Every angler knows that the trout is always bigger on the other side - of the river, that is. Similarly, every hunter knows the ducks are more plentiful down in the flooded bottomlands than up on the dry, easily accessed fields. The challenge water presents in these sporting situations is one reason why they are considered sporting events, instead of just shopping trips for fish and fowl.
If you stand around in icy cold rivers brimming with spring runoff or in near-zero marshes on frigid December mornings without adequate protection, your day afield will be over very quickly. The solution? A dependable pair of waders, which can significantly increase your enjoyment and hours spent hunting or fishing.
Waders by definition are essentially waterproof boots that extend up your legs (as far as your chest). But waders offer different coverages, boot sole styles and insulation levels. This guide will flesh out some details about the different types of waders available. Whether you use waders for waterfowl hunting, fly fishing or outdoor work, Sierra Trading Post has the waders that are right for you.
The major wader styles are based on water depth. So first you need to have an idea of the maximum water depth where you'll be using them. Then remember to add a good 8 inches or so (or about a foot for flowing water), because "tipping" your waders is no fun and can ruin a good day of sporting. There are three coverage styles of waders: chest waders, hip waders and waist-high waders.
The most versatile of all waders, chest waders provide the most coverage so you can venture into everything from ankle-deep streams to waist-deep river pools. Chest waders utilize suspenders to keep them securely positioned on your body, and usually are baggy to allow freedom of movement.
The added coverage provided by chest waders can really be an asset when you run into unexpected problems like hidden holes and drop-offs, faster currents, rogue waves, stubborn fish landings, stumbles or other situations where it becomes easy to tip your waders. Some of the key advantages of chest waders:
Quick Tip: For safety reasons, always wear a wading belt when using chest waders to prevent flooding them in an accidental brief dunking.
Hip waders are best for water no deeper than about the knees. They are designed in two separate pieces, with one for each leg, and attach to your belt with belt straps to prevent sliding down. Hip waders have several advantages. These waders are:
Waist-high waders fall somewhere in between chest waders and hip waders. They have the same general style as a baggy pair of pants and are designed for waters up to thigh-deep. Like pants, these waders have belt loops to hold them up. Some advantages of waist-high waders:
Wader construction is very important as the wrong styles can mean you're going to be either very cold or very hot and sweaty.
Most insulated waders are made of neoprene, the same material used to construct wetsuits. The neoprene in waders is very warm, waterproof, stretchy and durable, making it perfect for cold-water wading. Neoprene waders may come in varying thicknesses to offer different degrees of warmth, but are usually about 5 mm thick. These waders are generally inexpensive compared to other waders.
One drawback of neoprene waders is that they are not breathable, so if you work up a sweat the moisture stays with you. Also, since super-thick 7 mm neoprene has a lot of flotation, waders using this material can make you feel uncomfortably light in deeper, faster-flowing waters. For fall through spring wading, you might consider breathable waders insulated with Thinsulater, a synthetic fiber that offers insulation and breathability with less flotation.
Uninsulated, breathable waders are much more lightweight than neoprene waders, and allow some body moisture to escape. These waders are generally constructed of nylon or polyester with a Gore-Texr or similar membrane that blocks outside moisture while allowing moisture from perspiration to escape.
Breathable waders are the best choice for warm-weather wading. This wader type is also the most versatile for multiple-season use. In the summer, breathable waders can be worn with a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. In colder weather, wear them with wicking base layers and some fleece for adequate warmth.
Since these thinner waders may be more prone to wearing down than neoprene waders, they are usually reinforced to provide durability in high-stress areas like the knees and seat. Also, they are often more expensive than neoprene waders.
Non-breathable, uninsulated waders are similar to breathable waders except they do not allow moisture to escape. These waders are generally very inexpensive.
Almost all waders have some rubber or PVC in their construction, to offer 100% waterproof protection with added durability. The boot components of most neoprene waders are essentially galoshes built with PVC or rubber. Some hip waders are still constructed entirely of rubber, although virtually all higher-coverage styles utilize other materials in addition to rubber.
The seams of any waders are sealed or welded to prevent entry of any water between the fabric panels. Over time, these seals can break down so you should inspect your waders before each use.
Many waders have the boots built right into them and are called bootfoot waders (or sometimes "barefoot waders"). You don't need a separate pair of shoes when wearing these boot-integrated waders; despite the name, you'll probably want to wear socks with them for warmth and comfort. Bootfoot waders are quick to pull on and off and you don't have to buy separate shoes to use them. However, a drawback to most bootfoot waders is their no-lace style, which means you can't tighten them for a better fit.
Stockingfoot waders, another type of waders, insulate your feet and keep them dry but require the use of a separate wading boot over the waders' neoprene-only booties. The boots themselves will get wet, but not your feet or anything inside the waders. An advantage to wearing these waders is that the separate boots offer a better fit than bootfoot waders, but you must purchase the wading boots separately. Wading boots come in multiple styles, and offer a "hiking boot" feel.
There are four main types of wader boot soles: felt, rubber, hiking and studded felt. These soles appear on both bootfoot waders and the wading boots used with stockingfoot waders.
Quick Tip: Avoid using studded felt-sole waders if you will be using a boat, as the studs can damage the boat itself.
Wader sizes can be based on either foot size or overall body size. For bootfoot waders, which have a built-in boot, pick your size based on your normal boot size. Stockingfoot waders, on the other hand, are sized based on your overall body size, since the neoprene booties can stretch to shape your feet. Don't worry - all waders are supposed to fit somewhat loosely, so you don't need a glove-like fit. Be sure to purchase a pair of wading boots to go with any stockingfoot waders.
If you plan to fish in warmer waters or cross cold streams quickly (vs. standing in them for hours) in warmer weather, a pair of water shoes or sport sandals worn with shorts might work better than waders. This type of footwear is designed to drain and dry out fast, and is lightweight and non-restrictive. Another advantage of water shoes and sandals is that they can also be used for rafting, boating, hiking, kayaking or casual use.
Never underestimate the water's power to make you cold, though. For prolonged fishing in all but the warmest summer waters, sport sandals and water shoes will probably offer inadequate protection.