Waterfowl hunters know they have their own unique suite of challenges when selecting the proper set of waders. Before the first deke can be set, it’s imperative they are fully confident that their waders are up to the challenge. This guide will empower you with the knowledge to easily identify the ideal waders for your next waterfowl hunting quest.
There’s Unique Shopping Criteria for Waterfowl Waders
All hunters face trials, but waterfowl hunters pursue their quarry in some of the most extreme conditions Mother Nature has to offer. From enduring sleet storms, to busting through ice sheets, to plowing through dense stands of reeds, to sliding in and out of jon boats, waterfowl hunters put their equipment through some of the toughest tests outdoorspeople can imagine. The waders these hunters wear are tasked with taking on the brunt of that punishment and must be built to withstand such harsh environments without failing. That's why the waders you select for your next waterfowl hunt need to be designed with extreme conditions in mind—so you aren't left stranded in your cold, flooded waders with an empty game bag while your buddies boast about harvesting their limits.
The Optimal Wader Materials
One of the most important factors in choosing which waders to bring to the blind is the material from which they are constructed. Not just any fabric will suffice for waterfowl hunting. The most critical concerns your waders must address are your hunting environment and body protection. Three primary factors you should consider when assessing your environment are…
These elements will dictate your hunting style and, therefore, your wader selection. When cold temps meet chest-high water depths, ill-prepared situations can go downhill quickly. Luckily, you found this guide, and you’ll be armed with the expertise to confidently purchase waders that will not let you down in those kinds of conditions.
Highly important—your waders will need to be waterproof! Water-resistant materials simply won’t suffice when you’re setting up decoys in chest high water. Even if you don’t plan on walking out into the water, you’ll still be better off with a proven waterproof textile. You’re better safe than sorry, a light drizzle can soak into materials that are only water-resistant in a just short amount of time. This narrows thing down for us and leaves only a few options worth considering for waterfowl hunting.
PVC Coated Polyester
The budget-oriented selection is PVC coated polyester. Though waterproof, the downside of this material is susceptibility to tears. Tears aside, PVC coated polyester also tends to crack and break down through extended use. Another deterrent is that it lacks the insulating properties waterfowl hunters need when temperatures approach and drop below freezing. If you don’t expect extreme cold, and you’re looking for a deal, this material will do the job—just be prepared to replace them eventually.
The most common and preferred material is the tried-and-true neoprene. Neoprene has long been the go-to material for most waterfowl hunting waders because it is reliably waterproof while also delivering proven insulating properties. The heat retention capabilities vary by the thickness of the neoprene, so you’ll have no problem finding a pair of waders that suit your climate and hunting style.
The premium option is a neoprene construction that incorporate the benefits of other materials as well. Thinsulate™ Insulation, which is highly effective while also being thinner than neoprene, is one of the more commonly integrated additions, so you get supreme thermoregulation capabilities while also getting a thinner overall design for improved mobility. Another common addition is a moisture wicking material to improve breathability. Afterall, neoprene is waterproof in both directions, so a moisture wicking layer is beneficial for keeping the inside of your waders dry. Waders made of these pairing are sure to leave you warm, dry, and comfortable for those nasty weather days in the field.
How Much Insulation Do You Need?
When it comes to insulation, the correct amount is the amount that keeps you warm without causing you to overheat and sweat. Many days will start off frigid in the mornings but quickly warm up to balmy temperatures by early afternoon. The secret to proper heat retention and comfort is several thin layers of clothing underneath your waders. The ability to add and remove layers as necessary is crucial to being able to stay in the blind for extended periods.
Before purchasing your dedicated waterfowl hunting waders, it’s important to have a good understanding of the local climate where you’ll be hunting. When in doubt, we recommend targeting a pair of waders that incorporate at least 600-gram Thinsulate™ Insulation. That will be enough to keep you warm without causing overheating while also encouraging you to add loose layers underneath your waders for the most extreme weather days.
The Best Fit for the Task at Hand
No matter what you wear them for, fit is vital to the performance of waders. The ideal waders for waterfowl hunting will have stretch and adjustability in the waist and chest area, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for those features.
Adjustability in those two areas allows you to layer thin, loose clothing underneath for personalized thermoregulation as the temperature fluctuates. Furthermore, the ability to cinch your waders around your unique physique will help prevent water from flooding over and into your waders when wading out into the water.
