Whether you’re an experienced angler or new to the sport, you’ll need the right gear.
And for fly fishermen, a great pair of waders is not to be overlooked.
Our goal with this article is two-fold:
- Describe the wide world of fishing waders, and
- Identify the best fly fishing waders across 7 categories.
Why 7 categories?
Because there are a lot of different fishing environments and a lot of types of waders!
In this article:
- We’ll kick it off with a quick rundown of our picks for best fishing waders,
- Then go into detail about how to choose the best waders for you, and
- Finally tie it all up with a more detailed look at our 21 best fly fishing waders.
Table Of Contents
- Best Fly Fishing Waders: Quick Picks
- How to Choose the Best Fly Fishing Waders for You
- Bootfoot vs Stockingfoot Waders
- Chest vs Waist vs Hip Waders
- Quality vs Cost
- Gravel Guards, Knee Pads, Pockets & Other Extras
- The Outdoor Authority’s Best Fishing Waders 2023 Reviews
- Best Breathable Chest Waders
- Simms G4Z Stockingfoot Waders
- Runner Ups: Breathable Chest Waders
- Best Neoprene Chest Waders
- Frogg Toggs Amphib Neoprene Waders
- Runner Ups: Neoprene Waders
- Best Waist Waders
- Patagonia Swiftcurrent Wading Pants
- Runner Ups: Waist Waders
- Best Hip Waders
- Allen Black River Bootfoot Hip Waders
- Runner Up : Hip Waders
- Best Beginner Waders
- Caddis Breathable Stockingfoot Chest Waders
- Runner Up: Beginner Waders
- Best Value Waders
- Hodgman H3 Breathable Waders
- Runner Ups: Value Waders
- Best Women’s Waders
- Simms Women’s Freestone Stockingfoot Waders
- Runner Up: Women’s Fishing Waders
Best Fly Fishing Waders: Quick Picks
BEST BREATHABLE CHEST WADERS
G4Z Stockingfoot Wader
BEST NEOPRENE WADERS
Amphib Neoprene Chest Waders
BEST WAIST WADERS
Swiftcurrent Wading Pants
BEST HIP WADERS
Black River Bootfoot Hip Waders
BEST BEGINNER WADERS
Breathable Stocking Foot Waders
CADDIS WADING SYSTEMS
BEST VALUE WADERS
H3 Stockingfoot Waders
BEST WOMENS WADERS
Freestone Z Stockingfoot
How to Choose the Best Fly Fishing Waders for You
Despite the fact that fishing waders sort of look like one big ol’ sack anyone can fit into, they absolutely aren’t one size fits all. What may be perfect for my needs may be the total opposite of what you need.
In this guide I’ll do my best to highlight the best fishing waders for various situations, but first we should evaluate the different types of waders you’ll be wading through.
(I know, terrible joke.)
- Bootfoot vs stockingfoot waders
- Chest vs waist vs hip waders
- Quality vs cost
- Gravel guards, knee pads, pockets, and other extras
Back in the day there wasn’t much choice when it came to fishing wader material. If you wanted to stay dry, you lined yourself with rubber.
While these rubber waders got the job done, they had some significant drawbacks:
- They’re heavier.
- They’re stiffer.
- They trap moisture and can get steamy even in cold water.
- They’re just plain ol’ uncomfortable.
Today you aren’t limited to just rubber. As you’re shopping for your first or next pair of fishing waders, you’ll probably come across these 5 options:
- Synthetic breathable material (e.g. GORE-TEX or Dri-Plus)
And generally you’ll be choosing between those bottom 3.
Let’s take a look at how these 5 different materials grade out in the most important categories:
Let’s dive a little deeper into each type of wader material.
The original old school material, rubber waders do one thing well: keep you dry for cheap.
But as kid who’s ever worn those cheap rain boots can tell you, rubber can be seriously uncomfortable. There’s no padding at all, zero insulation (growing up in New England I had so many frozen toes on cold, rainy November days), and there’s nowhere for moisture to go.
Make no mistake about it: If you wear rubber waders, you’re going to sweat.
But that doesn’t mean rubber fishing waders are a no-go from the start. It all depends on what your intended use is.
Best Use: Warmer climates, preferably if you’ll be mostly stationary. Also a solid option if you’re on a budget, just don’t get them if you’ll be moving around in colder climates.
Canvas waders are another old school style that are a serious step up from rubber waders. While canvas waders are moderately heavy and fairly expensive, they’re about as tough and rugged as waders come.
