How to Choose Breathable Fishing Waders
It is clear from page one that breathable fishing waders are a clear winner over rubber, rubber/canvas, nylon stocking foot or neoprene waders. What should we look for in choosing a quality set of breathable waders? Picking a pair of chest waders is a balancing act between features and budget.
Consider a wader expenditure an investment in your fly fishing pleasure. Believe me when I say nothing can ruin your fishing faster than a pair of waders that don’t fit, are hot or leak. In the summer, non-breathable waders are hot. In winter they are cold because the perspiration builds up and you get wet. Wet and cold are a bad combination for your health and comfort.
- Cost — You can spend anywhere from $129 for Clearwater Endura Breathable Stockingfoot Waders to $450 for Simms Guide Series. I suggest that you budget about $200 for a decent pair of waders. (with proper care, they should last about 5 seasons)
- Construction — How are your waders constructed? Type of breathable materials, how many layers, type of inner lining
- Boot Foot or Stocking Foot — Boot Foot waders have the advantage of not having to purchase a separate wading shoes. The stocking foots are generally lighter without the wading shoes. And you can wear the wading shoes separately for wet wading in the summer.
- Bootie Fit — How does your bootie fit? A bad fit or construction to your booties and you can shorten your wader life by years.
- Seam Seals — The most vulnerable leak point on a fly fishing wader whether boot foot or stocking foot styles. Learn to spot quality seam construction.
- Leg to Boot Connection — Again a giant stress point. What to look for in a quality wader.
- Reinforcement — The seat and thigh-knee area are the high wear areas on a set of fishing waders. Learn the main methods of reinforcement. Make sure your new waders have some form of reinforcement.
- Wader Body Features — Learn what to look for in wader body features.
- Wading Shoes — Features to look for.
- Wader and Shoe Care
- Stream Diseases — How to care for your equipment if you have been around these two nasties.
The technology is constantly evolving. In 1999, the fly-fishing industry was split between using a breathable coating and using a breathable membrane.
The breathable coating was applied to one side of the middle layer of a fabric sandwich. The first “breathable” membrane fabric was of course Gore-Tex.
In 1999, “Fly Fishing America” magazine conducted full blown testing of breathable-waders using two independent labs. The labs tested for waterproofness, DEET resistance and breathability. The cost of the tests was $30,000. Results shocked the fly fishing industry. The breathable membrane approach using Gore-Tex was the clear winner on all three tests.
Today most wader manufacturer’s use a laminate construction. The laminate may be 3 or 4 layer. Orvis No-Sweat? is a 4 layer laminate of an outer breathable polyester microfiber, a breathable microporous polyurethane coating, another breathable membrane and finally an inner layer of soft, smooth nylon tricot lining. Orvis No-Sweat? allows perspiration from activity to escape both above and below the water line meaning you stay dryer both summer and winter.
A three layer construction is a breathable membrane sandwiched between an inner layer of material and an outer layer of material. The membrane of choice is Gore-Tex but some lower cost alternatives to Gore-Tex have become available. These lower cost materials include Entrant, Orvis No-Sweat?, Stearns Seal Dri and Cabela’s Dri-Plus
Outer Construction material is most often Polyester (PE), Nylon (NY) or Microfiber (MF). It may also be some combination such as Polyester-Microfiber or a Micro-Denier. The inner lining is generally soft nylon tricot for an easy on and easy off feature.
Boot feet waders come with the boots attached to the upper wader body. Stocking foot waders require a wading shoe to complete the outfit.
Boot foot waders are faster to get into and out of. But they can chafe or wear faster if you hike in or walk more a lot to most of your fishing spots. They often offer less ankle support or traction control on a rocky bottom. If you fish for only a few hours at a time these may be just the ticket for you.
Cabela’s Guide Tech and Orvis Tailwaters XT Waders or Orvis Silver Label2 stocking foot waders are both top-quality waders with the boots permanently attached to the wader-body. Editor Note: (A friend has the Silver Label 2 waders. Every time I see how little perspiration buildup happens when he is in the water for long times, I am totally impressed. At the Denver Fly Fishing Show 2007, an Orvis representative said the Silver Label is the most breathable wader Orvis makes.)
Other manufacturers / retailers of boot foot breathable waders are Dan Bailey, Hodgman, L.L.Bean Emerger, Bare Sports Wear and Choata.
Bootie fit is a critical item to check when purchasing stocking foot waders. Look at how the boots are cut. Waders where the left and right boots look the same are made with uni-boots. This is not to say that a pair of waders with uni-feet may not be comfortable or work for you. Waders with a anatomically correct right and left foot construction will be more comfortable. See the Orvis Waders Page for examples of this construction.
Neoprene boot feet are warmer in cold water but occupy more space in your wading shoes. Waders made with boots of reinforced body material will be colder in cold water. These type of wader body boots are generally thinner than the neoprene boot. They will fit your wading shoes differently than the neoprene boots.
