What is in a pair of waders?

Studying up on waders

It is still a bit chilly outside. Many fishing trips start around the crack of dawn. By the time you reach your fishing spot your lucky if it is above 50 this time of year. Every breath you take is followed by an fog induced exhale proving yet again it is too cold for a normal person to be standing in a body of water. But we are fishermen after all, and not just fishermen, we are fly fishermen and a little cold doesn't stop us. For we know that even when the weather, odds, daylight hours, etc are stacked against us, there are still fish to be caught, memories to be made, and stories to be told. Now you are up, at your fishing spot, and about to take your first step into frigid water. The last thing you want to worry about is if your waders have a leak in them. When you buy a pair of waders you really want them to do two things, be comfortable, and more importantly keep you dry.

With so many brands, types, and styles of waders out there it is difficult to shift through what is going to last and what isn't. A good pair of waders should last quite a few seasons of hard fishing, and many brands on the market do. But lets face it nowadays most fisherman look at waders and try to decide between Simms and the other guys. For good reason too, Simms has long been the industry leader in wader sales, mostly do to a special material called Gore-Tex. Big Y has played with the idea of bringing in Simms, which spawned a research effort in order to find what is the deal with Gore-Tex, why is it better, and how is it different. Without going into a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo (that will only make my head hurt trying to coherently type it, and your head hurt feverishly trying to understand) we will look at what we figured out and hopefully leave you the reader better informed for your next wader purchase.

Now the concept of breathable waterproof waders has been around, a lot longer than I have, and a lot longer than you might image. It all started with a small company in the 1960s called W.L. Gore and Associates, their primary product was cable coating known as polytetrafluroethylene (PTFE). William Gore's son, Bob took some of this stuff home and started playing with it. He figured out that with the right force PTFE could be stretched into a near weightless transparent film. They called this expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), which is the same stuff you have on your frying pan to keep food from sticking.

So what is ePTFE and why do we care? ePFTE is essentially the smallest meshing in the world, so small a single liquid molecule of H2O cannot pass through it. What is more interesting is that the mesh is big enough to allow a molecule of of water vapor pass through it. Hence the term waterproof breathable waders.

From here W.L. Gore and Associates went through more testing, and by the 1980s they had patented this special membrane labeled Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex became the leading material in the outdoor industry for any and all gear needing to be waterproof and breathable. W.L. Gore and Associates licensed it to several apparel manufacturers under the condition Gore-Tex labeling was included. However, this is where things get a little more interesting. A man by the name of K.C. Walsh bought the neoprene wader company called Simms from John Simms in 1993. That same year they released the first pair of breathable waterproof waders. Of course, at the time fisherman still favored their neoprene waders, neoprene itself was revolutionary not too many years previous, and Simms went through many pitfalls trying to get the waders just right. However, with every failure the waders became better and by the late 1990s Simms was a wader producing superpower.

In 1997 the patent on Gore-Tex expired. Everyone and their mother with a foot in the wader business scrambled to find an alternative to this magical Gore-Tex material. Of course they all too had their pitfalls only furthering to cement the fact that Simms makes the greatest waders on the market. However we are almost two decades from that point now and a few things have happened that make you scratch your head and think.

One thing we have found to be the most confusing is this. If Gore-Tex is truly the best material to make waders out of than why does Patagonia not use it? Surely if you are an outdoors enthusiast than you know Patagonia makes just about everything imaginable for the outdoors with Gore-Tex, except their fishing apparel. Now one can assume that Simms made a killer deal to allow them to be the only company selling fishing apparel with licensed Gore-Tex material. But, Patagonia says they do not believe it is the best material on the market to make fishing apparel with. According to Patagonia the material they use is truly the best on the market. Luckily for us, that material is also the same material many other wader companies out their use. It is a material called monolithic polyurthane membrane with microporous polyurethane coating.

So monolithich polyurthane membrane with microporous poylurethane coating..... WTF is that! Basically it is the response to Gore-Tex, which some say is a better product. According to Patagonia this material is stretchier, and can sustain a small puncture (say from a thorn on a black berry bush you are walking through). In fact Patagonia goes as far to say that small punctures are even self healing (yeah, not sure how that works, far above my pay grade), but you have to assume that if Patagonia chooses to use this material over Gore-Tex there has to be some truth to it.

Now you have made it this far, first off congrats, second off I promise we are wrapping this up soon.

I like to think of this giant cluster of wader material as this. Either you love your Ford F-150, the most popular truck in the USA, and the one other guys have been competing with for decades, or you don't. It is that simple. What we find truly important when purchasing a pair of waders is how they are constructed and how they fit.

For construction, many wader companies out there are making waders in multi layers, with legs, butt, and areas of high stress with extra layers, ie 4 or 5 layer construction.  Additionally seam placement and how the seam are held together are additionally important. One of the companies out there on the cutting edge of seam construction in waders was Orvis, they have patented a process with using sound waves, that allows them to weld seams together instead of stitch. I'm not a rocket scientist, but I think its pretty obvious that material welded together has proven to be a better way to hold materials together than stitching. It is just basic construction common sense, even if you use seam tape and glue your stitches afterwards you are still punching hundreds of tiny holes in your waders. Luckily Orvis hasn't been greedy with this newfound technology and has happily licensed it to Redington (which we proudly carry). Redington's Sonic-Pro waders were named this due to that process. It is believed that sonic welded waders adds strength to the seams and reducing the chance of seam failure.

How they fit. Now we are fishermen, this isn't a fashion show, more hours on the water equals more fish to be landed. The only way to truly know if a pair of waders are the correct fit for you is if you try them on. I recently had a customer come into our showroom who we outfitted with a pair of waders. We put this guy in four different sizes before finding the size that fit best. We found that the size most closely matching his dimensions was actually a size too small. The customer wanted that small size, and granted he probably looked better in that tighter size. However, he had a little less room in the legs, and feet than I would personally prefer. I pointed out to him that pinched feet and leg mobility are huge concerns on the water, especially when lots of walking and/or climbing in and out of a boot come into play. It finally came down to this, one would rather have too much room in the crotch and feet than too little. That customer has since come back and couldn't be happier with his purchase (he ended up getting a pair of Redington HDZ and Korker Darkhorse Boots).

The conclusion. If you are a Simms guy, and have the cash to drop $699.95 on the Simms G4 waders you are probably going to do so and will be perfectly happy with your purchase. For those who aren't as brand loyal or fortuante to have the extra cash laying around, I would keep this in mind. Simms never has, and most likely never will, posted their test results for breatheability and waterproofness (something that can found if enough research is done on almost all other brands). Patagonia chooses not to use Gore-Tex in their waders, and while this might not be a choice, they stand firmly behind the stance that their material is better for fishing apparel (and it is pretty much the same material most other companies are using too). Simms now sells a low end pair of waders made of Toray material (yep they too are making waders out of that same monolithich polyurthane membrane with microporous poylurethane coating stuff). And finally I personally have been wearing a pair of waders we got as a demo from China, they are stitched seams and not made of Gore-Tex. They lasted a total of 4 seasons, without needing a single patch until this last winter and were finally retired a couple weeks ago.



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The Blog of Big Y Fly Co: What is in a pair of waders?
What is in a pair of waders?
The Blog of Big Y Fly Co
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