Anyone who’s been around me knows I am a huge fan of a good day pack, with the hours I put in on a typical day plus the crap I like to bring with me on the river, packs are the way to go. I like to be prepared for most conditions when I head out, this means I’m bringing all my boxes, a bottle or two of water, lunch, rain jacket for those unexpected summer showers and a couple of cold ones to enjoy with my buddies while hiking the river.
The first difference I noticed was the size of the Freestone compared to the large Waypoints pack. Although it’s not much of an increase, 5-liters, you could instantly tell by the way it was built. The Freestone offered more room and was designed better than the Waypoints. The way the Waypoints was designed, it was difficult to find items that had slipped down with how tight the face fabric was at the top of the bag, making it hard to slide my hand down inside to find boxes or my lunch when it slid down. Simms fixed this with the Freestone, the zipper on the main compartment has been increased and now runs completely down both sides of the pack instead of just around the top. This allows the angler to completely open the main compartment and access items at the bottom with ease, complimented with 4 separate zippers, I can position them strategically with a pair at the top of the pack and a pair towards the bottom, so I can access the main compartment in multiple spots depending on where my gear has settled.
The next feature that I noticed was the front drop-down panel, this can be used for net, jacket, or extra rod storage. The one thing that started to bother me with the Waypoints pack was my net storage. I can now store my Rising Lunker Net directly behind me, centered on my back where it will stay out of the way, with the Waypoints backpack I had to set it off to one of the side compression straps for the best result, but at times my cast would stray a little resulting in the fly getting caught in my net bag. This is a big selling point for myself, with the amount of stillwater fishing I do, a longer handle net is key fishing the deep drop-off points around cliffs and dams where wading can be quite hazardous.
Other adjustments Simms has made to the new Freestone are better placed secondary pockets. The previous Waypoints pack had pockets on the top flap of the main compartment, a large front zipper pocket and a series of small net-style pockets on the inside of the main compartment for accessories. The problem I found with this set up was the top pocket usually got cumbersome with items inside it, often getting in the way while accessing to the main compartment, also if I hadn’t closed the zipper completely I would find items on the ground, scattered from being squeezed out while rustling through the main compartment. The front zippered pocket worked well on the Waypoints but didn’t offer much organization and the small interior net pockets just didn’t get used due to gear in my bag blocking access as well as some essentials falling to the bottom of the bag.
This has now been fixed on the Freestone Pack by replacing those pockets with 3 zippered pockets, two on the outside above the drop-down panel and one on the inside. All of these pockets are sized fairly well, the interior mesh pocket is the perfect size to fit 4 maybe 5 standard Tacky Boxes comfortably and the same goes for the first outer pocket. Although smaller in depth it too could fit 2 to 3 standard Tacky Boxes but I usually opt for this pocket to hold my floatants, keys, phone and anything else I want to stay somewhat dry. The front stretch woven pocket is usually where I put my split-shot, pucks of flies I’m too lazy to put in my fly boxes, as well as anything else I need storage for. It’s essentially my catch all pocket and I have been very pleased with this layout compared to the Waypoints pocket layout.
Additional features that Simms has continued on the Freestone Backpack are magnetic tool docking stations on the shoulder straps and multiple attachment points for zingers and other accessories. A lightweight aluminum frame with an exterior mesh back panel to promote airflow on your back as well as quick drying performance after rain storms. The Freestone chest pack can be added to the front of the pack utilizing the hook and loop connection, there are 2 Velcro fly patches to dry used flies and a water bladder pocket with a straw port to ensure you always have enough water.
The one thing I’m not a fan of with the Freestone Backpack is the small stretch woven accessory pocket on the shoulder strap. To me, this pocket is an annoyance and doesn’t serve much of a purpose with my setup. It’s there to hold floatant, indicators, and split-shot but have noticed the pocket starts to get a little bulky and to me sits too high on the shoulder strap. The zipper I find hard to use, it sits in the middle of the pocket and makes it difficult to close with one. I think it would be better to have placed the zipper to one side to make it easier to manipulate the pocket and zipper without dropping your rod. I tend to keep most of my small accessories and dressings either in one of the front pockets on the pack or in my wader or pants pockets. It’s a little easier for me to grab and doesn’t get in the way of my cast or line of sight. Who knows though, I might end up finding a use for it but most likely will try to cut it off.
All in all this pack has exceeded my expectations, it’s very comfortable and carries everything I need on the most demanding days. The ability to add on the chest pack for more room is a great security blanket for overnight trips to the high country. If you’re a pack guy like me or thinking about getting one for more storage I highly suggest the Freestone Backpack for its room, layout, versatility and let’s not forget awesome price!