L.L. Bean Kennebec Switch Pack
- Can carry hiking and fishing gear
- Ably supports a heavy load for on- and off-trail hiking
- Creative conversion from hike mode to fishing mode
- Not equipped to carry boots and waders
- Net storage isn’t convenient
The L.L. Bean Kennebec Switch Pack is a backpack that converts to a fishing vest that is perfect for anglers who hike to backcountry streams and lakes.
Sling packs are fine for short walks, but the imbalanced load becomes cumbersome over rough terrain and on longer distances. That’s when the balanced carrying capacity of the Kennebec Switch Pack is highly appreciated. This pack feels comfortable during hours-long hikes and off-trail explorations. When it comes time to fish, the fishing pouches move from back to front with ease with vest-like access to flies and tools.
The Switch’s most unique characteristic is the ability for fishers to hike with fishing gear on the back and not the front. The two fishing organizer pockets can be moved from the front (where they attach to the pack’s shoulder straps and act like a fishing vest) to the back (where they become accessory pockets on the pack’s main compartment). That proved handy on backcountry hikes through underbrush and boulder piles, when we were glad we didn’t have forceps and fly patches on our chests to get tangled on vegetation as we traveled. The fishing pockets aren’t super-compartmentalized (compulsive organizers may find them wanting) but they’re enough to arrange everything you need for small-stream fishing: They hold two large fly boxes, a few spools of tippet, and some flotant. You can attach a net to the nylon loop on the back, though reaching it while fighting a fish requires ape arms and yogic flexibility. In testing, we preferred to attach it to the hip belt (where it did sometimes drag in the water and catch on brush, but still remained handy enough to grab when needed).
The stiff, wide waist belt and rigid backpanel supported 20-pound loads and kept us comfortable through 6-hour-long hiking/fishing sessions.
The pack comes in two torso lengths—medium and long—so it can accommodate everyone from 5’2” to NBA-size.
The ridged backpanel lets some heat escape while hiking, and the meshy, honeycombed shoulder straps also keep sweat to a tolerable level.
It’ll keep gear dry through brief showers, but not sustained rain. Put phones and battery-operated car keys in a waterproof pouch (not included).
Ultralight waders can barely fit inside the main compartment, though doing so leaves room for nothing else. And there’s no system for carrying boots, making this pack best for anglers who wet-wade. The 25 L capacity offers plenty of room for carrying rain gear, water (in bottles or a hydration bladder), a camera, and a lunch.
How We Tested It
The packs in this test were used by a team of fly-fishermen (and women) on multiple trips on Rocky Mountain rivers and lakes.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.
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