Thursday, May 31, 2012

O.B.I.F.'s SmithFly Switch Vest Review

("Blogger For Hire" Brandon Robinson of One Bug Is Fake recently sent me this very through review of the SmithFly Switch Vest which I am stoked to post on T.F.M.  Check it.)

I first came in contact with the SmithFly line of fishing gear when I purchased my El Poquito, which as you know (if you follow my ramblings), I love.  I wrote a review and the right person read it which is how I was able to get a “Switch Vest” in my possession for this past joke of a winter.  After I received it in the mail, I quietly apologized to my L.L. Bean vest as I benched it like Wally Pips for the rest of the season. 
Borrowing cues from the pack mules of the United States, Ethan Smith of SmithFly designed this vest after the universal M.O.L.L.E./P.A.L.S. rigging and load bearing equipment of the U.S. Armed Forces.  This is awesome because it allows the Switch Vest to do something no other vest was capable of in fly fishing to date...adapt.  That’s right.  You can adapt the vest to suit you.  Want a pocket up high for your dry stuff, but only on your left side?  Easy.  Worried about snakes in the float tube or bears on the Kenai?  The vest has an answer.  Since it is loaded with P.A.L.S. webbing you can attach a holster to it anywhere you want, just pick which one you want.  Hemostats will fit anywhere (as does the El Poquito).  I say again...completely adaptable.  Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to begin testing this thing.

Laying out flat on my bed the Switch Vest looked good.  There is double stitching in the high stress areas.  The mesh chosen for construction is flexible but firm.  The webbing is mil-spec both in its layout and material.  It did not come with any pouches so to complete the test I had to dig mine out of storage.  Thank you taxpayers!  I chose a handful that seemed like they would suit my needs and waited for the weather to turn chilly.  There are pockets galore on the interior, including a full sized storage for your choice of hydration pouches.  (Side Note: Since the back is also webbed you can attach an extra one for long days or extended trips.)  Lastly, right at the base of the neck is a little D-Ring so you can secure your net.  Not that it is needed since the webbing would facilitate that equally well.

The Switch Vest itself is light and comfortable.  However, I am 6’4” tall.  I say that because the vest fit me width-wise after some adjustments, since it’s fully adjustable, but rode high like some super-motivated sports bra.  This was discouraging.  Not because I put “fashion” first, but because I didn’t want to look like Baby Huey on the water.  I called Ethan and expressed my concern and he then explained that I did not in fact, receive the midget version of the vest, but that it is designed to fit like a standard fly vest; keeping all of your crap well above the waterline.  For “journalistic integrity”, I went to my local fly shop to verify.  It is almost the exact same length as the bigger-named vests carried there.  After trying it on with waders, it didn’t look bad at all and the height allowed me to access the wader chest pocket (where I like to keep my keys) without shucking the entire vest.  The only other serious problem I encountered was fly line getting tangled.  Not on the vest though, on the pouches.  I again called SmithFly’s Jefe and he assured me that the pouches he manufactures are zippered instead of the buckled dumpster fires I own.  The 1X Pouch can be attached or worn separately; it also boasts a healthy array of  features of it's own.  Pure freaking genius.

I beat the crap out of this thing.  I know I wasn’t supposed to, as it was only loaned to me initially for long-term testing; but I treated it as bad as I could without busting out a machete or a torch.  I left it in the Jeep, and threw it around like Mardis Gras beads.  I thought eventually it might break down and become wet-rag flimsy but it didn’t.  I still think it is too short for my liking when I am not wearing waders and the height of the vest does make accessing any pockets on the back a two-man effort.  That isn’t enough to deter me though, because when you buy into the SmithFly product line, everything works together.  There is not a single other company out there manufacturing complete systems like this to my knowledge.  Pouches can go from the Switch Vest, to the Switch Belt, to the Boat Bag, and back in mere minutes.  Aside from the shortness, the only other concern I had with it was summertime use.  That being said, the same shortness will minimize that sexy-as-heck, lower-back sweat that comes from living a foot off the surface of the sun. Over all, I am not a vest guy for nine months out of the year.  While no one system has every answer, the Switch Vest is the fishing equivalent of sitting next to the smart kid during finals.

I contacted Ethan Smith to ask about donating the vest for FlyStock, to which he agreed whole heartedly. As sad as I was to see it go, I cannot thank him enough for his help in that.  You can bet that before the frost settles on Central Texas later this year; I will own another one.

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