Posted by | September 29, 2011 | Reviews | 15 Comments

Unless I’m purposely packing light to fish out of my kayak, I always wear a backpack along with a chest pack when I’m wading or fishing out of a boat. Between a thermos of coffee, a couple water bottles, jerky, maybe a sandwich, camera, extra fly boxes and wet/cold weather gear, the chest pack alone doesn’t cut it and I’d rather hump a pack than leave it in the truck and waste time making trips back for short breaks. I do the same thing when I’m out deer or goose hunting. Being self-contained keeps you in the game…after all, that’s where the fur, feathers and fins are. The one down-side is that within a couple hours my lower back is killing me and it won’t loosen up regardless of taking breaks or stretching. I’ve found Bourbon to be the closest solution to-date, but it makes wading difficult pretty quickly.

A few days before we flew for Idaho, a package came in the mail from Paul Swint over at William Joseph. He and I had talked about the trip at the IFTD show in New Orleans a week or so earlier and he thought it worthwhile to send me one of their new packs to try out. What showed up at my door was the Exodus II pack/vest combo in sage (it’s available in blue as well). I’d been fishing a small chest pack of theirs for the last 10 years and had planned to pack my extra gear in my backpack the same way I always do. I was looking forward to changing up that routine and hopefully turning the corner on the sore back thing. Damn, I sound freaking old.

The detachable vest pockets were an immediate plus. Our flight west had two layovers, so I planned on using the back pack as a carry-on in order to keep my reels, flies, accessories, camera, some clothes and flight essentials (food/water) with me. I was able to organize all of my fly boxes and accessories in the vest, unbuckle the two components from the pack and fit them in the main compartment with everything else, essentially river-ready.

On the water, the Exodus (retail price of $169) fit me well with the wide, adjustable shoulder straps and chest buckle. I thought the size would make it heavier out of the package, but it was surprisingly light-weight. Plus, the vented back and shoulder straps allowed for plenty of air circulation, which kept me comfortable even with a few 8 – 10 hour days on the water and consistent temps in the 90’s. The contents I packed in the main compartment were not inordinately heavy, but I was able to fit a sweatshirt, shell and a pair of wading sandals along with the other items I mentioned, and the compression straps on the sides, bottom and back kept the pack low-profile and also kept the weight close to my center of gravity, which completely alleviated my back strain.

The material and stitching was durable enough not to snag, rip or pop when hiking a game trail through woods and thick brush, being dropped on the ground or gravel bar, or thrown in the back of a truck or boat at numerous points during the trip. Speaking of boats, during our two days on the South Fork, it was flawless and stowed easily out from under foot when not being pillaged for flies, tippet or jerky. Plus the rugged handle at the top was a solid, easy grab when reaching for the pack or tossing it back.

The one sticking point for me was the dangling straps at the bottom of back-pack. When wading in waist-deep water, where the line you strip bellies around behind you in the current, the line invariably gets snagged on one or more of the straps when paying out line to cast. I tried tying them up to shorten them, but still had some snags. Rolling/folding them up in rubber bands or elastic might’ve worked, I’ve seen that on other packs, but I didn’t test that hypothesis.

The vest components are very well designed with six generous pockets that hold a lot of gear: 4 fly boxes, 5 containers for my sex-dungeon collection, extra leaders, floatant, strike indicators, split-shot case, my pipe and tobacco and Kodak Play Sport video camera. The two components zip together to hold the pair securely front and center, and when unzipped, swing out of the way if you need less in front of you to, say, untangle major knots.

And they’ve paid attention to detail: the water-tight Zip-No magnetic pocket closure system makes it easy to get at fly boxes and other accessories without the one-handed zipper wrestling match; the two zippered cargo pockets it does have are armed with rubberized tabs for easy gripping; rounded, tube-covered pull tabs give you something substantial – but non line-snagging – to pull open the magnetic pockets; additional webbing straps are included for lashing your tippet dispenser or hemos; a retractable clipper clasp is built into one of the pockets; and the AirTrack suspension allows you the flexibility adjust the fit of the whole rig to wear over more layers or fewer.

