The technical terms and specifications surrounding fly fishing waders can be confusing. To help you make sense of it all, this article answers common wader-related questions so you’ll know what to buy and what to avoid.

Let’s start with one of the most perplexing questions faced by the first-time wader shopper…

What are Breathable Waders?

At first, the term “breathable waders” seems like an oxymoron How can something keep you dry while at the same time breath?

stocking foot breathable waders
stocking foot breathable waders

To clear things up, let’s go over the two varieties of fishing waders: breathable waders and non-breathable waders.

Breathable waders are made of nylon-based materials and have a special membrane that’s both waterproof and breathable. These versatile waders keep water out while still allowing moisture and heat to escape. Completely uninsulated, breathable waders are perfect for wade fishing in warmer months, yet can be worn with base layers and other warm clothing to fish in cold conditions.

Non-breathable waders are made of neoprene material and are the go-to choice for cold weather use. These heavier waders are fully waterproof, but unlike breathable waders, retain all moisture and heat. If used in warm weather, you’ll end up a sweaty, sticky mess and run the risk of overheating. Neoprene waders are used more by duck hunters than fly anglers.

Understanding the difference between breathable and non-breathable waders is the first step in choosing the right pair for you. Fortunately, for the vast majority of fly anglers, the choice is easy breathable waders are the way to go.

What’s the Difference Between Boot Foot and Stocking Foot Waders?

boot foot waders

Boot foot waders are waders either breathable or neoprene that have wading boots permanently attached to the legs. Slide into the waders and you’re automatically wearing boots.

Stocking foot waders, on the other hand, are waders that don’t have boots attached. Instead, they have neoprene stockings AKA booties attached to the legs. These booties keep your feet dry but offer no real protection or support for wading in rivers.

Which brings us to our next question…

What Footwear do You Wear with Stocking Foot Waders?

stocking foot waders
stocking foot waders

You wear wading boots. That’s right specialized boots made specifically for use with stocking foot waders.

The vast majority of fly anglers choose stocking foot waders over boot foot waders because any pair of wading boots can be worn with any pair of waders. This allows you to buy the best fitting waders and the best fitting boots, then combine the two. With boot foot waders, you don’t have this flexibility.

Furthermore, with stocking foot waders and wading boots, if one piece of the puzzle wears out before the other, you don’t have to retire the whole setup. Just replace one or the other and get back to fishing.

If you need a quick recommendation on which wading boots to buy, Simms, Korkers, Redington, and Patagonia all make excellent wading boots across a wide range of prices.

What Clothing do You Wear with Waders?

It depends. Since breathable waders have no insulation of their own, what you wear underneath largely depends on weather conditions. If it’s cold outside and you plan on wading frigid waters, you’ll want to bundle up. But even in warm weather, it’s a good idea to wear a base layer of some kind and no, your birthday suit doesn’t count.

If you want to read more about staying warm while fly fishing you’ve got to read this article How to Stay Warm Fly Fishing in the Winter. This is a full guide to staying warm with layering, and materials.

Regardless of the outside temperature, you can count on one thing when wearing waders: you are going to sweat. The moisture your body creates will eventually escape through the breathable fabric. However, if you’re wearing the wrong type of base layer, that moisture will accumulate before it has a chance to exit.

Therefore, whatever you choose to wear under your waders, make sure it’s moisture wicking. That way when you sweat, the moisture is drawn away from the skin and the breathable wader material can do its job.

Here are a few great under-wader clothing options:

  • Synthetic base layers Most synthetic base layers you’ll find are made of modern varieties of polyester designed to wick moisture away from the skin. Synthetic base layers are available in many different weights for use in all temperature ranges, but where they really excel is in warm weather.

Simms makes a wader-specific synthetic base layer called WADERWICK which runs on the heavier side and is best for moderate to cold temperatures. For hot weather, the best synthetic base layer is the Patagonia Capilene Lightweight, available in both tops and bottoms ? it’ll help you stay dry and cool even in the dead heat of summer.

  • Merino wool base layers The top choice for all your cold weather wade-fishing pursuits. Merino wool is naturally moisture-wicking and thermally insulating even when wet. Plus, Merino is odor-resistant to keep unwelcome wader smells to a minimum.

A popular Merino base layer for fly fishing is the Icebreaker Oasis available in both tops and bottoms. Simms also makes a wool base layer that’s a great option if you want to stick with a fishing company.

  • Fleece insulating layers When conditions get really cold, an insulating layer on top of your synthetic or Merino wool base layers will keep you nice and toasty. For this, tried-and-true fleece is your best bet.

For bottoms, Redington makes a great fleece pant that has stirrup straps to keep them from bunching up in your waders. For tops, any mid-weight fleece jacket by Patagonia is a great option.  

Speaking of fleece wading pants, after years of wearing the REDINGTON FLY FISHING O/I PANTS (Link to Amazon for prices and reviews) I can’t say enough good stuff about them.

What About Wading Pants?

When you’re wader shopping, you’ll come across two main wader styles: chest waders and wading pants.

Chest waders are the more popular option as they allow for a greater range of wading depths. Plus, on most models, the chest portion can be lowered to the waist and secured just like wading pants.

Wading pants, on the other hand, only allow for wading up to the thighs or so. Some anglers find this beneficial when wading small streams in hot weather, but chest waders often work just as well.

Surprisingly, there isn’t much of a price difference between chest waders and wading pants. So if you’re looking for the all-around most versatile setup, go with chest waders and convert them to pants when needed.