Your Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Waders For Fishing – In Every Category
You, and how and where you fish, are entirely unique. And so are the waders that will work best for you. We developed this guide to help you wade through literally hundreds of different brands, designs, and features relative to price. Before you shell out your hard-earned money, be sure to look through our overviews below and detailed supporting reviews with our picks for best waders for fishing in every category.
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Overview Of The Best Fishing Waders
What To Look For
How We Review Waders
Overview By Category (With Links To Detailed Reviews Of Our Favorite Picks)
Best Waders For Women Overall
Best Waders For Kids
Best Waders For Men Overall
Best Waders & Shoes For Warm Weather
Chest Waders For Warm Weather
Best Waders For Cold Weather
Best Waders For Salt Water
Best Waders For Guides
Best Waders For Boating & Kayaking
Best Waders For Backcountry Fishing
Best Wading Boots
Criteria For Choosing Quality Waders
How To Store and Care For Your Waders
Breathable Waders Care and Tips
Neoprene Waders Care and Tips
What To Look For – How To Choose The Best Waders
You, and where and how you fish, are different than every one else. We want you to find the absolutely best pair of waders, that have the features you need and want, at the best price point for you.
Picking the best waders for fishing is not only challenging because of the huge number of brands and models, but also because there are increasingly so many features to consider relative to price. These features include fit, style, colors, materials, design, construction, durability, and of course price.
We hear from readers that often wader reviews don’t recognize the difference between waders for hot weather vs. cold, different needs of women and kids and men, fresh water vs. saltwater, everyday or guide-level use, or ultra-lightweight for back country vs. heavy duty. We cover not only all these factors in considerable detail, but to get the best long-term value out of your investment in the best features for you, be sure to also read our detailed tips on storing and caring for your waders.
How We Review Waders
Our readers want to know exactly what they are getting for their money, and whether it’s worth it to spend more for additional features. Our proprietary rating system uses a systematic approach to reviewing gear, that compares features, quality, and consumer satisfaction relative to price. You’ll find some of the most detailed comparison of specific features in our reviews, that are available anywhere in the sporting goods industry.
Then, we categorize waders using our proprietary rating system, by comparing the features and quality for each product relative to its retail price. For the most part we present gear in the Practical, Best Value, and High-End categories. Once in a while, just for fun, we rate products that fall into our Cheap and Outrageous categories. The definitions of our most used categories are:
- Practical – products that have basic features for a lower price, but are reasonably quality not cheap in nature.
- Best Value – products where the manufacturer has done a really good job offering numerous features and strong quality for the price.
- High End – top-end features and quality for a distinctly higher price. Basically, you pay for what you get, if not outrageously priced.
Overview By Category – The Best Fishing Waders
(With Links To Detailed Reviews Of Our Favorite Picks)
This section gives you a “readers digest” version of our thoughts about every type of wader and fishing condition there is. For our specific recommendations and favorite picks, each section below also gives you a link to our detailed reviews by category.
We do cover all the major brands, such as Simms waders, Orvis waders, Redington waders etc., however you may be surprised at why we recommend some of the lesser known brands for best waders in a number of categories.
Of course, based on your needs, preference for features, and fit, of course anyone can wear waders from any of these categories. Our reviews aren’t to suggest that only guides wear waders rated for guides, and only women for women, etc. Only to carefully review the features so you know what you are getting, and can make an informed choice. Enjoy our overviews and comprehensive, detailed reviews!
Best Fishing Waders For Women Overall
Move over, men’s waders, there’s a revolution afoot with an ever-increasing selection of waders with color, fit, and styles tailored for women.
Today, there are a growing selection of waders for women that not only provide comfort and protection as all waders should, but also are more suitable to women’s need and preferences. Read our detailed review at The Best Fishing Waders For Women.
The Best Kids Waders
Keep your little ones warm, snug, and safe with quality waders designed specifically for kids. Not only are most major manufacturer’s now producing kid-sized versions of their most popular waders, but there are a boatload of brands specifically for kids. The best news of may be, that waders for kids are considerably less expense than the same waders for adjust. Our detailed review article for youth waders is at The Best Kids Waders, enjoy!
Best Fishing Waders For Men Overall
The best of the best, across every category, for men hitting the water. With a proliferating number of makes, models, features, and specifications, the good news is there’s lots to choose from. The other news is, there’s lots to choose from! We’ve done a whole lot of legwork to help boil it down to the information you need to make a solid decision. Read our reviews at Best Waders For Men.
Best Fishing Waders And Wet Shoes For Warm Weather
Don’t sweat it, we’ve already done the heavy lifting research to bring you the best chest waders, hip & waist waders, wading pants, and wading shoes for warm and hot weather.
