We never hear fly fishers complain about having zip-front waders: Basically, once they invest in waders with waterproof zippers, they seem particularly satisfied. And some say they’ll never go back to regular fishing waders.
There are two reasons zip-front waders result in such appreciation: 1) zippered waders require a high-quality waterproof zipper, which means most manufacturers only include zippers on their best quality wader designs, which in turn, tend to result in better experiences overall, and 2) entry, exit and calls of nature are way easier. Who can’t get on board with answering the call of nature faster?
Today’s zippered waders come in two basic styles: stockingfoot or bootfoot waders. Stockingfoot waders require separate wading boots, but they also result in a more stable experience and let you invest in wading boots separately from the waders. Bootfoot waders are generally warmer and easier to use, but the built-in boots are inherently less stable when you’re walking or wading over uneven ground. (For the most part, Simms is the only manufacturer that offers multiple bootfoot zippered options, but we’ll update this guide if more manufacturers follow suit.)
That’s about it. Zip-front waders tend to be very high quality waders. They’re made with multiple layers of excellent fabrics and they usually boast anatomically correct neoprene booties with built-in gravel guards. Even though zippered waders cost more than the best non-zippered waders, those who have made the leap to waterproof zippers seem pretty darn happy with their fishing wader investments. If you’re looking for the best overall waders for your investment, check out our 10 Best Fly Fishing Waders for the Money guide.
Meanwhile, what are the best zip-front fishing waders for 2018? Quick answer:
Cabela’s Men’s Premium Zip Breathable Fishing Waders
Best Zip-Front Fishing Waders: The Details
While waterproof zippers are becoming more common, you still need to have excellent manufacturing standards to add another point of possible failure into fishing waders — zippers inherently create an extra part that can go wrong. As a consequence of the extra parts — the stout waterproof zippers — as well as the extra work to create the waders, zip-front waders cost more than their non-zip counterparts. Is it worth it to you? Like we said, we never hear any zip-front wader owners complain. And one of our zip-front gear testers put it this way: “When you drink a lot of coffee, zip-front waders are simply amazing.”
1. Simms G4Z Stockingfoot Waders
The very best zip-front wader is the Simms G4Z Stockingfoot Wader. These bad boys are super durable yet breathable, boasting 5-layer GORE-TEX Pro Shell fabric and an ultra-comfortable suspender system. Plus, you can move the chest portion down to create a waist-high conversion on the river. The chest has two zippered pockets with an integrated retractor docking station for commonly used accessories like forceps or nippers. You also get two micro-fleece lined hand-warmer pockets, which are also zippered. The durable zipper is YKK’s AQUASEAL. If you fish a lot — or you’re heading out on an epic fishing adventure — the G4Z Stockingfoot waders are likely to be the most durable, longest-lasting waders you can get. Better yet, they’re Made in America.
The Patagonia Rio Gallegos Zip-Front Waders are another truly excellent zippered wader. While Patagonia does not manufacture the Rio Gallegos in the USA, Patagonia is a great company that stands behind its products, strives for an Earth-friendly environmental footprint, and cares about public land. If you’re already a Patagonia fan, there’s no significant reason to stray from Patagonia — the Rio Gallegos Zip-Front Waders do a fantastic job of blending flexibility and weight with durability. The uppers are made from 4-layers of fabric to give you better flexibility while the lowers are made with 4-layers of fabric in a heavier, denser weave to give you better durability. The exterior fabric is H2No Performance Standard polyester and the breathable membrane is a proprietary layer to Patagonia. It’s good stuff that works as expected. The zipper is a TiZip front zipper, some of which are used in waterproof scuba diving suits. As for chest pockets, there are two stash pockets, two handwarmer pockets and a Hypalon utility keeper on the suspenders for easy attachment for accessories like nippers. You also get a waterproof zippered internal pocket, two drop-in stretch pockets and two internal daisy chains for tools. Aside from the zipper, the next best feature of these waders are the articulated knees with interior removable foam knee pads — these pads are no gimmick. One of our best fishing buddies particularly appreciates the knee pads when he kneels in the water on the rocks to release fish.
To produce a more affordable zippered wader, Simms doesn’t manufacture its Freestone Z Waders in the USA — only the Simms wader versions that use GORE-TEX are manufactured in the USA. So what’s in the Freestone Z Waders? A 4-layer Toray QuadraLam waterproof/breathable laminate — but don’t worry, most breathable fabrics in high-end waders are pretty darn good. The Freestone Z Waders have fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, which are large enough to store fly boxes, and the there are two dual-retractor docking stations that have internal magnetic retainers for accessory tool retention.
