An Expert Guide to Orvis WadersPublished on 05/09/2023 · 12 min readStay dry on your fishing adventures this year with a good pair of waders! Fly Fishing Expert Andy Sparhawk details everything you need to know about Orvis waders!
TL;DR: Comfort and safety are paramount in fly fishing, and Orvis' wader collection offers durable, comfortable, and stylish waders for any level of angler. In this article, we’ll cover the main types of Orvis waders—Pro, Ultralight, and Clearwater—and discuss how to determine which model is the best for your individual needs.
Fly fishing necessitates marching deep into the wilderness: up and down steep embankments, through rough, itchy vegetation, submerged in the stickiest mud, and over slick, sharp boulders and downed trees. All that before you even cross a river, which can and will attempt to sweep you off your feet and drench you with icy, hypothermia-inducing water. The risks when enjoying such a beautiful pastime could not be more real.
Though a lifetime of angling has taught me that you can overcome some pretty extreme elements—as long as you bring fish to the net. It's those other times that you'll be glad you have the essential fly fishing gear to handle everything Mother Nature can throw at you.
After decades of pursuing trout throughout the Colorado Rockies, I know that the more time spent fishing is more time to experience the restorative effects of nature. At Curated, I’ve personalized many Orvis beginner rod combinations, and recommend countless Orvis waders to fly fishers, new and experienced. I believe they are the number one tool an angler needs to keep comfortable on the water.
Who Is Orvis?
Founded in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis, the Orvis brand is now synonymous with fly fishing, and has become one of the largest and most successful companies in this industry.
Privately owned since 1965, Orvis has expanded its offering to include clothing and accessories for wing shooters while keeping a keen, authentic focus on making quality fly fishing goods. Additionally, Orvis has developed uniquely curated experiences with their travel program that caters to anglers and hunters visiting elite destinations worldwide.
To complement their variety of offerings, Orvis also serves as a massive clearinghouse of fly fishing history and knowledge. These resources are essential for shortening the learning curve when making the leap into angling.
What to Consider when Buying Orvis Waders
Waders can extend your day of fishing by making your time in the water more comfortable. Most Western waters remain icy cold well into the summer and are far too cold to wade in for extended periods. Even in warmer climates, anglers are less likely to want to wade or stand in water for hours; human skin is not designed to be amphibious, but waders keep an angler protected.
Do You Value Breathability?
Long ago, all fishing waders were made of waterproof vinyl. The downside was that they were as effective at letting moisture out as they were at keeping water from getting in. With nowhere for their sweat to go, anglers easily overheated; not to mention, getting what amounted to wet trash bags off your cold feet at the end of the day was a gross and exhausting task.
Today, instead, all Orvis waders are constructed from breathable materials that keep water out and allow body moisture to escape. Orvis Pro Waders use Cordura—a military-grade blend of synthetic fibers that is light, durable, and breathable. This makes it a perfect material for a top-tier wader option for anglers who demand a lot out of their gear.
How Hard Will You Be on Your Waders?
In order to bushwhack through thickets of thorny undergrowth and scramble over rocky boulders, waders need to be strong and puncture resistant. All waders will eventually wear out, but choosing waders with exceptional abrasion resistance will help you maximize their life. And with thoughtful features like Orvis’ water-redirecting gravel guards, no secret spot is too safe.
What Features Do You Require?
The right pair of waders keep you comfortable, but the best makes your fishing easier. Orvis accomplishes this with features including a tool dock, fly patch, or even a kangaroo-style fleece-lined hand warmer pocket.
Waders offer a lot of real estate on your body to stow small items and replace articles of traditional bulk. For instance, fishing packs are great for carrying larger items like an extra jacket or ham sandwich, but your hemostats or split-shot shouldn't be on your back when you need them for quick changes.
What Kind of Fit Would You Like?
Beware of any one-size-fits-all waders. Anglers come in all shapes, and we each move differently. Orvis waders come in various fits and sizes for men, women, and kids. Because comfort is subjective, you’ll need waders that fit the type of activities your fishing adventures demand.
