How to choose waders and wading boots

Waders and wading boots are essential if you fish rivers and many reservoirs but can be confusing to buy if you're a novice. Here are some helpful tips to guide you in the right direction.

How to choose waders and wading boots
© Fly and Lure
How to choose waders and wading boots
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to choose waders and wading boots
Wading Estimated reading time 9 - 14 minutes

Do I even need waders for fly fishing?

On most small still waters waders won't be required (or allowed) and walking boots or wellingtons will suffice, but you will definitely find them useful if you fish larger lakes, lochs, reservoirs or if you fish on rivers.

Waders allow you to get further out so you can reach the deeper water where fish often hold and, crucially on some reservoirs, they provide you with enough room to backcast. Trees often get in the way on some reservoirs, and waders can give you some vital extra room. You would certainly struggle to fish a river without a pair of waders...

Waders give you access to deeper water and more backcasting room.

How do fly fishing waders differ?

Fly fishing waders differ in three main ways: height, material and the type of boots used. Height wise, they'll either come up to the thighs, waist or chest. They'll be made from materials that are either breathable or non-breathable, and they'll come with or without boots. The type you choose will depend on the type of fly fishing you do and whether you're more concerned about style and comfort over durability.

I favour breathable chest waders with separate wading boots.

Should I get chest, waist or thigh waders?

These days, the vast majority sold are chest waders. These come up to just below the armpits and let you wade fairly deep water if you need to. 99% of fly fishers wear these and they work really well. Waist waders look a bit like trousers and are less cumbersome to wear and cooler during summer, but they are slightly less practical and you can only really safely wade to groin height. Thigh waders used to be the main type 20-30 years ago but are rarely seen these days, they let you wade shallow water just above the knee.

Chest waders are the most common style these days.

What sort of wader material should I choose?

The vast majority of waders are now made from modern breathable materials, a bit like the stuff posh waterproof jackets are made from. This generally comprises several layers of breathable fabric with a special coating on the inside to keep water out. While breathable waders will keep you dry and cool on hot days, the downside is that they're less resilient to punctures, so stones, brambles and barbed wire can cause them to leak after a season or two.

PVC waders are generally much cheaper and much tougher. These are favoured by fish farmers, who wear them all day, but they're cumbersome, heavy and uncomfortably hot in summer. Neoprene waders sit between the two. They're more comfortable than PVC, provide lovely insulation in the winter months, are moderately resistant to leaks, but still cause you to cook and sweat in the hotter months. Most people opt for breathable waders as a result.

PVC waders are cheap and leak resistant but heavy, cumbersome and hot to wear in summer.

Will I need wading boots?

Possibly. Waders are either bootfoot or stockingfoot in design. Bootfoot waders have integrated wellies on the bottom end, while stockingfoot waders have neoprene socks or booties. These are fully watertight and are worn inside a pair of special walking boots designed specifically for wading. Stockingfoot waders feel like wearing trousers and boots, so are very comfortable. Bootfoot waders flap around a bit like wellies, so aren't so good if you cover a lot of ground. They also can't be replaced easily if they wear out, unlike wading boots used on stockingfoot waders.

Wading boots will be needed if you buy stockingfoot waders.

What wading boot soles should I choose?

There are two main types of sole found on wading boots: conventional rubber soles and those made from felt. Each type of sole has its own advantages and disadvantages, but having used both I'd personally favour the rubber style soles over felt.

Felt soles Although it might seem a strange choice, felt soles actually provide impressive grip on wet rocks, especially when combined with wading boot studs. However, the drawback is that they can be treacherous on grass and mud. I've lost count of the number of times I've ended up flat on my back on the bank. I've done the same in the river a couple of times too. Felt soles also have the disadvantage, it is said, that they are more likely to carry organisms from place to place which can aid the spread of invasive species.

Rubber soles Rubber soles provide far better grip on mud and grass than felt, so you're far less likely to slip over on your way to the water. Depending on the substrate, they may provide slightly less grip when in the water, so I'd advise fitting a good set of wading boot studs to make them safer. Some of the most expensive wading boots on the market, such as the posh ones from Patagonia, replace the studs with big chunks of aluminium for extra grip. The other benefit of rubber is that the soles, in general, are less likely to fall off.

Vibram rubber soles are the safest option for a number of reasons.

Are wading boot studs needed?

I'd highly recommend that you fit plenty of good quality wading boot studs to your boots. We regularly fish the Welsh Dee, which is well known for its slippery rocks and often tricky wading and a decent set of studs gives far better grip and more confidence. I'd never wade without them.

Wading boot studs are basically expensive screws which you screw into tiny reinforced ports on the sole of the boot. They can be a nightmare to get in, but the harder they are to get in the less likely they are to fall out. Some of the cheaper studs we've used have only lasted a trip or two before they'd all fallen out. However, we've both had a season or two of regular use from better studs such as the Patagonia Wading Boot Studs and the very inexpensive Kold Kutter studs.

Kold Kutter wading boot studs are effective and really cheap as studs go.

How can I keep my waders free of leaks?

As waders typically cost several hundred pounds, you'll want to be careful with them in order to keep them as leak-free as possible. It's inevitable that they will start to leak naturally after two or three years, as the material will eventually start to wear and allow water in. However, you can prolong their life by doing a few things.

Firstly, don't let grit come into contact with the stockingfoot booties. When you're putting the waders on, don't stand on the ground wearing the bare booties. Grit will stick to the bottoms, end your wading boots and could pierce the booties when you use them. Instead, stand on a clean surface, such as a wader bag to keep them free of dirt. Similarly, make sure that you pull down the gravel guards on the bottoms of your waders so any waterborne grit or sand doesn't find its way into the boot.

Be careful when climbing over styles or barbed wire fences (they love destroying waders) and be careful where you sit or kneel when wearing them. Thorns, sharp sticks and stones can all make pinholes in the wader fabric which let water in and leave you feeling damp.

Be careful where you sit and kneel...

What can I do if my waders are leaking?

There are a number of wader repair products on the market, with Aquasure being the most commonly sold. This can be applied to the hole from the inside of your waders to try and keep the water from coming back in. It sometimes works, but depending on the environment in which you wade and the resilience of your waders to pin-hole leaks, you may be best replacing the waders when they starting leaking or sending them away for professional repair. Diver Dave is the most respected.

Once they've reached the end of their life, don't chuck them away. They make great waterproof trousers for fishing from the bank and keep you much cleaner and warmer. You can chop the boots off and wear them over walking boots.

The word on the street is that Diver Dave is the main man when it comes to fixing leaky waders.

Which waders do you recommend?

I'm currently using a pair of Simms Freestone Waders and Simms Freestone StreamTread boots. The boots have been excellent but the waders started leaking just a few trips after I got them. My previous Vision Kura waders lasted for a massive four years before eventually wearing out, so these are well worth considering.

George wears Orvis Encounter waders (which are available for men, women and children) and Patagonia's excellent Rock Grip wading boots. Both have been superb, with no leaks in the waders after two years of use.

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