In the grading table above, you’ll notice I’ve given canvas waders a D in breathability, because technically they aren’t breathable.
However, canvas waders typically are looser-fitting, which gives you some room to aerate. This also allows you to layer up underneath with breathable clothing to help keep yourself warmer (hence the B for warmth).
But as previously mentioned, the major upside to canvas waders is their durability. If you plan on moving through thick brush, you’ll want to consider canvas. Branches or brush that would slice rubber waders or tear through neoprene waders will barely nick canvas waders.
Best Use: When you plan on moving through rough, thick terrain. Also great if you like layering up underneath the waders, as canvas waders tend to give you a little extra bagginess. Ideal for duck hunting.
What’s neoprene? Think a diver’s wet suit.
The most popular style of fishing wader, neoprene does one thing superbly well: Keep you warm!
(And they’re pretty comfortable, too.)
Neoprene waders generally come in two different thicknesses:
I’ll be honest, you probably don’t need the 5mm waders unless you plan on patrolling some truly frigid waters. Even at or below freezing, the 3.5mm waders will keep you plenty warm.
So if neoprene waders are so warm and fairly comfortable, what are the downsides?
Pretty much everything else.
First, they aren’t breathable at all. Like with rubber waders, you’re going to sweat. And because of how warm they are, you might sweat a lot. Second, they’re bulky, heavy, and not at all easy to get on and off. Third, they take forever to dry, which makes storage a pain. Fourth, they tear pretty easily. While you can patch them with neoprene patch kits or some ingenious DIY solutions, there’s no denying neoprene waders just aren’t that durable.
Best Use: When you need to stay warm and under budget, neoprene waders give you the best warmth per dollar spent.
PVC and nylon waders are the “new rubber” according to Frogg Toggs, an outdoors clothing retailer. I think that’s an apt comparison.
Just like rubber waders, PVC and nylon waders will keep you dry for cheap. But PVC and nylon waders are lighter than rubber waders.
However, they share the same downside: warmth.
Best Use: For light or infrequent use when you just need to keep dry. Do not go with these if warmth is important.
Synthetic Breathable Waders
Welcome to the 21st century!
Or actually the 20th century as the first pair of GORE-TEX synthetic waders hit the market in 1993.
Put plainly, synthetic breathable waders are the best fishing waders money can buy.
It’s almost like these waders were engineered in a lab to give you the perfect combination of warmth, weight, breathability, and durability.
Oh wait, they were engineered in a lab? Nevermind!
Breathable waders definitely provide the best combination of almost every category graded above, but they still aren’t perfect. I mean, they didn’t get A grades across the board. Most notably, while breathable waders are warm, they aren’t the warmest. That best-in-class warmth would come at the expense of their conveniently light weight.
There’s also the matter of the price tag, as a quality pair of breathable waders is probably going to be pricey. Some pairs even approach $1,000!
But overall, breathable waders are significantly better all around than any other fishing wader material.
Best Use: Everything but the coldest of conditions. For generally cold conditions, breathable waders can be supplemented by additional layers of clothing without sacrificing their breathability.
Bootfoot vs Stockingfoot Waders
The next major consideration is the type of foot you want your waders to have. They come in two classes:
- Bootfoot: Have attached rubber boots
- Stockingfoot: Have attached neoprene sock; you must purchase boots separately
Let’s let at some pros and cons for each:
Pros to Bootfoot Waders
- Seamless connection from pant leg to boot means no need for gravel guards.
- No gravel guards means less likely your line gets caught around your boot.
- Great at locking in body heat, especially when layered with socks and other insulated clothing.
Cons to Bootfoot Waders
- Little control over the quality of the boot.
- Lower boot quality typically means more difficulty moving around.
- Makes your waders heavier and harder to store.
Pros to Stockingfoot Waders
- More control over the quality and type of wading boot.
- Waders will store away more easily.
- Easier to get on/off.
Cons to Stockingfoot Waders
- Must buy wading boots separately.
- Requires waders with gravel guards to prevent rocks from getting in the boot.
You’ll probably find buying bootfoot fishing waders to be less expensive than separately buying stockingfoot fishing waders and wading boots, but obviously that depends on the specific gear you’re looking for.
Chest vs Waist vs Hip Waders
When I think of fishing waders, I think of the overall-looking style that looks like the snow pants I used to wear as a kid. But that’s only one style of waders. There are actually 3 different styles of fishing waders:
- Chest waders
- Waist waders
- Hip waders
In the shocker of the century, each type of wader is named for how high it goes up on your body. Let’s take a look at each different type and the type of fishing they’re suited for.
