Before we discuss the different types of waders that are available today I think we should start by saying that you should always avoid wading if possible. The stream bottom is home to a myriad of aquatic life that is crucial to a trout's diet and survival. The more we wade, the more we upset this delicate balance. That being said, there will be many times that wading will be necessary to maneuver into that perfect spot. The first question to ask yourself is, "Do I even need waders?" You probably think I've gone off the deep end here but it's a legitimate question. If you only fish warm climates or if you fish in the north only in the summer when the water temperature is quite comfortable and you don't mind getting wet, then why buy waders. I see a growing number of anglers leaving the waders behind and donning a nice pair of felt soled boots or sandals. That is something you have to decide and either one is quite acceptable.
To check out Orvis's selection of quality fly fishing waders, click here.
Cabelas also has a large selection of their own brand of waders along with other brand name fishing waders like Simms and Hodgman to choose from. Check out their selection of waders and boots here.
Obviously the biggest function of the waders is to keep the angler dry. A secondary function in colder temperatures is to keep the angler warm. This is crucial if you're fishing the winter Steelhead runs. So let's get into the different types of waders and the materials with which they are made.
Styles of Waders
As with many of the decisions you'll be making, this first decision will depend on the type of water that you'll be primarily fishing...shallow, moderate or deep.
These fishing waders extend up to the upper leg and groin area of the angler. Hip waders are popular for fishing shallow waters because they are more comfortable than other fishing waders and because they are quite simple to get in and out of.
These fishing waders extend up to the waist of the angler and include a belt that you buckle around your waist, similar to a pair of pants. Waist waders are popular for fishing moderately deeper waters because while they are not quite as comfortable as the hip waders, they are still more comfortable and easier to maneuver in than the chest waders which we'll talk about next.
As the name suggests, these fishing waders extend up to the chest of the angler and include straps that you secure over your shoulder to hold them up. Chest waders are popular for fishing deeper, slow moving waters because they allow the angler to closer to the fish in the deepest holes. The down side to these waders is that they are more difficult to get in and out of in the event of the eventual bathroom break.
Types of Waders
There are two different types of fly fishing waders available today. They are the "Bootfoot" and the "Stockingfoot" wader which we will discuss next.
Bootfoot waders are the all-in-one fishing waders like the ones we remember growing up with as kids. The benefit to these waders is that they are typically less expensive. They only true disadvantage to these waders is that they cannot be turned inside out to dry them out which is very important to keep that mildew smell away. Other cons that are sometimes mentioned are that they are heavier than stockingfoot waders but once the boot is factored into the equation, the weight is very similar.
Stockingfoot waders do not have a hard-soled boot attached all in one unit but includes a waterproof, neoprene sock instead. Wading boots are purchased independently and fitted over the neoprene sock. The disadvantage to these waders is that they typically cost more since you purchase the wader and the boot separately. The advantage is that they give you more flexibility to mix and match different types and styles of boot and waders based on the conditions you'll be fishing in. These types of waders are definitely growing in popularity because of the flexibility they give the angler.
This one is open for discussion but unless you're going for your doctorate in wader technology (which could be a reality some day with all the new technology they're introducing into these waders), we're only going to discuss two types, "Neoprene" and "Breathable" waders.
These waders are made of a thick, insulated rubber-like material called neoprene. Neoprene waders are primarily used today when fishing in colder water conditions because of their insulating value. Generally, neoprene fishing waders run from a 3mm thickness (for general warmer weather fly fishing) to a 5mm thickness (ideal for cold water). Generally speaking, if you plan on doing some winter fishing or will be fishing the icy waters of Alaska or a similar climate, then neoprene waders may be the way you want to go. The problem with neoprene waders is that they are not breathable making them an uncomfortable choice when fishing the warm summer months.
Breathable waders have taken the market by storm over the past few years. They are designed to allow your body's perspiration to escape will still keeping the water out. You'll definitely want to hook up with this type of wader to maximize your comfort if you plan to spend a full day or multiple days on the water. Some of today's breathable waders are made from such materials as Simms QuadraLam™, Hodgman's Horco-Tex® and the ever popular Gore-Tex®. With names like these, your pocketbook is really the only thing that will determine which brand or type of breathable wader you decide to go with.
One other thing to note and my recommendation. Look for waders that have a reinforced and possibly a padded knee. This will be necessary when kneeling along the stream as you release your catch or kneel for that photo opportunity. Now for the recommendation...if you can only afford one pair of waders, which is common for beginners, I would go for a felt-soled boot and breathable wader combo. Personally, my first pair was (and still is) a waist wader. I just hated the idea of trying to undo the chest waders for those necessary bathroom breaks. Also I went with the breathable wader because I could still use them in every condition. I could wear them in the summer and remain cool and could wear sweats underneath when fishing for winter steelhead to stay warm. Now, I just mentioned a new term a moment ago (felt-soled) that wasn't brought up before. A felt-soled boot is simply a boot which has about 1/2" of felt attached to the bottom of the boot. The purpose of this felt is to increase your traction on those slippery rocks and stream beds. There are boots without these felt soles and they do cost less money but I highly recommend the felt sole for your safety and you'll be glad you went that route. One last thing..if you purchase the stockingfoot waders and buy a pair of wading boots, take note of the waders to see if they come with built in gaiters. Gaiters fit over the top of your boots and are a means to keep gravel and debris from the stream and stream bed out of your boots. These are very important to keep you comfortable. If your waders do not come with these built in, look for a pair to purchase separately. You'll be glad you did.
NOW you're ready to make that first purchase.