Many people who become involved with fly fishing eventually come to a point in their development where the question poses itself; should I spend a small fortune on a pair of waders?
I have seen many threads here where the question was; Looking for a good pair of waders in the 100 - 200 range. I can empathize with the posters because it is a hard thing to come to grips with when faced with the reality of waders in the 399 and up price range. On occasion I have tried to give support to the notion that you may in fact find a true bargain but in reality the bargain is to be found in the quality of the product and not in the price you pay.
A little history may be in order at this point. My first pair of fishing boots were a pair of the old 'Hip Waders' by La Cross. This was way before we were worrying whether to get felt soles or rubber with carbon studs. Although the boots allowed me to venture into the creeks of North Central PA. they were just good enough to take you from the safety of the shoreline out into water deep enough to drown in. It seemed that no matter where I fished I would at some point during the day find myself pulling on the belt straps of those boots trying desperately to make them at least 2" higher than they were. You know this sounds familiar if you ever owned hip boots. What all of this death defying wading taught me was simple and it can best be described in a series of numerical steps.
1. The rubber soles were as slippery as anything I had ever walked on.
2. Once you were at the top of the boot and stretching it up you had to keep a wary eye on the water to be sure it wasn't going to go over the top of the rubber leggings.
3. Looking down at all that rushing water effected my equilibrium and with just one little slip I was going down.
4. Swimming with the boots on was not impossible but it was very difficult.
During these formative years I took more than one white water adventure while strapped into my hippers. Finally in 1977 I had had enough, even though only old people wore chest waders back then (none of the other cool young guys wore them) I was going to get a pair! My first were a pair of Seal Dri 100% rubber waders made by the Wichita Canvas & rubber Company of Wichita Kansas. They were stocking foot waders and I got a pair of Red Ball wading shoes by Uni Royal. The shoes were like a dark brown hi top sneaker with soft rubber soles that were much better than my hip boots for walking in streams. I was now on my way and soon I learned another old man trick, Barge Cement and felt soles! Now this was a drastic improvement and I can tell you that in the 33 years since I bought those waders I have never taken a ride down a creek or river because of falling down while wading. I attribute this to the fact that I am no longer looking down while I am standing in or crossing a channel of water.
Now all of this did not come without financial sacrifices of course. The waders sold for $89.99 and the shoes to compliment them were 21.99 and of course there was 6% PA. sales tax included. In 1977 I am not sure what the minimum wage was but I worked for Bethlehem Steel and the wage was good but still the waders were about half a week’s pay or at least a third. Since then I have had 9 pair of waders. I attribute the low number to the fact that by the early 90's I started paying the big bucks and buying the best I could find. I fished lots of small streams so having heavy duty knees was a must. It would not be an embellishment of the truth to say that I believe I have crawled at least a full mile while fishing and maybe more. Now a mile may not sound like a great distance when you take into account that you may drive hundreds of miles each year to and from fishing destinations and at some point you may even find yourself kneeling while approaching a fish but I am a crawler. Because of this I am hell on waders, especially the lower legs so I need the best. You may read this and say, 'I'm not gonna crawl around for a day and I don't need to pay the better part of 400 dollars for waders'. This may be true but getting the waders that I can pound through the bush and over the gravel will keep you dry for years and when you do stumble and go on your knees your waders will stand for it. Never forget that you don't have to be a bush whacker to come in contact with briar's of the dreaded Multi floral Rose of the North Eastern United States just one shortcut to the parking area can give you the leak that you'll find on your next trip.
By now you may be wondering what this is all about. Am I just lonely and wanting to send a message to tens of thousands of people? What brought this together was an e-mail I just received from Simms. Last year I bought a pair of G3 waders from the Simms Company of Bozeman MT. and at the time of my purchase (when the guy was taking $399.00 form me) he was saying something about sending the waders in at the end of the first year of ownership. You know the 'bla, blah, blah that's going in one ear and out the other usually when we buy something right? Well it dawned on me the other day that my waders are one year old so I called Simms and talked to a very nice fellow in repairs. He assured me that if I sent the waders back they would check them out from top to bottom and if anything was going bad they would either be repaired or replaced at no fee. The e-mail was a reminder that the waders had arrived safely (I mailed them Tuesday Priority for $7.60 and today is Friday) and they would let me know when they were on the way home. I felt pretty good about doing this because if I understand correctly this validates my warranty for another year as if they were new. It's like taking the new car in for prescribed mileage checkups!
