Published Jun 10, 2022 2:26 PM
My first pair of waders weren’t made for women. They weren’t even made for adult men. I was in my early 20s and I needed a pair, quick, so I went to my local sporting goods store and bought ones that fit me best—a large pair of Hodgeman waders made for boys.
The store didn’t sell women’s waders, and few companies bothered making them since women were only a fraction of the fly fishing market. My new waders fit, ok enough, as long as I didn’t need to wear warm layers underneath. I pulled them on for years, stuffing my fleece pants into them in February on Wyoming rivers and hauling them to Alaska to work at a fishing lodge.
Fortunately, the industry has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, and while women still don’t have as many wader options as men, they have enough options to need a gear review breaking them down. For this review, I tested some of the best waders on the market to help make your choice easier. Using those tests and thoughts from other avid female anglers, here’s a list of the best waders for women for whatever your fishing situation.
How to Choose the Right Pair of Waders
If you live somewhere near a fishing shop, go in and try on a few pairs. Like most clothes, for men and especially for women, there’s no good substitute for just trying them on. If you can’t get to a fly shop or sporting goods store, then measure your chest, hips, inseam, and note your foot size. Companies vary a lot on sizing options. You’ll want to know as much about yourself as possible to pick the best fit.
From there, think about how much you want to spend, what kinds of conditions you’ll be using them in, and how often you’ll want to wear them. Do you want to buy one pair and keep them for 10 or even 20 years? If that’s the case, you may want to invest more now for a pair that fit well, are durable, and offer repairs. Are you going to go out a few times a year, and you just need something to keep you dry? Then you’re better off with a more affordable option.
Also, consider the conditions you’ll be fishing in when choosing your size. If you’re primarily going to be out in the late spring, summer, and fall, you can go with a pair that fits a little more snugly to accommodate hiking in warm weather and little need for layers. If you’re going to be winter fly fishing, sliding down snowbanks, and standing in water as your eyelets freeze, think about sizing up to make sure you have plenty of room for all the warm layers underneath.
- 3- and 4-layer Gore-Tex fabric
- Reach-through micro-fleece lined chest pocket
- Air mesh suspenders
- Variety of sizes
Why It Made the Cut
Simms listened to women anglers and made a wader that is durable, practical, and fits the way a wader should.
- Expensive for an everyday wader
At the risk of beginning with a cliché, these waders fit like a glove. Simms touts its “patented front and back leg seams” that “deliver articulated fit, improved mobility, and increased durability,” and they’re not wrong. Pulled over my normal late-spring double layers of warm fishing pants, the G3 waders gave me space where I needed it and weren’t baggy.
The “air mesh suspender system,” is an overly-fancy way of saying the suspender straps are stitched on top of a mesh material that really does make them feel more comfortable than the usual elastic suspenders on almost every other pair of fishing waders. I wore them traipsing up and down rivers in Wyoming and through fields of sagebrush. They never restricted my movement, and also didn’t feel like I was a pre-teen wearing waders made for my dad.
The G3’s legs are 4-layers of GORE-TEX PRO, making them thinner than previous versions but also more durable. The top is 3-layer to reduce the amount of material without suffering consequences. The company reports the fabric is 33% more breathable and 23% more puncture-resistant than previous versions of the same waders. Testing in the field confirms they are both breathable and tough.
As for the minor features that shouldn’t seem important but make the difference between a comfortable day on the water and an annoying one, these waders have some perks. First, Simms nixed the hook on their gravel guards, which means you don’t need to try and stretch the gravel guard to a corresponding eyelet on your boot or risk it catching your line every time it pools around your feet. They also have a reach-through micro-fleece lined pocket providing a cozy place to warm hands on those days when temperatures drop below freezing and wind chills are even colder.
An internal removable pocket holds tippet, strike indicators, floatant, or anything else you may need handy.
Lastly, each size provides an array of options for most body types and measurements. For $60, you can send them back to the manufacturer in Montana for repairs, which means, like most of the best waders for women, you can expect years of use even if you eventually end up with a leak or two that needs fixing.
These aren’t the most affordable waders on the market, but if you’re looking for a pair of great, all-around waders to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable, the Simms G3 are a good choice. Also, if you’re looking for the best duck hunting waders, the G3s are a great option.
- Recycled polyester microfiber shell
- Single seam construction for durability
- Rear-buckle drop seat
- Velcro reach-through pocket
Why It Made the Cut
As fishing gear companies started making men’s waders with zippers for bathroom ease on the water, Patagonia realized it could offer a solution for women, too. And it does.
- Easy access for nature’s calls
- Baggy, especially in the chest portion
Choosing a stocking-foot wader for cold weather may feel like a fool’s errand. They’re all thin, and they all need to be big enough to fit over plenty of layers. But there’s a reason this pair made the list as the best wader for cold weather: the drop seat.
Patagonia has figured out an imperfect solution to bathroom needs on the river. The drop seat likely isn’t as convenient as a front zipper in men’s waders, but it’s leagues better than the alternative. Too many winter days in below zero temperatures have I had to take off my raincoat and whatever else didn’t fit inside my waders to strip down to heed nature’s call. It’s never ideal and always very, very cold. Enter EZ-Lock suspenders and rear-buckle drop-seat.
