Head to Head: High and Dry
Breathable waders for every budget.
1. L.L. Bean West Branch
_$170; 800-441-5713; llbean.com _
The lower third portion of these waders is tough enough to withstand hiking on the thorniest trail. Three generous loops keep the belt in place. And on the front, a soft, lined pocket provides a comfortable place to rest your hands.** Best Features:** With 11 different sizes and articulated knees, the fit is great. **Points to Ponder: **It sacrifices some breathability due to the extra layering.
2. Patagonia Watermaster LT
_$225; 800-638-6464; patagonia.com _
One of the lightest waders Patagonia has ever made, this simple, no-frills version is deceptively durable and weighs in at a mere 36 ounces. Supple to the touch, the LT has a cut that’s roomy enough to leave you plenty comfortable as you row the drift boat.** Best** Features: It has a great fit in the legs and crotch and breathes better than many we tested. Points to Ponder: They only come in five sizes.
3. Simms RiverTek **
_$279; 406-585-3557; simmsfishing.com _
This pair of waist-highs converts into full chest waders in seconds for deep crossings. The section above the belt line is made from a light rip-stop breathable nylon that comfortably tucks out of the way. **Best Features: **You get guide-proven construction, and a great belt system that stays adjusted. **Points to Ponder: The narrow shoulder strap was a little uncomfortable.
4. Cabela’s Dry-Plus G-II
_$100; 800-237-4444; cabelas.com _
If you’re fishing less than 40 days a year and not trekking through nasty brush to get to the river, consider these waders. They are the lightest of all the models tested. Best Features: **The three-layer laminate expels more perspiration than heavier constructions, and the price is sweet. **Points to Ponder: They’re not as durable as some other models.
5. Hodgman Guidelite Zipper
_$300; 630-879-7555; hodgman.com _
Coffee drinkers, pay attention: Unlike other zippered waders that practically require a pair of pliers to open, these Hodgmans are effortless to unzip. A back-brace-style belt makes it a little easier to stand in the river all day. Best Features: **This smartly designed wader is exceptionally durable. **Points to Ponder: The price is steep-but hey, when you’ve got to go…
Breathable waders are just like breathable rain jackets: To work effectively, they have to be clean. After every 15 days of use, machine-wash them with warm water in the gentle cycle. Do not use a granular detergent; use Sport Wash or Revivex Fabric Cleaner. Toss them in the dryer inside out for 10 minutes and then reverse them and dry for another 10.
I took a nymph tied on a size 10 laser-sharpened hook and knotted it to a piece of mono. Then I hung the full weight of the waders from the hook at the knee to see if it would create a leak. After placing each pair of waders on the hook, I gave the mono a hard tug. All of them passed with no leaks.