remember to zip them back up, especially when you’re in a hurry to find that correct fly box or spool of tippet. That being said, the main reason I gave up my old school fly fishing vest was the fatigue it gave me. Lugging it around all day loaded down, proved to suck, even when I was in my 20s, and my beer gut was still just a little guy. I remember a friend telling me once, that he weighed his fly fishing vest and the scale read well over 30 pounds. The old designs of fly fishing vests did a horrible job of distributing the weight correctly on an anglers upper body, due to the lack of adjustable and padded shoulder/waist harnesses. That has since become a thing of the past with many of the companies that manufacture fly fishing vests now using them. Umpqua is the first company that I’m aware of that has not only incorporated adjustable and padded shoulders in their fly fishing vest designs, but also integrated an adjustable and padded waist strap in the Swiftwater Tech Vest.


Recently, I was talking with a representative with Umpqua who suggested I give their new Swiftwater Tech Vest a try. He claimed I’d fall back in love with fly fishing vests, if I just gave it a little time on the water. He went on to tell me, “I regularly wear mine around the office. It’s seriously that comfortable. That, and it goes a long way in helping me forget that I’m in the office and not on the water.” For the record, there was no doubt of the authenticity in his voice, and I have to say that intrigued me. When I received the Umpqua Swiftwater Tech Vest in the mail, I immediately put it to work. Surprisingly, I fell in love with it right off the bat, just like the Umpqua representative said I would, and that’s really saying something, since I’ve hated fly fishing vests for years. This fly fishing vest was different. It fit snug as a bug on my chest and back, and provided me the comfort I’d never felt before with other fly fishing vests in the past.

Thank you to whoever made sure during the design process to add a padded back and adjustable waist strap. It does a grand job of balancing and distributing the weight, and it proved to drastically cut down my fatigue on the water, literally to almost unnoticeable levels. The first day I wore it, I was fly fishing a small mountain stream, where I had to work through thick foliage much of the day. The Swiftwater Tech Vest fit so snug and securely on me, it actually made it easier and quicker for me to get around. I could squeeze through branches, duck under trees and climb over rocks with ease. The reason for that is because the vest didn’t restrict my movement, my ability to see clearly all the way to my feet, and it’s stream line fit didn’t stick out and snag stuff. This vest would be a joy to fly fish out of anywhere, but if you’re one of those anglers that likes to get off the beaten path, you’re really going to love this vest. If you need extra storage for longer durations in the outdoors, the Swiftwater Tech Vest integrates with the Umpqua Surveyor 1100 Backpack.

As for raw storage capabilities of the Swiftwater Tech Vest, I was pretty happy with it. The company went a long way in moving away from the traditional fly fishing vest theory of throwing as many pockets on the vest as possible. Conservatively, it’s capable of holding two large fly boxes and two small fly boxes on the front four main compartments. Could you fit a couple more on the inside pockets? Yes, but I think it would take away from the overall comfort and tight fit of the vest. It also has a large reach around pocket in the back capable of storing a light weight rain jacket or lunch, and also a large mess storage pocket. The outer elastic pockets on the lower front of the vest are great for storing tippet spools or split shot that you’ll regularly be using. And the upper pockets are great for storing other small accessory gear pieces, like spare leaders, floatants and split-shot.

The YKK main zipper functions flawlessly as well as all the other zippers on the vest. You’ve also got some inside pockets if you need them for extra storage. Overall, most anglers will find that they will have plenty of room for a day on the water as long as they aren’t trying to pack everything they own. For that matter, I think most of us (including myself) need to do a better job of organizing and packing only what we absolutely need on the water. The other areas of the vest that really shine are all the zinger attachment points located throughout the vest. One really cool feature that I’ve never seen before are the two unique horizontal holding stations for securing hemostats or locking pliers. I’ll have to be honest, at the time of the photograph of me in this vest, I had not yet figured out that’s what those were designed for. I’ve provided a product video below so you can see more clearly how you can deck the Swiftwater Tech Vest our with all of your accessories. Last but not least, the vest does have two fly drying patches at the top of the vest. They hold flies very securely.

