Women's gear, up first
Women's gear, up first
In a world full of ill-fitting women’s gear, fishing waders take the prize for being the most poorly cut. For decades, manufacturers produced only men’s waders, which look like sacks and hinder movement with their reams of excess fabric.
Even the women’s waders that started to hit the market nearly ten years ago missed the mark. “One of the most common complaints we hear is that the majority of women’s waders are simply men’s waders scaled down to fit a smaller form,” says John Frazier, community specialist at Simms Fishing Products.
When I first got into fishing, I had to resign myself to wearing truly awful gear that reminded me, at every step, “This sport is not for you.” The fact that I stuck with it is a real testament to fishing’s allure. It hooked me, so I endured my public appearances in clownlike garb.
Now, though, several manufacturers are devoting real resources and energy to designing great women’s waders. The result is that female anglers have several models to choose from that each offer a dialed fit and reliable functionality.
The bad news? They’re not cheap. All are on the high-performance end of the spectrum, so women looking for entry-level waders still find few options. The best is Redington’s Willow River Wader ($160), which comes in nine sizes (including short, full, and long versions). As a simplified version of the Women’s Sonic-Pro ($300, see full review below), it lacks the fancy seaming that spendier waders use to achieve a ladies’ fit, but it’s better than other similarly priced models.
Women who fish a lot and who are willing to spend more on a great fit should consider the following standouts, all new this summer.
Sizes offered: Nine (including short, tall, and full)
Best for: Daylong wear
Redington has tried to solve the crappy-women’s-waders problem for a few years, but this season’s Sonic-Pro is the company’s best solution yet. Stretch panels on the sides of the bib make it easy to pull these waders over hips and boobs. Those panels also do a great job of adapting to various chest sizes. They create a body-hugging, streamlined bib that’s much less flappy and gappy than most waders, yet they also expand to accommodate larger breast sizes.
The cut through the legs is also fairly body-hugging, so the Sonic-Pro fits more like your favorite pair of jeans than the balloon-style waders of yesteryear. Even the soft nylon-twill face fabric feels like denim rather than plastic. It’s quiet when I walk and—I can’t believe I’m about to say this—comfy when I’m just hanging out, sipping a beer on the tailgate. I don’t feel compelled to yank these waders off the moment I leave the river.
That speaks to their breathability. I have yet to find waders that truly feel cool and comfortable after hours of wear in hot weather, but these do a decent job of keeping sweat to tolerable levels—especially considering that the four-layer construction emphasizes durability over airiness.
Even the booties fit well, with anatomic curves for left and right feet. The women’s version of the Sonic-Pro uses thicker neoprene than the men’s, since our feet tend to run colder. “After field testing, we learned that we should use a four-millimeter neoprene sock for the booties, since women’s circulatory systems often function a bit differently than men’s,” says Nicole Labrie, Redington’s wader designer.
Sizes offered: 13 (including short, tall, and full)
Best for: Daily abuse
I used to envy men’s waders for their cool features, like zippered bibs and fly pouches. Older iterations of the women’s G3 wader lacked such niceties—but this season’s updated G3 Guide finally gives me the kind of built-in tool ports I’ve always wanted. There’s a flip-out pocket sewn into the bib that can hold spools of tippet, a bag of split shot, and even a retractor to leash a hemostat. That keeps my most needed stuff at my fingertips and lets me store everything else behind me in a sling or hip pack.
Simms also improved the waders’ fit, which was already pretty good (though the thigh seams did have a tendency to bind across my legs and inhibit full freedom of movement). The newest version, on the other hand, fits like a custom-sewn garment. “We want our waders to fit women more like a tailored dress or suit,” says Frazier of Simms.
The G3 Guide, designed and sewn in the U.S., is definitely the heaviest and thickest of the women’s waders I’ve tested. Its four-layer fabric sandwich includes a layer of Gore-Tex Pro Shell for long-lasting waterproof performance, so these waders stand up to hard use but feel overbuilt for light-duty sessions. I wouldn’t expect most dabblers to spend $500 on a pair of waders, but for guides and diehards, these are a perfect match.
Sizes offered: 14 (including three lengths)
Best for: All-weather wear
This year, Orvis announced its goal to boost women’s fishing participation and close the sport’s gender gap by 2020. That’s something like a 30 percent increase in just two years, but Orvis is taking a multipronged approach: the 50/50 on the Water initiative includes offering women’s fishing instruction, women’s trips, and better gear. The new Ultralight Convertible Wader is evidence of that commitment.
Like Redington and Simms, Orvis has trimmed the fit of its waders to be less baggy and more flattering. That also makes them more durable, says Orvis’s marketing manager Tom Rosenbauer. “Excess fabric gets bunched up in creases that weaken the fabric and make leaks more likely,” he says. A better fit isn’t all about vanity; it’s also about the gear’s longevity.
I love the design of the suspenders, which makes it easy to drop the bib and convert the waders into pants. Most waders have some kind of similar contrivance, but the Ultralight’s requires far less futzing. This is my favorite model for hot days: if I can’t wet-wade, these waders are my next best option. True to the name, the four-layer construction is light and doesn’t feel oppressive in most temperatures. Yet when I was fishing during ice-out this past spring, I stayed plenty warm by boosting the insulation with an extra layer underneath.
I also like the smart, streamlined tool features on the bib. There’s a patch on the suspenders for clipping on a hemostat, and a small fly patch and tool port on the chest pocket. Together they offer extremely low-bulk storage for the stuff I reach for most often.