Gear that Works: Umpqua ZS2 Rock Creek Chest Pack

July 11, 2022 By: Bob Mallard

As a dedicated small stream angler, I’m always on the lookout for the “next best thing” in regard to compact chest packs. Finding the ideal product for small stream use has admittedly been a challenge. Many of today’s chest packs are too big and a few are too small. While the chest pack I am currently using, an old William Joseph Mag-Series, has served me well, it is not easy to get on and off, and it has reached the end of its useful life due to wear and tear.

In recognition of the fact that my primary small stream chest pack was on its last legs, and having struggled with a clumsy integrated shoulder/belt design for years, I hit the internet in search of a replacement. I looked at what was available from all the usual suspects, and even some big-box and off-brands that looked interesting.

What I found was that things hadn’t changed all that much since the last time I looked. In some ways, the situation had worsened with a glut of oversized and over-designed products best suited for fishing large rivers where the terminal tackle accompaniment is broad and deep. Too big, too small, too complicated, and missing critical features (at least to me) seemed to be the trend.

Many of the chest packs I looked at were awkward due to an attempt to try to do too many things at once. When we do this, what we gain in flexibility we lose in functionality. I don’t want a fanny pack (or lumbar pack as some call them) that doubles as a chest pack any more than I want a chest pack that can be used as a fanny pack. I prefer something designed to be what it is going to be used as. In this case a chest pack.

After researching my options, my search ended at the ZS2 Rock Creek Chest Pack by Umpqua. As a former fly shop owner, I am quite familiar with Umpqua. For decades they have been known for their quality flies, tying materials and tools, and leaders and tippet. They have also been in the pack game for a decade or so and some of their products have been quite good.

What first attracted me to the ZS2 Rock Creek Chest Pack was the size. It was larger than the really small chest packs but smaller than the really big ones. In fact, it was really close in size to what I have been using for the last decade. Having tried and failed to move into a smaller chest pack from another vendor, and not wanting anything bigger than I needed, it fit the bill.

The ZS2 Rock Creek Chest Pack has a unique shoulder harness system versus a traditional neck strap. While neck straps work, they can be uncomfortable and not great for climbing over large rocks (as I frequently do) because they tend to swing around to the side when at odd angles. Neck straps also don’t hold a net well, causing the pack to ride up to your chin when you pull on the net.

Features on the ZS2 Rock Creek Pack include a rugged 420 denier nylon exterior with ballistic nylon in high-wear areas. It has a zippered (YKK) main compartment with a small inside pocket, and two stretch mesh pockets on the outside. A clip on a cord inside secures your car keys, and there are numerous securing points for tools and chemicals. There is a replaceable exterior foam fly patch, and a tippet holder that can be stowed away. The harness system adjusts easily to fit a broad range of body sizes, and the breathable mesh shoulder straps are comfortable and cooler than a solid strap.

My goal was to move from my old chest pack to a new one without having to leave anything out. I know what I need and have fine-tuned my terminal tackle and supplies over the years to a point where I am rarely caught short while not carrying anything that I do not use at least sometimes. With one minor exception, which was the amount of tissue I carried, and how I carried it, everything else I have been carrying fit into or onto the new chest pack.

For what is a relatively small pack by today’s standards, I was able to find places for dry shake, floatant, sinket, CDC powder, nippers, forceps, leader straightener, fly dryer patch, thermometer, fly retriever, 2 tippet spools, leaders, indicators, large fly box, licenses, cheaters, glass cleaning cloth, sun gloves, head lantern, lighter, insect repellent, chapstick, tissues, spare lace, and a net.

After more than twenty days afield using my new ZS2 Rock Creek Chest Pack, I’m notably impressed. It has done everything I wanted it to do and flawlessly. Unless forced to, I’ll never go back to a traditional neck strap as the shoulder strap system is much more comfortable and infinitely more adjustable, an important feature for backcountry use on rugged terrain.

The Umpqua ZS2 Rock Creek Chest Pack retails for $79.95. It comes in camo and olive. If like me, you are not quite a minimalist but have no interest in being a pack mule, this product is worth a look.