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Buying good-fitting breathable waders is a barrier to women taking up fly fishing.
Once you’ve got a rod, reel and line, the next big decision is what to wear to keep warm and dry.
If it’s summer, shorts paired with boots or shoes (that don’t mind being wet) are an easy option.
But come to the end of summer, shorter days and colder water, it isn’t easy to contemplate a day on the river without suitable gear.
Breathable waders are obvious the solution to keeping warm and dry when fly fishing. They are lightweight, comfortable, durable and flexible enough to be worn over multiple layers for warmth when needed.
But how do you choose the right-sized waders?
Why choosing women’s waders is difficult
Firstly, we ladies come in multiple shapes and sizes; added to this, our shape changes as we go through life.
Secondly, the number of wading manufacturers selling models for women still needs to grow, despite the increasing numbers of women partaking in freshwater fishing.
It’s great to see the increasing number of manufacturers of women’s breathable waders includes a brand (founded by a woman) called Miss Mayfly.
I’m still determining the situation everywhere, but here in New Zealand, few fly fishing retailers offer a wide selection of women’s waders.
And if you are lucky enough to live near a retailer that holds women’s waders in their stock, they will only have limited brands and sizes.
The result. Most women purchase their breathable waders online. And that’s not easy.
The reality is only some women will even buy trousers without trying them on.
Waders have more complications as they need not only to fit our waist, bums and legs but also our feet and chest.
Breathable waders – why the right size matters
Getting a pair of breathable waders the right size makes for a relaxing day so you can quickly negotiate the physical obstacles on and around the river.
Clambering over rocks and fences is a hazard of fly fishing rivers on foot. Then there’s the wading and casting involved in trying to catch fish.
Breathable waders are constructed from multiple layers of breathable materials bonded together, designed to let the moisture created by our bodies out while not letting water in.
The fabric’s ability to breathe relies on wearing internal layers that wick the moisture away from your skin. Wicking relies on the use of technical synthetic materials or my sustainability favorite, merino wool.
The amount of layers of clothes you wear under your breathable waders depends on the climate.
In mid-winter, that means enough base layers to keep you warm in the coldest river, while in milder temperatures, it may only be a light pair of leggings and a t-shirt.
The fabrics in breathable waders are not usually stretchy, so getting the right amount of roominess will make a big difference to your comfort when walking, kneeling and casting.
But if waders are too long or loose, multiple folds of material will bunch around your body, legs or ankles, making walking difficult and tiring.
In addition, the longevity of the waders depends on the type of construction and how areas, such as inner leg seams, do or do not rub each other, creating wear which ultimately results in holes where the water will get in.
Here's How to Choose a Wading Staff for a Woman.
Different types of waders
The cheaper wading alternative to breathable waders manufactured from synthetic fabrics (nylon) but they don’t breathe!
These fabrics are often stiffer than breathable fabric, which means they are less comfortable, as well as less effective in cold conditions.
Also, coming off the river on hot days with a pool of sweat inside your waders is clammy and ultimately smelly.
Neoprene waders are another option.
The insulating properties of neoprene waders make them outstanding in freezing weather. But they are heavier and usually come with rubber boots attached.
The bootfoot waders are less comfortable than the wading boots used with breathable waders, which come with neoprene booties that fit inside wading boots which means a better fit and more adjustment.
Wet wading in summer is a great option.
It’s called wet wading, requiring a pair of wading boots worn with porous neoprene wading socks. The socks allow your feet to get wet, much like a surfing wet suit, which is fine in warmer temperatures.
Here's my complete Guide to Wading Boot Laces.
Choosing the right size breathable waders for women
All breathable wading manufacturers will publish a sizing chart. The manufacturer’s website is the first place to go for sizing help when buying waders.
All the major brands have between 8 and 13 different-sized women’s waders, with the best brands having more.
But since only a very few retailers will carry this many women’s models, it pays to measure yourself and check online before entering the tackle shop.
Try some on, but don’t rely on finding the perfect pair in that store. You will likely find the best fly fishing waders online.
To get the perfect fit, take the time to measure yourself carefully or get a friend to help.
Boot size (This is your standard shoe size.)
(Measure each of these at the widest point.)
Inner leg seam
Allow for winter layers
If you plan to wear thick winter layers under the breathable waders, it’s an excellent option to allow more room for comfort by going up a size.
Miss Mayfly describes their various models for each body shape as Slim, Curvy, Full, Plus and Supreme, and also how to increase size depending on what layers you wear beneath the waders.
Here's my Beginner's Guide to Wading for Women.
The differences between men’s and women’s waders
These are all reasons for not buying a unisex or men’s breathable wader, which is highly unlikely to not you a proper fit.
- The proportions between men’s and women’s bodies and legs are different.
- On average, women’s legs are proportionally shorter than men’s.
- Men have larger feet, meaning the waders’ bootie will be oversized.
- Men are on average taller than women, meaning the body and inner leg length will be longer on average.
Manufacturers make fewer sizes of breathable waders for men, who tend to have a more similar body type.
How to get the perfect fit with a great pair of waders
Don’t be tempted to save money by buying the first pair of breathable waders you see.
Even entry-level waders are only worth it if they are comfortable and durable.
Breathable waders for female anglers are a significant investment.
But if you do your research and buy in the highest price range you can afford, your first pair of waders will last a long time of hard use.
Focus on size first
Once you have the size right, you can spend time on other decisions such as the style of wader, e.g chest or waist-high?
Also, the choice of specific features such as gravel guards, handwarmer pockets, a chest pocket, a waterproof flip-out pocket for your phone, and the best type of suspender system for ease of use during those toilet stops.
But none of these things matter if the waders are not comfortable.
And that means size matters!