Why Two Waders Are Better Than One

One pair of waders is better than none, but to stay comfortable hunting and fishing in all conditions, it makes sense to own two pairs with different insulation qualities.

Why Two Waders Are Better Than One

Conditions will change dramatically during an entire waterfowl season. Instead of relying on one pair of waders, which will either be too hot or too cold during some hunts, it makes sense to buy two pairs with different insulation qualities. Right photo: The author’s son, Elliott, with some 2019 late-season divers. Left photo: Elliott (right) and a buddy with a September 2020 morning limit of early season puddle ducks.


For decades I lived an outdoor lifestyle owning one pair of waders. And while that “system” kept me relatively dry, it really wasn’t an effective method at all — which is why I placed the word in quotes.

Specifically, I owned a thick pair of neoprene waders with insulated boots. When air and water temperatures were cold, I was comfortable and happy, provided I didn’t have to walk far in the heavyweight waders. When air and water temperatures were warmer, I stayed dry from river, lake and swamp water, but my body and undergarments became damp with perspiration. Not good.

During early spring 2020, I decided there must be a better way, and because I was in the market to replace my well-worn neoprene waders, I started researching replacement models online. I also reached out to friends across the country for their opinions.

 

A Smart Two-Waders System

At first I was skeptical about waders built with Gore-Tex or other breathable materials. In fact, during my summer of guiding salmon and trout anglers in Alaska (1992), my fellow guides and I had a saying about rain gear: “If it breathes, it leaks.”

I can’t explain the physics behind my experience with breathable rain gear, but it seemed like the technology kept me dry when standing to fish on a rainy day, but when I sat in water (like on a wet boat cushion or seat), my butt got wet. Similarly, breathable waterproof footwear seemed to keep me dry in rain, and even while walking in shallow water (provided I didn’t go over the height of my boots), but when I walked through a wet field, my feet eventually got wet. Strange but true.

My outdoor contacts — personal friends and industry folks I trust — promised me that lightweight, breathable waders worked as advertised. As I said, I was skeptical, but decided to try a pair. Specifically, I chose the LaCrosse Alpha Swampfox Drop Top. This model features a breathable nylon wader material, and 600G Thinsulate Ultra insulated boots. Side straps on the legs allow you to create a secure fit, no matter what you wear for layering. Designed for mild conditions, the chest portion of these waders can be rolled down and then secured with a belt for comfortable hunting or fishing in the warmest temperatures. What really caught my eye is the Swampfox weighs only 6.2 pounds.

Other breathable waders that I researched and considered included the Banded RedZone 2.0, Drake Waterfowl Guardian Elite, and the Sitka Delta Zip Wader.

The second part of my two-waders system required less research. I liked my previous neoprene LaCrosse waders for cool/cold water and air, so I didn’t change brands; specifically I went with the company’s Super Brush Tuff model. It features 5mm neoprene wader material, and 1200G Thinsulate Ultra insulated boots. A polyurethane protective coating is used on the knees and seat for durability. Of course, the warmth provided by these 5mm neoprene waders means they’re heavier; total weight is 10.8 pounds.

The author’s two-waders system for 2020: LaCrosse Alpha Swampfox Drop Top breathable waders (left) and LaCrosse Super Brush Tuff 5mm neoprene waders (right).
The author’s two-waders system for 2020: LaCrosse Alpha Swampfox Drop Top breathable waders (left) and LaCrosse Super Brush Tuff 5mm neoprene waders (right).

Field-Test Results

At the time of this writing, my 17-year-old son Elliott and I have been hammering on the Swampfox breathable waders for 7 months. I wore them for the first time during early spring to rescue a wood duck house on a metal pole; shifting/thawing ice from the river in my backyard knocked it down. Even though the water was very cold, I didn’t want to try and climb a submerged step ladder to reset the support pole while wearing heavyweight neoprene waders (picture me balancing on the ladder, using a sledge hammer). The breathable waders kept me dry, and actually they were plenty warm, too, because I also wore long underwear and a fleece pant. During early May in Minnesota (cool water), I waded along the shoreline of local lakes while fishing for panfish and bass. On cool mornings I wore long underwear beneath the breathable waders, but on warm, sunny afternoons I wore jeans. The Swampfox was comfortable for casting and wading.

The author fly casting for spawning sunfish on a warm May afternoon. He wore breathable waders with jeans underneath to avoid overheating.
The author fly casting for spawning sunfish on a warm May afternoon. He wore breathable waders with jeans underneath to avoid overheating.

I wore the same lightweight waders (again with jeans instead of long underwear) a few times during the summer while fishing for catfish in my backyard river, then more recently I wore them casting for October bass in a nearby lake. Water temps on the lake were in the low 50s, so I also wore long underwear and a fleece layering pant. I waded a half mile in water from knee to waist deep, and I appreciated the light weight of the breathable waders. I bass fished for three hours, and while my legs were a little cold when I stood still for long periods in the deepest water, it was certainly tolerable.

Now that waterfowl season is in full swing, my son has been living in the breathable waders. Regardless of conditions, they’ve performed flawlessly. One difference I’ve noticed on trips with my son: When he’s wearing the breathable waders and I’m wearing the neoprene ones, his waders ended up with less mud caked on them. This was especially evident when we’d arrive home and rinse off the waders in the driveway with a garden hose. The breathable waders also dry out much faster than heavy neoprene designs.

The true benefit for lightweight breathable waders will become evident very soon when my son and I hit some public ground for ducks in western Minnesota. The best duck sloughs require a hike of nearly a half mile through woods and marshes, and in the past these trips were very difficult for me in heavyweight neoprene waders. I know my son will prefer wearing the breathable waders in this scenario, so we’ll have to take turns. The other option, I suppose, is buying a second pair of breathable waders so we can both hike and hunt in comfort. I’m also looking forward to wearing the lightweight waders to access some hard-to-reach deer hunting honey-holes on public ground.

As air and water temps begin to cool during fall, you can add layering garments beneath breathable waders for added warmth. Here, Elliott Maas (left) wore breathable waders with fleece pants while his buddy, a new hunter who shot his first drake mallards on this morning, wore neoprene waders to stay warm and dry.
As air and water temps begin to cool during fall, you can add layering garments beneath breathable waders for added warmth. Here, Elliott Maas (left) wore breathable waders with fleece pants while his buddy, a new hunter who shot his first drake mallards on this morning, wore neoprene waders to stay warm and dry.

As October turns to November in Minnesota — diver duck time! — when the key to pulling the trigger is finding the last open water, the comfort provided by heavily insulated neoprene waders can’t be beat. During late-season waterfowl hunts, my son and I will both be wearing thick neoprene waders.

At the conclusion of this waterfowl season, I’ll write a follow-up article that covers the durability question for both of my new waders. I’m confident that the thick neoprene ones will be durable, but will the breathable model stand up to abuse? I think they will, but the only way to know for sure is to torture- test them in the field. I’ll keep you posted.

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