The Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack is a tough, waterproof backpack tuned for fishing. It’s far more than rain and splash proof — as the name notes, it’s fully submersible. Better yet, it has a few key features that make it particularly great for fly fishers looking to protect their gear and get off the beaten path.
To get us a closer look at its new waterproof backpack, Fishpond sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. This is what we learned:
Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack Review
Fishpond is a small company that has been making some of the world’s most robust fishing packs, bags and vests for years — and their products look fantastic, too. The colors, materials and design elements of most every Fishpond product are just outstanding. If you want high-quality packs, bags, vests and accessories for fly fishing, Fishpond should always be on your shortlist.
All that said, Fishpond has delivered another big winner with its new Thunderhead Submersible Backpack. So far I’ve only gotten to take this pack out fishing once, but I wanted to get a first-look review out the door for anyone considering picking up a new waterproof backpack for fishing this spring. Luckily, much of what you need to know quickly becomes apparent.
First off, this backpack is tough. The main material is made from 1680D TPU coated recycled Cyclepond nylon. Fishpond says it’s bombproof — and that hyperbole might not be far from the truth: You’ll have to work hard to poke a hole in this pack or fall down a slope with seriously sharp rocks to tear it open.
Of course, it’s a bit stiff, which isn’t a knock — all tough waterproof bags are a bit stiff — but you should be expecting a heavy-duty experience if you’re considering a waterproof fishing backpack.
Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack Review: The Zipper
The next core component of a great waterproof backpack is the zipper. You want a tough, waterproof zipper that won’t fail, and the Thunderhead delivers by using a proven TIZIP zipper closure system. (Alternately, some waterproof backpacks like the Fishpond Wind River Backpack use roll-top closures like dry bags.)
The main thing you need to understand about waterproof bags and packs that use waterproof zippers is that you’re going to use two hands to open or close, to zip or unzip. While you can sometimes work regular zippers open or shut one-handed, that’s not happening here. To make getting into the pack easier, Fishpond includes two handy finger loops near the opening and ending of the zipper to give you some extra leverage — they work great.
Some waterproof bags and backpacks skimp on zipper length, giving you a too-small opening: Fishpond is generous with its zipper here, giving you good access to the cavernous interior.
Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack Review: Design Elements
Compared to non-waterproof fly fishing backpacks, sling packs, chest packs, and vests, the Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible is almost spartan in design — which is typical of most waterproof gear: You don’t get superfluous pockets and attachment points. On the other hand, the Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack is surprisingly flexible with its gear attachment options.
The hip belt — which is removable — includes two straps for attaching fishing pliers or pouches for quick access. The chest straps include some daisy-chain loops that you can use to attach nippers or tippet spools. There is a D-Ring loop in the back (on the front of the pack, technically) where there is more daisy-chain loops and a small water-resistant pocket.
Fishpond includes two rod tube straps, which you can move to either side of the pack.
Where Fishpond really starts to shine is when you consider the company’s excellent add-on accessories, which help elevate the versatility of the pack.
Let’s start with the new Fishpond Quickshot Rod Holder. This little rod holder attaches to Fishpond’s 4-way attachment point system on the sides of the pack. It clips in, basically, to the bottom side of the pack. The upper 4-way attachment point is for a magnetic FidLock loop. To use the Quickshot Rod Holder, you just slip your rod with the reel attached into the bottom loop, snug it in with the elastic keeper, then secure the upper FidLock loop to the rod.
While it’s possible to use this system with a fully-extended rod, it’s not particularly a great way to pack a rod when walking through the brush. What’s really great about this affordable little accessory is that it will let you fish with one rod while having a second fully rigged rod handy. So, for example, you could throw a nymph rig but when you see a trout feeding on terrestrials along a river bank, you could swap rods right in the middle of a river so you could throw a hopper/ant dropper pattern at the fish instead.
You can really maximize your time on the water with this system so you’re not spending as much time tying on different flies.
More Fishpond Accessories
To amp up the value of the Thunderhead Submersible Backpack, you can attach a Fishpond chest pack to the backpack’s chest straps (and lumbar straps) using Fishpond’s quick clip system. These built-in clips are mostly covered so they stay out of the way — and if you have no intention of using a chest pack, you could rig up your own attachment method for other gear using these clips.
Either way, by attaching a chest pack like the Fishpond Medicine Bow Chest Pack, you could get more fly boxes and accessory gear up front and handy, saving the main compartment for lunch, bigger fly boxes, electronics or clothes you don’t want to get wet. It’s a pretty sweet system, really.
Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack Review: Best Uses
So why should you consider a waterproof backpack for fly fishing? If you like to get off the beaten path or wander along a river far from the pickup, a waterproof backpack will let you pack plenty of snacks and gear for any situation, including fishing in the rain or falling in the water.
Better yet, if you want to hike deep into canyons to find quieter places to fish, a backpack is the way to go. Same goes for float trips — a waterproof backpack lets you grab a bunch of gear and just go without having to worry about gear getting wet, either from an accidental dunking or just the splash of big rapids. And if you have video and camera equipment, waterproof bags and packs can help reduce risk — assuming you’re not just taking the already waterproof GoPro HERO6 or Olympus TG-5.
All-in-all, the Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack is a can’t-go-wrong bomber waterproof backpack that’s surprisingly fishable — and as it turns out — upgradable through well-considered Fishpond accessories like chest packs and the Quickshot Rod Holder. Very highly recommended.