If you’re like me, spring is that time of year when you switch out ski pants for hip waders and ski boots for wading shoes. It’s also that time of year when you’re unpleasantly reminded of those pin-hole leaks in your waders as soon as you wade into icy spring runoff.
Sound familiar? Then you’re probably wondering if it’s time to throw your trusty old waders in the trash, or if you can make them last just a few more months—or at least until wet wading season is in full swing. The truth is that knowing when you should replace your waders comes down to a number of variables, and the obvious answer of, “once they start to leak” doesn’t necessarily hold water. The bottom line is you’ll want to be sure you’ve got the most from your wading gear before you invest in a brand new pair of waders.
How Long Do Waders Last?
If you’ve put hundreds of days in your waders, multiple seasons of use, and they’re now just starting to leak, then you’ve likely got your money’s worth, and it might be time to get a new set—hopefully the same model and brand if they’ve lasted that long.
On the other hand, if you’re on your first or second season with your waders, and you’re not out on the river day in and day out (i.e. guiding), then you’ll want to do a few things to extend the life of your waders, even if you didn’t pay top dollar for them. Of course, how much you fish, how long you usually fish, and the type of fishing you do will factor into how long you can expect a pair of waders to last. For instance, if you tend to fish remote rivers and do a fair amount of hiking to access the water, then your waders are going to get a lot more wear than if you’re only walking a few hundred yards from the car before you can wet a line.
As a general rule of thumb, though, you can expect to get about 3-4 seasons of use from a pair of mid-range waders with moderate use. If you’re fishing every single day, then you might be able to get two seasons from a pair, and maybe just one, depending on how hard you are on your gear. Of course, the more you spend on waders, the more performance and longevity you can expect to get from your wading gear. In fact, it’s not unheard of to get 10 years of use from a pair of high-end waders from Simms, Patagonia, or Orvis. This is all very dependent on how well you take care of them and how many days you spend on the water.
Can Leaky Waders Be Repaired?
Leaky waders are an inevitable reality of fly fishing. The best way to fix leaks is to try and prevent them from happening in the first place. This means walking around thorny patches of brush, not forcing neoprene booties into tight wading boots (this can tear the neoprene), and using a floor mat when getting in and out of them to protect the neoprene from rocks—and the occasional rogue Rapala laying in the parking lot.
Most importantly, though, is properly drying your waders after use. Simms recommends drying the inside first, then drying the outside, while making sure to extend the gravel guards, so moisture doesn’t hold in the creases, causing mildew to degrade the waterproof, breathable fabric and seam tape. Drying out your waders and properly storing them is the single best thing you can do to prevent leaks and extend their lifespan.
Once your waders do eventually spring a leak, you have a few options before it’s time to retire them. For small leaks and problematic seams, I recommend Loon UV Wader Repair. I carry a small tube of this in my hip pack for quick field repairs. The beauty of this product is just how quick it dries. Simply apply a thin layer over the area that’s leaking, then expose the adhesive to direct sunlight, and it dries almost instantly. The only catch with this product is it will not dry as quickly (if at all) on particularly cloudy and rainy days.
For more substantial repairs, you’ll want to patch your waders. Most waders will come with a small patch kit and directions on how to effectively patch them—be sure to hang on to this! If your waders didn’t include a patch kit, you can either contact the manufacturer for a small patch of the same material your waders are made from, or you can purchase a Simms Field Repair Kit. Both are viable options, and you’ll be surprised just how simple and effective patching your waders can be.
Know When It’s Time To Buy New Waders
Now that you know how to repair your waders, it’s also important to know when to just call it quits and buy a new pair. As I write this, I’m coming to terms with the fact that my trusty old waders, after giving me six seasons of heavy use, are ready to be retired. I’ve personally put hundreds of days in them and countless river hours—they’ve served me well and owe me nothing. Opinions will vary on when it’s time to buy new waders, but I personally recommend purchasing a new pair when you’ve had to make multiple repairs (2-4 patches), the internal seams are beginning to fail, or there is general seeping within the neoprene booties. All of these are clear indicators that it’s time to get a new pair of waders.
It’s also important to note that it’s important not to push your waders to the point that they catastrophically fail you in the field. At best, a leaky pair of waders can be annoying and uncomfortable. At worst, they can be dangerous and lead to hypothermia. I recommend inspecting your waders as you’re drying them out after each use to make sure the seams are in good shape and prone-to-wear areas aren’t wearing too thin. The last thing you want to do is call a fishing trip short because you’re cold and wet from a pair of worn-out waders!
By: Jeff Sorenson, Senior Editor & Content Manager