Before closing I'll list some things that I have found to be important in a pair of waders.
1. Tough lower legs with at least 5 layers of material.
2. The same heavy duty material on the seat.
3. a good pair of suspenders long enough to allow for the waders to be pulled down in the front for the call of nature (#1) and the suspender strap to remain at your shoulders where you can reach them. If you think about this it is a big issue. I have not fully bought into the front zipper types that are on the market.
4 Quality built in gravel guards and good articulated 3 or 4mm neoprene booties on the feet.
5. A nice storage pocket and hand warmer pockets finish the order.
The moral of this story is that when it comes to waders the old saying "You get what you pay for" it is true, at least it has proven to be true for me since the first time I ever went trout fishing. Something about old sayings; when you think about it they wouldn't endure for one hundred or more years if they were not true time after time. So when you are thinking on waders for next season don't get in a big hurry and buy whatever is on closeout, save up your money and buy the best that are on the market. We all know someone who has been fishing for years in a pair of waders he paid under $125 for but I will tell you this, he never crawled a mile or more in those waders.
Excelllent post Ardster!!! Sticker shock has always been a major deterrent for me but working as a mechanic is helping me to overcome that. It was a biiiig adjustment getting used to spending over $120 for a 3/8 ratchet as opposed to $25 for Craftsman.
You hit the nail on the head; you get what you pay for. With everything.........
I have 4 pairs of waders right now that I rotate through depending on conditions. Fly weights, 5 mil neoprenes, bootfoot breathables, and hippers
The ones that get the most use are the traditional style Hodgman felt sole canvas hip boots.
They're comfortable in warm weather, easy on and off, all you need when fishing small streams
There's an old adage that says that "hip boots are only a measure of how deep the water was when you got wet".
That's true enough but if you're wearing them in deep water, then you're not using your head.
I also had a pair of those Seal Dri waders. They were wicked comfortable compared to the ill fitting heavy canvas bootfoots that they replaced. And those Red Ball wading shoes, I loved 'em. At the end, the cordura tops were so patched with used nylons and plyobond that there was little left of the original material. I finely had to give them up when the inner sole disintegrated for the second time.
Since then all my waders (except the hip boots ) have been from lowly Cabela's. My neoprenes are 17-18 years old at this point. They have plenty of repaired punctures and seams and I don't wear them very often anymore, but I've defiantly gotten my money's worth. My Cabela's fly weight waders are almost as old and the bootfoot breathables are 4 years plus.
Rotating 4 different wader pairs certainly makes a difference and maybe I've just been lucky with my choice of the Cabela's brand, but I don't think so.
I've had a good experience with them over the last 25 or so years and I refuse to believe that by spending more I'd be any happier.
Sorry to disagree
I have a pair of the Cabela's Guide Tech waders that I got on sale (normally $200, I paid $150), I think they were on closeout for a design change since this years model has a different pouch.
They have everything Ard mentioned and then some. Reinforced (5 layer) legs and seat, Hardwarmer behind the front pouch, built in gravel guards with a keeper hook that hooks on your boot laces, right and left foot booties (instead of generic booties), and a built in waist belt.
I've only used them for one season but they have been great and I just don't see them suddenly going bad.
I would be willing to bet that the Simms guide series of waders are better, but not 3x's better.
My Simm's waders are going on well over 10 years of use and have finally in the last year started to leak ever so slightly in the neoprene foot, I've been very happy with them, although at the time of purchase I was very hesitant to buy them, I'm glad I did.
I'm starting to think about replacing them after one more season worth of wear, but honestly, Looking at the sticker price nowadays on Simm's waders makes me shudder with sticker shock , but if the new ones wear like iron as my old ones have, I'll get over that quickly.
Just remember this...."Cold feet are for weddings, not fishing!"