The most versatile wader because one pair will work whether you’re in trickling creeks or waist-deep rivers, chest waders are the one to get if you want one catch-all wader style. The downside is they’re obviously heavier, bulkier, and hotter than waist or hip waders.
Best Use: If you plan on river or stream fishing, especially in climates that aren’t too hot.
If you don’t want the bulkiness of the overall-style chest waders yet need something more than the high sock-style hip waders, then waist waders are your go-to.
Best Use: For wading up to your knees (or a touch higher) in slow moving streams, especially in warmer environments where you’d rather wear a thin upper layer to prevent sweating.
If you just want to splash around in the creek while keeping your pants dry, hip waders are an awesome option. They have the triple bonus of being the lightest, most portable, and generally cheapest of all 3 wader styles.
Best Use: For those just looking to wade into the shallowest of streams with little splashing, and also good if you don’t need any insulation and are looking to save some money.
Quality vs Cost
When choosing the best fly fishing waders for your needs, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- How frequently will you use them?
- Are you comfortable patching them when repairs are needed?
- What type of features are you looking for?
(We’ll answer that third question in the next section.)
If you plan on using your waders 10-20 times per year or less, you should expect to get 3-5 years out of a decently good pair of waders.
If you plan on using your waders 20-30 times per year or more, then you may only get a 1-2 seasons out of them.
Please note this depends on how well you take care of them and the type of terrain in which you use them.
You can extend the lifespan on a pair of waders through patching to repair any leaks. Here’s a great guide on how to repair fishing waders by the American Boating Organization.
Speaking of leaks, I once read something on the Internet that summarized fishing waders pretty well:
All fishing waders will leak, it’s just a matter of when.
The difference between low quality waders and high quality waders is how long until they begin to leak. In an attempt to keep costs down and deliver a cheaper product to market, wader manufacturers obviously compromise quality, and that frequently manifests itself in weak seams. These seams often are the first places where leaks appear.
The question then becomes, which of the following scenarios is cheapest?
- Buying high quality waders and repairing as needed for multiple seasons.
- Buying more affordable waders that don’t last as long and repairing when possible, but replacing more often.
As far as features, well, let’s take a deeper look.
This man has about a billion pockets; image via National Park Service
Gravel Guards, Knee Pads, Pockets & Other Extras
In this section I want to touch on some of the features and accessories that you should consider when searching for the best fly fishing waders for you.
Shoulder Straps // Some shoulder straps are designed just to hold your waders up. Others are designed to be comfortable. There’s even a class of waders called convertible waders that are designed to allow you to convert them from chest waders to waist waders, for when it’s a little hot out and you don’t need to be dressed like a human burrito.
Cinch Belt // This is the part around your waist that tightens your chest waders. It’s an oft-overlooked but necessary feature for three reasons: (1) To prevent the waders from being overly baggy, (2) to allow you to adjust the airflow below the waist, and (3) to allow you to tighten up your waders so that, in the event of a stumble, less water rushes into your waders and takes you under.
Gravel Guards // The downside of stockingfoot waders is the need to buy wading boots separately. While this allows you to buy higher quality boots designed for your needs, separate boots also introduce the possibility of rocks and debris ending up inside your boot. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can lead to tears in your neoprene stockingfoot lining. Gravel guards (or gravel cuffs) roll down over the top of your boot to prevent this from happening. In my opinion, quality gravel guards are a must.
Knee Pads // They add a little extra bulk and weight, but knee pads are seriously handy, especially if you traverse uneven stream beds. Knee pads are like cell phone insurance. You don’t think you need it until you do. One stumble resulting in your knee being introduced to rock, and you’ll wish you had some. Also note, some fishing waders have removable knee pads.
Pockets // Pockets come in myriad styles — external, internal, hand-warming, etc. — so make sure to think about the gear you’ll be carrying and the types of pockets you may need. I’ll also include in this section other storage means, such as D-rings. Those can be handy for hanging things, like your net.
Front Zipper // Harking back to my New England youth, I used to hate getting dressed to play in the snow, only to have to go back inside 15 minutes later because I had to pee. Do you know how long that stuff took to put on? A convenient, leak-proof front zipper can be a Godsend.
The Outdoor Authority’s Best Fishing Waders 2023 Reviews
After 2,000 words of “How to choose the best fly fishing waders for you!” it’s finally time to actually name the best fishing waders. We’re breaking them down into 7 categories.