The EZ-Lock suspenders mean instead of clipping your suspenders on and off as you do with most waders, you slip them over your shoulder, pull up the front of the waders, and clip the lock closed. When you need to tuck behind a bush, you just undo the locks, reach around back, unclip the suspenders, then pull your waders down—no need to take off or even unzip your wading jacket. Just pull everything up when you’re done, reach behind and clip it back together. The suspenders are designed to stay put around your neck, and they do.
The Swiftcurrent waders are plenty big in the top and legs, giving sufficient room for those critical cold-water-day layers, but they’re also light enough to navigate along slippery riverbanks and rocky bottoms.
They have a minimalist design on the front with Velcro closing the hand warmer pocket and a zippered pocket for tippet, flies, and other gear. As one extra perk, the interior pocket is waterproof, which means you have a safe place to store your phone or other valuables.
- Removable knee pads
- Durable, 4-layer upper shell and 5-layer bottom
- Massive interior mesh stretch pocket
- Reach-through pocket with water-resistant zippers
Why It Made the Cut
These Orvis waders will stand up to whatever comes to you on banks or on the water.
- Athletic, thoughtful design
- Knee pads
If you fish a lot, this is your wader. It’s called the PRO for a reason, and it’s because this is one of the best waders for women who spend their lives on the water. From top to bottom, from the sturdy buckles to the anatomically-correct neoprene booties, the wader has been carefully designed.
It feels stiff at first, but it’s also the most durable wader I’ve ever worn. Bushwhacking through miles of thorny greasewood didn’t phase them, and neither did kneeling on sharp rocks and gravel. They’re also great for climbing in and out of boats and kneeling on docks.
While the major reason for purchase should be their toughness, a close second is all the thoughtful add-ons throughout.
The fleece-lined kangaroo pocket in the front is closed by water-resistant zippers, keeping it dry and warm unless needed. A large interior pocket fits so snug to the waders that it’s almost imperceptible, but if you need to start dumping fly boxes inside, it stretches to fit your needs. A removable interior pocket has space for spools of tippet and other accessories. There’s also a strip of Velcro on the inside to affix a waterproof pocket (sold separately).
The travel guards have mesh backs, keeping water flowing in and out instead of trapping it inside, and neoprene booties are thinner than some other brands, meaning they’re less bulky and better fitting inside boots.
If you need it all, these are your waders.
- Super light at 31 ounces
- Integrated gravel guard
- 4-layer waterproof shell
- New gusseted crotch for improved range of motion
Why It Made the Cut
If you need a lightweight wader that fits well and responds to your needs, this is the best choice out there.
I realize at a couple bucks under $400 that these aren’t the cheapest waders on the market. But they may well be the least expensive fly fishing waders for the convenience of years (decades even) of wading without needing to buy a new pair.
First, they’re incredibly lightweight. If there’s a pair of waders I would consider shoving into my backpacking backpack for a week in the woods, these would be the ones. As is, I have packed miles into backcountry streams in Wyoming wearing these waders and felt just as comfortable as I would have in a couple layers of regular hiking clothes.
Orvis has spent years championing more women on the water—including their famous 50/50 On the Water campaign to try and increase the number of women fishing. And their gear has improved to match their efforts. These waders were clearly made for a woman’s body, not just a smaller version of the men’s waders. I’ve slid down rock and bush-covered hillsides in these, bushwhacked into high mountain lakes and carried my young daughter on my back. They’ve held up—and been breathable—through it all.
On extra hot days, unsnap the top of the waders and scoot them down to your waste for even more airflow while still keeping your legs and feet dry.
Q: Can’t we just wear men’s waders?
Certainly, if you want. Just like you can wear men’s camo or men’s hiking shoes. We won’t tell you what you should and shouldn’t wear. But do women’s waders fit a woman’s body better? Absolutely. Will you likely be more comfortable hiking to and from the water and navigating slippery boulders? Definitely. There’s a reason women anglers have spent years championing companies to make gear that fits our bodies specifically. If you currently have a pair of men’s waders, like I did years ago, it’s worth at least trying on a few pair of women’s ones to see the difference.
Q: Are waders necessary?
Not always, but they’re really nice. Some streams are small enough you can fish them from the banks. Others are warm enough, especially on hot summer days, that you can fish in sandals, old running shoes or neoprene booties in wading boots. It’s actually preferable on really hot days. But for the most part, especially if you fish during shoulder seasons or in the winter, waders make the difference between a fun trip and a cold one.
Q: Is it worth getting them repaired?
Yes, absolutely. Most companies say the normal life of a pair of waders is three to five years – longer for those who wear them less and shorter for ones worn more. But often, the reason for failure is a leak, and usually a very small, pinhole leak. If your waders leak and you can’t figure out where so you can patch it yourself, most companies will repair them for you for $60 or a similar fee. I’ve sent back a few over the years and was always pleased with the outcome.
Ladies: We now have wader options, and actually quite a few. Sure, there still aren’t as many choices as in men’s, but we definitely don’t need to buy large boy’s waders without hips or chest anymore. That means it’s time to make decisions. To choose the best waders for women, think about what you will be doing with the waders—will you be hiking extensively from lake to lake or up and down miles of river? Will you be in and out of boats and guiding people throughout the seasons? Can you buy a slightly nicer pair and then not worry about replacing them for years? A good pair of waders should fit you like that proverbial glove, accommodating your size and shape. Don’t settle for less.