Aside from the fish we caught, the pack made a huge difference in the overall trip experience – from flight to fishing. Off the water it was comfortable, spacious and convenient enough to travel with. On the water, I had everything I needed (and then some) and without the nagging lower back, I actually forgot that I had anything more than the chest pack on. I look forward to putting it through further abuse/use back up here in NY chasing salmon and steelhead and hopefully some pike and late season bass. Hell maybe the back pack will see hunting season as well.

• More than enough pockets and room in the backpack and vest
• Water-tight Magnetic Zip-No pocket closure system
• Lightweight, well-balanced and compresses well
• Detachable vest components
• Fully adjustable for good fit in cold or warm weather
• The price is right for the over-all versatility and quality

• Need to find a way to corral straps and avoid line snags

You can learn more about the Exodus II pack/vest combo and other William Joseph products at


Reviews on this site are my unpaid and unbiased opinion of gear, music, guides, books and other outdoor-related items. In some instances I may be allowed to keep what is sent to me for review, but as of right now I’m not affiliated with any company, manufacturer, publisher, or producer in any other way. I suppose there’s still hope though.

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  • AZWanderings says:

    Very cool review Matt. Great looking pack for these big waters out west. I like that it is truly multi-functional on those out of state trips. Thanks for sharing.


  • I’ve used O rings to hold a folded strap on a back pack. They seem to have worked well, and it’s one size, and probably less likely to break or dry out.

    That looks like a well thought out pack! I love the idea of magnetic pockets!

  • Lucas says:

    Great review and photos! Once you use the magnets, or even see someone use them, you find a way to get a Willy J pack.

    • fishingpoet says:

      I liked not having to think about whether the pocket was still open or not…going to be a huge bonus with cold fingers!

  • Ross aka the flytyinfreak says:

    Well, You got me! Now I have to add WJ’s Exodus to my must have list. You saw what a flybox/ geart junky I am. I’ve been debating the acquisition of this pack ever since they introduced it but had never ran into anyone, not that I fish crowded water, who had one. I’m sold. Nice description and pictures. I like the fact that the two front attachments are removable, as I can see myself having multiple sets for different species and situations. Excellent work my friend. Paul found the right product tester for sure.

  • Shannon says:

    A great improvement over their original. The first (Escape) was so bad, I sent it back to get an updated replacement – still bad with front pouches that slid up and down the front straps. Looks like they got it right this time. Mine sits in the attic -can’t give it away. Can you tell it left a bad taste?

    • fishingpoet says:

      Great to hear from you Shannon!
      Those front pouches definitely stayed put. Sounds like the suspension system got a lot of attention before numero dos came out.

  • Fishbaydoc says:

    I just got the WJ Amp chest pack and love the mag zippers. It’s nice for short nice weather hops from car to river and maybe flats fishing. I’m looking for the next level up and I think I found it. Thanks for the excellent review. I hope I don’t need a pacemaker since these magnets would turn it off! Don’t loan it to an old fart without checking if they have a pacemaker!

    • fishingpoet says:

      Those zippers are a great feature. I’ll be sure to ask fishing buddies about the heart-hardware! Thanks for stopping by…


  • Panteli says:

    Justa few questions:
    (1) I assume this is a one size fits all. Will it fit a 36″ waist and or about 46-47″ chest?
    (2) Do large fly boxes (eg. C&F Design 7.8″ x 4.7″ x 1.8″) fit in the front vest pockets or backpack side pockets?
    (3) Is there a divider in the main compartment of the backpack?

    • fishingpoet says:

      You are correct in your one-size-fits-all assumption. Since the backpack straps are fully adjustable (top and bottom actually), you should have no problem getting the two vest pockets zipped together. They unbuckle from the backpack straps as well, if you want to go the more minimal route. I haven’t had the C&F in the pockets, but I’ve been able to fit a couple medium-sized boxes together in the pockets (vest and sides), and a large (solo) that’s about the same dimensions as the C&F as well. And yes, there is a divider in the main compartment. Hope that helps!

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