Best Breathable Chest Waders
Simms G4Z Stockingfoot Waders
Best-in-class waders from a recognized authority in outdoor gear, the Simms G4Z waders are expensive but worth every penny for the fly fisherman who needs to be dragged out of the water.
These G4Z stockingfoot waders are pricey and are intended for heavy usage, but the price is reflected in the quality. These are made to last and may be the last pair of waders you ever need to buy.
Made from GORE-TEX with a ridiculous 5 layers from the waist down, these waders will keep you warm and dry while offering superior longevity.
They also come with many of the Cadillac accessories that make fly fishing that much easier; I love their durable front zipper and plethora of pockets.
Runner Ups: Breathable Chest Waders
Bottom Line: Not quite as pricey as the Simms G4Z waders but still offering elite performance, the Patagonia Swiftcurrent expedition are made from 4 layers of Patagonia’s resilient breathable fabric, which helps to keep you comfortable on warm days in the water.
Bottom Line: A quality wader without a ton of extras, the Compass 360 Deadfall series is a great budget breathable wader. This STOUT version is designed for the — ahem — larger anglers among us.
Best Neoprene Chest Waders
Frogg Toggs Amphib Neoprene Waders
A great combination of affordability and performance, the Frogg Toggs’ Amphib 3.5mm Neoprene waders feature a high-rise design on the chest and a super snug fit for superior warmth and dryness.
A no-nonsense neoprene wader, the Frogg Toggs Amphib 3.5mm wader offers great performance for a great price. Frogg Toggs’ Amphib product line (unsurprisingly) is designed for both in-water and out-of-water use.
As a result, these waders fit snugly and go up very high, almost right to the armpit. This gives you superior warmth and dryness, but it does limit breathability and makes them best worn in colder waters.
Due to the snug nature of these waders, it’s recommended you get a pair that gives you 2-3 extra inches of inseam length.
Runner Ups: Neoprene Waders
Bottom Line: The bootfoot, convertible chest-to-waist design separates the Red Head Bone Dry 3.5mm Neoprene waders from other pairs listed here. They offer a few nice extra features, such as chest handwarmer pockets and side cinch straps to customize the fit, but there are some concerns about the durability of the boots.
Bottom Line: A thinner wader made from 3mm of Cabela’s trademarked Neostretch material, these bootfoot chest waders are a camouflage-patterned, all-season wader that’s perfect for both anglers and hunters looking for a neoprene wader that offers more comfort, though at the slight expense of warmth in colder conditions.
Best Waist Waders
Patagonia Swiftcurrent Wading Pants
If you’re wading in smaller streams where you only need lower body protection, Patagonia’s Swiftcurrent Wading Pants might be the best you can buy. I love their light 2 lb design and high quality seam construction. The waterproof internal pocket for your phone is a great feature, too.
A stretchy waist band and cinch belt allow you to size them for your body type. They also include a waterproof internal pocket to keep your phone dry.
While the Swiftcurrent waders aren’t cheap by waist wader standards, that price is justified given Patagonia’s commitment to quality.
One look at the near-perfect seam design and attention to detail and you’ll understand why Patagonia is one of the industry leaders.
Runner Ups: Waist Waders
Bottom Line: These Simms Freestone waders are nearly identical to the aforementioned Patagonia Swiftcurrent waders. They’re a couple of ounces heavier and are made of a different material — though still high quality and breathable. In our opinion, choosing between the two waist waders comes down to which brand you prefer.
Bottom Line: A quality waist wader for significantly less than the Patagonia or Simms waders listed here, Caddis breathable waist wader is great for anyone looking to stay dry in shallow water without paying through the nose.
Best Hip Waders
Allen Black River Bootfoot Hip Waders
The best hip waders I have ever used, the Allen Black River bootfoot waders can handle heavier usage compared to other hip waders in their price range.
Finding a quality pair of hip waders has been challenging for me. I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg for them — that’s what my chest waders are for — but I want something that feels more durable than a plastic bag tied to an old shoe.
Enter Allen, whose Black River hip waders have passed every test both my wallet and I have given them.
With two-ply upper lining made from 100% PVC/nylon and surprisingly solid seams, these hip waders have surprising durability. Despite repeated use, I have had no leaking issues and no punctures, though I do make sure to protect them when in use and store them properly.
The one comment I will make is about their sizing: They run a little small. I’m generally a size 9, so I sized up to a 10 and they fit perfectly.
