How to Ensure Correct Wader Fit

Fly Fishing expert Baily Dent overviews waders, how to size them correctly, and how to care for them to unlock years of use.

A fly fisherman standing in the river near the bank casting out a fly with snow-topped mountains in the distance

Photo by Vidar Nordli Mathisen

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So you’re just getting into fishing and you’ve got your first rod and reel outfit, but now you’re trying to figure out all the other essential pieces of equipment. What exactly will you need to enjoy a day on the water and help you catch those big fish like you see in your Instagram feed? Unless you live in a tropical paradise or you only plan on fishing during the warmest summer months while wet wading, a pair of waders is probably going to be the next piece of equipment you will be purchasing.

Waders are made out of waterproof fabric or neoprene, keeping you dry and comfortable while you traverse the water to target fish. Waders come in many different styles and fits, so it is important to first look at what type of fishing you will be doing most to figure out what kind of wader is going to be most useful to you.

Aerial view of a rod and open fly box on the lap of someone sitting on the bank of a river

Photo by Curated expert Jesi Scott

Determining where you will be doing most of your fishing is going to be the first step when considering what type of waders you should buy. If you are going to be fishing large bodies of water like big rivers, surf wading, or wading deep in a lake then you’re going to need to look for a higher quality pair of chest waders. In these cases, invest in durable waders with reinforced seams to ensure your waders hold up for hours in deep, fast moving water and don’t leak through. If you are fishing high mountain streams and are going to be both in and out of the water a lot, then breathability of the fabric is going to be an important consideration. If you typically fish spring creeks, primarily fish from the banks, or often fish during warmer weather, you’ll want to consider that in your wader choice, as you may not need as much coverage as someone wading into the deep.

Hip Waders

One of the most iconic types of waders are hip waders, and are the best option for people looking to mostly fish shallow waters. These are basically waterproof pant legs that have rubber boots sewn to the bottom of them, and have loops at the top of the leg that attach to your belt or belt loops. They are very easy to fit, as they are simply sized by what boot size you wear. They are very easy to get on and off and are ideal if you are targeting ponds, spring creeks, or mountain streams that aren’t very deep and you only need to worry about keeping your feet dry. The down side to hip waders is that these are just pull-on rubber or felt-soled boots, so if you are hiking, they don’t offer as much support as a wading or hiking boot. On longer treks, they are likely to move around a little on your foot.

Men's Lacrosse Marsh hip waders

Men's Lacrosse Marsh hip waders

Wading Pants

Another option for anglers that don’t need as much waterproof coverage are wading pants. These are also easy to fit, as they are cut just like a normal pair of pants and are easy to get on and off. Pant waders come in two styles, bootfoot and stocking foot. Bootfoot wading pants are like hip waders, as they already have the rubber boots attached to the bottom of the wading pant, but are going to come up a little higher and give you a waterproof covering all the way to your waist. Stocking foot wading pants give you a little more versatility than the bootfoot. They have a neoprene sock sewn to the bottom of the wading pant, which slides into a wading boot just like a normal sock, without creating a seam for water to get in.

A fly fisherman standing in a river

Photo by Hatham

Wading boots are like super heavy-duty waterproof hiking boots. They are designed to be submerged in water for hours at a time each use. They often have high-performance footbeds for added comfort and stability, and you can add studs to the bottom for even better traction on slippery river beds. Wading pants paired with high-quality ultralight wading boots are a great option for anglers targeting high mountain streams who combine their love of hiking with fishing.

Chest Waders

The most common type of waders are chest waders. These are basically waterproof overalls and offer the most complete coverage, giving the angler the opportunity to wade into the deepest rivers and holes in search of those elusive whales. Just like pant waders, there are bootfoot and stocking foot wader options. Again, the bootfoot options are the easiest to fit as they are sized according to your shoe size. Stocking foot chest waders are often the most fitted of all wader options, and many come in sizes ranging from petite to tall with varying inseams and chest sizes.

Some brands offer added features such as zip fronts to make it easier to get on and off. Many chest waders now come with a convertible feature, in which they can be modified and worn as pant waders with a few adjustments. This is a great option for those needing added breathability or who fish through a range of water depths and weather conditions.

Curated expert Baily Dent standing in a river holding up a fish she caught

Photo courtesy of Baily Dent

Chest Waders come in many different levels of waterproof fabric, as well as a neoprene variety. Neoprene is one of the most waterproof options of all, so if you are going to be in deep water for long periods, it is a great choice. Neoprene is also a top choice if you fish in the cold winter months, as it is quite thick and does a much better job of keeping you warm. Neoprene is not very breathable, so if you only occasionally fish in colder weather, this would not be the best choice for an only pair of waders. If, however, you find that you are fishing in colder temperatures, it is not a luxury to have a pair just for winter fishing, I would consider it a necessity.

Another nice feature of neoprene waders is that they are easier to fit, as the neoprene fabric has a lot of give and stretch to it. Neoprene also doesn’t catch as much water as fabric waders do, so there is less drag when you are trying to wade against the current in deeper water. Last, they are not very expensive, which does make them a budget-friendly option.

Sizing Waders

Once you have figured out what type of waders are going to fit your needs, make sure to check out the size charts to ensure the correct size and a comfortable fit. Depending on the style, there may be several sizing choices, so it helps to know your chest or bust size as well as your inseam measurements to ensure the best fit. When choosing stocking foot waders, it’s important to make sure that the foot size is correct. If the toe box is too tight inside the wading boot, it is going to stretch across your foot too much and feel uncomfortable.

It is also important to think about what you will be wearing under your waders. Most people wear leggings or some sort of comfortable pants. If you are fishing in colder climates, you want to make sure your waders offer a little extra room so that you can add long underwear or heavy socks.

When you finally get to try on your new waders, make sure you test them out. Don’t be afraid to move around in them. Try to see what it is going to feel like to hike in them, and get in and out of the water from a steep river bank. So squat down, walk up your stairs, step up on a box or even your coffee table. Remember, you’re going to be active in them, so you want to make sure you can do that without being restricted.

A fisherman crouching in the water with his net and a fish he caught

Photo by Rick Wallace

Caring for Waders

Caring for your new waders is an essential part of keeping them in good shape for years to come. Make sure you store your waders in your house when you are not using them, as prolonged exposure to the heat can break down the waterproofing. When you change in and out of your waders, make sure to do so on a smooth surface such as a wader bag to prevent puncturing the neoprene footies or tearing seams. If you do happen to spring a leak, repairing your waders is easy. Wader repair kits are readily available from most fly shops. Also, make sure to wash your waders! Regular washing helps to maintain their waterproof breathability and too much dirt will prevent them from being able to do this.

Properly fitted waders will make your time on the water much more comfortable and enjoyable. Proper care and maintenance will help ensure that your waders will last for years to come and keep you dry as you build a lifetime of adventures on the water. If you are still at a loss, need your first pair, or have any questions about wader types and the proper fit, ask a Fly Fishing expert on Curated.

Happy wading!

Fly Fishing Expert Baily Dent
Baily Dent
Fly Fishing Expert
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Written By
I started fly fishing when I was in my teens with my Grandmother on family trips. Over the last 25 years I have been lucky enough to fish out west in Colorado and Wyoming as well as the Adirondacks in New York. The list of places I hope to go is growing ever longer with New Zealand and Iceland with...

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