- Best Chest Waders for Warm Weather
- Best Hip and Waist Waders
- Best Wading Pants
- Best Wading Shoes
Our detailed review article for waders in this category is under construction. In the meantime, be sure to read our criteria for choosing quality waders, and guide to caring for and storing your waders below!
Best Fishing Waders For Cold Weather
Let’s put it this way – if you plan on spending any appreciable amount of time in cold water, investing in quality cold water waders will make your fly fishing a lot better experience. Anyone who has ventured out after cold water tropies – steelhead, salmon, stripers, migratory browns, lunker rainbows, and more – with inadequate gear knows how miserable an outing can become.
Assuming you also hit the streams a lot during warm weather, give some serious thought to getting a separate pair of waders for cold weather. This strategy will keep you cozy in cold conditions, and at the same time save you from sweating in warmer weather. Read our detailed review article The Best Waders For Cold Weather And Water.
Best Fishing Waders For Surf Fishing
Surf fishing, in particular standing in salt water, puts extra wear and tear on your waders, through the corrosive power of salt on your waterproof finishes and zipper materials. Be sure to choose a pair that will not only help you catch fish, but outlast the competition.
Of course, frequent rinsing with fresh water will neutralize the corrosive salts, so be sure to read our sections below on how to care for your waders overall, and especially when used in salt water. Our detailed review article for waders in this category is under construction. In the meantime, be sure to read our criteria for choosing quality waders, and guide to caring for and storing your waders below!
Best Fishing Waders For Guides
Guides spend more time fishing than everyone else, often under harsher conditions. As a result, their waders must be top of the line, to withstand the brutal conditions and continual abuse they endure. Our detailed review article for waders in this category is under construction. In the meantime, be sure to read our criteria for choosing quality waders, and guide to caring for and storing your waders below!
Best Fishing Waders For Boating and Kayaking
When you are hopping in and out of a boat all day, to fish that next perfect looking eddyline, pool, or riffle, you’ll want extra flexibility and room in your waders. This will give you not only more mobility, but also prevent stress tears and rips that easily come from stepping in and out of boats.
Our detailed review article for waders in this category is under construction. In the meantime, be sure to read our criteria for choosing quality waders, and guide to caring for and storing your waders below!
Best Fishing Waders For Backcountry Fishing
Fishing in backcountry not only opens up new opportunities for catching wild fish in unspoiled wilderness, but also comes with its own set of challenges for waders and gear. This article covers both ultra-lightweight waders, and also some tips and techniques to carry your gear. Not to mention, ways to lighten your load as you push into previously untried waters.
Our detailed review article for waders in this category is under construction. In the meantime, be sure to read our criteria for choosing quality waders, and guide to caring for and storing your waders below!
Best Wading Boots
Do your wading boots look like this? Of course, no pair of waders is complete without a pair of wading boots. Wading boots provide many functions, and are specialized in a way that normal boots couldn’t function under water:
- Protect the neoprene booties of your waders
- Provide appropriate grip on the stream bottom, whether rubber, cleat, or felt soled for different conditions
- Ensure stability, with different bottom designs for mud, vs sand and gravel, vs. rocks and logs
- Designed to minimize water drag for safety
- Some are actually waterproof to minimize drying time – even though you are submerging them
With these in mind, there’s a plethora of boots available now, check some out at The Best Wading Boots For Fly Fishing.
Criteria For Choosing The Best Fishing Waders
Some companies making waders spend a lot of time researching the best places for seams or the best way to seal seams. For the most part, these efforts are worth the consumer’s consideration.
If you are short, you may have worn poorly-fitting waders for much of your fly fishing life. Having waders that fit can actually make a huge difference – instead of swimming in excess fabric, having a pair that feels comfortable with your movements can make your day much more enjoyable. Of course, the fewer distractions you have from fishing, the more you can concentrate on catching fish.
The main manufacturers have made considerable strides in keeping anglers dry – from both river water outside the waders and sweat from within. When it comes to trusting the overall quality of waders you’ll do better to select from brands that have been around for a long time, even if their waders designs for women are relatively new. These brands have can draw from the same successful designs and materials that has already bolstered their reputations, adapt their practices with an eye for women and, in the long run, ensuring you’ll be a return customer. Conversely, because waders take a lot of design to perform well, if you decide to buy cheap waders, you can cheap performance.
Once you’ve chosen a quality manufacturer, then our recommendation is to focus next on fit. You may be surprised to know that fit is not only key to your comfort, but also to the longevity of your waders. This is because ill-fitting waders get creased and stressed in more places when they don’t fit well.
Features And Useablility
On the one hand, wader manufacturers are adding new and more features every year. For that, there’s good news and other news. The good news is, waders are increasingly customizable and specific to you and your fishing needs. The other news is, some of the extras available are actually not very useful, and just cost more without much benefit. Here are some things to consider as you pick out your waders.