Orvis makes true-fit sizing for all anglers a point of pride. For example, Orvis sizes run from XS to XXL for men and women, as well as small, medium, and large options for children. Petite to long sizes are offered among men's and women's waders, and feature a gusseted crotch for added mobility.
Additional innovations, like suspension shoulder straps for converting chest waders into hip waders, and boot-footed options for cold-weather trips, strengthen the case for choosing Orvis waders.
Bootfoot or Stockingfoot Waders: What Type Do You Need?
Waders come in two primary types, bootfoot waders have rubberized boots attached while stockingfoot comes with neoprene booties and require the additional purchase of wading boots.
The type of wader you need is dictated by the terrain you will be fishing in and around. Bootfoot waders are preferred for anglers who fish on silty banks. These examples would be Alaskan guides who are hopping in and out of boats along richly sedimented rivers, or redfish anglers in the mud flats of South Carolina. These terrains are soupy and muddy, easily filling a boot with heavy mud or acting as a vacuum to suck one right off. Not ideal.
Anglers who hike and enter swift-moving rivers will find the versatility of stockingfoot waders much more valuable. Not only does the added flex add comfort when hiking up river all day, but the different treads that can be chosen or switched out are ideal for fishing different rivers. In most cases wader boots will have rubber soles with metal studs to add traction (some swear by felt-soled wader boots, but the risk of transporting invasive species has resulted in these being banned in places like Yellowstone).
At the end of the day, it is up to the angler which type of waders they prefer. Just be sure that at the end of a day of fishing, you're cleaning your waders and giving them ample opportunity to dry.
How Much Should Orvis Waders Cost?
The Orvis Company is keenly aware that those who use their products aren’t exponentially wealthy. Not everyone can spend $800 on their waders. That’s why they’re so passionate about offering quality gear at price points that everyone can appreciate. Maybe that’s why so many new entrants to the sport start with Orvis.
- Pro Wader Line: $600 - $900
- Ultralight Waders: $400
- Clearwater Waders: $230 - $380
What Are the Different Models of Orvis Waders?
Orvis offers anglers three levels of waders, each designed for a distinct kind of fly fisher.
The Orvis Pro line of waders are for anglers who demand professional-grade performance to keep up with extended days on the water and the rigors that fly fishing places on their gear. This may be a member of the fly fishing industry—like a guide with years of experience—or a professional angler. Their extremely durable 4-Layer Cordura Design offers breathability and waterproofing in addition to top-class abrasion resistance to heed the call of the most dedicated fly fishers and guides.
- Military-grade durability with Cordura fabric construction
- TIZIP Masterseal waterproof zipper specific to PRO Men's Zipper Waders
- Despite its durability, waders will eventually wear out.** **Expect the average length to be 3-5 years.
- It’s recommended you wash/ rinse waders after use to retain breathability.
Other Key Features of Orvis Pro Waders
- External storage pockets with YKK AquaGuard coated zippers and daisy chain tool dock keep tools safe and secure.
- Removable OrthoLite X25 knee pads for added comfort
When mobility and stealth are the secret to your fly fishing success, you need lightweight waders that allow you to move without the traditional bulk. The Orvis Ultralight line is for the weekend warrior who wants to beat the crowds without sacrificing any of the essential benefits that waders provide.
Though lightweight, Ultralights offer abrasion resistance for all of the terrain scrambling you may have in mind. Once you've outmaneuvered the crowds, a vital benefit of these waders is the ability to convert them into hip waders to cool off and enjoy your newfound seclusion. Benefits:
- Incredibly versatile with hip wader conversion
- Four-way stretch for added mobility
- Some trade-off with durability from the Cordura-made Pro Waders
- Less insulation for winter fishing
Orvis Ultralight Waders Convenience Features
- Four-layer waterproof breathable nylon shell fabric resists punctures and abrasion
- Anatomically correct neoprene booties neoprene gravel guard ensures comfort and protection from wader damage.