Bootfoot Over Stockingfoot
Almost all dedicated waterfowl hunters will go with one-piece bootfoot waders as opposed to stockingfoot waders that require you to also purchase wading boots. Bootfoot waders are the clear-cut winner in this category due to their simplicity, ruggedness, and better insulating properties.
Like most outdoor gear that has its pros and cons, stockingfoot waders have their benefits. They are usually paired with wading boots though, and therein lies the problem. Wading boots are less than ideal for waterfowl hunting because…
- They are typically designed to allow water to flow through them, thereby reducing the heat retention properties of the stockings underneath. Nothing ends a hunt more quickly than cold feet in freezing temperatures.
- The laces on the wading boots are more likely to snag hidden underwater debris as compared to the smooth surface of bootfoot waders.
- They are more likely to be pulled off your feet in mucky substrate than bootfoot waders.
Sizing the Boots for a Great Fit
No pressure or anything but getting your wader boot size correct for waterfowl hunting can make or break your comfort level for the entire hunt.
Pro-Tip: Try your waders on with the socks you intend to where while hunting to ensure that the boots fit correctly and comfortably when in action.
Boots that are too big are more likely to lead to blisters and get stuck in the muck. While boots that are too tight will reduce your socks’ additive insulating properties and lead to sore feet.
The final thing to consider when selecting waterfowl hunting waders is the tread on the boots. If you find yourself torn between two options that both fit well and have the features you desire, we recommend going with the pair that has the more aggressive tread. An aggressive boot tread will give you improved traction when stepping on the edges of jon boats, hiking through mucky marshes, and navigating over unseen obstacles below the water’s surface.
Optional Features You May Want for Your Waders
Many waterfowl hunting waders can appear similar until you take a deeper dive into the finer details that help delineate the more mediocre options from the true premium selections.
Strategically placed waterproof pockets incorporated into the construction are great for stashing the items you like to keep handy but dry, i.e. gloves, snacks, and hand calls.
Reinforced seams offer improved leak prevention and safeguard you from unexpected seepage during those days that force you to stay in the blind longer than normal. Reinforced seams are manufactured through any combination of extra stitching, an added layer of the primary material, an added layer of an alternative material, or chemically with a waterproofing agent.
Reinforced friction-prone areas, like knees and elbows, will prolong the life of your waterfowl hunting waders. Reinforcing high-wear areas can do a lot in the way of adding longevity. Target areas for reinforcement are generally focused below the waist where your waders will be sliding, dragging, and bulldozing through brush and boat edges. This usually means the knees, seat, and shins. Similar to seams, reinforcement can be achieved through added layers of the primary material or a tougher alternative material.
Ease of adjustment is a major benefit, especially when cold temperatures relegate you to using gloves. Large straps, buckles, zippers, and cinches will be greatly appreciated when your fingers lose dexterity.
Smooth surfaces with minimal crevices where muck and debris can get lodged makes a pair of waders much easier to clean. Keeping your waders clean in-between hunts will pay dividends in multiple ways. First, clean waders will promote better thermoregulation than dirty waders, so a pair you can keep clean will definitly be beneficial to you. Second, if you can clean your waders more easily, then they’re more likely to last longer. Waders you can’t keep clean are more likely to experience cracks, mold, and deteriorated stitching.
Avoid UV reflection by opting for a darker camouflage pattern. When taking into consideration the visual capabilities of waterfowl, reduced UV reflection turns out to be more important than donning a pattern that appears to blend-in (based solely on human visual perception). Darker colors tend to reflect less UV wavelengths than lighter colors, and the more UV is reflected by an object, the more likely a waterfowl is to visibly perceive it. Rather than relying on the pattern of your waders to help you blend in, it’s typically more effective to utilize natural materials from your surroundings to conceal your location and shape. So, don’t waste time searching for the exact camo match—focus on finding a darker color, regardless of the pattern.
Recommendations from the Experts at Waders.com
Weighing all the advice and considerations we outlined above, these are the top-rated waders that we fully endorse for waterfowl hunting. We broke down our suggestions by typical size and shape classes, as well as by price point.
