CCA’s 15-Year History in the PNWDecember 23, 2022
Why Wild BroodstockJuly 31, 2023
Waders: Application Specific
Some pieces of gear can be defined as being technique specific, whereas others fall into the category of being more application specific. Technique specific items have hyper-focused design and construction to excel at a very narrow, specific niche of usage. Steelhead jig rods would be an excellent example of a technique specific design; long and balanced to cast small offerings and easily manage line control on long drifts, light enough to remain comfortable, and soft to protect light leaders for delicate presentations. But outside of this usage, the design is incredibly ineffective; too long and lacking the sensitivity for drift fishing, not powerful enough for other species such as salmon, and the list goes on.
The beauty of application specific gear is that these items work very well for a wide variety of situations. Now don’t get me wrong, I love buying gear, but doesn’t it make more sense to buy a single item which covers twenty tasks instead of twenty technique specific items to cover those same twenty tasks? A perfect example of such an item would be a pair of quality waders.
At first glance waders seem like a tool designed with bank-bound anglers in mind, but I assure you their value is much more broad reaching. While waders are crucial for bank angling, they will also help a drift boat angler who unexpectedly has to portage a boat around an obstacle, they will protect a river boat angler from an unexpected rain storm, they can help you collect razor clams from the surf, pursue ducks in a swamp, moose in a bog, or even offer protection while attempting to repair a broken water pipe in the crawl space of your home. (Don’t ask about that last one!) Without a doubt, I have relied upon my waders in far more situations than I had ever imagined, and I easily place them as one of my most favorite pieces of gear.
Like most other forms of outerwear, it wasn’t all that long ago that wader construction relied upon a range of materials such as vinyl, treated nylon and neoprene. It has only been over the last decade or so that nearly every outdoor product category from everyday rain jackets to high performance tents has experienced materials shift to breathable membranes dominating these product categories.
By now, most of us understand at least the basic function of breathable membranes. Microscopic pores allow heat and water vapor to escape out through the membrane, while being so small that water in droplet form cannot penetrate in though the membranes. How these membranes are constructed, the other materials and overall design of the completed item such as a pair of waders, and even the care and maintenance of the item by the consumer can play heavily into the actual performance of that item.
If a breathable item such as a pair of waders comes with a rated performance of waterproofness or breathability, great, it can help you understand what you may expect from that item, but don’t let this limit your search. There are currently no standardized tests to obtain this data, so manufacturers will often use a test that produces the best outcome, or perhaps test only the membrane by itself, not the finished garment with face fabrics and DWR (durable water repelling) treatments applied. It is important to also note that the performance of breathable materials is dynamic. It can change with the age of the item, the care and cleaning that has been performed, how the item fits, and even the environmental conditions in which you wear the item. The difference in air pressure (warm internal air vs. cold external air) as well as relative humidity impacts breathability, as does how clean the face and inner membrane side of the garment is.
Wadertek Convertible Wader
Two for the price of one, that’s what you get when you purchase the Wadertek Convertible Wader from Aquaz. How many times have you been chasing summer steelhead in sweltering heat and wished your waders weren’t quite so bulky? Thanks to a unique shoulder strap system, the Wadertek Convertible Wader can be modified to a pair of waist high wading pants in less than a minute.
Though the entire wader features 4-layer AQUALEX® construction, the waist down utilizes heavy duty Oxford Nylon for increased durability, with seams on the outside of the leg from the knee down. Overall fit was accurate to the rated sizing, though the 4mm neoprene booties felt a tad roomy even with my size 12 feet. Neoprene gravel guards had plenty of stretch to easily cover all boot types tested.
A roomy, front chest pocket with thick fleece lining is nice for cold hands, and a zippered front chest pocket is large enough for a small tackle box and leader spools, and an inner removable pocket offers more storage if desired. I do wish the shoulder buckles were opposing so they could be connected together when nature calls, and a couple more belt loops would be nice, but overall a very solid wader especially given the ability to convert.
S14 Adrenalin Wader
Well-built, with a great range of features and a very fair price point, the S14 Adrenalin Wader from Dryft is designed with both performance and budget in mind.
A 4-layer lower with 3-layer nylon upper provides great durability without feeling overly heavy duty and stiff. I especially liked that the seams in the legs are located on the outside of the leg where they won’t succumb to abrasive wear. Fit of the Large/Long was near perfect for my 6'2", 200-pound frame and matched quite well with the rated sizing. Neoprene booties fit my size 12 feet perfectly, and the lower leg is on the slim side which is nice for reducing drag in the water when wading. Ripstop neoprene gravel guards accommodated a range of boots during testing. A large, front exterior chest pocket easily handles several tackle organizers, leader spools and tools, and the fleece-lined handwarmer pocket has zipper closures. There is a flip out internal zip pocket and smaller hook and loop closure mesh pocket for keeping your phone and keys safe, and this flip out panel also features a hook and loop strip allowing easy addition of optional storage pouches available from Dryft.