Suspenders – when it comes to suspenders, simple is absolutely best. All you need is a strong plastic snap clip and adjustable length. The last thing you want to be doing is fiddling with your suspenders to adjust them while your impatient fishing buddies decide they want to head down to the river rather than watch you fiddle with straps.
Some setups on suspenders are way more complicated than they need to be. You would think that after spending 15-20 minutes adjusting suspenders that you’d never have to adjust them again. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the various models on the market.
We personally prefer an H-shape on the back rather than an X-shape, to more easily tell if they are on straight or not, but find that is a personal choice that doesn’t really matter as much as how strong the clip is and how easily they are to adjust.
Zippers – A front (or side) zipper can make it not only easier to answer the call of nature, but also to get in and out of your waders. Not only that, but you’ll find it easier to regulate core temperature adjusting your front zipper.
Front and side zippers will help you hit the right balance between breathability, comfort and durability. A quality water proof zipper will keep the water out, so no concerns there.
Potty break straps – nothing will distract you from feeling that subtle hit on you fly than having to hold it in while fishing. To maximize your time on the water, it’s good to know it doesn’t have to take 20 minutes of practically undressing and then getting it all back on. Potty break straps allow you to set down your rod for a few minutes and more easily take care of business. As you know, the more precious time you have on the water, the more fish you are likely to catch!
For example, some brands of women’s waders have a clasp at the bottom back of the waders, that allow you to unclip when you want to pee. This keeps your wader straps up over your shoulders, and in turn allows you to pull your waders down without the fear of (or actually!) peeing in your waders or on your wader straps. Of course, it took women designing women’s waders to figure that one out!
Fleece or Wool – increasingly waders come equipped with front or side pockets that are lined with fleece or wool. Even the booties can be lined.
Whether you want this feature probably depends on whether you are fishing in a preponderance of cool or cold weather. In the middle of summer, fly anglers are usually not very fond of the extra warmth. However, once the fall chills decend, and in particular when fishing for winter steelhead, the lining will make a good bit of difference.
If you are truly out a lot in both cold and warm weather, we’d suggest separate waders in any case, as the thickness and material will be the deciding factor whereas lined pockets make a difference but not as much as whether your waders are overall designed for the season you are fishing.
Warranty — We look at it this way – all waders will wind up leaking, at least eventually. The question is when. Since manufacturing defects are relatively common, we recommend getting at least a 1 year warranty, and if you are buying any of the higher end waders, consider purchasing an extended warranty if one is offered. Some people put more and some less weight on the warranty, but it can make a difference in the overall choice of your best fishing waders.
Pockets – There’s an interplay between how many pockets you have, and how much you’ll need to carry in your fly vest instead. Today, wader makers even build in “smart pockets” that are specifically designed to accommodate your most used fly gear (not unlike vest pockets).
Some waders come with enough pockets, that you can actually opt to leave your fly vest in the car or at home, and just supplement with a backpack if you need to carry extra (less frequently used) gear such as jacket, water bottle, backup reel, etc.
Pockets provide easy access to the fly boxes most likely to be using during that specific outing. Not unlike your vest, having too many pockets can end up wasting time because you can’t remember which one you put the box for dries in, for example. But extra pockets are useful for other things such as fly floatant, sunscreen, snacks, etc.
One thing to be wary of – some waders have waterproof pockets designed for phones or cameras, which claim to help keep them dry. In all cases, we recommend your smart phone or electronic camera be in a separate waterproof pouch, and in addition, be fastened inside your pocket with a snap or lanyard just like your keys.
Wading Belt – an essential item not only for safety but also for comfort, most waders come with a belt but you can certainly purchase them separately.
Of course, the primary consideration for having a quality wading belt is safety. Stepping over a drop-off, into swift water, or into thick mud can not only surprise you, but put you into immediate risk of hypothermia and even drowing.
A wading belt worn on the outside is indispensable, because it prevents water from filling up quickly in your waders should accidentally fall in. If that were to happen, it become even more difficult to wade or swim to safety. This is because the more water that gets into your waders, the more weight will quickly sap your energy for a self-rescue. Make no doubt about it, drownings occur every year from un-belted waders.
One factor that is useful, if less consequence than falling in, is that a wading belt prevents extra material billowing out as you walk or wade. This keeps your waders trim to your body, which helps avoid catching on brambles on land, and also reduces drag when you are wading in moving water.
Gravel Guards – look for gravel guards that have extra strong elastic, a strong hook to stay secured to your bottom boot lace, and a design that prevents collecting bottom material.
Of course, it can be quite annoying when you get sand, gravel, or mud inside your boots and under the wader sock. In fact, it can be not only annoying but also painful.
It’s also better if they are built into the wader design, because guards are frequently left in the box or set aside and even lost in the packing and unpacking process.
