Are you as confused as I am? In this post, I provide four questions to help you sort through the brand confusion when purchasing your next pair of waders.
I recently Googled the word “waders.” Sponsored ads from Cabela’s appeared at the top of the page with Hodgman waders for $14.99.
Seriously. Waders for $14.99.
I should have Googled “fly fishing waders.”
So I did.
More Cabela’s waders and a few others. The lowest price in this next set of ads was $59.99 (another pair from Cabela’s) and the most expensive was a pair from Orvis ($169).
I refreshed my browser and another pair from Orvis for $398 appeared.
Fly Fishing Waders Galore
A few days later I was trolling for gear and hit upon the Simms web site. I clicked on the “waders” link, and this is what I pulled up:
G3 Guide – WQM Limited Edition: $549.95
G4Z Stockingfoot: $549.95
G4Pro Stockingfoot: $699.95
G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Lug: $699.95
G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Felt: $699.95
G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
G3 Guide Pant: $499.95
Headwaters Convertible Stockingfoot: $399.95
Headwaters Stockingfoot: $349.95
Womens G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
Freestone Z Wader: $399.95
Freestone Wader: $249.95
Freestone Pant: $229.95
Womens Freestone Wader: $249.95
Kids Gore-Tex Stockingfoot: $199.95
I scratched my head. Other than price, the waders all merged together into an expensive blur.
And that’s only the Simms line of waders!
My head was spinning. And that’s not even the entire list of brands. (I apologize for all those I missed.)
How does an average fly fisher make a rational decision about which pair of waders to purchase?
My (Former) Approach to Decision-Making
Here’s how I purchased my current pair of waders.
I was on a fly fishing trip to Montana with Steve, my podcast partner.
It was springtime. And my aging waders sprung a leak. I got cold while standing in the Madison River, with snow and gusts of 20 mph wind.
We decided to fish the Yellowstone the next day.
On the way over to Paradise Valley, we stopped in Livingston, Montana, and I walked into the Dan Bailey fly shop on the main drag through town.
I said to the sales person, “I need a pair of waders.”
“Here’s a pair of Dan Bailey waders on sale.”
“Are they good waders?”
“Yes they are.”
“Okay, I’ll take them.”
I paid about $250 or so, plus or minus. And walked out with new waders.
(Note: I had these waders for almost ten years. I recently purchased a pair of Ultralight waders from Orvis for around $298.)
My Randomness Is Not a Strategy
Am I a shill for Dan Bailey or Orvis waders? Absolutely not.
Is Dan Bailey or Orvis sponsoring our podcast or blog? No. (This is a question that you should ask of every writer who mentions a brand in a post.)
My point has three parts:
1. I made a random, arbitrary decision with the durability of my Dan Bailey waders.
2. I probably got lucky.
3. The unending options of fly fishing waders confuses me about which to purchase next.
Am I saying you should be as random as I was?
Of course not.
4 Questions to Select the Right Waders
So here are four questions that I think you should consider:
1. How many days a year do I fly fish?
Steve and I calculated that we fish between 10 and 20 days a year. That’s not as many as we would like. But we live with 10 million of our closest friends in the Chicago area. We both lived in the West before moving to Chicago, but now it takes a bit more thought and effort to get out on the rivers.
If you are a newbie fly fisher and plan to fish only once or twice while on a summer vacation, you do not need waders, unless you are fishing in an area with lots of ticks. I rarely wear waders in the summertime, except if I’m in rattlesnake country. I wear my wading boots and wading socks, or a pair of wading sandals, and dri-fit shorts or pants.
If you fly fish fewer days a year than Steve and I do, then I would recommend a middle-of-the-road, workhorse brand of waders.
If you fly fish 40 or more days a year or are a professional guide – by all means – purchase the “best,” however you define the word. My guess is you own multiple pairs of fly fishing waders.
2. Will this be my only pair of waders?
I generally keep only one pair of waders in play. I keep it simple. I don’t use wading pants, though I do own a pair of waist waders. I often will use them in winter when I know I won’t be wading with the exception of crossing small spring creeks here and there.
Obviously, I’m not a fly fishing professional. Nor do I fly fish 40 days a year or more.
If you fly fish quite a few days in late fall, winter, and early spring, you may want to purchase a pair of insulated waders. However, I fish maybe two or three days a year in freezing temps, and if I wear layers under my breathable waders, I am fine (though you need to remember I grew up in North Dakota, so cold is my friend!)
Another consideration is the depth and speed of the river. If you are fly fishing shallow creeks in the summer, you definitely don’t need waders.
3. How brand conscious am I?
I am tend to be brand agnostic. At least when it comes to fly fishing waders.
With fly rods and wading boots – I am more persnickety. A fly rod affects how I cast. And wading boots could save my life.
Some of you may need to look good on the water. You need to wear the most expensive brand because of how doing so makes you feel about yourself.
Bully for you. Buy. And be blessed. A $700 pair of waders may make perfect sense in your mind, even if you fly fish only once every couple years.
4. What is my budget?
With waders, I tend to be budget conscious, and, as I mentioned, brand agnostic.
I’d rather save a couple hundred bucks and add that to one more fly fishing trip this calendar year. I don’t have unlimited money for fly fishing. I also hunt upland game and waterfowl in North Dakota every fall with my extended family, so fly fishing doesn’t get all my resources for the outdoors.
I paid $298 for my recent pair of Orvis Ultralight waders. I made a conscious decision not to purchase a discount brand. I’ve been down that road, and the saying that you pay for cheap three times is pretty much gospel.
Instead, I try to see value – a durable pair of waders at a reasonable price.
I don’t need my waders to have the latest technology or include wi-fi or sing “You are so beautiful” to me. And since no fly fishing catalog will likely be asking me to model outdoor clothing anytime soon, I simply need the waders to be up for the kind of rugged fishing I do. Yes, the fly zipper would be nice, but I couldn’t justify the extra $200 or so for the convenience.
Waders should last me five to seven years, given how hard I use them and my number of days on the water.
One last comment: I definitely recommend purchasing stockingfoot waders (not waders with boots). That means you’ll need to purchase wading boots, a topic for another time.