WOMEN SOMETIMES HAVE very limited choices of hunting and fishing gear. Size and fit are the biggest problem areas, as some manufacturers shy away from making female-specific lines because it's not cost effective. Such is not the case in the wader business, however, and we found no shortage of ladies' sizes. The question is, are these waterproof-breathable waders as tough, functional, and well designed as those made for men? Our panel of women rated four of the latest models, testing them in tough winter conditions, while stream fishing for trout, smallmouth bass, salmon, and steelhead. Two testers also did pressure tests in bathtubs, checking for leaks. Although they considered features such as pockets and suspenders, the main focus was on fit and durability. Manufacturers were asked to supply stocking-foot models that sell for no more than $200. Two companies chose to submit products that cost less than $150. Testers wore their own boots. Here's what they found.
BEST OF THE TEST
 HODGMAN WOMEN'S CLASSIC ALL PURPOSE ($146) [4½ Stars]
THE LOWDOWN These waders come in five sizes, with heavy reinforcements in the seat and knees. There are two outer zippered pockets and three tippet-dispensing webbed pouches, all sewn onto a large fleece-lined hand-warming pocket, plus an inner security pocket. The suspenders are elastic.
Three of four testers gave the Hodgman top marks, citing value pricing, double fabric layers on the knees and seat, and the hand-warming pocket. Only Johnson rated the Cabela's higher. Some felt the wading belt could have been stronger, and the shoulder straps longer.
HITS "Great innovations, and it compares favorably to the waders costing $200." —GAHRINGER
MISSES "The suspenders are too short (I'm fairly tall) and don't adjust adequately." —JOHNSON
CONTACT 800-333-1179; stearnsinc.com/hodgman
"The seams were tidy, and there wasn't one loose thread." —MICHELLE MOLDOVEANU
 CABELA'S DRY-PLUS PREMIUM ($130) [4 Stars]
THE LOWDOWN The least expensive pair tested, Cabela's Dry-Plus membrane waders have been on the market for more than five years. Four women's sizes are available. Double-reinforced knees have an internal layer of neoprene, to make kneeling on hard surfaces more comfortable. The sides have gusseted straps, and the suspenders have a wide neoprene shoulder yoke for better weight distribution. There is one zippered pocket and the wading belt is removable.
Everyone liked the low price, and there were few complaints (the biggest being about the limited number of sizes). The wide suspenders and neoprene-lined shoulder straps earned points. Two testers rated these a close second to the Hodgman, and one ranked them first.
HITS "I would have paid for them with my own money. They're an extremely good deal." —MOLDOVEANU
MISSES "The cinch straps dangling on the side tend to snag fly lines." —VOGELSONG
CONTACT 800-237-4444; cabelas.com
"The padding in the knees is the best feature." —CHRIS JOHNSON
 SIMMS WOMEN'S FREESTONE ($200) [3½ Stars]
THE LOWDOWN Available in eight standard women's sizes, the Freestone has clean, no-snag, barely discernable seams. There is only one zippered pocket, and the heavy elastic suspenders are set in an X pattern on the back. A wading belt is included, and you also get a limited lifetime warranty. Of note is that the Simms custom shop will tailor your pair to your exact size for $50.
All the testers liked the supportive suspenders, streamlined gaiters, and sage-green two-tone color. Three of the women said that the booties were too short. Overall, the wader was well received, but it came up short in comparison with lower-priced entries that had more features.
HITS "They're very well made. I'm sure they'll last several seasons." —GAHRINGER
MISSES "I would have really liked a second layer at the knees and the seat for this price." —MOLDOVEANU
CONTACT 406-585-3557; simmsfishing.com
"Simple, sleek look with no bulk." —MARY VOGELSONG
 PATAGONIA WOMEN'S WATERMASTER LT ($200) [3 Stars]
THE LOWDOWN Fitted with articulated knees, the light, low-bulk Watermaster Lt features a drawstring top and a single zippered pocket for keys and license. The heavy-duty stretchable wading belt is secured by a large loop in the back. You can position the suspenders in an X pattern or straight over the shoulders. There are seven women's sizes.
The waders sent to both Vogelsong and Johnson leaked where the belt loop was sewn in at the upper back. Patagonia customer service replaced them within one week, unaware that they were being used in a FIELD & STREAM test. Some testers wished for reinforced fabric in heavy-wear areas. Everyone liked the practical wading belt.
HITS "A perfect choice for doing lots of walking on hot days." —MOLDOVEANU
MISSES "The material makes an annoying crunching sound when the temperature is below freezing." —GAHRINGER
CONTACT 800-638-6464; patagonia.com
"This wader leaked at the belt loop. The replacement pair leaked as well." —MARY VOGELSONG
ALL WET * DAMP ** LIGHT DUTY ONLY *** DRY AND TOUGH **** STEELHEADER'S DELIGHT *****
ERIN GAHRINGER, 37 HOME WATER: Kasilof River, Alaska ANNUAL DAYS ON THE WATER: 40
MICHELLE MOLDOVEANU, 24 HOME WATER: Rush River, Minn. ANNUAL DAYS ON THE WATER: 75
CHRIS JOHNSON, 51 HOME WATER: Pere Marquette River, Mich. ANNUAL DAYS ON THE WATER: 55
MARY VOGELSONG, 47 HOME WATER: Smith River, Va. ANNUAL DAYS ON THE WATER: 28