If I had to rate this fly fishing vest on a 1 to 10 scale, with a 10 being the best, I would easily give it a 9.5 out of 10. The only thing I would have changed is to just make the top two chest pockets slightly larger or deeper. Well done Umpqua, you’ve once again made me a believer in fly fishing vests, and that’s something I didn’t even think was possible. The Umpqua Swiftwater Tech Vest retails for $179.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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27 thoughts on “Swiftwater Tech Vest Review

  1. Umpqua really raised the bar with there bags, packs, and now vests. I have the Overlook 500 chest pack and it is great pack! The new vest lines came out after I got the chest pack. I probable would have got a Swiftwater vest even though I’m not a vest person. Umpqua really put the time and thought into these vest and I am still not ruling out that I might get one. Not a gimmick type of guy, but functional, purposeful, durable gear is what I need and use. Good review Kent and good job Umpqua!

    • JSA,

      Thanks for chiming in about today’s post. You sound a lot like me when it comes to fly fishing vests. I meant it when I said I had given up on fly fishing vests and that I hated them. The Swiftwater Tech Vest by Umpqua has really opened my eyes and made me a believer again. Next time you go to your local fly shop try one on if you carry them and see what you think. Have a good day buddy.


        • JSA,

          In my opinion, the Toketee is the little brother to the Swiftwater Tech Vest. Same basic design but lacks the overall storage of the Swiftwater and it doesn’t have the adjustable/padded waist harness. If I could only choose one, I’d choose the Swiftwater. Hope this helps.


          • Interesting review.
            I have to choose betwen Swiftwater and Toketee.
            Two questions.
            How short can I adjust both models to wade deep? Are the two models equal long?
            Is the waist belt acting like a back support wadding belt?

          • One more question.
            How long are the front face of the both models, measured from te top of the fly drying patches till bottom?

  2. Yo Kent,
    I’m all about the vest and I am also a younger fly fisherman which may or may not come as a surprise. Packs…are really cool. They look cool, they have neat pockets and options, and to this day I always look at them in the store. However, in my pursuit of a highly functional pack that included all the storage I needed and doesn’t fall off me or get caught on everything I walk by…I ended up finding out that certain vests were exactly what I wanted. Stealthy, streamlined vests. They don’t bulge out, they have ample storage, they arnt awkward on the body and my stuff is conveniently located. When you take away the vest..you are just trying to replace everything it did in the first place. And to be fair, I think the weight of a vest is directly correlated to how much you put in it. I am a minimalist, I know what I need and I only take those things. Thanks Kent, you rock…I’d really like to make my way down south eventually and get my southern fishing on!

    • Spencer,

      Thanks for the great comment and your input on why you enjoy streamlined and functional fly fishing vests like the Swiftwater. One thing I failed to mention in the post is that because of the vests streamlined design and snug fit, you can fit it comfortably underneath a rain jacket on the water and access it pretty well. I bring it up because I know there’s a lot of anglers out there that prefer to use waterproof packs.

      I’d love to meet up if you ever head south for some fly fishing. Please let me know and I’ll do my best to meet up and show you around my neck of the woods. Thanks for the continued support.


  3. Soo…..does this mean you might switch back to a vest?? I am currently in the market for a new pack/vest and am town between basically all the Umpqua packs. My main thing is I am wanting to take out a DSLR and single lens with me to take photos. With a waist pack I can wear a camera sling and house all of that gear.

    You have any suggestions on a good fishing/photog set up? I would love to have a system down that did not have to include a separate camera sling pack.

    • Steven,

      Let’s just say that I have no doubt that I will be wearing the Swiftwater Tech Vest on the water this year extensively. It really has made me a believer, that I can be happy with a vest again.

      As for your DSLR, let it be known that I’m not the one in the company that carries that gear, Louis is. If I could actually shoot worth a darn, I would, but everything I snap looks horrible compared to Louis’s photography.

      Here is my two cents anyway though. You obviously won’t be able to stow your DSLR in the vest unless you have one of those super compact models. However, the vest would work great for stowing all of your fly fishing gear and some of your camera accessories. You could then wear a waist belt with waterproof bags similar to what SmithFly offers. That’s what Louis uses and he loves the modular system. It’s been dunked many times in the water and performed flawlessly. For now, Louis wears a Chest Pack and SmithFly modular belt and waterproof packs to hold his camera gear. Louis did say he loved the Smithwater Tech Vest and I could see him making the swap from his chest pack to the vest. Thanks for the comment and I hope my reply helps make the decision on your future purchase.