Gravel guards serve an important purpose. They not only slide over laces on wading boots and protect debris from becoming tangled in the fibers.
Fishing Conditions – Hot, Cold, and Everything In-between
Since there are so many brands and varieties of waders, it goes without saying that you have a huge selection to choose from. That’s a great thing, because you can essentially get close to buying custom tailored waders just for you. It’s sorting and sifting through the huge number of varieties that is the challenge.
For starters, knowing how and when you fish is key to choosing a great pair of waders. Some anglers put away their gear when fall temperatures drop along with the leaves. Others focus instead their efforts during the fall or even coldest time of the year.
It goes without saying, that if you prefer fair weather angling, your best choice is probably going to be lightweight and breathable. Conversely, if you are a winter steelheader, of course you are going to want to be as warm as possible.
Either way, durability is critical to your comfort and safety. It’s simply game over if your waders leak. Here’s one way to think about that. Will you for example, be wading into the long slow deep pools characteristic of the lower Battenkill or Upper Delaware? Or, will you be scrambling and bushwacking to get to upper reaches of a mountain stream? Likewise, how many days do you put in at a time, and how much are you getting in and out of vehicles, boats, rowing, etc?
Basically you want to boil this all down to whether normally reinforced waders will work fine, or whether you need superior durability that comes with enhanced design and materials.
If you’ll be putting in a full season with rigorous use, then consider reinforced, heavy-duty, welded, breathable waders with top-of-the-line booties, and superior zippers, clips, and buckles.
Warm weather can make heavy waders – even breathable waders – intolerable, but fortunately there are many options for warm & hot weather. Pant waders can be terrific if you don’t plan on wading any higher than about mid-thigh.
Some anglers even wet wade – that is just go in without waders – during warm weather, as long as the water is warm enough. Be careful though – waders offer a level of protection from floating debris, brambles, scrambling over rocks, etc. We know of anglers that gained scars on their legs that would have been easily prevented by wearing waders.
Also, just because the daytime air temperature is hot, doesn’t mean the water is the same – and also doesn’t mean the temperature can’t change rapidly as well. For example, mountain drainages often run on snowmelt well into the spring and even summer. Tailwater fisheries below dams (where consistently cold water discharges from an outlet at the bottom of the dam) usually maintain a constant cool temperature to the benefit of fish. And, if you’ve ever fished the “Front Range” of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver, you know that one day the air temperature can be in the 90’s, followed by literally freezing temperatures the next day.
All that said, pant waders can be a great option when the water and air are consistently warm enough, and are also a great choice to save weight during backpacking trips. Also, if you are fishing from a drift boat or raft or kayak, and plan to get out and wade, pant waders are particularly flexible and mobile. Not only that, but these days a number of waders are designed to be folded down from the chest to the waist, to be more flexible for warmer fishing.
If you really want to go lightweight, such as in the backcountry, consider wet wading with thick neoprene socks, combined with lightweight wading boots. As long as the water is tolerable, you can skip the chest waders or even wading pants. You might even be a wearing cold-weather parka up top to maintain your body temperature, in the process minimizing any extra weight you need to carry in your backpack.
Of course, these days ultralight, breathable waders are available, giving you additional options for highly breathable and yet durable waders that can also be packed into your backcountry destination.
Let’s turn our attention to winter. In our experience, steelheaders spend more time standing in cold water than any other angler. As a result, they tend to be willing to spend a bit more, for waders with more technical features.
Of course, neoprene is the wader material that dominates during the winter months. By themselves, neoprene waders aren’t necessarily more expensive than breathable waders for fishing in the warmer seasons. In fact, they can be cheaper, as they don’t require multi-ply construction. However, where things start to get interesting, price tag wise, is if you want to purchase cold weather waders, in addition to warmer seasons, and have quality for both.
Consider looking at it this way. If you only purchase one pair of waders for all your fishing, you can expect to have tradeoffs if you fish in a wide variety of conditions. If you want to have waders warm enough for cold water fishing, you’ll probably be roasting in the summer even with newer materials and a roll-down option. If you mostly fish during warmer weather, but then don your waders in cold weather, even after layering up your clothing you’ll probably get cold.
So if you fish all four seasons, consider two pairs of waders. If you dominate fishing during the warmer months, or visa version, and don’t want to purchase two pairs, then get the most versatile wader you can afford, and be willing to grit your teeth (or even shorten your outing) when you get too cold or too hot.
If you are heading out for full a day hiking/fishing, and it is cold, consider packing in your heavy wading boots and chest waders with a day pack to the farthest point you’ll be fishing. Then, fish your way back toward your vehicle. If you’re close enough when you’re finished, you may be able to walk out in your boots and waders. If the hike out is instead longer, then it probably makes sense to change back out of your wet boots and waders. Put your tail shoes or boots back on, if it’s dark pull out your head lamp, and hike out.
