How To Choose the Right Fishing Waders

The right pair of waders can open up all kinds of possibilities for fishing.

For beginner fly fishers, leveling up to a pair of waders is always an exciting step. With waders, you’re no longer stuck to the shoreline or confined to warm water, and that makes it a lot easier to get your fly to the fish year-round. But waders come in all different shapes and sizes, and choosing the right pair can make the difference between a fun day on (and in) the water, and a sweaty, uncomfortable one. Here’s how to choose the right waders for your needs.

Questions To Ask Yourself

First, think about the type of fishing you want to do and what you need to get out of your waders. 

Do I need waders?

Do you always fish close to shore, in small streams, from a boat, or in warm summer water? If so, waders might not be necessary. One of the best parts of fly fishing is the excuse it gives you to get wet. But the longer you spend in the water—especially late in the fishing season—the more you’ll want something to protect you from the cold. That’s where waders come in.

How cold is the water?

The waders you need for a backcountry stream in the late summer are going to be different from the ones you’d wear in early spring in a larger river’s early runoff. Insulated waders will be far more comfortable in cold water, but if you wear them on hot days, you’ll likely overheat.

On the other hand, waders without insulation will feel chilly in a cold river. When shopping, consider where and when you plan on using your waders, and look for options designed for that  temperature range. 

How deep is the water I’ll be fishing?

Waders come in different shapes and sizes (more on that below), and it’s best to choose a pair that’s only as tall as you need for the water you plan to fish in. That way, you’ll be more comfortable, your waders will feel less clunky, and it’ll save you weight in your pack if you’re hiking to your fishing spot. Get a sense for how deep the water might be as well as how far you plan to wade in. Even in big rivers, you might not need chest waders if you plan to stay close to shore. 

Will I be hiking to the fishing hole?

If you’ll be carrying your waders long distances or hiking with them on, consider their weight. Lighter materials, stockingfoot models (see below), or a simpler design can save some weight in your pack. The tradeoff, though, is often durability or versatility, so consider the places you’ll be wading and try to find a balance between all the features you’ll need. 

Chest, Waist, and Hip Waders

Waders primarily come in three different heights: chest, waist, and hip.

Chest Waders

These are the most popular and the most versatile option because they’re the tallest. As you might expect, they rise up to some point on the chest and are held in place with suspenders, which means you can wade out well over your waist and still stay dry. They’ll work in just about any body of water where you can stand and fish, which makes them a good option for anglers who sample many different locations. Their height also makes it less likely that an errant splash or misstep will get you soaked.

Waist Waders

Sometimes called wading pants, these are one size down from chest waders, and they’re basically waterproof pants that come up to your waist. They’re held in place with a belt or suspenders. Compared to chest waders, they allow more freedom of movement for your upper body, and they’ll keep you dry if you’re only wading up to your thighs. 

Hip or Thigh Waders

These look like a cowboy’s chaps. They’re two separate legs (like super tall rain boots) that are held up by attachments to your belt. They’re ideal for fishing in shallow streams (up to your knees or lower thighs) that don’t have strong currents. Hip waders are usually the least expensive and least cumbersome option as well.

A man standing in a creek, wearing waders and holding a fishing rod.

Wader Materials

Although most waders are made out of polyester or nylon, there are a few different materials to look out for, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.

Polyester or Nylon

These days, most waders are made from polyester or nylon with a waterproof-but-breathable membrane similar to what you’ll find in rain jackets. This keeps them light and comfortable for long days of fishing. Especially on warmer days, they’ll allow any sweat or moisture your body creates to escape while keeping out any river water. On colder days, they can be worn with insulating layers underneath to keep you warm. They do have one downside, however: durability. Polyester and nylon are susceptible to punctures or tears, especially at stress points like the knees and seat.

PVC or Rubber

These materials are far tougher (and cheaper) than polyester and nylon, but waders made with them are bulky, cumbersome, and not breathable—if worn during the summer months, you’ll get pretty warm. Because it isn’t as flexible, PVC is more commonly used in hip waders. 


Waders made with neoprene fall somewhere in the middle. They’re less stiff than PVC and rubber but don’t have the breathability of polyester-nylon waders. They’re also much warmer than either option, which makes them ideally suited to chilly early spring or fall temperatures. 

Bootfoot vs. Stockingfoot

Once you get down to your feet, waders fall into two different categories: Bootfoot (or barefoot) waders have a built-in boot, while stockingfoot waders have neoprene booties that slip into separate wading boots.

Bootfoot Waders

This style offers several advantages: You won’t need to buy a dedicated pair of wading boots, they’re easy to take on and off, and they keep rocks and river debris from sneaking inside your boots. Bootfoot waders are also typically the most cost-effective option.

Stockingfoot Waders

These have the advantage of being much lighter. If you’re hiking to your fishing site, that can save weight in your pack. You’ll need wading boots, but that means you can customize what you want on your feet, both in terms of style and boot model and also by tightening or loosening the laces to get a dialed-in fit. For those reasons, stockingfoot waders are typically more comfortable than bootfoot waders. 

Additional Features To Look For

Waders can be simple or packed with extra features, depending on your preference. Consider looking for waders with these add-ons:

Chest Pockets

Chest waders often have front pockets that can be a convenient place to stash small, important items. 

Wading Belts and Belt Loops

A wading belt is an important safety tool, even if you don’t expect to go too deep. It cinches down around your waist so that if you accidentally fall in, your waders won’t fill up with water and keep you submerged. When shopping, make sure your waders have loops for a wading belt.

Gravel Guards

With stockingfoot waders, it’s possible for rocks or other debris to wash into your boots. Some waders have an additional gaiter—called a gravel guard—that folds down over the top of your boots to keep debris out. 

Knee Pads

In shallower water, you might need to kneel down occasionally (maybe to pull out that trophy trout). Reinforced knees will protect your waders from scrapes with the creek bottom—especially important if they’re made from less durable polyester or nylon.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.