- 100% nylon outer shell, polyurethane membrane, and 100% nylon tricot liner create multiple layers of protection to keep you dry.
Not every angler is on the water 200 days a year, hiking into the most remote streams for native trout. Most anglers just need the essentials: breathable nylon fabric, dependable seam strength, and maybe a bootfoot option for winter fly fishing. All at an affordable price. Luckily, the Clearwater fly-fishing wader from Orvis is everything one could want in a full-feature wader available in men’s, women’s, and kids’ sizes—at a fraction of the price. Benefits:
- Best value for the money
- Offers a variety of pockets for storage
- Ideally folded when stowed, rather than folded
- Normal wear-and-tear not covered by manufacturer warranty
Other Clearwater Waders Essentials
- Side-release buckles allow for waist-high conversion on warm days
- Insulated neoprene booties and handwarmer pocket makes for a solid winter fishing option
- Low-profile seam and 1.5" webbing belt loop construction complement the wader’s modern fit and increase comfort
How to Choose the Right Orvis Waders for You
Because Orvis designs each of its wader collections to suit a different type of angler, simply choosing the most expensive doesn't mean you’ve made the right choice. Below I’ve included three sample customers I’ve worked with at Curated, each with a unique set of needs, to better demonstrate how to choose the best pair of Orvis waders for you.
Jack: Clearwater Waders
Jack says he’s been fishing his whole life, but he hasn’t picked up a rod in at least a decade. He’s been busy. He’s got a job, a wife, and two rambunctious kiddos he wants to take fishing—while they’re doing all of the other things on their summer vacation.
Jack plans on taking the boys to a nearby river, and see if he can fool some trout. He’s on the hook for all of his gear along with his children’s so he’d rather find a quality product that allows for him all three to get waders. He’s hopeful that they will catch on quickly and they can create some special memories together. If they don’t take to it, he’ll stow them away until they’re a little older.
Features Jack should look for:
- Price friendly
- Durable and uncomplicated design
- Children sizes
Wader examples: Orvis Kids' Clearwater Wader, Orvis Men's Clearwater Bootfoot Wader
Madeline: Pro Waders and Ultralight Waders
It’s that time of the year again! Madeline is gearing up for her big trip. Every year she and her pals make the trek to Alaska for a week of swinging salmon flies and—if the conditions warrant—some epic mousing for ravenous trout.
She knows the drill. Moving to find fish, casting until her arm feels like it’s going to fall off, and bug spray with a capital DEET. She needs gear that’s as rough as the terrain and knows that failure of her waders is not an option. Get stuck out in the backcountry wet, and it could spell doom. She’s had some close calls before and isn’t about to take chances to save a few bucks.
Features Madeline should look for:
- Uncompromising performance
- Comfort and protection from the elements
- Professional design elements
Davis: Clearwater Waders and Pro Waders
Davis got hooked on South Carolina redfish on a business trip. He and a co-worker skipped out on the last day of a conference to try their hand on the salt marsh flats. They got skunked—plus he lost his flip flop in the pluff mud—but the experience changed him. Now he gets to the coast whenever he can to stalk these rust-colored torpedoes. When he’s not out with friends in Charleston, he fishes for trout in his home state of Colorado.
Features Davis should look for:
- Bootfoot to deal with thick sucking mud.
- Travel-ready for trips
- Fresh and Saltwater friendly
Wader examples: Orvis Men's Clearwater Bootfoot Wader, Orvis Men's PRO Zipper Wader
Chat With a Real Expert
Waders don't last forever; if you can get three to five good years out of them, you should be reasonably satisfied. To do so, the savvy angler knows that keeping your waders clean and stowed away correctly goes a long way in keeping them alive.
If you’re still looking for help figuring out which Orvis waders are right for you, try pinging a Curated Fly Fishing Expert, like me. We offer free, customized gear recommendations and can get you your new pair of waders in time for the next fishing trip.