Back to warmer conditions – many anglers have never tried or even considered hip waders. However, if what you fish are mostly creeks or shallow waters where wandering out beyond thigh-to-waist-high is not necessary, then give hip waders a serious look. They are quite are easy to use, and come with boots making them quick and easy to use (not to mention a cooler option compared to chest-high waders).
Boots Can Rule The Day
Boots are boots, but are integral to how they work with your best fishing waders. Some waders come with booties that allow (or force) you to choose the boot, whereas many also come with fully attached boots.
If you’re into waterfowl hunting, you probably already know about the virtues of attached boots. For one, it’s easier to put your waders on and take them off (no need to bend over to pull on the boots, tie laces, and secure the gravel guard). For another, the laces won’t freeze solid in cold conditions.
There are however several drawbacks to attached boot waders. You can’t pick your preferred boots for different types of trips. For example, depending on the stream bottom substrate, one trip may warrant felt bottoms, whereas another studs. Also, boot-attached waders tend to be more expensive, and moreover can be too hot for warmer days on the water.
When selecting waders with neoprene booties and without attached boots, pay extra attention to leaving enough room for your thick socks in colder water. There is perhaps nothing worse at all than toes numb or even frostbitten from tight booties.
On the flip side, blisters can easily happen if you have excess material in your bootie. It turns out that incorrect bootie sizes actually occur quite commonly in new wader models, until the manufacturer gets more customer feedback from sizes that don’t fit. Watch out for this issue when considering a new brand or model from even an established company, and in particular in inexpensive waders where the company is mass producing relatively few sizes to keep costs down.
Right Sizing – Size (Really) Matters
It used to be more obvious than it is today, to try different brands and types and sizes on at your local sporting goods stores. With online sales becoming more the norm, just realize with that comes the prospect that what you order may really not fit you well, or be exactly what you need.
Unless you have previous experience with a particular brand or design, waders for fishing are generally not something you want to order online, just hoping they fit when you unpack the box. This is especially true if you are need to buy them in a hurry them before heading out on a week-long trip.
The best thing you can do, is to visit your local fly shop and have them show you the brands they carry. It may take more time, but they know the river conditions the best, and by working with you on the pros and cons of each type of water, can in the end actually save you a lot time and avoid winding up with a pair you’re not really happy with.
Wader manufacturers are doing a better job these days of customizing the best fit for different body types and shapes. If you are an average size, you’ll find many waders will fit you well. However, if you’re on the tall or short side, or have extra-large feet for example, you’ll want to pay particular attention to sizing.
It’s been argued that the #1 consideration when buying waders is making absolutely certain you have a good fit for you. Here’s a test of that – first get dressed in multiple layers, as if you’re going out on a cold day. Then squat in the catcher position (as in baseball). You should be able to squat down and stand up without much hassle.
Same principal applies to your stocking feet – you’ll want to make sure you have extra room for thick socks, while leaving yourself ample circulation. This helps with layering, which is only effective if there’s at least a thin layer of air. If your socks are too tight, it’ll let the cold affect you more because you don’t have an insulating layer of air.
Another way to look at this is that the socks you wear before getting into your waders boot will change (in thickness and material) with the seasons. It goes without saying that you’ll want thicker socks in the colder months, while you’ll prefer thinner socks for the warmer months.
So, when you try on waders, be sure to take with you two or three pairs of socks, of different thicknesses. Be certain that the waders you purchase feel comfortable with your thickest socks on, and at the same time not so loose with your thinner socks that folds or creases will form, or you’ll slide around too much when walking which would form blisters.
Of course, if you are tall, or get in and out of a boat frequently, you’ll want to make sure there’s extra room in the groin. There’s a direct correlation between having enough length in your inseam, or to be blunt, ripping out your waders. Multiple times getting in and out of a drift boat, no matter if you are the guide or the angler, can wear out your inseam in as little as one day! Fortunately, if you are tall or have large feet, these days you can get most waders in XL to get a proper fit. And some even come in a long/tall option.
So let’s bring this full circle. The key point is to balance getting a pair that fits very well, but at the same time, isn’t constricting or uncomfortable or unable to handle layers of clothes when you need it. Apply this principal from the chest down to your feet.
To accomplish this kind of fit, don’t just assume you are standing and casting when you try them on for size. Spend at least a few minutes walk around in them when you are trying them on, just like you would trying on a new pair of shoes or pants! Then (as funny as you may look in the store) do a little false casting, bend over, and even step up on a stool or chair to mimic getting in a boat.
At the same time, avoid waders that are excessively large. Extra material will get in the way, can result in hot spots on your feet, legs and armpits, and can also create increased drag in the water that actually makes wading unsafe.
