Do you know what really matters when it comes to waders for fishing or hunting? Today you can choose out of a wide variety of products in all different price segments, making it hard to find the perfect pair of waders fitting your needs.
After reading this comprehensive buying guide, you might know more about waders than the salesman in your local store.
There are several things you should take into consideration before making your decision. This buying guide will give you the basic outlines of the popular types and variations and will point out which waders perform best under different conditions, no matter if it’s fly fishing or duck hunting.
How To Choose Your Waders
To give you something that’s quick and easy to digest, we designed this infographic. It includes all the basics you should know. Further down everything will be discussed in detail.
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Keep on reading!
Breathable Or Neoprene?
The first thing you should take into consideration:
Tricky swamps or crystal clear streams?
When it comes to fishing or hunting the most popular fabric choices are breathable or neoprene. Both have advantages and disadvantages under different conditions. If you are looking for the right waders to support you during your hobby, the choice of material is probably the most significant.
Today breathable material can be made out of several different fabrics. Most breathable fishing waders use a construction of layered nylon coated with DWR to make them waterproof. DWR stands for “Durable Water Repellent” and is a fluoropolymer based treatment which gives them a hydrophobic feature, while they still remain breathable. The laminated layers keep water out while at the same time allowing moisture to leave your waders, therefore creating a permeable membrane. The technique is common in combination with Gore-Tex and used frequently for hiking boots. The only company allowed to use Gore-Tex in waders is Simms, but there are many other ways fabrics that achieve a similar level of “breathability”.
Sometimes another layer is added on the inside, but generally breathable waders keep you warm enough during the winter month, while at the same time prevent you from sweating once temperatures rise. If the weather gets colder you can adapt with another layer of thermals underneath to prevent freezing.
When you plan on getting only one pair of waders, while using them in a wide range of environments breathables are the better choice. In the heat, they outperform all other fabrics by far, while at the same providing decent insulation that can easily be improved with additional layers of clothing underneath.
There is a chance, that your breathable waders will eventually lose their hydrophobic outer layer. If that happens, you can easily renew the water repelling coating with a waterproofing spray.
W hen facing rougher and colder conditions, neoprene performs better than breathable fabrics. Neoprene is generally more durable and will withstand activities like duck hunting, where you regularly walk through dense bushes with sharp sticks or murky swamps. Neoprene is more flexible than nylon and can be more comfortable to wear in some situations.
From time to time I see people asking if neoprene waders are waterproof and the answer is yes. They work differently than wetsuits, since they come with a higher density and keep your legs completely dry.
They also insulate incredibly well and even during winter, with the right type of thickness, you shouldn’t have to freeze. Most popular choices are 3.5mm, 5mm, and 7mm neoprene and obviously, the thicker they get, the better they insulate. Keep in mind that they are really not made for using them in a warm climate. You will build heat up quickly causing you to sweat.
If you compare neoprene vs rubber waders, neoprene is lighter, more durable and keeps you warmer. Because of that, they replaced rubber waders almost entirely in the outdoors industry.
If you plan on using your pair mainly in colder weather and under tough conditions, neoprene waders definitely perform better than most breathable nylon versions.
Some people complain about the increased buoyancy neoprene waders often have. The thicker the neoprene is, the more you will notice how they try to float on top of the water. In other words, while this effect is barely noticeable while wearing 3.5mm, it can be slightly annoying with 5mm or even 7mm neoprene.
To make this guide complete, it should be mentioned, that in the lower price segment, you will find some models that are made from nylon without the feature of being breathable, making you sweat as soon as temperatures rise. The longevity of these products is poor, they do not insulate at all and we would generally not recommend getting one of them for fishing or hunting. The price difference to breathable or neoprene material is minor and definitely worth paying for. They will last you longer and you will have more fun wearing them.
Bootfoot Or Stockingfoot?
Another decision you will have to make is between stockingfoot and bootfoot. Again, both bring advantages and disadvantages with them and outperform each other under different conditions.
This type is the more popular version for fly fishers. They are usually chest high, sometimes only waist high, and do not come with boots. Instead, you will have high-density neoprene booties, that will keep you dry. The waders are lighter and take up less room when folded, compared to their counterpart. As a result, they are easier to carry and might be a better choice if you plan on travelling a lot with them.
Since the neoprene booties are not meant to walk on, you will have to buy a separate pair of wading boots. You can choose between different styles and different soles. Decent wading boots definitely perform better than the attached shoes on bootfoot waders. They provide a lot more ankle support and traction, allowing you to move safer through rivers and lakes, even on slippery grounds. Additionally, longer hikes to your fishing spots are way more pleasant, as good wading boots almost resemble a pair made for hiking . You are able to get a pair that perfectly fits your feet, which can be a problem with bootfoot waders, where shoes are already attached. When you enter the river, the boots will fill up quickly, and if well constructed, drain water again in no time.
Cleaning and washing them is easy, since you can just put them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle and low temperature. If cleaned thoroughly, you might have to use a product to give them their water repellent back. Nikwax offers a product that has proven to work pretty well.
Most stockingfoot waders come with attached gravel guards, that you can slip over the top of your boots, to keep out gravel and debris while wading. As mentioned earlier these are usually the best choice for fly fishing. The variety of different boots make you more flexible and let you easily adapt to your environment.
This type comes with already attached shoes. Although you lose the advantage of choosing your own, perfectly fitting pair of boots, there are definitely upsides. Knowing that customers will use this product in colder areas, the boots are usually well insulated. This will keep you warmer than a system with separate shoes. Because of that, bootfoot waders are mostly made from neoprene.
