How do you choose the best fly fishing waders in 2017? Hold that thought for a moment, and let’s look at why you need waders for fly fishing in the first place: A great pair of fishing waders will get you into the water next to the fish — to get right into their world. It changes your whole fishing experience for the better.
Of course, sometimes you need waders just so you can cast your fly to a fish, which makes waders an indispensable tool for fly fishing, especially for fly fishing beginners who don’t cast well yet. Some rivers are lined with brushy banks and the only way to cast is to wade out into the river. Some lakes have shallow bottoms and you need to wade out to get where the fish are. Some streams are just more fun when you scramble around in them or even just cross over to the far bank where fewer people go.
So how do you know which kind of fly fishing waders are best? Which features do you really need? Let’s take a closer look at the most important features you want in a good pair of fly fishing waders for 2017 and beyond.
Best Fly Fishing Waders 2017: Stockingfoot vs Bootfoot
There are two main types of fly fishing waders: stockingfoot or bootfoot waders. Only get booted waders if you like the simplicity of stepping into a boot and you won’t be wading over rocky, unstable ground. Why? Booted waders tend to fit like rubber boots — sort of loose and without much ankle support. If you’re going to be walking over a bunch of slick rocks, you’ll want a wading boot with more ankle support.
So, for mostly lake fishing from gentle shores, booted waders are easy to use — but who knows where you’re going to fish next? For that reason, I nearly always recommend stockingfoot waders.
Stockingfoot waders are also better because you can choose different boots during the lifetime of your waders or vice versa. Plus, when it’s August and the river is low and clear and the days are hot, you can wear your sturdy pair of wading boots without your stockingfoot waders and just wade around in a pair of shorts. Basically, you end up with a more versatile investment in your gear: stockingfoot waders + separate wading boots are the way to go.
Neoprene vs Breathable Stockingfoot Waders
If you’re only going to be fishing in cold water on cold days — say, steelhead fishing — then choosing a heavy-duty pair of neoprene waders is a reasonable choice. If you’ll be fishing all seasons, I recommend investing in lighter breathable waders so that when you step out of the river, you don’t immediately start sweating. If the water is really cold, you can always layer up with a thick pair of fleece pants underneath your breathable waders . . . but you can never make cold-weather waders suitable for hot days.
This comes down to a surprisingly easy recommendation: Only get neoprene if you’re going to be fishing in cold weather in cold water. Sure, neoprene is durable, but these waders are generally not as comfortable as thinner, more breathable waders. Neoprene is also less packable than breathable waders.
Best Fly Fishing Waders for the Money 2017
The toughest question you’ll face is the one about your budget — do you spend less than $100 or ramp up into the hundreds of dollars? What do you get for an additional investment? You will get a few extra features like better pockets, better shoulder straps, and an extra layer or two of material, making the waders more abrasion resistant. However, one feature you should always look for is built-in gravel cuffs, which is a section of fabric that covers the tops of your wading boots so that gravel doesn’t get into your boot while you’re wading, which can work a hole into your waders.
Generally, the higher-end waders are only worth the money if you’re a) heading out on an expedition trip of a lifetime, b) hike through a lot of brush and fish on rivers with sharp rocks, or c) will use your waders more than 20 times a year.
If you use your waders 10 or so days a year, you can expect them to last several years. At a certain point, though, the material and sealed seams will degrade over time, eventually leaking (even if you don’t actually puncture them). As your waders age after several seasons, start thinking about replacing them before you head out on critical fishing trips.
So, for most beginning fly fishers, I generally recommend entry-level stockingfoot breathable waders that cost around $100 unless you’re fishing at least 20 days a year or can afford an upgrade. What about women’s waders? Many manufacturers are now using similar designs to create versions for women that are sized appropriately.
Recommended Waders for Fly Fishing Beginners
Frogg Toggs Hellbender Stockingfoot Chest Waders — There’s a lot to like about the Hellbender. You get four plies with reinforced knees and shins, along with the expected wading belt, built-in gravel guards, and pockets, including an internal pocket, a triple-entry chest pocket with a fleece-lined handwarmer pocket, and an expandable fly box pocket and zippered accessories pocket.
Cabela’s Premium Breathable Stockingfoot Waders — Cabela’s new entry-level fishing waders check all the boxes on basic requirements: They have an updated fit for better mobility, including contoured neoprene booties that have non-slip rubber on the bottom to keep your foot from shifting inside of your wading boots. The knees have three layers for durability, the seams are taped, the built-in gravel gaiters are rubberized to help them stay put, they include a wading belt, and there is a large internal pocket. The cushy neoprene suspenders are a little bonus, but we really like seeing the wide range of size options: Regular, Stout, and Tall.
Hodgman H3 Stockingfoot Fishing Waders — Hodgman has been making an enviable blend of cost-effective waders and wading boots for decades, and our Hodgman gear has always held up well. These can’t-go-wrong waders have all the core features — a roomy chest pocket, an internal pocket, a microfleece-lined handwarmer pocket, built-in gravel guards, anatomical neoprene booties, a built-in wading belt, and a D-ring in the back for hanging your fly fishing net. Better yet, they come in three general size options: Regular, King, and Tall.