The flip side of the too tight a crotch issue above, is ensuring your crotch isn’t too low. If it is, it can so restrict your leg movement. This in turn can prevent you from raising your knee as much or as quickly as you’d like, and as a result can actually be dangerous when navigating the currents. Be certain you can easily raise your knee above your waist – think stepping over or around an underwater log you encounter. Additionally, while shorter steps are generally better for safe wading, make sure you can make a long step if needed, to get over a hazard you can see (without stepping over a dropoff!).
When you get down to it, comfort is king when fishing. The very last thing you’ll want to be distracted by, when you spot that monster trout rising across the river just within reach of your cast – is the snuggy your waders are creating in your privates!
We approach price more with the question of “what are you getting for your money,” than assuming a lower price is better. We want you to be confident you’re getting the most you can for the price you pay.
Many waders are not inexpensive, and some are more than you’d spend on a high quality big-game fly rod. If they are, it’s because there’s probably a reason, and it often leads to disappointment. Because waders can be a considerable investment, be sure to consider your full range of options, and make a decision based on input from your fly shop or guide. Then, carefully test the fit and pick with an eye for the seasons you’ll fish the most.
One approach we’ve heard some anglers use is a simple rule of thumb – thicker is better, as the fabric will last longer. The basic idea being, since waders can be downright expensive, to justify the cost, it simply makes sense to buy a pair that you know will last. Thicker materials is less likely to wear and tear.
Bottom line – waders can be one of the most expensive parts of your gear for many anglers. Spend time searching for a pair that you know will fit you well, and of course provides adequate protection from the elements in the seasons you’ll be fishing the most.
Related Video: Wader Care Guide – Angling Active Aftercare
How To Store And Care For Your Waders
A dependable pair of waders is one of the most important pieces of gear you will ever buy. Of course you need your rod, reel, line and flies, but without waders you won’t be able to reach most fishing spots comfortably and safely. This section covers general care, with specific instructions for breathable vs. neoprene waders below.
Waders are one of those things where you get what you pay for. While there are many more waders these days for reasonable prices, make no mistake, quality waders still can cost you quite a bit. With premium waders exceeding $750 dollars these days, it makes complete sense to take good very care of them.
Of course all waders wear out eventually, but properly caring for them can help extend the life considerably. Consider the following tips to prolong the life of your waders, first generally and then we follow with sections specifically for breathable and neoprene wader care tips.
Right From The Start
Caring for your waders starts with a good fit. Even though we covered this above, we’ll re-emphasize it here again because a good fit is actually one of the best things you can do to ensure your waders last a long time.
Waders that don’t fit well allow stress points to break down over time where the material folds. It’s not unlike bending a paper clip back and forth repeatedly, until it finally breaks. To avoid this, you’ll want to make sure your waders fit well both in the body and in the feet, don’t compromise on one or the other.
The next important general rule of thumb is to dry them out – inside out. Hanging waders up in one thing, but don’t make the mistake many do – thinking that breathable waders will dry out on the inside just by handing them up. To avoid smell, mildew, or worse yet full blown mold – which doesn’t just smell it breaks down your wader fabric – you really need to hang them inside out.
Another common misconception is that waders breath when they are under water. They don’t. The fabric is only able to fully breath when your full body is above water, say walking or casting. While you are in the water wading, moisture builds up behind whatever portion of your waders are submerged. And don’t forget, even breathable waders usually have neoprene booties which are not breathable at all. For these reasons, you’ll want to always turn your waders inside out, to dry out the insides completely.
The routine we use is to dry them overnight inside out, and assuming they are fully dry to the touch in the morning, dry them the rest of the next day (if you aren’t fishing) with the outside turned out. If you are fishing, and only have overnight to dry them, it’s preferable to dry out the insides overnight, because the outsides will dry as you walk and/or at least get rinsed off when you get back into the water.
When transporting or traveling, be certain to roll them up (starting with the feet) instead of folding. Folding is another way to create stress along same creases, that will break down over time – especially if you leave them folded in the same position for a long time, or always fold them in the same way.
For the same reason as transporting above, you want to avoid folding for storage. The #1 best way to store them is by hanging them up (boots high), in a cool, dry location such as your basement. Next best is to store them laid out flat, such as in a loft or under a bed. If you do this you absolutely want to make sure they are dried out well first, because if not hung they won’t have any ability to dry out while being stored. If neither hanging nor flat storage is possible, then as a last resort roll them up, preferably loosely in a separate bin with ample space, taking extra care to ensure there’s no folds or creases.
Lastly, store them out of any sunlight. Ultraviolet rays from sunshine will break down waterproof finishes such as DWR, and as a result will quickly reduce the life of your waders if they are stored for any length of time in the sun, even behind a window.
By all means, do not put your waders of any kind in the washing machine! In addition to rips and tears, the detergents designed for cotton and nylon / synthetics are much harsher on the waterproof material finishes then they need to be.
