June 21, 2023
I laugh when my turkey and whitetail-hunting buddies complain about how much gear they drag into the woods for a hunt. I always extend an invitation for them to follow me into the swamp to see what “a lot of gear” really looks like … I still can’t seem to find anyone willing to roll out of bed before 3am…
It’s no secret that waterfowl hunting is gear intensive. It’s hard to get around it, and while you don’t have to go completely hog wild, there is a fair amount of gear required to make a hunt happen. After your shotgun, outerwear, duck calls, and a few decoys, you’ve got to find a way to get in and out of the water. And even if you own a retriever or a duck boat, owning a pair of dependable waders is most often still part of the game. It’s arguable that waders are one of the most important pieces of gear a waterfowler can own, because if we aren’t warm, dry, and comfortable, we won’t want to stay out there very long.
Maybe you’re here because you’re shopping for your first pair of waders, or maybe you’re looking to upgrade to a new high-tech pair. Either way, this guide will help you understand how to make your choice with confidence. As you read through, ask yourself these questions and do your best to understand how these products and their features will best suit you in your unique situation. Common questions and considerations include: where you live and what types of water and air temperatures and weather conditions you will most likely encounter, where will you be hunting from; a blind, a boat, or standing in a marsh, will you be doing a lot of walking, and what’s your budget? These are just a few that come to mind, but hopefully by the time you make it to the end of our guide, you’ll have a much better idea of what you need to get out of your duck hunting waders and can proceed to make a well-informed purchase.
Types of Duck Hunting Waders
It may seem obvious to many, but there are in fact a variety of types of waders for waterfowling, from hip to waist to chest, and even full body coverage.
For the hunter exploring shallow waters or never has to leave the comfort of their shore blind or duck boat, hip waders (hip boots) can be an easy option for those times when the water may only be up between their ankles and waist. If you’re not getting wet above the belt, there’s no need for extra protection from the water.
Editor’s tip: Hip waders can also be a great asset for retriever trainers getting in some reps with their duck dogs during the off-season or anyone who wants to pre-season scout and chase a few snipe around the marsh before opening day.
Waist waders are another option for those hunters who aren’t going into too deep of water. They can be insulated to provide all of the same function, less a few top-end features as their taller counterparts, or uninsulated and optimized for southern locales or early season sessions when staying warm isn’t a factor. They have a waist belt to keep the water out, rugged boot for walking and standing in water, and—maybe most importantly—will keep your rump dry if you plan to sit in a boat, blind, or somewhere wet.
Editor’s tip: Waist waders can also pull double duty when putting in the dock at duck camp, doing summer boat maintenance, or keep you comfy and dry on an off-season fishing outing.
The most common type of waders for duck hunters is typically a set of chest waders. Coming in both insulated and uninsulated options, chest waders offer the most functionality, features, and versatility for hunters across the flyways and throughout the season. Rugged, insulated boots prevent cold feet and provide superior traction when navigating through tangles of buck brush and thick cattails. Chest-high coverage will also keep the cold air, frozen mud, rain, sleet, and snow off of you and help you stay warm and dry in the slop. If you hunt a variety of water bodies at different water depths, chest waders just became your best bet. There are a ton of options in this category, available in a wide range of materials, sizes, and feature sets.
For tip to toe defense against the harsh elements, there are fullbody waders that can encapsulate your entire body. With maximum protection and concealment in mind, you’ll feel like a Navy Seal in your heavy-duty, feature-rich, waterproof waterfowl wet suit, complete with insulated boots and fleece-lined insulation to stay afield longer.
Duck Hunting Wader Materials
Neoprene waders have dominated the marshes for decades and continue to be a popular choice for many ‘fowlers, and for good reason. Neoprene is nasty weather-ready while being stretchy, comfortable, and providing a proper balance between insulation and mobility. It also adds a little bit of buoyancy when slogging through deeper water. Neoprene waders typically come in at a middle-of-the-road price point and are durable enough to last for several seasons. They’re a great choice for the casual hunter and weekend warrior who doesn’t want to break the bank but still desires tough-as-nails gear when they need it.
Editor’s tip: You’ll want to be extra careful when drying and storing your neoprene waders to avoid folds and creases that may become future weak points and lead to leaks later on.
Breathable waders have made a big splash in recent years as technology continues to enhance the experience for the waterfowl hunter. With new advancements that provide premium protection, these modern marvels offer a lightweight option with advanced abrasion and tear resistance against briars, brambles, and gunwales. Get ready to experience extreme comfort with luxurious and lightweight, moisture-wicking insulation materials that are less bulky and support a full range of motion. With robust durability to last for many seasons to come, breathable waders offer high-quality waterproofing and superior wearability. With breathables, you will cough up some more coin, but you’ll be investing in your future, and if you’ve already spent a couple grand on a high-grade semi-auto and tricked-out duck boat, there shouldn’t be any reason to blubber over the price of breathable waders.
