What are Simms Freestone waders?
Simms Freestone waders are the lowest priced waders in Simms' range. They're the standard stocking foot design chest wader, so you'll need to buy a pair of wading boots, like the Simms Freestone StreamTread boots to use them. With the two of them, you'll be able to wade out to just over waist depth giving you greater access to the water and extra backcasting room, whether you're fishing a reservoir, lake or river.
What are these waders made from?
Simms Freestone waders are made from a fabric called Toray QuadraLam which is breathable, waterproof and resistant to bushes and brambles. The outer shell is nylon, as is the backing material, while the feet are made from the usual neoprene. The waterproofing, as the QuadraLam name suggests, uses four layers, which is the norm on waders of this price. The reviews on the Simms site suggest that they're OK, providing you avoid thorns, so I'll be watching where I walk and sit!
What storage pockets do they have?
Simms Freestone waders have a pocket on the front which is large enough to take a couple of large fly boxes and quite a few other bits and pieces. Unfortunately, this pocket isn't waterproof so your car keys and phone will need to go inside an Aquapac or similar to keep them safe and dry in case you fall in while wading. Simms also sells a waterproof pocket that you can attach to a zipper mount on the inside of the waders, but it's a bit disappointing not to get an integrated waterproof pocket.
Is there anywhere to put your hands?
Yes, rather conveniently they are fitted with handwarmer pockets behind the central front pocket. These are fleece lined and great for keeping your hands warm on cold days, providing you don't wade too deep and fill the pocket with water. If you're French nymphing in waist deep water the pocket is also a great place to keep your spare arm! Another downside of that non-waterproof front pocket is that if you do get water in the handwarmer pocket it will find its way into the front pocket. Not ideal.
What are the zips like?
The YKK zip on the front pocket is easy to open and feels decent quality. It's easier to close than on some waders, but that's primarily because it's not a waterproof one.
What is the cut like?
I'm 6'4" and about 13 stone with size 11 feet, so have a fairly lanky frame. I went for the LL size which is supposed to have a 43-44" girth (much bigger than mine) and a 35-36" inside leg. The neoprene boots are supposed to fit size 9-11. The waders fit me fairly well. They're comfy to wear and don't flap about too much when walking.
As expected, there's quite a lot of room around my girth (plenty of room for a few thick layers for the winter, or if I put on a few pounds by continuing to graze upon mince pies and Quality Street over the festive period). The inside leg measurement feels about right, but the neoprene boots are definitely on the small side. If your feet are bigger than an 11, you may find all Simms waders too tight in this area... Simms says it can replace bootees on its GoreTex waders but not on these Toray ones.
Are the straps easy to adjust?
Yes, the front straps unclip and there are adjusters at the back to let you pull the waders up or down to suit your height. You can also use these to pull the chest section down to waist level, which is very handy on hot days when you're hiking to and from the water.
Do they come with a wading belt?
Yes, there's a simple nylon wading belt provided. It's of the non-stretchy variety so you may need to adjust it more often than a stretchy one but it works fine nonetheless.
What are the gravel guards like?
The gravel guards provided with these waders are very robust and are made from thick neoprene rather than an extension of the wader fabric as you find on many other waders. This does hold the bottom of the wader down very well. Even if the front clip detaches from your laces, the stretchiness of the neoprene keeps the gravel guard in place so grit can't find its way into your boot and puncture your waders. The downside is that they can be a bit of a challenge to release if you have really cold hands during the winter.
Why is there half a zip on the inside?
The strange half zip on the inside is an attachment point for some optional extras Simms sells. You can either attach the separate Simms Waterproof Wader Pouch (£29.99) or attach a Simms Tippet Tender Pocket (£24.99). The Tippet Tender pocket is a simple additional pocket to hold spools or tippet and a pair of forceps, while the Waterproof Wader Pouch can hold a smartphone. Personally, I'd probably go with an Aquapac instead as it allows you to use the device without removing it from the safety of the pocket.
How much do they cost?
These are the cheapest waders in the Simms wader line up and are priced at £349. For this price, a bag would be a nice touch, as it comes even with much cheaper waders from rivals, but it's not the end of the world. While they look good quality and will hopefully last a few seasons, the Orvis Encounter waders George uses do seem just as good, have better stocking feet and are significantly better value for money.
If you shop around you can sometimes find good combo deals on the waders and the wading boots. I managed to track down a pair of these with the Simms Freestone StreamTread boots (worth £160) for £260 instead of £510. How long will they last? I'll keep you updated!