Runner Up : Hip Waders
Bottom Line: A value hip wader that offers convenient wetness protection, the non-insulated Frogg Toggs Rana II cleated bootfoot waders are intended for less than full-time duty but still deliver comfortable performance when called upon.
Bottom Line: The Hodgman Mackenzie hip waders aren’t going to win any awards for quality, but they offer performance in the lower price range.
Best Beginner Waders
Caddis Breathable Stockingfoot Chest Waders
Your first pair of waders should be an affordable gateway to the world of waders, helping you decide whether fishing itself, or merely fishing waders, is for you. To that end, a great pair of beginner waders should be affordable, comfortable, and versatile.
Chest waders are your best bet, and you probably aren’t looking at a $500 pair of waders from Simms, or even a $200 pair from Cabela’s.
That’s where Caddis comes in. These breathable stockingfoot waders are made of breathable material that isn’t quite GORE-TEX quality but still does its job. And they’re not overly baggy like many affordable chest waders; thinner folks won’t be swimming in them yet rotund guys should have enough room.
I like the handy front zipper pouch, the dependable cinch belt, and the effective gravel guards.
Frankly, these are the best beginner waders on the market.
Runner Up: Beginner Waders
Bottom Line: Nearly identical in quality, price, and performance to the Caddis beginner waders above, the Frogg Toggs Hellbender waders are an affordable option for beginners. However, it should be noted that users have reported a slightly higher leak rate than with Caddis.
Bottom Line: Probably the best affordable neoprene wader for beginners, the Frogg Toggs 3.5mm neoprene wader is a no-nonsense, all-in-one bootfoot alternative if you prefer that convenience.
Best Value Waders
Hodgman H3 Breathable Waders
An affordable breathable wader with 3 layers of fabric (instead of the 4- and 5-layer breathable waders featured elsewhere in this article), the Hogdman H3 is a great light-use wader for those looking for a breathable wader for a bargain price.
Cabela’s, Frogg Toggs, and Hodgman keep appearing in the affordable wader categories. That’s because they know their place in the market.
These Hodgman H3 waders offer a budget breathable wader that’s effective and super light.
The 3-layer breathable shell doesn’t quite match up with some of the 4- and 5-layer waders featured in this comprehensive review of the best fly fishing waders, but Hodgman does offer a pretty nifty feature: a zip-in liner that adds an extra layer of warmth.
Runner Ups: Value Waders
Bottom Line: Cabela’s is an (unofficial) industry leader in “Bang for Your Buck” and the story is no different with these 5mm neoprene waders. That’s a thick wader providing warmth and insulation that may be over the top, but it also ensures you’ll be able to use them in some of the coldest conditions you can imagine, all for a great price.
Bottom Line: A key component for “Best Waders for the Money” is how much performance you get for dollar spent. That’s what separates “Best Beginner Waders” from this section, because sometimes you pay a little extra and get a lot more. That’s the case with these Frogg Toggs Pilot II waist waders, which aren’t the cheapest waders out there but have impressive insulation and durability for what they cost.
Best Women’s Waders
Simms Women’s Freestone Stockingfoot Waders
A women-specific design from the industry leader in fishing gear, the Simms Women’s Freestone stockingfoot waders are made from 3- and 4-layer GORE-TEX that delivers unrivaled performance for a pretty good price.
Just like when we looked at the best fly fishing waders for men, Simms makes the best fishing waders for women. Made from 3-layer GORE-TEX in the upper body with a 4th layer in the lower body, where you really need it, it just doesn’t get any better than these waders.
Designed for a woman’s body with their scalloped top opening, these waders are extremely comfortable. They’re chest-to-waist convertible and even offer a couple awesome lower body features that drive home Simms’ attention to detail on the Freestone: gravel guard hooks, which attach to your wading boots, and an anti-microbial finish on the booties to help reduce bacterial build-up.
(That means less odor.)
The link above to these waders includes a women-specific sizing chart from Simms, so find the size that works best for you and get ready to own the Cadillac of fishing waders: The Simms Women’s Freestone Waders.
Runner Up: Women’s Fishing Waders
Bottom Line: Another convertible wader at a lower price point than the Simms G3 waders above, these Redington Willow River waders give you a comfortable design with 3 layers of breathable (non GORE-TEX) material.
Bottom Line: One of the most affordable women’s fishing waders, the Hogdman H4 waders are not chest-to-waist convertible but still feature 3 and 4 layers of Hodgman’s breathable material.