Breathable waders are your best choice, sometimes your only choice.
I have been whipping the water with my fly rod long enough to remember canvas, nylon, and rubber waders in my youth. Later, neoprene waders debuted with “wetsuit-like” material which kept you warm in cold water. All of these materials, unfortunately, had one thing in common… after only a few minutes of walking on the trail to your favorite honey hole you were sweating like a huge, NBA center. When the noon sun hit the river, you swore you were liquefying inside your neoprene waders. Time for some serious R&D at the fly fishing equipment labs; GORE-TEX was born.
Stockingfoot, breathable waders are constructed with 5 mm neoprene “booties” attached to a layered, nylon shell covering your legs and torso. A mid-layer of GORE-TEX is impervious to water on the outside but allows water vapor, better known as sweat, to escape from the inside. Result: you are kept dry and comfortable under your breathable chest waders. Eureka!
To date, Simms has the proprietary technology to use GORE-TEX in manufacturing breathable waders. However, Patagonia, Loop, Orvis, and other companies have developed their own breathable technologies such as Patagonia’s H2NO. All breathable waders are designed with two purposes: Keep water out and allow sweat to escape from within.
Stockingfoot waders require you to purchase wading boots. (I will explore tips for procuring wading boots in a future blog). You can still buy bootfoot waders, with a rubber boot permanently attached to nylon uppers, but stockingfoot waders with separate wading boots have some real advantages: 1) they easily roll up into a small, nylon bag when packing your gear; 2) you can wear flippers, sans boots, when fly fishing from your float tube; 3) wading boots are constructed with plenty of arch support, important when hiking and fishing all day; and 4) you can tighten laces of wading boots to increase support for your ankles when hiking and navigating precarious river rocks.
Other thoughts about stockingfoot waders would include:
- The first place waders will leak is at the seams. The seams of quality waders are double-taped after being stitched. Better waders are “welded” at the seams to ensure they are leak-proof. Of course, no waders are invulnerable to barbed wire, hooks, sharp sticks, pointy rocks, etc. Make sure you carry a patch kit in your gear bag with UV sealant that hardens with a lamp or the sun’s rays. That way you can get back to pursuing hook ups with muskies quickly.
- Radial seams as opposed to straight seams up the back of the wader’s legs are more comfortable and less prone to leak-causing wear.
- During cold weather, put on extra socks and “wading pants” made of a breathable fabric (fleece, polyester fleece, PolarTec) for an under layer. Do not wear cotton garments under your waders. Cotton “sweat pants”, long underwear, or your denim jeans will not wick away sweat from your skin to be expelled to the atmosphere by your breathable waders. You will be very uncomfortable if you wear anything but moisture wicking garments under your waders in freezing weather.
- Make sure you purchase stockingfoot waders with attached gravel guards. Sharp bits of gravel that make their way into your wading boots will cut the neoprene causing leaks.
- If you fly fish more than 3 days a week or wear your waders when rowing your drift boat, consider “guide-weight” waders. Guide-weight waders have more layers of nylon in the legs and seat to protect against wear and tear. Of course, guide-weight waders are more expensive, but well worth the extra moolah.
- Most stockingfoot waders today have a shoulder-strap system that allows you to fold chest section down to your waist… effectively making your chest waders into waist-high waders, much more comfortable in warm weather.
- Stockingfoot waders will have a chest pocket to keep, for example, a fly box. Consider models that have a waterproof pocket for your cell phone and keys. Fleece-lined, handwarmer pockets are a real luxury.
- Stockingfoot hip waders are great in warm weather to access small, shallow streams. I have not met a Western creek that has allowed me to wet wade in shorts. Brush and thistle tear up your legs without at least hip waders.
- Your stockingfoot waders will have loops at the waist for an included wading belt. Make sure you buckle up your wading belt before entering the river. In the case of an unexpected dunking, the wading belt will keep water from rushing over the top of your waders and filling up the inside of them. Without a wading belt you will sink like a stone resulting in a potentially deadly situation.
- Eventually, all waders will develop leaks. When you grow weary of patching them or you just want to buy the latest and greatest features, please contemplate sending your used waders to recycledwaders.com. They do a great job of turning old waders into new products.
Wader fitting and sizing.
Okay, you have done your research and chosen a quality set of fly fishing waders. Now what size do you need? If you are lucky enough to have a trim, svelte body, you don’t want waders that make you look like the Michelin Man. On the other hand, us Baby Boomers with beer guts also need good fitting waders. Pay attention to the manufacturer’s sizing chart. The most important measurement is inseam. Waders that ride up in your crotch or have too many folds, because they are too loose-fitting in the legs, will create leak-causing wear points. You also need to consider booty size (your shoe length), waist size, chest size, and your weight. Donâ€™t forget to purchase waders that are loose enough to accommodate wading pants and a fleece top underneath. Wader manufacturers have come up with great ways to make sure you get the fit you want. The best way to choose well-fitting waders is to get thee to a fly shop and try on different styles under the guidance of a trout bum.
All wader companies have recently created specific product for women. Hallelujah! Ladies can now choose stockingfoot waders that are designed with the female anatomy in mind. Women fly fishers have many wader choices that take into account hip, waist, and chest measurements. Still, remember to purchase waders that are loose enough to layer moisture-wicking garments underneath to keep you warm in a cold river.