It would help to know where you will be fishing. I have used them all and my favorite is the waist-high in the lower 48. They are the best for fishing out of a drift boat or pontoon boat. They keep me out of too deep of water but you are a young fellow and you might want to wade deeper water. Hip Boots are great for flying or small streams. The problem with hip boots is from time to time you will get water over the tops. Hip boots would not be a good choice for Winter wading. There are Chest-high waders that are made so the top will fold down. This feature can be useful if you fish out west and it gets real hot in the summer but colder in the fall. Neoprene waders are good for Alaska or Winter Steelhead fishing in the Northwest. Neoprene are usually too hot for summer fishing. I have used them on the San Juan the first of May and was glad to have them.
So what do you get? If you are fishing small streams like in NC you could get by with waist-highs or hip-boats. If you are fishing bigger water and don't wade deep or fish from a boat then waist-highs would be a good choice. If you want to wade deep then you need chest-highs. Chest-highs are the most versatile and the most expensive. For a man your age the best choice may be the chest high. Make sure you get a good fit and they should not bind when you raise your knee up into your chest. Many people get waders that are too tight around the hips.
As far as waders go, I've never been comfortable with hip waders. So I've used chest highs. Now, how to choose name brand and just how much you want to spend. Through the years I've gone the route from the cheapest to the more expensive and different brand names. The ones I've settled on are Patagonias. This last pair I've been using are now 4 years old and holding. I fish about 3 to 4 times a week (also depending on the weather and stream conditions). I have to admit that I buy the waders that are on sale. Look around and decide how much fishing you are going to do and how deep you will wade. Nothing worse than water that gets into your waders. Be safe and dry. I you do wade deep you might want to consider a PFD. Good boots are also to be considered. Frank
columbia has a good reputation for the quality of their outdoor clothing line but i think they're new to fly fishing waders. i'd be interesed in a review if you should get them.
one thing which hasn't been mentioned is the layering of waders. despite the breathability of the material, multi layered construction does add warmth. i have a pair of chest highs which have 5 layers in some spots and they can be too warm at times. if i had thought or known about that aspect, i might have gone for the company's three layer model since it can be on the warm side where i fish, even at 6,000-7,000 feet elevation.
That is a great tip. That is one reason that I like the waist-high waders for warm weather. Even though the 5 layer legs don't breathe as well as the three layer legs, with the top open you can keep a little cooler.
Have you been fishing lately up in those high Sierras?
frank, most of my sierra streams dried up in june. it's been a bad year for us because of the very light snow pack. but now it's starting to get cooler (a virtual cold snap of mid 90 degrees these days) the fall holds some promise. i'm thinking smallies where you suggested once...
not to go off on a complete tangent, i do usually roll the top of my chest highs to waist level when i wear them (i rarely fish in the winter) but this year's weather and water levels had me wet wading in shorts the last few times i fished. for the added options, i'd suggest to trout champ to go the stocking foot path rather than bootfoot if there was a question, even though that wasn't addressed earlier.
by the way, i love my stocking foot hip boots too... ;-)
Frank is right about the wading belt. Hodgman makes a god one that is not expensive ang gives some good support to the lower back. A wading stick is also an essential. saved my fanny several times as well good to flip a snake or two into the water just before you're ready to step on them. Frank
an option to a wading belt is a waist pack. i bought one from target for about $15. it has two water bottle holders on each side and i carry my katadyn hiker water filter pump in the main compartment, plus a couple of energy bars, a packet of powdered energy drink (clif makes a nice berry flavored one) and usually a burrito for lunch...