In contrast, gentle washing by hand, with at most a mild detergent or hand soap, will extend the life of your waders. Consider using a product like Nikwax Tech Wash, which will be much lighter on your waterproofing than most conventional detergents.
If you enjoy surf fishing in your waders, just be mindful that saltwater is extremely corrosive on literally anything it touches. Even brackish water, such as in an estuary, is corrosive. Make sure to rinse your waders well with fresh water, especially the zippers and surrounding folds where saltwater can stay trapped if not rinsed carefully.
Breathable Wader Care Tips
Breathable fishing waders typically made of several layers of high-tech material, whether gore-tex or nylon, that have special pores designed to let your body’s natural perspiration out while at the same time keeping water out. Because they have specially engineered fabrics, you’ll want to take extremely good care of them so as to keep their breathability and waterproof-ness intact over time.
Fortunately, breathable waders are usually straightforward to maintain, so with periodic cleaning and careful usage you’ll be able to easily prolong their life.
Drying Breathable Waders Between Uses
This is the #1 top think you can do to extend the life of your waders. Be certain to dry them thoroughly, both inside and out, between every use. Even if you are using your waders every day from dawn to dusk on an extended fishing trip, be sure to dry out at least the insides overnight, ever night.
This is because wet or damp waders tend to grow mildew (sometimes called wader “funk”), which in turn breaks down the wader materials both inside and out. It doesn’t matter if your waders are stuffed in your car trunk, or in the garage or anywhere, you simply should ensure they dry out after ever use.
Hanging Breathable Waders To Dry
The best way to keep your waders dry is to hang then up to dry after each and every use. In so doing, not only will you avoid breakdown of the breathable wader materials, you’ll stop wader funk dead in your tracks.
If you have already smelled or seen wader funk, you know what we are talking about, and are probably holding your nose just from reading this! If not, just be prepared, you don’t want to have to turn your like an owl with a clothespin on your nose the next time you put them on.
IMPORTANT – if there is any moisture at all from condensation on the inside it’s important to dry the inside first. In fact, we always recommend drying the inside out first, just to make sure.
It’s better to accomplish this by hanging them in a cool, dry place such as your basement, garage, or outside in the shade. Try to avoid hanging them out in the sun, which might be tempting to dry them faster, but also contributes to breakdown of the materials.
In the winter try hanging them in a furnace room, or near a de-humidifier to dry is a good idea. However if it’s high humidity or damp, hanging them near a de-humidifier is a good idea.
Zipper Care For Breathable Waders
Of course, this is true for all zippers on any kind of waders, but we mention it here because breathable waders tend to have more zipper than other types for venting.
Be sure to keep all zippers, especially waterproof zipper designs, completely clean and free of dirt, oil, line, or debris that can accumulate just from wader and being outdoors. Any matter at all caught in the zipper can cause damage, and usually this type of damage isn’t covered under a warranty (because it’s not a manufacturing issue).
As a rule of thumb, you should never try to force a stuck zipper. If it does get stuck, try to gently back up in the opposite direction, then clean the zipper its entire length thoroughly before using it again.
There are also zipper protectants and lubricants, such as the brands Zip-Tech and Zip-Care, which are particularly helpful in keeping your zippers as if new for years.
Finally, use when there’s a snap at the top (which is true for some brands, not for all) which helps take the stress off the zipper and will prevent it from pulling apart while in use, not to mention extend its life overall.
How To Wash Breathable Waders
Washing your breathable waders periodically is another great way to extend their life. By periodically, we mean several times a season, after muddy or dirty trips, and certainly at the end of every season.
We suggest using a mild dish soap, in a tub of lukewarm water, using a soft rag (like you’d use on your car). This will clean most dirt off while still keeping the waterproof fabric repelling water like it should. You guessed it – dirt that accumulates in the pores not only keeps your perspiration from venting outwards, but also compromises the waterproof-ness over time.
After you have hung them and dried until absolutely, completely dry, then consider using a spray reviver on them. They are called revivers, because they essentially restore the ability of DWR fabric coatings to perform as they were intended to.
A couple good brands are Nikwax, GearAid (maker of Aquaseal), and Mcnett/GearAid ReviveX.
Remember, this must be done after cleaning, not before. Once the waders have been hand washed and fully dried, only then spray it on, and you’ll be pleased with the results.
Just out of an abundance of caution, we do not recommend machine washing waders under any circumstances. This is because washing machines will abrade, catch, and bunch waders during the wash cycle. In addition, you want to avoid soaking the inside seams with water, any more than washing them with a damp rag.
Transporting Breathable Waders Safely
Traveling is the only time you should compact your waders for any time at all. When not traveling be sure to keep them hanging so as to not create creases or folds that can create weak spots where your waders can prematurely tear.
