The main function of waders is to keep you dry and comfortable during a whole day of fishing. But which ones should you choose?
It is a jungle of models, materials and sizes out there. Read here how you pick the perfect pair of waders.
Waders are the one piece of clothing you will never leave without when going on a fishing trip. Its thin layer of fabric is the only barrier between the (cold) water and your legs. Manufacturers use words like water column pressure, breathability, stocking foot, cleated sole and felt sole to describe waders’ characteristics. There are plenty of choices, but what is it that separates the one from the other and how do you pick the perfect size? These are all factors to consider when buying a pair of waders. In order to make waders last longer, it is also very important to take good care of them. If not, they will not even last a single season.
Types of waders
In the main, there are two types of waders in use today: Breathable and (non-breathable) neoprene waders. Neoprene is a rubber material with small air bubbles inside. The quality of neoprene waders is determined by how much neoprene is actually incorporated in them. A low neoprene percentage, means they will get pierced more easily by thorns and hooks. A higher neoprene content will also add comfort as this makes the waders more stretchable. Neoprene waders are almost exclusively used in cold conditions and are less suitable for active fishing. As they are non-breathable, quite a lot of perspiration is generated when moving around. That is why manufactures developed breathable waders, which today are more popular than neoprene waders. Breathable waders are better suited to long days of more active fishing and way more comfortable. They allow air to escape through a membrane, which will be explained a bit further down.
Felt or cleated soles?
This is a question many don’t even consider when buying wading shoes, nonetheless it is a very important one. When choosing wading shoes, it is crucial to determine in which terrain you spend most of your time fishing, i.e. do you spend more time walking on hard rocks or walking along grassy and/or muddy banks. A cleated sole is made with a deep pattern that is designed to grab deeply into soft soil. When stepping onto a hard surface like rock, the cleated sole will not have as much grip and there will be a greater risk of sliding or falling down. Felt soles are better suited to rocky surfaces, as it consists of hundreds of small threads that grab onto a hard surface. On the other hand, the felt sole is a very bad choice when walking on grass, as it is completely flat and provides virtually no grip on grass or mud. So what to do if you fish on both types of surfaces? Buy two different types of shoes? Well no. When fishing on both hard and soft surfaces, the cleated sole is the best choice. Spikes or studs can be screwed into the cleated sole, if you need extra grip.
Cleated sole (perfect for soft soil and grassy banks). Felt sole (best on rocky surfaces)
Stocking foot or boot foot waders?
When choosing a pair of waders, you have the choice of stocking foot or boot foot. Choosing a stocking foot model means you will have to buy a pair of wading boots as well. When choosing a boot foot model, the boots are an integrated part of the waders. The stocking foot model is the best option when a lot of walking is required. A laced wading boot will always provide a better fit and will offer stability around the whole foot, even if it takes a bit more effort to put them on: Put on the waders first and then lace up the wading boots. The boot foot, most often made of rubber, is the quick solution. A boot foot wader is easier to get into and out of. The boot often lacks a tight fit which makes it less suitable for long walking trips. However, shorter trips along/in a river or brook should present no problem. Moreover, boot foot waders are a great choice if you want to change fishing spots often and do not want to wear your waders in the car.
What is a membrane?
Breathable waders most often consist of a membrane, protected by one or more layers of polyester. This combination of materials allows air to filter through the material. So how does it work and how does it protect you from getting wet? A membrane is a high technology fabric with microscopic holes in it. Water molecules are too large to pass through the holes in the membrane, while water vapour molecules, because of their smaller size, can and do pass through.
To fully understand a membrane’s functionality, water column pressure (wcp) also needs to be taken into consideration. An easy way to understand wpc is to imagine positioning a tube on top of the membrane. If, for example a waders’ wpc value is 10.000mm, the membrane will be waterproof until you fill the tube with more than 10 meters of water. When the water column exceeds 10.000mm, water will slowly start to pass through the membrane.
Breathability is also defined by the number of layers used and where they are applied. A 3-layer wader is composed of a protective layer on the inside, a membrane in the middle and a durable (polyester) layer on the outside. Applying more polyester layers increases durability, but at the same time decreases breathability. Consequently, most manufactures only apply extra polyester layers on exposed, vulnerable areas, thereby achieving better durability, without sacrificing too much breathability.
Neoprene is best in cold water, when keeping yourself warm is essential. On the left is the Scierra NEO-stretch. In the middle is the boot foot model, which is the easiest to get in and out of. On the right is the breathable stocking foot model, which is perfect for long days when a lot of walking is required.
Taking care of your waders
Waders can last a long time, but there are a few essential guidelines to follow in order to get the most out of your them. Most importantly the waders need to be dried at the end of every single fishing trip, as moist and wet waders are the biggest waders killers. If left undried, mold can form on both the inside and the outside of the waders. Mold slowly destroys the waders’ membrane and causing small holes to appear in and around the affected area. If your waders get moldy most probably the manufacturer consider that to be a defect for which they will not accept liability, claiming lack of proper care and maintenance on the customer’s part.
The best way to dry waders is to hang them up so air can flow freely around and into them. Turning waders inside out once the outside has completely dried is best. Salt accumulates in the membrane material and makes the waders less breathable. So, if you spent your fishing day in saltwater, flush the waders with fresh water. The last thing worth mentioning is that thorns, branches or other pointy objects can easily pierce the waders’ fabric. To avoid this from happening most waders have extra protective layers applied to the their lower parts to avoid punctures and to increase durability. Nonetheless, be smart and avoid dangerous i.e. ‘pointy’ areas.
What is the right size?
Finding the right size waders is not hard. With the tips below, you will be able to choose the perfect fit for your body shape and size.
The fabric will be too tight in the groin area and/or across the knees. When squatting, seams, taped areas and joints will ‘scream’, as too much tension is put on them. It will only be a matter of hours before water starts seeping inside. If, after a short period of use, your waders leak around the groin or knee area, it is most often a sign of too small waders, rather than poor quality.
Oversized waders are uncomfortable to wear, have an excessive number of folds and there is a lot of free air around the body. When walking through water, the waders’ material rubs on itself, causing excessive wear, which in turn leads to a leaky membrane. Furthermore, the waders’ breathability will decrease, because it is not generating overpressure when walking on the shore, because there's too much room inside the waders.
There is the right amount of freedom of movement. The waders fit snugly and when squatting, the material only stretches slightly across the knees. When taking long steps, there is no excessive stretching in the crotch area. It is important to ensure the waders fit comfortably around the legs, i.e. not too tight and not too loose. Bearing in mind these guidelines when purchasing waders, they will give you good service for a number of seasons.