Gear Review — LL Bean Waterproof Sling Pack

In an effort to find the perfect fly-fishing and photography bag, I was intrigued to learn of the new “waterproof” offering by LL Bean.  The LL Bean Waterproof Sling Bag seemed to be the perfect offering.  The bag offers a large main compartment, a smaller outer compartment with an organizer in it, and an even smaller outer compartment; all of which are stated to be “waterproof”.  The bag even featured two zippers on each of the larger compartments so you can open the bag from either side, when you swing it around in true “sling bag” style.  All in all, I was excited to order the bag and waited like a fat kid waiting on the ice cream man for it to arrive last week.

When I unwrapped the box and examined the bag, I was surprised how “cheap” the material felt.  What I considered “cheap” was simply flexibility in the material (which was nice).  I was a little set back by the fact that the bag attaches to a harness and that the straps do not fit connect to the bag directly.  However, I was pleasantly surprised that I found a bag that actually fit my “husky fat man style” and I could wear the bag as designed (at 6ft 3″ and well over 300lbs that isn’t always easy to do).

And with that, I used the bag during my trip last weekend to Dry Run Creek (report coming in a day or so) with my 7yo daughter.  I used a domke insert from another photobag that I had and was able to fit my D200 w/ wide angle lens and a JVC camcorder and Joby tripod in the larger compartment (along with an extra jacket for my daughter) and the second compartment carried two large CF waterproof fly boxes (it could have held probably two more) and some other assorted stuff).  The call was for 1″ to 2″ of rain on Saturday, but we were fortunate in the 4 hours we were on stream and didn’t see a drop.  The bag fit nice and freed up my hands for helping my daughter wade and carrying the net (coincidentally, I think the space between the harness and the bag would make a killer spot as a net holder for the right sized net….but I use a big patagonia net).  I found myself laying the bag down on the ground when we would get to a spot that we were going to fish (this is more out of habit than anything, as I am not used to fishing with a pack), but could have easily fished while wearing the pack.  In the short test, I thought that that bag served its purpose rather well.  I would have liked to seen a small pocket on the front of the sling strap as well as maybe a water bottle holder and some lashing straps on the back of the pack; but that is just wishful thinking.

I was still however concerned about the “waterproofness” of the pack.  I had some issues with a previous “waterproof” claim from another manufacturer and really wanted to test out this piece of gear in the confines of my home.  Armed with 3 rolls of toilet paper, a full bath tub, and a shower I was set.  The bag held up extremely well in the shower test.  Under direct stream in the shower for 5 minutes, the content of the bag stayed completely dry in all of the compartments.  I then took the bag over to the bath tub and placed two 3lb weights in the large compartment and through the bag in the tub.  The bag floated and I could push it around the water with ease (that is a good sign, I thought).  Then I forced the bag underwater with my hands, and that is where the bubbles started.  The bag began to leak at the zippers on the two large compartments.  Suddenly the entire contents of the bag were wet.  Bathtub submersion test = failed.

And therein lies the difference between waterproof and submersible.  Just because a bag claims to be waterproof doesn’t make it submersible (which is a shame).  The bag held up to the shower test and there is no doubt in my mind that this bag would hold up on a fishing trip in the pouring down rain keeping gear dry.  But take a trip in a stream you are wading waist deep in and then maybe your gear gets wet.  In the end, I am most likely going to return the LL Bean Waterproof Sling Pack and will continue the search for the perfect bag for the fly-fishing photography bum.

–Matt Tucker