Whether you are looking at neoprene or wader body boots, examine the inside for excess material in the heel and instep area. Look for any bunched or rough seams in the heel and instep area. Bunched or rough seams will cause blisters if you are hiking in very far. They will also wear out sooner from the abrasion of your foot against the seam. A worn seam generally leaks sooner or later.
You may wear boot socks to cushion your feet when walking or to stay warm. When trying on waders, wear your usual fishing socks. An optimal fit for your waders with your fishing socks on is like a loose sock. Bring your wading shoes with you to the store to try on with the waders. If you are buying new wading shoes and new waders make sure they fit together.
Regardless of whether you choose neoprene or wader body material booties, don’t expect to go from one to the other without encountering fit issues with your wading shoes.
This is the most vulnerable leak point on any wader either boot foot or stocking foot. A properly designed seam should be overlapped, glued and/or sown then taped. The important part is the quality of the taping on the seam.
Poorly designed and sealed seams will leak. It is just a matter of when. Properly sealed seams use waterproof, adhesive-backed tape. The minimum width is 3/4 inch with 1 full inch being preferred. Seam tape should be overlapped equally on both sides of the seam. The seam should be taped on both outside and inside. Inside for comfort and added waterproofing.
Turn the waders inside out. Examine the seams and underlying wader body fabric for wrinkles or bunches. Look at the seam tape for gaps, voids or creases. Any of these is a future leak waiting to happen. Think about how you remove your waders. If you remove them by pulling on the heel, make sure the heel seams are strong enough to stand up to this kind of stress.
Seam intersections, where seams cross over one another, are high stress points. These intersections should be covered by a large round patch of seam tape to seal and strengthen them.
Whether you are purchasing boot foot waders or stocking foot waders, the following applies. Carefully examine the area where the wader body leg material is attached to the boot or bootie material. These are giant seams , connecting two dissimilar materials and thickness, that take a lot of stress with each step you take.
Carefully examine how the seam is sealed both inside and out. Check the smoothness of transition from boot to leg. Any distinct ridge is a potential chafe source or bunching around the top of a wading shoe.
Getting to your favorite fishing spot may require walking through knee or waist high brush. Or you may find yourself kneeling to cast to a spooky fish. Walking, brush, kneeling, climbing down to the stream all put a high stress on the knee area of waders. Slipping and landing on your seat sliding down a bank will put strain on the seat area of your waders.
There are two ways to reinforce the seat and thigh – knee area of waders. The less expensive method is to put an extra layer of outer material over the seat and thigh – knee areas. Another low cost method is the addition of a large seam sealing material on the inside. Unfortunately, both methods will reduce the breathability of the wader.
The better and more expensive method is to use a 4 or 5 layer laminate in the wader construction. This is a better technique of increasing durability while maintaining breathability.
Yet another approach to stress reduction on the knee area is the use of articulated knee construction. Some manufacturers may use articulated knees plus one of the other 3 methods of reinforcement.
At the top inside of the wader body, look for a cord to draw the top snug against your body. This cord should be on a plastic keeper to make operation quick and easy.
Look for at least one waterproof pocket inside the top front of the waders to store wallet, keys or other items. Hand-warmer pockets or other storage pockets are an added plus. See Orvis Pro Guide Waders
To ensure better on-stream safety, always wear a wader belt. Neoprene chest waders full of water do float pretty well. Regular chest waders full of water, I would not want to find out.
Your wader belt should have a quick release high impact plastic buckle. The belt should be constructed of a non-stretch nylon or polyester type material and be adjustable to fit snugly around your waist. Look for belt loops in your waders. I prefer at least three. One left side, one back and one right side. The loops should be large enough to allow removal of the belt. But not so large they allow the belt to slide around or fall out.
Suspenders — must be removable. Generally this is accomplished by a large velcro tab that slides through a flat ring type hook at the rear of the waders. The front should have one male prong and one female buckle arrangement. This allows the waders to be rolled down to waist high. Then the suspenders can be wrapped around your waist and cross buckled to help hold the waders up.
Suspender design is either the H design or the Y design. The Y design is often attached to some sort of adjustable leather keeper at the middle of your shoulders. The H design doesn’t require any adjustment except to snug them up from the front to fit your shoulders. I think the H design does not chafe the shoulders like the Y design. For this reason, I much prefer the H design as being more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Gravel Guards are a must to keep sand and gravel from entering the top of your wading shoes and wearing holes in your waders. Only settle for waders that have gravel guards attached. Guards should be easy to roll up and down. Some guards have special features like a draw cord at the bottom to keep out sand and small gravel. Some come with a lace hook to keep them pulled down. This feature is more important on guards constructed of wader body material. I have found that neoprene gravel guards don’t need boot laces as much. The main thing is the guards are properly attached to the wader leg so they are handy to use when you get ready to go fishing.
Look for the tallest wading shoe the store carries. Try on the waders and the boots. Try to get waders with a boot to leg seam above the top of the tallest wading boot. If the seam is below the top of a tall wading boot, you will put undue stress on the gravel guard / boot – leg seam area when a tall boot is laced up.