  4. I love Umpquas new packs! I too have the Overlook 500 chest pack and its now my primary pack when fishing, or guiding. It holds way more than you think it would, and everything is easily accessible. I also have the Deadline 3500 duffel and the Surveyor back pack. The Deadline is THE ultimate travel companion. The amount of gear I’m able to pack into that thing is impressive. It has dry storage, wet storage, and plenty of other pockets and compartments for other fly boxes, reels, and misc gear. The Surveyor is the best backpack that I’ve owned bar none. I took it with me to Colorado and used it while packing in and out of different places. Zero fatigue, holds plenty of essential gear, snacks and water, and the overlook 500 clips into the front of the pack making for an awesome pack system. Umpqua has really raised the bar with their new packs. The quality and design of each pack shows that they’ve really done their research, and it is well appreciated.

    • Justin,

      Umpqua sure made the correct call when they decided to take the extra effort during the designs stages to have make sure many of their packs and vests integrate with one another. Thanks for the comment and your review on the Umpqua packs. When we fishing?


      • Give me a time and place my friend and you know I’ll show up. Looks like I’ll be on the Nantahalla Saturday, and maybe Fires Creek or Firehole on Sunday. If you ain’t doing anything hit me up. Or, Two weeks from now Ill have the whole week off, we can get together then.

  5. Hi Kent:

    This post caused me to have a “re-chuckle” – at myself. I also joined the “pack” crowd quite a few years ago. However, being a cross between a packrat and a tightwad, I find it hard to throw something away that still might have some use. (most often it doesn’t)

    This past September I was going through my fishing gear getting ready for the start of the fall salmon run here in OR. In one of my old gear bags where I store extra “stuff” (stuff I am to tight to throw away) I found my old fishing vest that I bet I haven’t used in at least 6 years. In the pockets I found a spool of tippet with maybe a foot of line left on it, an empty bottle of insect repellent, an old fly box that I had LONG ago assumed was lost forever, a forceps with one jaw broken off, ( I am sure I had an intended use for that when I kept it), a water bottle half full of 6 year old water, and last but not least, a partially eaten 6 year old ham sandwich.

    After a good chuckle I finally threw the whole mess away. (now I guess I have room in that gear bag for more “stuff”) Is there anything goofier than fishermen ??


    • Jeff,

      SIX YEAR OLD HAM SANDWICH, DAMN!!!! You might want to call Eddie from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation to see if he can fumigate that for you. LOL I guess it’s too late since you trashed it.

      Thanks for providing me several return chuckles buddy. I feel ya on not wanting to throw away stuff. My wife told me the other day to get rid of all my leaky waders. I told her I was waiting for the Flex Seal Spray Guy (TV Advertised Product) to come out with a wader version that didn’t sacrifice breathability. She quickly rolled her eyes in the back of her head. LOL

      If gear is still alive, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to use it on the water or throw it in the backup gear box. Doing anything else is just being wasteful. Thanks for the comment and again for the laughs. It’s always great hearing from you.


  6. Thanks for the review, Kent.

    I’ve been contemplating going back to a vest after having used packs for the last few years.

    I’m currently using an Umpqua Ledges pack, so I have no concerns about the build quality.

    My biggest issue is using the vest in the heat. I’m curious to know if you’ve used the vest in the summer heat and how it worked out for you.

    • Bruce,

      I didn’t have the vest this past summer so I can’t make that call. I personally think you’ll find it to be fine. Hell, even on those really hot days in the summer with a waist pack I still sweat like a dog. Best relief for that is to wet wade and stay well hydrated. A wide brimmed hat that keeps the sun off your face goes a long way as well.

      Hope this helps.

  7. Still use my 20 year old Patagonia vest. It was quite the avant-guard, ventilated, light-weight rage back in the 90’s. But of course it is way overloaded with gear and fly boxes that do not get opened in a season, let alone on a fishing trip. That makes its light weight ventilated fabric irrelevant. Plus, it does not distribute weight well. Never has. It’s also getting pretty raggedy. May be time for a change. I think I got my money’s worth out of it.

    • Ralph,

      Yep, you sure did get your money out of that one. Ha back in the day it was a sharp vest and on the cutting edge.

      I assure you Ralph, you won’t be disappointed with the Swiftwater Tech Vest.

      Good to hear from you.


  8. Santa was good this year to me, she left this for me under the tree, I avoided vests, never wanted one because they seemed clunky and outdated. Looking forward to trying this one out soon.

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