Waders and Boots
We wrote the following 3 years ago -
"We have recently been undertaking extensive research in the field of Waders and Boots. Given the importance of these items to a fishermen we are interested in trying to identify the best product at the most reasonable price. In the increasingly commoditized world, it is logical that the price of waders and boots will inevitably fall as newer materials become readily available in the market place and the products are manufactured in lower cost countries such as China.
This season we will be increasing the lines of boots and waders that we are carrying with an eye to providing excellent quality for a far reduced cost than was available to the fisherman in the past.
We predict that within a year or 2 the price/quality of waders in particular will halve so that you should be able to devote more of your hard earned dollars to flies and equipment rather than merely to clothing.
As we continue to research this area and note the changes we will publish the details so that you are better informed in your purchasing decisions."
We were correct. Since writing the above, the quality of waders has increased substantially and the price has dropped. Boots have remained fairly static.
In choosing a wader there are 2 principal criteria for the average fisherman to consider - breathability and durability.
1. Breathability. The introduction of Goretex into the Wader market by Simms was a great step forward in developing the comfort of fishermen. It was great technology and became the standard by which the market judged the quality of waders. However time marches on, and newer products are coming onto the market which are equally breathable to Goretex and less expensive. So Goretex is no longer the leading material in the field of breathability.
2. Durability. In addition to comfort, the fisherman wants to know that the product he is wearing will not fail during a fishing excursion. Hence there are 4 qualities which contribute to the durability of the product. First is the inherent characteristics of the material itself. Companies are investing a lot of effort in developing products which will be puncture and tear resistant in the field without diminishing the breathable quality of the material.
Second, is the question of the quality of the manufacturing and in particular whether the seams in the construction will be durable and not breakdown and leak.
Third is the question of design in the construction. Essentially which parts of the waders will experience the most wear and what have the manufacturers done to strengthen the product without compromising quality.
Finally there is the question of the effect of a minor compromise to the wader material and the ability of the fisherman to repair it in the field. In this respect, Goretex fails compared to the Bailey and Patagonia materials. When Goretex is punctured it stays punctured. The result is a minor damp or wet spot which will leak until the hole is identified and repaired. In contrast the Dan Bailey material can be repaired simply by the fisherman identifying the point of compromise and rubbing his finger nail over it. The material from which the material is constructed will spread out and fill the gap, repairing the leaking area.
What to Buy?
If one is preoccupied with conspicuous consumption and wants a particular name regardless of the cost there are ample opportunities to do so. However, for the vast majority of fishermen who want value for money, there is now the opportunity to get good value for one's dollar. How many days do you expect to fish a year? How harsh are you on your waders? Will you bash through scrub and slide down gravelly banks to get to the water? Or will you merely require modest walking to a relatively accessible fishing spot. Will you be sitting in a raft for a good deal of time requiring your waders merely to protect against wet conditions?
All of these questions are relevant depending on what you want your waders to do. Perhaps you will be happier with several pairs of waders. A lightweight waist high pair for hotter weather, sitting in a raft, or wading where you will not be going too deep. You may then require a separate pair of more robust chest waders for harsher conditions.
One final comment. As in any items of clothing which are prone to changes in fashion or design, anyone claiming preeminence in the field will have that advantage for only one season. In a competitive world, a new feature introduced by one manufacturer which is popular is readily adopted by others immediately. Take the example of wading belts or gravel guards which were originally expensive extras. Now they are part of the waders. The innovation of the hand warmer pocket by one company was quickly adopted by all others. And so it goes on.
The fabrics are being constantly improved and updated. So that last years model soon becomes outdated. The point has already been reached where no one product stands out from the field. At the high end in particular, the differences are so marginal that it is truly just a question of price or branding. In an increasingly commoditized world, price ultimately dictates the market.
Waders we carry
Wading boots range from the cheap to the overly expensive. What does one seek in wading boots?
Ankle support. The importance of ankle support will vary according to the conditions in which one fishes. In a rocky stream where there is a great propensity for the foot to slip or become angulated, it is very important to have strong ankle support. In such conditions, stocking foot waders with a separate boot is a superior combination to a boot foot wader which lacks that support.
Durable boots. It is not always true in boots that you get what you pay for. Boots endure harsh conditions, are wet for a long time, get heavy with water, and then if not cared for may take time to dry out increasing the tendency for the material to deteriorate. Leather boots for example become hard and inflexible when they dry. They need to be soaked to be able to be comfortably worn.
There are boots which try to be all things to all people. Korkers are a good example. They are a moderately pleasant looking boot which features interchangeable soles. The theory is that a walking sole is inserted to permit a comfortable hike to the fishing destination. Thereafter the appropriate sole for wading is then inserted into the boot permitting the fisherman to wade comfortably before the walk home. Although good in theory, we have found that the boots do not live up to their promise nor do they justify their expensive price tag. The first problem is that they have a design fault in that the sole does not complete at the end of the toe. Consequently there is a tendency for a fisherman to seek a toehold, find there is no grip and fall or slip. This design is necessary because the of requirement to have purchase in the toe to be able to replace the sole. I personally think that the design is dangerous in this regard. In addition, one of our guides has reported that the sole did not hold well or remain in place in the snow. This is also dangerous, because if one's sole fails to hold in the boot while standing in the middle of a current, disaster could reasonably be expected to ensue.
Frankly, the price of Korkers together with the additional soles, would finance a pair of good walking boots and a separate pair of good wading boots. Of if you already have the walking boots, then 2 pairs of wading boots with different soles.
Soles which are appropriate for the conditions.
There are principally three types of soles in all wading boots. Felt, composite material, and spikes as an addition.
Whether one chooses felt or composite soles is a matter of personal preference. If once intends to hike in one's wading boots to get to the fishing destination, the composite sole will last better than a felt sole. However, if one does not intend to walk very far before fishing, felt soles are fine.
Felt soles are the best for wading, particularly on slippery surfaces. Studs assist as well.
Another consideration is the degree of padding in the soles. If the soles are too hard on the feet and one intends wearing the boots for 8 - 10 hours in a day, hard soles can result in sore and/or swollen feet. If one is in the middle of a fishing excursion for a few days, bad feet can ruin a good trip by limiting your mobility. So comfort of the sole is an important consideration.
Recently there has been discussion of the risks of felt soles and organisms being transferred from one waterway to another. The simplest solution is to soak the soles in a cleaning solution after wearing and before travelling if it is an issue. Generally this should arise only if one is transferring wet boots from one water to another. If they dry out there should be no difficulty.
Some Manufacturers offer a quick lacing system which is always welcome particularly as boots get older and more worn. The only downside is if the laces themselves are prone to come loose while wading, the quick lacing allows the laces to free themselves easily and become a nuisance, particularly in faster running water. Hence the need to use gravel guards which sit over the laces and hold them.
A recent addition to lacing systems is the new Korkers quick attachment system which some find useful particularly in colder weather.
Make sure the boots have drain holes to allow for quick draining of any water.
If one is to wade in water which has a lot of gravel, apart from gravel guards, a thick tongue tied down will tend to fill any void in the front of the boot and prevent gravel and sand from getting into the boot.