When purchasing wading shoes, allow enough room to comfortably fit your waders. Wear your waders or the ones you are buying. Then make sure the boots will go on and off easily. Look for a pull tab at the back of the shoe. This makes it much easier to get the wading boot on over neoprene booties. Check that the tongue is fully gusseted to keep out gravel. But the gusset is loose enough to make getting the shoes on and off easy.
Examine how the shoes lace up. Some manufacturers advertise “Easy lacing with speed laces” Make sure to lace the shoes to see how hard they are to lace. Most shoes use a traditional boot eye or some type of metal speed lace system. I have a two pair of Hodgeman “Speed Lace” wading shoes and they are anything but fast.
About the fastest lace system I have seen is Chota Outdoor Gear’s shock cord “Quick Lace” system. All you do is pull the laces at the top of the shoe and set the plastic retainer to hold them tight. Since this article was originally published, some manufacturers have gone to wire laces attached to tightening knob at the top of the gusset area. Simply twist the knob until the shoes are comfortably tight and push in to secure the system. When ready to take the boots off, tap the knob and it will snap open allowing the laces to loosen.
Summer of 2004, I purchased a new pair of Korkers wading shoes with the Omnisole system. I don’t have to pull any laces to get out of my Korkers. Just loosen laces down from top down to third crossover. They are pretty fast to lace up too.
Soles — you have a choice of traditional felt, polypropylene felt or felt with spikes. Spikes are usually tungsten carbide or ceramic. You may find some shoes with rubber lug soles too. Rubber lug soles can be ok for hiking in but can be very slippery in mossy river conditions.
I prefer felt, either traditional style or polypropylene felt, or felt with spikes. Korkers Company makes an “Omnisole System” which includes a boat sole, felt sole, felt with spikes, studded rubber sole and a rubber lug sole.
The soles are glued to a foot shaped piece of hard plastic. The plastic fits in their wading shoes under an integral rubber retainer in the sole. A 3/4 inch nylon strap backed with Velcro is sown to a tab at the back of the sole. This strap fits through a metal retainer ring at the back of the boot. Then is folded over and locked down with the Velcro.
I purchased a pair of the Korker boots with the rubber lug, felt and studded felt soles. The rubber lug is great for hiking or walking in. The studded felt soles offer good traction on slippery rock bottoms. I do feel the regular felt sole needs to be a denser quality and about 1/16 inch thicker for better results. I also believe that a slightly built up heel on the regular felt soles would improve the lateral stability. (These are my opinions from some two seasons of personal field testing.)
Wader and Shoe Care
Many streams are more contaminated than they look. To extend the life of your waders, hand wash them off with warm water or warm water and a mild soap solution. I just hold mine in the shower under almost hot water until the outer material including boots is good and wet. Then I hang them on the shower rod for a couple of days until dry. (Inside and Outside). Hanging them up allows for the booties to dry out too.
To clean your wading shoe soles, use a vegetable brush with reasonably stiff fiber bristles or a fingernail brush. Dunk each shoe in a bucket of warm water and use the brush to remove the dirt and loose rocks. Fill the boot part way with water and swish around. Then throw the water out at the heel area. I usually lay each shoe on its side in a shaded area of my patio for a day and then turn over for another day. A couple of days will dry my wading shoes adequately for storage.
If you have been fishing in known Whirling Disease waters or suspected Disease waters, disinfect your waders and shoes in a 10% bleach solution. Then rinse thoroughly in warm water.
New Zealand Mud Snail
In Colorado another parasite is threatening our fisheries. The New Zealand Mud Snail. This critter arrived here on the soles of wet waders that were not properly taken care of before a visitor left New Zealand.
The snail eats the vegetation and algae that the insects need to survive. Trout eat insects so less insects means less trout. The young of the NZ mud snail are usually 1mm in length which is about the size of a small grain of sand. They produce Asexually. Meaning it ONLY TAKES ONE Female to start reproducing and infect an entire water shed. The snails are prolific reproducers and tend to crowd out snails that Trout can eat. The NZ mud snail will pass through the digestive tract of a fish and come out alive. They have a hard plate that closes over the shell opening and allows them to do this. They can also survive out of water for more than 25 days on a damp media such as wet waders. Do your part, CLEAN your waders between water sheds and at home with the following solution.
The NZ Mud snail has recently been discovered on the “Dream Stream” between Eleven Mile Reservoir and Spinney Reservoir. This is a popular area so clean up your gear. The “Mud Snail” is also in the South Platte river around the Deckers, CO area.
Remember most breathable waders don’t breath under water. Get out of the stream every so often and allow the waders to wick your body vapor away. Orvis Waders do allow moisture to escape both above and below the water line.
Be willing to pay for the important features listed above. The price range to get all or most of them will generally be in the $200 to $350 range. Just consider your expenditure as an investment. Properly constructed modern breathable waders will last a minimum of three years of hard use to 5 years of moderate use. Personally I have averaged 4 or 5 years per waders so I don’t mind paying the price for a quality wader.
Fly Fishing Colorado
- Fishing Waders Page One
- Choosing Fly Rods Page One