Saturday, January 12, 2013


      Before this year, I had never owned a pair of waders.

It’s not that I didn’t want a pair, but that I was warned that the money I would spend would quickly be rendered worthless by my growing feet.  This Christmas though, my parents found it in their hearts to help extend my fishing season by granting me a pair of chest waders and boots.  Naturally, the first thing I wanted to do was field test them.  So come New Year’s Day, braving 40-degree water temperatures and forecasts of rain and sleet, my brother and I packed up the fishing gear and headed for the river; but what was I to wear under them?  After some quick research, here’s what I found.


      Cold feet are not fun, period.  As a general rule, don’t wear cotton anything.  Under a pair of heavy wool socks and the neoprene booties attached to your waders, feet tend to sweat; and the natural, water-logging quality of fibrous cotton will do its best to make your feet feel damp and uncomfortable in such a situation, cutting your cold-weather outing surprisingly short.  To combat this, invest in a pair of synthetic, wicking socks to use as a liner.  Your heavy wool socks should cover these as insulation.

      Making sure your feet are well taken care of is essential, but over-dressing them can present certain hazards.  If several layers of socks prevent your wading boots from fitting, if they’re too snug or tight, you risk losing circulation in your feet, in which case they will get cold and possibly injured regardless.  If your boots are too tight with the aforementioned layers of socks, they are too small.


      Waders offer your legs less protection than they do to your feet.  Again, a moisture-wicking base layer is a key detail.  On top of this should go a mid-weight layer for insulation.  Consider sweatpants, fleece, or jeans depending on the temperature.


      The same rules should be followed when dressing your upper body as with dressing your feet and legs—moisture-removing base and multiple insulating layers depending on temperature.
I do recommend wearing a jacket—a wading jacket, rain coat, or anything with a water-resistant outer shell—to prevent your arms from getting wet.  The first time I fished in waders in cold water, I wore a fleece jacket as my outer layer.  As I ventured into deeper water, my elbows occasionally got wet when reaching for my fly line and net, quickly chilling them. 

      As an aside, provided your waders have a waist belt, tightening it and wearing a water-resistant shell will partially spare your feet, lower body, and upper body in the event of an icy dunk.


      My hands got wet too.  I brought gloves, but left them in the car—a bad mistake.  Cold hands, bare hands, can make a person miserable if it’s cold enough, and should be avoided.  Even if you don’t plan on getting your hands wet, cover them with a pair of gloves that don’t restrict your fishing capabilities.  Mine are a pair of fingerless fleece gloves from White River Fly Shop, and, in very cold weather, I wear a thinner pair from Under Armour under them.


      Your head is outlet of much of your body’s heat, and should be given special consideration when dressing.  In situations when the air and water both read in the mid-40s or higher, this may simply mean wearing your everyday felt or cotton hat.  Other days, when the air is colder and dry, a stocking hat will serve you well.  However, when the sky is, or may, spit precipitation, a hat with an outer layer of nylon, canvas, polyester, or a waxed or oiled material that will not become waterlogged is essential.  Take these things into consideration when choosing headwear.

      In the end, be prepared.  The Boy Scout motto says it well.  Never rule out the possibility of a wintry dunk—always pack extra clothes.  Apply common knowledge and sense while dressing for a winter wading trip, and you should be plenty warm enough to be comfortable, warm, and thoroughly enjoy your adventure afield.

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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