With many of the same features and durable construction of waders costing more than twice as much, the Northern Guide Wader from Caddis is a solid option that will leave a little extra money in your wallet.
Built with triple-layer CaddisDry™ fabric, the lower legs and seat area are reinforced with heavy-duty 240D material with leg seams located on the outside of the leg, eliminating friction wear. The fit felt a bit on the snug side of the rated size, and the area of the leg from the knee down is quite slim. This is nice for minimizing drag in the water and friction when walking, but may require a size up if you have large calves. Thankfully, the Northern Guide is offered in an impressive range of sizes allowing you to easily find what suits you best. A front, pass-through pocket has a nice, thick fleece lining, but no closure methods for the openings. The only zip closure pocket is a large pocket on the front of the chest, and there are no internal pocket.
Shoulder straps do have opposing buckles and large D loops for attaching tools. A draw cord top cuff can help tighten the waders to trap heat on chilly outings.
There are no belt loops, so be careful when unbuckling the waist belt.
Men's PRO Wader
The new PRO Wader from Orvis® proved to be very impressive across all categories of the review. Right out of the box it was easy to notice the robust 5-layer lower leg/4 layer Cordura® upper. Described as having an “athletic fit” design, the fit was very uniform and well-matched to the specified size, with anatomically cut booties, legs and body having enough room for layers without feeling bulky. Lower legs have the seam located on the rear of the leg, and crotch area has a unique gusset seam design minimize strain. All seams have hidden stitching. The knee area has a hidden internal pocket which holds cushy OrthoLite® pads for super comfortable kneeling. A two-inch wide, heavy-elastic belt provides great support. Gravel guards are sleek and appropriately-sized, with a reinforced expandable mesh panel on the rear to accommodate even the bulkiest of boots. A large external chest pocket and heavy duty tool loops, large internal 4-way stretch pocket, and flip out removable organizer with two pockets provide tons of storage, and the huge handwarmer pouch has YKK Aquaguard zippered closure. Opposing buckles on the shoulder straps round out a very well put together and designed pair of waders.
The G3 Guide waders from Simms has been a mainstay in the company’s long-standing line of waders, and one could argue it has been the company’s workhorse for the past 20 years. They recently updated it using a new Gore-Tex fabric package primarily in the lower (4-layer) portion of the wader. This material, when compared to previous year models, boasts a 7.5% increase in tongue tear strength, 23% increase in standard puncture resistance, 84% pinhole puncture resistance, and a 33% increase in breathability. That’s saying something.
From a wear-ability standpoint these are as comfortable a wader as you’ll find. The front and back leg seams deliver an articulated fit, improved mobility, and increased durability. The abrasion-resistant, built-in gravel guards are a nice feature and the neoprene booties are anatomically engineered for a comfortable fit. They also come with an anti-microbial finish.
The G3s also come with an adjustable air-mesh suspender system with a fabric suspender divider and integrated webbing attach point to carry a net. The top pocket has a zippered stretch pocket plus a reach-through micro-fleece lined hand-warming chest pocket. A 2-inch stretch nylon belt is included and there two loop options: high and low.
This is a pair of waders that falls into the “cry-once, buy-once” category. They’re expensive, but definitely worth it.
Sonic Pro HD Wader
Unlike all other waders in the review which are stitched together, as the name implies, the Sonic Pro HD wader uses special high frequency sonic welding to join material panels together for a stitch-free design.
A robust 4-layer construction is further reinforced by heavy duty material in the legs and seat with unique seam lines that begin on the outer lower leg and angle up above the knee to the crotch. Overall fit and comfort was excellent, with the tested size large providing great room with my 34" inseam. Further adding to comfort were the booties which feature heavier duty neoprene on the bottom of the foot and were roomy enough for my size 12 feet without any excess bulk.
If you are a packrat like me, you will love all the storage space in the Sonic Pro HD wader. The front chest has two large zip close gear pockets as well as a heavy fleece lined handwarmer pouch which also zips closed. Inside is a flip out panel with two pockets, and an inner wader pocket for items like your phone and keys.
Opposing shoulder strap buckles and multiple belt loops keep straps well managed when nature calls.
Overall, a very well put together wader.
Fit, Features, Design
Fortunately, even the most economical of breathable waders offered today is lightyears more advanced than the offerings from just a few years ago allowing the user to worry less about a particular rating or brand, and focus more on the actual fit, features and design when shopping for a new pair of waders.
Size: Performance ratings aside, start by breaking down waders based on more easily identifiable aspects, arguably the most important of which is size. Improperly fitting waders will affect everything from durability and range of motion to breathability and comfort, and there are a lot of different areas in a pair of waders that are important to fit properly. Thankfully, gone are the days of manufactures simply offering restrictive “small, medium, large” type sizing. The ability to fine tune chest size, inseam and even bootie foot size is now much more commonplace.