When transporting your waders in luggage, or even just back and forth during regular fishing trips, the best way is to roll them loosely from the feet up. Then, just pack them near the top of your bag with other items (especially heavier items) under them.
We actually prefer to have a separate plastic storage bin to temporarily place them in, to keep any other fishing gear from sitting on top of them.
You might be tempted to leave them out on top of your other gear for drying purposes. While this might seem like a good idea, we recommend against it do to the risk of catching them on a hook or other way of ripping or tearing them that would leave a hole. Per the instructions below, drying them out overnight is plenty of drying protection and hanging them up also protects them from rips and tears that can easily happen in the back of your vehicle.
One last note on transport – if you have a model that comes with a waterproof zipper on the front, be sure to unzip it first before rolling or packing them. This is because if the zipper is closed and then folded it can more easily create a crease that ultimately causes the zipper to fail.
Neoprene Waders Care Tips
When the cold season fishing starts you’ll be glad you did these – are you familiar with caring for neoprene waders?
Let’s start with the basics – when was the last time you washed your neoprenes? Neoprene waders are the original common material for warm waders, before gore-tex, breathable nylons, and other modern fabrics came into play. Still the warmest material available (and still used of course in diving wetsuits for example) compared to their older rubber and newer synthetic material counterparts, they do need periodic maintenance to stay waterproof.
General Neoprene Maintenance
Neoprene is overall very durable, and additionally pretty resistant to many chemicals and other substances. That said, that after every use you should rinse them out and off (especially after saltwater use), and hang them up to dry inside and then out. Doing this religiously will prevent substances like sand, salt, and chemicals from eroding you wader material before you use them next time.
Cleaning Neoprene Waders
Every once in a while – at least once or twice per season depending on usage and what you wade into – be sure to give your waders a thorough cleaning, both inside and out. To clean neoprene, it is best to hand wash them, using a mild household detergent such as hand or dish soap in modestly hot water. Additionally, rinse them off with warm clean water (to remove all soap residue), and hang them to dry. Avoid using strong chemical or industrial strength cleaners, even if diluted with water.
Storing Neoprene Waders
Not just use and cleaning, but also storage of your waders has a strong bearing on how long they last. Importantly, remember that they (like many materials) store best in a dry, cool, and dark environment. Consider that both sunlight and heat will speed up the breakdown of the neoprene, while damp will foster the growth of mold or bacteria.
Ideally you should store them by hanging them up in a closet that is both dark and dry. Folding up waders leads to creasing and in turn will create weak points that are susceptible to leakage.
If you have stocking foot waders, we suggest stuffing the feet with newspaper to both help them hold their shape, and also to help dry them out.
Repairing Neoprene Waders
While neoprene lasts much longer than it used to (remember the dry, crumbling effect?), no matter how well you take care of them, eventually they can spring a leak or fail. What’s the best way to repair them?
The first trick, almost an art in of itself as the leak point often isn’t obvious at all (try submerging them in your bathtub and looking for air bubbles), neoprene is actually quite straightforward to repair. There are many suitable waterproof cement products available, both specific to wader repair and more general in use (for example Shoe Goo or Aquaseal and other specialty underwater adhesives, just make sure you get one that dries flexible and soft, not hard).
Here is a step-by-step process patch up your neoprene waders:
- Lay your neoprene waders out flat on a table, after turning them inside out.
- To avoid any movement, you can use something with weight to hold them down (we like paint cans at least partially full), taking care to not scratch the finish (or use a work table!).
- To further protect your table, lay down some parchment paper, wax paper, cardboard, or other material right underneath where you’ll apply the patch.
- Clean the area around the patch with alcohol (such as pure rubbing alcohol), and ensure it is totally dry before patching. Patching a wet wader or not giving the repair sufficient time to dry simply won’t work!
- For simply pin holes, just a dab of adhesive will probably do the job.
- For larger tears, scrapes, rips, or holes you will want to trim a piece of patching material (which often comes with the waders in the first place, or you can purchase inexpensively online). The smaller the patch and closer to the size and shape of the hole the better, but be sure to make it at least ½ inch wider than the hole, and trim the edges till they are smooth and round to prevent the patch from catching and pulling free.
- Most rubberized adhesives require at least 24 hours to cure, sometimes up to 72 hours. To avoid a repeat performance leak, be certain to let it dry overnight at a minimum. (There are drying accelerators such as Cotol, and you can also place it near a warm radiator or use a blow dryer, but leave no doubt about it, the adhesive must cure to be effective!).
We’ve seen repairs like this last for years actually, often outlasting the original seam or material!
Like most pieces of fishing equipment, attending to your neoprene waders with care will greatly extend their lifespan. Having well functioning neoprene isn’t only a matter of comfort, for some fishing situations (such as winter steelheading) it can actually prevent frostbite and hypothermia!
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