Choosing the Right Waders and Boots

Fly Fishing expert Tyson Schilling overviews how to find the best fly fishing waders and boots for the way YOU fish.

Photo by Tyson Schilling
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Other than the actual fly rod and reel, the most essential gear in a fly fisherman’s arsenal are their fishing waders and boots. With fly fishing, you are more often than not, required to wade in order to get more distance, the right angle or maybe just to work your way upstream and avoid some tricky undergrowth along the bank. Fly fishing can be quite an active outdoor sport and when you are undergoing the rigors of the river you definitely want to be as comfortable as possible in your waders and boots.

Type of Water, Climate, & Your Style

It is important for any angler to analyze the type of water they are primarily going to be fishing in order to find the best type of wader and boot for it. It is also important to look at the season you like to fish. I, for instance, love to wet wade in the summer, so I have an entirely different wading setup for that than I do in the fall/winter months, when searching for steelhead. It is also important to look at your own particular style of wading. If you are a stream angler, you’re going to want boots that have cleats or the option to put cleats on to avoid nasty falls. If you prefer to float down a river in a raft and get out at “sweet spots,” you definitely don’t want boot cleats to poke holes in your boat! These three things will help you dial in exactly what you will need when hunting your next trophy trout.

Chest, Waist, Lightweight, Neoprene, Felt, Vibram, GORE-TEX, Oh My!

If you’re reading this article, you have more than likely done a little (or a lot) of research on your own. I’m sure you’ve come to realize that there are a lot of options when it comes to waders and boots. It can be daunting, but let's see if I can break it down for you. Waders come in basically two types, neoprene and waterproof textile.

Neoprene waders have their pros and cons. They are going to be warmer but a little tougher to clean and dry after each use. Neoprene is also a thicker material and will give you a bit more protection on the water and has less chance to spring a leak than one layer of waterproof textile or fabric.

Waterproof textile, on the other hand, is going to produce lighter and more breathable waders. They will clean better and dry faster, but are not quite as warm as neoprene. For this reason, waterproof textiles are often worn with layers. New innovations, like the Simms Freestone waders, have remedied issues of warmth and durability with four layers of Toray fabric, reinforced in high wear points like in the knee. These qualities give the Simms Freestones and other mid- to higher-tier waders more durability and will lower the chances of sprouting a leak.

Simms Freestone waders
Simms Freestone Waders

Waders come in different lengths as well. You have hip waders, which have waterproof fabric connected to a long boot. Above this, you have waist-high or pant waders, which you can purchase in boot-foot or stockingfoot style. Then there are chest waders, which can come with boot-foot or with neoprene booties, and have suspenders and a wading belt.

The weather, water, and your personal style will determine the best type of wader for you. In warmer months you are probably not going to want to be sweating your butt off in a pair of neoprene chest waders, and may just want to get waterproof textile waist waders to keep yourself dry. When hunting for steelies in the snow, ice, and cold water you are probably going to want more protection from the elements than a pair of hip waders. Chest Waders are going to be your best bet in cold climates and high water. Plan for the temperature, and plan for the water depth.

Now boots come in all shapes and sizes, but the soles are really the most important part. There are felt or rubber soles available, and they can either be cleated or un-cleated. Many boots from Simms have the ability to put cleats on the bottom, and boots from Korkers offer the option to completely remove and change out the soles of your boots. Though felt bottoms may be a bit more “grabby” than rubber soles, they tend to wear out quicker. It is important to be mindful of cleaning all wading gear, but especially felt bottom soles. Be sure to let them dry completely before switching water to avoid transmission of destructive algae and microorganisms. Ultimately, I believe that a Vibram rubber sole with cleats is the safest and most reliable wading boot bottom available today.

PRICE, PRICE, PRICE!

As with most things, the price will unfortunately determine the quality of the product. This doesn’t change whether you are buying fly fishing waders or a pair of boots. However, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank in order to get a great pair of boots and a nice set of waders that will last for years.

Redington is one of my favorite gear makers to tell people about when they are just starting to fly fish and are looking for great gear at a fair price. Korkers, on the other hand, is a great brand for boots to save you money over a longer term. As I mentioned before, they allow you to remove and interchange the entire bottoms of their boots. This means that when your cleats stop grabbing those rocks you only have to drop $60 instead of $200 to get back to your rock climbing, river runnin’, fly chuckin’ self.

In my opinion, Simms out of Bozeman Montana makes the best quality waders and boots, and has made a range of award winning products for years. Most of their waders do come with a pretty hefty price tag though. I just bought a new pair of G3 Guides from them and it set me back about $600 bucks. I do love them, and everyone I know who owns them raves about their breathability, comfort, and versatility, all packed into lightweight durable waders. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them to someone who is just getting out on the water for the first time, and this brings me to another important factor to consider when deciding how much to pay for a set of waders and boots.

The sole detaching from the bottom of a wader
Photo by Tyson Schilling

How much are you going to fly fish? Is this your go-to sport that you have been into for years? Well maybe it's time to treat yourself to some Simms. Maybe you have yet to land that first fish and don’t know if this is for you? Well, then check out some waders from Allen or Compass. Or maybe you are really into fly fishing but just don’t have the chances to get out on the water as often as you’d like, and don’t want to break the bank. Take a look at Redington my friend, you won’t be disappointed!

All in All

What it really comes down to is you, what particular type of fly fishing do you do? What climate, what water, and what style? These three attributes will help you narrow down what you will need on a basic level. For example, if you’re primarily fly fishing shallow mountain creeks in the late spring and early fall, you’ll need some waist or hip waders. Once you know your fishery and season, then you can decide how much you are willing to pay, and look for those types of waders (and boots) from a company that will fit your budget.

To recap, chest waders offer the most warmth and protection from the elements, they usually come with a large chest pocket, and they allow you to wade into deeper water. Waist waders offer protection from the waist down like a pair of waterproof pants and are good for shallow waters. Hip waders offer the least amount of protection and are simply boots that have an extended waterproof fabric that goes past your thigh.

A man standing on a log fly fishing
Photo by Tyson Schilling

Simplest of all, wet wading is just using fly fishing boots or any other type of shoe to tromp through streams and rivers in the hotter summer months and warmer weather. I highly recommend using wading boots when wet wading to protect your feet from stubbed toes and to avoid slipping. You can use the boots that you wear with your waders, but I personally go for a lighter boot like the Flyweight Wading Boot from Simms. This allows me to not feel so clunky on the water and gives me better mobility when hopping from rock to rock or when transitioning from water to bank. I also recommend purchasing a pair of gravel guards to keep silt and small rocks out of your boots when wet wading. Simms, Orvis, and Redington all offer a pair of these neoprene socks at reasonable prices.

I hope this helps you narrow down the search for the best boot and wader combo, and if you still don’t feel comfortable buying boots and waders after this, feel free to ask me or one of my fellow Fly Fishing experts here at Curated to give you a hand!

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Written By
I currently work for fish and wildlife and I'm a lifelong adventurer of creeks,rivers and streams, usually with a rod and reel in hand. I have a passion for keeping our wilds wild. I feel it is important to not only provide people with the knowledge to go out and catch fish but also help them do so...

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