The Redington Sonic-Pro HDZ is another great zippered fishing wader. The HDZ version takes the same great overall design of the Sonic-Pro HD wader and adds a waterproof TiZip zipper. You get sonically welded seams — not sewn — which removes the issue of needing to seal over sewn needle holes. The process has been used for years with great durability. The fabric is a 4-layer waterproof breathable fabric that is flexible yet durable — in fact, these are the most durable waders made by Redington. The Sonic-Pro HD line is pretty solid overall in both design and overall fit and finish.
(As it turns out, we think the stockingfoot booties fit very slightly large, so if you’re a size 14 foot, the 12-13 booties will likely fit, if a bit snug. The same goes for the excellent Redington Prowler Boots — they fit slightly large, too. The reported wader inseams are spot on.)
The Orvis wader lineup is pretty great overall, offering excellent entry-level and midrange+ waders. The Orvis Silver Sonic Zippered Waders appear to be discontinued, but you might be able to nab a pair on sale before they’re gone. (We haven’t heard back from Orvis to learn if they’ve got a new version in the works or not — will update this when we know for sure.) Of course, what about the Orvis Silver Sonic Zippered Waders? You get a 4-layer nylon construction that’s both durable and flexible, plus you get zippered handwarmer pockets, a flip out front pocket and a pair of zippered front pockets for fly boxes and gear.
The L.L.Bean Kennebec Zippered-Chest Waders offer one of the most enviable price-to-value ratios we’ve seen in zip-front waders: You get standard 4-layer breathable fabric, articulated knees, multiple chest pockets, comfortable neoprene shoulder straps, and a sweet wading belt design that stays out of the way of the zipper. Like we said, truly great price-to-value in these affordable midrange+ zippered waders. (Only available at L.L.Bean.)
We don’t know a heckuva lot about the small company Dryft, but we’ve heard a few fishers rave about their waders, including the Primo Zip-Front Waders. Fans like the durability and cool overall designs. You get waterproof, breathable 5-layer lowers with lighter 3-layer uppers, lots of pockets, articulated knees, a couple splashes of bright yellow zippers over very dark grey fabrics. (Only available at Dryft.)
Our favorite Hodgman waders are the company’s affordable H3 Stockingfoot Waders, which we think offer a fantastic price-to-value ratio. The Hodgman Aesis Sonic Zip Waders are Hodgman’s best wader, and they feature 5-layers of puncture-resistant fabric in the seat and legs with a breathable 4-layer upper. You get micro-fleece lined handwarmer pockets, a flip out internal zip pocket, and the adjustable suspenders let you convert the waders to waist-high waders. The Aesis are also compatible with Hodgman’s Core INS removable insulation system if you’re wading in the winter. One of the best features of the Aesis is the wide variety of sizes — for instance, you can get a true 12-14 bootie with extra long inseams, which we very much appreciate.
9. Frogg Toggs Sierran Transition Z Zip-Front Waders
The Frogg Toggs Sierran Transition Z Zip-Front Waders feature plenty of pockets — lots of pockets. You also get a 4-ply breathable upper with 6-ply reinforced knees and shins. The reality here is that Frogg Toggs is competing with some hard-core competition in this zippered wader space — if you find the Sierran Transition Z Zip-Front Waders on sale the price-to-value gets better. One more thing: We’re actually far bigger fans of the Frogg Toggs Hellbender Stockingfoot Waders — there’s no zipper, but the price-to-value ratio of the entry level Hellbenders is fantastic.
10. Cabela’s Premium Zip Breathable Fishing Waders
These new zippered waders from Cabela’s won’t win a style contest, but they are simply the absolute lowest-priced zip-front waders that we’d ever invest in. We’ve had great experiences with tons of Cabela’s branded gear, but wow, these offer a very interesting entry-level price with the zipper feature that is usually only connected to waders that cost much more. These are new waders for 2018 and we haven’t yet tried out a review unit: If you’re looking for a zippered fishing wader but can’t stomach the cost of the high-end competition, take a look at the Cabela’s Premium Zip Breathable Fishing Waders. There isn’t a lot of frills here, but you get a big internal pocket and lots of sizing options, including size 12-14 booties. (Only available at Cabela’s.)
Shop Cabela’s Premium Zip Breathable Fishing Waders at: Cabela’s
What About Women’s Zip-Front Waders?
Unfortunately, we’re not aware of any great zip-front fishing waders for women available now — that might change, and probably will change. We just started seeing a lot more versions of fishing waders made for women’s shapes and sizes, and women seem to be entering the sport of fly fishing in greater numbers than ever before — we’ll add in some details as soon as we see some zip-front waders for women hit the market.