Gear test: Simms Bounty Hunter vault duffle

Transporting fly rods and other gear and tackle on long trips involving air travel or even overland trips across sketchy mountain roads has long been a challenge for anglers. There are lots of options for containing rods and reels, from double-compartment duffles, to heavy and bomb-proof “vaults” that essentially put your fly rods at the mercy of airline baggage handlers.

A little over a year ago, I visited Chilean Patagonia, and stuffed half a dozen rods and reels in the bottom of a big, durable duffle. Each rod was in its own hard-shell case, and each reel was carefully packed with soft goods around them. I was confident that I’d packed about as well as I could, given the need for both durability and carrying convenience.

You can image my disappointment when I arrived to find hard-shelled rod tubes squashed flat, and three broken rods, two broken reels, and a tube of deodorant crushed into white, sticky powder. The only good news from this experience is that, for 12 days, everything I owned smelled pretty good. I fought the good fight with the airline, and got reimbursed (mostly), but I was limited to just my back-up rods for the trip (of course, whatever crushed my bag, crushed the good stuff) and had to borrow some gear from my fishing buddy.

Since then, I’ve been on the prowl for the right transporter for my fly rods, reels, fly boxes and the like. And I think I found it in the Simms Bountyhunter vault duffle. With enough room for eight fly rods (I rarely travel with that many) and several reels, this hard-shelled duffle has now been to the border of Mexico and Belize and southern Georgia to the Okefenokee. In two weeks, it’s going with me to Manitoba, where it will protect the rods and reels my son and I will use to chase big pike and lake trout.

And, so far, so good. No complaints. The vault’s insides are solid and there is a lot of room for gear. On my trip to Georgia, rather than add one more item to my already-bursting carry-on, I pulled my good Canon camera out of its bag and arranged it through the vault strategically, cushioned by a few Buffs. Everything arrived in Atlanta just fine.

Check out the video review above from Trouts Fly Fishing in Denver.

What I really like about the Bounty Hunter, though, is it’s ability to serve as a carry-on itself. Technically, it might be a bit long to actually qualify, but I’ve now carried it on two flights, with absolutely no issues and no hassle from airline staffers. It has a great feature, too, that makes wandering through airports a breeze—it comes equipped with a removable backpack attachment that allows you to drag a wheeled carrier behind you. Brilliant.

All that said, I do have some suggestions for Simms when and if the company comes out with version 2.0. The vault is streamlined for air travel, so I get the need for it’s stripped-down external look. But it would even more convenient with an external pocket or two that would help make it a true carry-on—it needs something to contain the “little things,” like phone chargers, earbuds, maybe a fly box or two. It’s not a complaint so much as a suggestion to improve upon an already great product.

At just under $200, the vault serves protect the significant investments that it’s meant to contain. It’s a worthwhile expense and it makes traveling with fly-fishing gear a lot easier.

— Chris Hunt

By Chris Hunt.