Make sure you select a pair that allows sufficient room for layering of clothes and heavy socks without being so loose that the material rubs excessively when walking which can result in wear and breakdown of the material. It is almost important to test proper fit by squatting, kneeling and stepping over tall objects to check range of motion fit. Restriction during such motions can cause excessive stress and failure of seams.
Outer Design: Next, I like to look at the general outer design of a pair of waders. Is the external fabric of sufficient durability to withstand busting through brush if I do a lot of bank angling? Are there areas of extra material and reinforcement in high-wear areas like the lower legs and seat, does reinforcement extend up high enough on the knee area to protect when kneeling?
Seams: Another key aspect to look at when examining the exterior of a pair of waders is to note when the seams are located. Squatting and kneeling place a lot of stress on the front of the knee area, so seams in this location, if not durably constructed, may quickly fail. On one of my earliest pairs of breathable waders, there were seams on the inside of the legs. The stitching on these inner leg seams deteriorated quickly from abrasion when the material swished together while walking, and the seams soon failed. Waders with seams on the outside or backs of legs and styles with as few of seams as possible are optimal.
Gravel Guards: When examining a pair of waders don’t overlook the gravel guards in the ankle area. This doesn’t seem like a feature that should require a great degree of consideration. If waders have gravel guards, you’re good to go, right? Well, believe it or not, some gravel guards are designed to be so sleek to reduce wear that they are actually too small to extend around the tops of beefier wading boots. I found this out the hard way. Make sure to test the fit of the gravel guards with your boots on before hitting the water.
Shoulder Straps: Shoulder straps also should be inspected. First, make sure the buckles on each strap are opposite each other, that is, one male and one female. This way when nature calls, you can unbuckle the straps from the wader chest, then buckle them into each other in front of your neck so they don’t fall down out of reach behind you, or dangle into the water. Some shoulder straps are simply two nylon straps stitched to the top of the wader, whereas others utilize a yolk system to better support the load and also help to keep the straps from working their way down off your shoulders while casting or bending over. Make sure there is sufficient adjustment range in the straps to provide a secure fit.
Belt Loops: How many times have you thought about how many belt loops there are on a pair of waders? I sure didn’t until one day when using a pair of waders that had a single belt loop located in the center of the back waist. I unbuckled the belt to make an adjustment, and the two ends flipped behind my back, my pliers slid to one end causing the belt to dangle in the water and caught the current and pulled the belt out of the single loop and swept it downstream in mere seconds. Lesson learned.
Pockets: Another key feature is pockets. Most waders have at least one pocket on the front chest. Make sure this pocket has a zippered closure to prevent dumping pocket items when bending over. Is there a passthrough handwarmer pouch behind this pocket you can tuck your hands into, or use to store other items? Is the handwarmer pocket fleece lined for extra warmth? Can the handwarmer pouch opening be zipped closed to prevent you from snagging a reel or oar handle? I once tore the front pocket off a pair of waders when an oar snagged a pouch opening while rowing a technical stretch of water. What about internal pockets? I prefer to keep my phone and other important items like my truck keys in an inside pocket where they are easier to access and also better protected from rain or accidental soakings.
Maintenance: After you’ve purchased a pair of breathable waders, make sure to properly maintain them. When waders are new, water will bead up on the surface due to the DWR treatment. This helps to prevent the face fabric from absorbing water which will reduce the degree of breathability of the material. As waders are worn and soiled, this finish will wear off. When you see the waders are no longer beading, it’s time to clean and reapply a wash/dry in treatment to restore the DWR finish. Cleaning also benefits internal oil and sweat build up which can clog pores of the membrane and reduce breathability.
A tip for extending the life of your booties is to use an old truck floor mat when putting your waders on and off next to the vehicle to prevent any sharp rocks from damaging the neoprene booties which can be terribly difficult to patch and repair. When you get home, wet waders should be hung by their shoulder straps and allowed to fully dry inside and out to prevent mildew.
If you are still on the fence because you’ve heard breathable waders can be cold, especially during winter steelhead season, fear not. Simply invest in a pair of fleece liner pants and you’ll stay warm and toasty.
Breathable waders offer the greatest degree of comfort, both in heat and moisture regulation and also flexibility and range of motion. Their lightweight construction allows for easy, compact storage when not needed and they can easily be carried along in a backpack or boat box on every trip “just in case” even if usage may not be needed. Even though upfront cost may be higher than other styles of waders such as neoprene, breathable waders will allow a far longer service life as small holes can be easily be detected by spraying the exterior of the wader with soapy water and then fill the leg cavities with air and look for bubbles. Most waders will even come with patch material and a sealant solution to allow easy repairs at home.