After a demanding day outside, where you walked through knee deep mud, waders with boots attached are pretty easy to clean as well. You won’t have any mud in your boots, and washing everything off is easily done with a hose and water. This is definitely favorable for hunting, and it does not surprise, that bootfoot waders are a popular choice for duck hunting.
They also perform better when you use them for surf fishing. Standing in the surge for hours would quickly fill up your boots with sand, even when you use gravel guards. If you plan on doing these activities, bootfoot is the way to go.
Chest Or Hip Waders?
Another differentiation can be made between chest and waist high waders. As the name suggests, chest waders reach up to your chest and usually stop right below your armpits giving you the ability to walk into deeper water, while still remaining dry. Keep in mind that the current will affect you stronger while standing in waist-high water.
Wading pants or waist high waders are made for shallower rivers and streams and can be stockingfoot or bootfoot as well. They look similar to a normal pair of pants and some people prefer them to chest highs, if the water is shallow. Only you know where your waders come to action, so choose accordingly to that. Having said that, if you only get one pair, go for the chest waders. If necessary, most of them can be transformed to waist height. If this sounds appealing to you, keep an eye out for so-called convertible waders.
Features To Look For
Pointing out the different types of waders you can get, there are also different features that are not always necessary, but definitely nice to have. Some of them just save you money, since you do not have to buy them separately, while others improve your safety while wading out.
- Pockets are not only handy for storing your tackle, some also perform as hand warming pockets, being specially insulated. When the days get colder, you will get to that point where you either go for gloves or have one of said pockets on the front of your waders. Front pockets are usually big enough to store a small box of flies or something equally sized in there. Some even offer pockets that you can flip out with different storing possibilities, which can replace a small fly fishing chest pack.
- Reinforced knees can make the difference between a pair that rips the moment you kneel on a sharper rock, or waders that will accompany you for a few seasons. One of the most important features, especially for breathable waders, since they are usually more delicate.
- Wading belts are a must-have! They prevent your waders from filling up with water, if you should slip and fall into the river. This can save your life and you should seriously never wade without one. Most waders will have them already included, but if not, purchase one the moment you get your new pair. Also handy are belt loops, those hold said belt in place, making it even more secure. Another tip is to look for waders that have flexible belts, or get yourself one separately. They really improve comfort, since you have to set them less tight for the same effect. Make sure to always wear a wading belt as soon as you enter the water and if you want even more safety, take a look at wading staffs.
- Gravel guards are needed only for stockingfoot waders and will prevent most debris to enter your boots. Stones in your wading boots are equally uncomfortable than stones in your everyday shoes. They cost around 20$ to 30$ but are in most cases already attached to the waders.
- D-rings and other features beneficial for hunting, such as camo patterns. D-rings are usually placed chest-high, on the front or the back of the waders and allow you to attach a shell holder. A lot of neoprene chest waders let you choose between different kinds of camo patterns to be suitable for duck hunting.
Making A Decision
If you take all this information into consideration before making your decision, you should be able to find the perfect pair supporting you while fishing or hunting. The last question, that’s pretty much up to you, is how much are you willing to spend. We can’t really help you here, but it’s worth noting, that a good pair of waders doesn’t have to break the bank. Sure, if you guide on a river 4 days a week, SIMMS might be worth it, but for the average fly fisher, there are options in the $100 and $200 price range, that will work just fine. Have a look at our best of lists and our reviews if you need a little more guidance, or just do you own research, you should now know what to look for now!
Tight lines and happy hunting!
11 thoughts on “How To Choose Your Waders – Ultimate Guide”
This definitely beats the advising the guy in my local store gave me. After reading this, I feel like I could sell waders myself now.
Do you have a recommendation for someone just starting out in fly fishing? My Budget is not that high, but I still want quality.
I bought a pair of breathable waders about one year ago. For some reason, during the last few days of fishing, it feels like my legs get a little wet. I checked all around but couldn’t find any leaks. Did you ever hear of something like that before? I really do not want to buy a new pair already…
thanks for your question.
Your problem sounds like your waders start to loose their waterproof coating slowly. Check our our article about our article about waterproofing sprays. There is a section targeting this problem and how to fix it.
Great article! very thorough.
Looking for a high quality boot-foot wader for flyfishing in cold weather. (my feet get extremely cold after a few hours of fishing in under 40 degree water. Anyone have any recommendations? Actual field evaluations?
If you are going to fish in really cold weather, you should look for the neoprene option here. But for fishing you usually roll better with breathable material and underwader pants.
What I do is get boot foot a size larger than I wear. Then I wear 2 pair of thick woolen socks which cushion my feet as well as keep them warm.
I’d like to thank you very much for your information it was all very useful I bought a pair of 800 thermal chest waders and they work out perfect for the creek that I’m in for early-season
I bought a pair of Stocking foot waist high waders from Cabala’s there brand 4 most dry and a pair of lug sole wader boots on the recommendation of a outfitter I plan on Hunting with in Alaska for Caribou. because he said that they will dry faster and only really need the inside dry if the are turned inside out. My only concern is I had to buy a size 13 boot. and I have a size 10 1/2 foot. thank god I tried them on in the store. the 11 hurt my feet and the 12 still didn’t feel right. I will be wearing heave socks. the store guy told me to try some on with the waders on my feet for fit and not to tie the shoe until I walked around a little to get the wader in place in the shoe. My next concern is I wanted camo as I will be hunting crossing stream and rivers. but will probable where them all day hunting if they don’t hurt my feet to hike in. I bought what I bought because I could not find breathable stocking feet waders in Camo. dose anyone make them?
Not to our knowledge. Camo waders come pretty much always in neoprene unfortunately. However, if you hunt in heavy terrain breathable material might to fragile anyway.
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