Waterfowl Hunting Waders for Men
Premium Selection - Gator Waders® Insulated Breathable Shield Series
If you’re searching for the best, then look no further than the Gator Waders Shield Series waders. These waders are available in a variety of camo patterns and were designed with the dedicated waterfowl hunter in mind. The Neo/Flex design allows variable layering underneath and ensures the waders hug the contours of your body rather than irregularly collapse when underwater. Thermal cotton insulation in the body portion and 1600-gram Thinsulate™ Insulation in the boots mean you’ll stay warm when temperatures drop below freezing. A magnetic chest pocket, 6 magnum shell holder sleeve, and fleece lined hand warmer pocket are just a few of the creature comforts these waders bring to the blind.
Great Value – Caddis® 1200g Hybrid Durabreathable Wader-Max-5
These 5-star rated waders are an excellent choice for the experienced waterfowl hunter who wants dedicated hunting waders for an affordable price. With breathable, waterproof polyester above the waist and DuraStretch neoprene below the waist, dryness and comfort will remain with you all day. These waders incorporate all the best premium features such as reinforced knees, a lined hand-warmer pocket, large hip cargo pockets, and a built-in easy-access shell-looped ammo pocket. For those who love hunting in cold, nasty weather, these waders are constructed with 1200-gram Thinsulate™ Insulation boots, and aggressively knobby cleated outsoles. As a bonus, these waders come in a variety of weight and height size options, such as Stout, so you can find the perfect fit.
Budget Friendly Option – Frogg Toggs® Amphib 3.5mm Neoprene Cleated Bootfoot Chest Waders
Designed to keep you in the field, this bib-style wader's 3.5mm neoprene upper with high-back design is great for deep wading or float tube use. The boot is bolstered with 200 grams of Thinsulate®Insulation for optimum warmth in cold-weather conditions. With features like bib-style suspenders with hook-and-loop adjustments, fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, reinforced neoprene knee pads, and 3.5mm neoprene booties with sliding gravel guards, these waders get the job done—and then some.
Incredible Savings – ArcticShield® Heat Echo Select XT Breathable Chest Wader
Looking for a deal? Well, while supplies last, these clearance-priced waders are an excellent option for waterfowl hunting. Constructed with 3-ply polyester Taslan material, they’re 100% waterproof with quilted insulation for added warmth. This allows you to retain active breathable heat retention throughout the body and legs. Among other valuable features, these waders boast full-length chaps over the boots, a reinforced seat area, a two-way chest pocket with a hand warmer and extra security pocket, and adjustable zippered side panels.
Waterfowl Hunting Waders for Women
Premium Selection – Gator Waders® Women’s Insulated Breathable Shield Series
Just like the men’s version, there were no holds barred when these impressive women’s waders were designed. Available in several different camouflage patterns, they incorporate all the best features that we’ve discussed. The rib gusset allows a perfect fit for each unique waist and chest shape, the breathable construction allows controlled thermoregulation while being completely waterproof, and the reinforced high-wear areas ensure these waders will last several seasons of heavy use.
Great Value – Frogg Toggs® Women & Youth Grand Refuge 2.0 Cleated Bootfoot Chest Waders
A popular style in men’s sizes, these waders are appropriate for both women and youth. With a zippered, removable 120-gram insulated liner, they’re considered multi-climate and feature a breathable construction. The upper portion is made from 4-ply polyester, while the boots have heavy duty 1200-gram Thinsulate® insulation with cleated outsoles and wool felt midsoles.
Waterfowl Hunting Waders for Youth
Premium Selection – Frogg Toggs® Women & Youth Grand Refuge 2.0 Cleated Bootfoot Chest Waders
We just covered these waders in the above section, because they are sized for youth as well as women. In addition to the features already outlined, these waders have an adjustable wading belt and locking buckle for added safety and comfort.
Budget Friendly Option – Gator Waders® Youth Series Neoprene Waders
Gator Waders® took their best technology and shrunk it down to design these youth waders that offer all the benefits of adult waders in a slightly smaller package. Made with 3.5mm neoprene to keep kids dry and comfortable in just about any condition. Plus, the boot tread was inspired by mud-tires, so it’s as aggressive as can be! (Coming soon in Fall 2021.)
Now that you’re a full-blown waterfowl hunting waders expert, go forth and find your perfect pair of waders. If you follow the guidance in this article, you and your new waders may just enjoy some of the best hunting seasons you've ever had. Happy hunting!