backcountry gear

Backpacking & Fly Fishing | Part 2: Gear

Did you miss Part 1 of this series?? Read it HERE. 

When it comes to new adventures, the first step is simply saying ‘yes’ to trying it. For many (yours truly included), the commitment can be one of the most difficult parts of the whole process. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the pros and cons of backpack fly fishing. If you are the kind of person who read it and immediately said “I’m in!” I applaud you. If you’re the type that requires more information before fully committing, Parts 2 & 3 are just what you’re looking for. The following insights and tips will help outfit you for

multi-day, fly fishing adventures in the wilderness. And with any luck, you will be one step closer to backpacking through alpine forests on your way to some remote high country fishery.

Gear for the highcountryThe Gear

Gear junkies unite! And lend me your ear! What is better than acquiring, tinkering with and field testing equipment for one of your prized pastimes? Ever hear the saying ‘two is better than one?’ With backpack fly fishing, you can double up your gear arsenal and unleash it in tandem. But before you start stuffing everything except the kitchen sink into your pack, here are a few things to consider.

For the avid backpacker, weight continually arises as one of the most important factors when packing for any trip. And the reasoning for this is simple. Less weight in the pack translates into happier feet, knees and shoulders. So when you make your initial gear list, a minimalistic approach is the way to go. Yes, it’s nice to bump some JJ Cale on your Bluetooth speaker during some downtime in the tent. But I think your body will thank you and Mr. Cale will forgive you for leaving the speaker at home this time. On top of bringing less, think about carrying items that weigh less. Instead of packing your favorite cotton hoodie for layering, throw your goose down jacket in your pack as a substitute. You just avoided carrying an extra pound or more with that one swap.

I love new gear as much as the next guy. But don’t feel as if you need to go out and buy every single item required to go backpack fly fishing right off the bat. If you’re a hiker/camper of any kind, chances are you already have a lot of the gear you’ll need.

And for the pieces you don’t have, think about borrowing them from a friend or renting

from an outfitter first. Hooked after your inaugural trip? Time to start purchasing those larger items.

Fly Fishing Essentials

Although exceptions do exist, most backcountry fisheries hold trout that aren’t as selective as what you may be used to. When packing your fishing gear and keeping weight in mind, this is a very good thing. Essentially, you don’t need to bring as much. You can easily streamline your half dozen or so fly boxes into just one. And there are numerous items you can leave home entirely. But before I get into the things you won’t need, here is a list of the necessities.

-Rod: I typically bring a 4 or 5 wt setup. But if you’ve been looking for an excuse to finally purchase a 3 wt rod, here it is. Check out the Hardy Sirrus Glass rods. They are ultralight (1.9-3.2 oz), impressively smooth and come in 4 different lengths. Or you can go with the proven efficiency of any of the Tenkara rods (Bonus: no reel = more weight savings).

-Reel: With your new 3 wt rod, you’ll be needing a sweet reel to accompany it. The Ross Colorado LT reel is the lightest in its class (less than 3 oz) but doesn’t skimp on features or performance.

-Flies: My favorite part about fishing in the backcountry during the summer months…..dry flies all damn day. But bring an assortment of nymphs and streamers as well. Typically, a medium sized fly box full of your go-to bugs is all you’ll need.

-Everything else: Bring an extra leader, a spool of 4x, 5x and 6x fluorocarbon tippet, rod case (Sage Single Rod Travel Tube is lightweight and bulletproof), nippers, forceps, some split shot, floatant, strike indicators and of course, polarized sunglasses.


Do yourself a huge favor and leave the wading boots and waders at home. Not only will you be hauling roughly 10 lbs less, but you will also have the opportunity to get some refreshing wet wading in. And if you want more protection than going barefoot or rocking flip-flops, the Simms RipRap Sandals are a great alternative. You can still access a lot more water without compromising your toes or traction.

Although a landing net can be useful in the backcountry, 9 times out of 10 they are not necessary. I have brought one with on several backpacking trips and never even used it. Go old school and land your trout the old fashioned way. You may find yourself enjoying the challenge.

And finally, with your abbreviated fishing gear, t0ting a sling or hip pack is overkill. Pockets, for example, should store most of your essentials. But if they can’t fit everything, most backpacks feature lids that convert into daypacks. It’s pretty awesome and highlights one of my favorite aspects about innovative equipment….multifunctionality. Which brings me to my next point.

essentials and nonessentialsBackpacking Gear

For the most part, backpacking gear is a lot like camping gear but with weight and hiking in mind. Additionally, backcountry products have a keen focus on durability, functionality and protecting you and your equipment from the elements. A lot can happen while in the wilderness. So a backpacker must rely heavily on his or her gear to perform adequately in a multitude of conditions. When reading the following list of key equipment, take all of these factors into account.

-Backpack: First of all, you can’t leave home without it. All of the items laid out above and below will be packed and hauled within this badass vessel. But with hundreds of options to choose from, finding the right pack can be daunting. Go to your local outfitter, explain what you’re up to and they will help you make the right selection.

-Tent: Sure, you can always go ‘cowboy’ and sleep under the stars. But given the fluctuating temperatures and unpredictable weather found in the high country, a tent is your best bet. Which tent you decide on will be determined by how many people you intend to house and also your budget.

-Sleep system: Essentially, this just means your sleeping bag and pad. I highly suggest choosing a down sleeping bag for packability and weight savings. And as for sleeping pads, manufacturers are shaving ounces but adding thickness in most inflatable options. This means you won’t have to sacrifice comfort while catching some Z’s in the backcountry.

-Everything else: Don’t forget a headlamp, backcountry stove, fuel, cookware, water filtration system and your unending desire to explore. For water filtration, I strongly

recommend buying the Katadyn BeFree 1.0 liter. It’s ultralight, inexpensive, packs down to the size of your wallet and has an amazing flow rate.

Stay Tuned

Feeling pumped about getting into the wilderness and making some casts? In Part 3 of this series, I’ll explain some major elements to consider when preparing for your backcountry adventure. From following ‘Leave No Trace’ principles to the best way to pack your backpack, stay tuned for my next blog. It will help you get all of your ducks in a row. And it will be the final stepping stone towards actualizing your first overnight fishing expedition.


Seth Kulas, Vail Valley Anglers Content Writer, @sticks2snow