L.L.Bean Flyweight Stockingfoot Waders — L.L.Bean’s entry-level breathable waders cover the basics with built-in gravel guards, an internal pocket, wading belt, and ergonomically shaped neoprene booties. Backed by L.L.Bean’s legendary customer satisfaction guarantee.
Best Midrange Stockingfoot Waders
Orvis Silver Sonic Waders — The Orvis Silver Sonic series is an ultimate midrange contender — they cost about half as much as the high-end options but tend to perform at nearly the same level. You get multiple interior and exterior pockets, with a waterproof interior pocket for your smartphone. The booties are anatomical, and leg seams run up the back side where they will get less stress from the elements. The suspender system lets you drop the chest portion down to your waist for hot days on the water.
Redington Sonic-Pro Waders — Redington’s Sonic-Pro stockingfoot waders use sonic-welded seams (not sewn) with a 4-layer design that includes reinforced lower legs and backside, which is handy if you sit in a drift boat, pontoon boat, or just like to rest on boulders and logs. You get handwarmer pockets, a front zippered pocket, and a flip-over interior pocket good for a small fly box, tippet, forceps, and nippers. Built-in gravel guards and a wading belt, of course.
L.L.Bean Kennebec Stockingfoot Waders — L.L.Bean’s premium waders come with high-end features at a mid-level price, and when you add in L.L.Bean’s legendary customer satisfaction guarantee, the Kennebec waders are a sweet buy. You get four breathable layers, comfy neoprene shoulder straps, adhesive (not stitched) seams, two zippered chest pockets, fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, a waterproof interior pocket, a built-in wading belt, articulated knees, and, of course, built-in gravel guards.
Best Stockingfoot Waders for Fly Fishing Fanatics
Note: Based out of Montana, Simms consistently produces some of the world’s best waders, and their GORE-TEX models are also made in America. Arguably, their entry-level wader, the Freestone Wader, could make our midrange pick section, but Simms shines brightest with its high-end, made-in-America waders.
Simms Headwaters Pro Stockingfoot Waders — The new Simms Headwaters Pro Stockingfoot waders aren’t quite as burly as the G4 Pro models (below) but, at $399.95, they may be the most cost-effective choice if you want to buy fishing waders manufactured in America. If buying American-made is important to you, this is your best price option. Meanwhile, the Headwaters Pro are truly excellent waders: You get three layers of GORE-TEX Pro fabric, plus Simms’ patented front and back-leg seam construction that’s designed to increase durability when you have to walk through brush. You get chest storage pockets, a pass-through hand-warmer pocket, and suspenders that let you adjust the waders down to your waist for hot days and shallow wading. Anatomical stocking feet with built-in gravel guards round out the details.
Simms G4Z Stockingfoot Waders — For fly fishers who spend more time on the water than most of us can imagine, Simms uses a five-layer GORE-TEX Pro Shell system that the company has designed for excellent breathability. What you end up with is an extremely durable set of breathable waders that won’t overcook you. Better yet, the G4Z comes with a big waterproof zipper in the front, which is darn handy when you’ve gone through a few mugs of coffee. Other key features include two waterproof zippered chest pockets, two retractor docking stations (1 is included), a handy fly patch, lined hand warmer pockets, and a seriously sweet suspender system. Plus, of course, you get built-in gravel guards, anatomical neoprene feet, and a wading belt. For hard-core fishing over rough terrain and many days, the Simms G4Z Pro waders are about as drool-worthy as you can get. (If you don’t want the zipper, save $100 and choose the G4 Pro Waders.)
Patagonia Rio Gallegos — The Patagonia Rio Gallegos Waders boast similar quality to the Simms G3 and G4 series, but the multi-layered fabric is a bit more flexible while retaining similar breathability and durability. The neoprene booties are wool-lined for better breathability, and get this, Patagonia includes removable knee pads in case you’re the kind of fly fisher who sneaks up on fish. Lots of pockets, of course, including a waterproof interior pocket for your smartphone. The Gallegos are also available with a waterproof front zipper!
Considering the Best Booted Fly Fishing Waders?
Many of these manufacturers also offer some booted fishing waders with same types of construction, but typically we’re not fans of booted waders unless you’re fishing in very cold conditions for long periods of time, in which case the extra space in the boot systems can help insulate your feet better than typical stockingfoot waders. They’re also great for guys who are getting on in years or just aren’t as limber as they used to be! Even so, we prefer the ankle support you get with separate wading boots.
All that said, the Cabela’s Spring Run 5mm Waders are burly as all get out, offering rugged boot bottoms as well as padded knees, all at a reasonable price.
Bonus: Best Wading Boots for the Money 2017
As for wading boots, choose between a lug sole or felt soles — but know that a few states have banned felt soles due to concerns over transmitting invasive species from different waterways. Typically, felt soles provide the best traction on slick, wet rocks. On dirt trails? Not so much.
Cabela’s Ultralight Wading Boots — These boots come in versions with rubber lug soles or felt soles, and they are simply hard to be beat for the price. A solid entry-level option. Great for most everyone, perfect for anglers on a budget.
Orvis Clearwater Wading Boots — These mid-level Orvis boots have a superb, classic style that looks good and works great. For even more traction on the felt soles, you can opt for some screw-in studs. Also comes in a rubber-only sole option.
Want more wading boot options? Check out 7 Best Wading Boots for the Money.