Types of Fly Fishing Waders
There are numerous styles of waders out on the market today, all designed with different materials and features. Waders are an important piece of equipment for fly fishermen who spend a lot of time fishing in cold rivers or who use a float tube in lakes and ponds that have cold water. Most waders fit into three primary categories:
1) Boot Foot Chest Waders
Boot foot chest waders extend from the foot of the angler up to the chest. The boot is permanently attached to the wader. By having an attached boot, you avoid the extra cost of buying a separate pair of wading boots. The drawback is that boot foot waders are heavier and bulkier than stocking foot waders.
2) Stocking Foot Chest Waders
Stocking foot chest waders have a neoprene sock attached to the foot. If you decide to go with this style, you'll need to buy a pair of wading boots to wear over the neoprene stockings. Most stocking foot waders extend from the foot up to the chest. However, there are some models that only extend to the waist.
3) Hip Waders
Hip-Waders are designed for wading shallow, slower moving waters. They extend from the foot to the upper thigh, and may come in both stocking foot and boot-attached styles. Hip waders are popular for more sedate rivers and fly fishing shallow waters because they are more comfortable than chest waders and easier to get on and off.
The type of wader you choose is both a matter of personal preference and the type of fishing you'll be doing. I personally use stocking foot chest waders, since I do a lot of my fly fishing from a float tube. I can take off my boots and put on my flippers easily, or if conditions are warm enough, I can wear wading sandals instead of wading boots.
Waders are primarily made from four different types of materials: neoprene, nylon, rubber and waterproof -breathable fabrics, Gore-Tex® being the most common.
Waterproof-Breathable Waders are constructed from an air-permeable membrane, like Gore-Tex®, which allows internal moisture (sweat) to escape, even when submerged in the water. This means a big reduction in sweat buildup. The comfort and versatility of the waterproof-breathable wader is its main advantage. They can be worn in the hot summer months, or can be worn in winter with a set of sweat pants or fleece wader pants underneath for insulation. The looser, more flexible fit also makes them a great choice for fishermen who have to walk a long way to that secret fishing hole, and they are much more comfortable to use during along day in a float tube or pontoon boat.
Neoprene Waders have been a staple for many years and are ideal in colder water conditions. Neoprene is very durable and can take a lot of abuse. It's also available in a range of thicknesses (measured in millimeters). If you fish where the weather is typically moderate with an occasional cold day, I recommend a 3mm neoprene wader. For colder climates and hunting, I recommend a 5mm wader. The downside to neoprene is that, like nylon and rubber, it doesn't breathe well. In warmer weather, neoprene waders can get pretty hot and muggy.
Nylon and Rubber Waders may be a reasonable option for beginner fly fishermen on a budget, but overall they aren't the best. Nylon waders are fairly lightweight and will keep you dry and warm. Rubber waders are usually made of vulcanized rubber and are extremely waterproof, but bulky. The main disadvantage to nylon and rubber waders is they don't breathe, which means the interior is going to get sweaty pretty fast. While the price of rubber waders might be attractive to someone on a tight budget, you'll be sacrificing versatility and comfort. My advice: save those pennies and go with a waterproof breathable set.
Wader and Wader Boot Soles
Felt Soles are the most popular soles you'll find on the water, and provide excellent traction on slick river beds. However, felt soled wading boots have recently come under fire from conservationists because of their tendency to spread non-native species of diatoms (algae), fish parasites and tiny snails. Felt soled wading boots have recently been banned in some states.
Rubber Soles offer decent traction on slick river beds and are becoming more popular, mainly because they are less likely to pick up and spread invasive species, an issue that has lead to felt soles being banned in some areas. Screw-In Cleats are a great way to get improved traction. Screw-in cleats can be used on both felt and rubber soled boots.
A Note On Fit
While keeping dry and warm might be our first priority for a comfortable day on the water, having a pair of waders that fits right is a close second. If your waders do not fit right, not only will you be uncomfortable, but you'll find that you will tire much easier, which could lead to a potential wading mishap. The most common fit error is that anglers get waders that fit to tightly. You should select a size that is loose enough to allow you to wear extra layers under them comfortably when needed.
Pro Tip: Always wear a wading belt for added safety and security.
I hope this article will help you select a set of waders and boots that work for your needs. Remember to stay dry and have fun.
-Kevin, The Gear Doc