Duck Hunting Wader Essentials
Insulated vs Uninsulated Waders
Most of us will be anticipating some level of chilly to frosty mornings at some point in our season and will be searching for some warmth in our waders. This can be achieved from base layers and/or from the wader itself. Keep in mind that not all insulation and insulating materials are created equal and each of us have our own levels of comfort, so decide what works best for you. Neoprene waders come in various thicknesses for different levels of insulating properties. Some of the new breathables have thinner, quilted materials, and some even give you the option of removable liners for complete, custom thermal regulation.
Insulated waders are typically chosen by most hunters and are ideal for late season, cold climates, or anytime you’ll be standing in cold water for extend periods of time. The added insulation means less garments you to have to wear underneath, and many of the newer breathable waders have quilted materials that are soft and lightweight to make you feel like you’ve stepped into your own personal cloud of comfort. Insulated waders generally cost a little more, but you’ll save that from wearing an extra layer underneath.
Editor’s tip: Insulated waders can be worn in a variety of situations even when you don’t plan on getting wet—it is “water”fowl hunting so you never know. I wear mine at times in the layout blind, the panel blind, and even when I’m layout boat hunting for sea ducks to stay warm.
If you hunt in a warmer climate or spend time chasing birds in the early season, uninsulated waders may be right up your alley. They’re essentially the same construction as the insulated type, without the extra layers and materials that provide warmth. Most pair will allow you to comfortably hunt down to zero degrees while remaining comfortable. Uninsulated waders usually cost a little less without the high-tech insulating materials, while still offering all of the rugged and durable exterior protection and feature-loaded configuration with optimal versatility.
Camo vs Solid Colors
If choosing a pair of camo waders with your favorite pattern to match the rest of your waterfowling wardrobe may seem like an obvious choice, feel free to skip ahead. Obviously, picking a pattern that will best match the terrain and environment you plan to hunt in is a no brainer, but don’t be afraid to mix and match your waders and the rest of your apparel. The greatest function of camouflage is to break up your outline amidst your background; a few hues of variance or a touch of lighter or darker tones isn’t going to make decoying birds flare—but any movement still will! Most manufactures will have a set of waders available in multiple camo options, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the one you like.
Prior to camouflage hitting the wetlands, solid colors were par for the course and waterfowl hunters never had any problems killing piles of birds. Have any doubt? Just ask your grandad and check out his photo library from the golden age of ‘fowling and he’ll probably bring up that piece about the movement, too. With a push back toward the good ole days, many wader companies, including Chene Gear and Banded are returning to the classic aesthetic of duck hunting and offering their modern waders in the timeless tones of solid greens, browns, and tans. Now, you can steep yourself in nostalgia, look good doing it, and stay well-hidden all at the same time.
Duck Hunting Wader Features
Many of these fancy features are now standard, but you may get more of them if you can afford to dish out a few more dollars or find a set that has the exact extras you’re looking for. What you choose is up to you, so take a peek at the popular brands and models to see what is available.
Some of the most common features include; exterior shell loops for quicker reloads, adjustable straps and buckles to find your perfect fit, articulated knees and reinforcements to rear ends and other high-traffic areas with added protection to reduce excessive wear and tear, and a built-in safety belt system that has a comfortable, natural fit that should help limit any fill ups should you dip down below the top of your waders.
Because as ‘fowlers we have an unhealthy proclivity for pockets, duck hunting waders may have any assortment or configuration of exterior side and chest pockets, interior hand-warmer pockets, inner waterproof pouch, outside call pouch, and other pockets that zipper shut or close via magnets for quick and easy access to your gear and essentials at a moment’s notice.
Most duck hunting waders will have boots built right in, but there are some things to think about when choosing your favorite pair. Many waders will have differing thermal ratings on their boots. Most hunters choose a thick enough boot along with a good pair of wool socks to keep their toes toasty. You’ll want to ensure a boot fit that is not too tight (which can lead to cold, numb feet) but not too loose that you are tripping or falling out of them. If you plan on doing a lot of walking in the tangled swamps and muddy marshes, some boots have a more aggressive thread and a shank to offer additional support and stabilization.
Editor’s tip: You may opt to use your fishing waders or other stocking foot waders with mud boots for waterfowl hunting. This will work in most situations, but it may not offer the thermal capacity as compared to bootfoot waders and your boots may get stuck behind the thick, mucky substrate of your favorite marsh.
If you can, go to a sporting goods store to try on a few pair and see what you like about each. You’re going to be spending some time in them, in some nasty conditions, so you’ll want to be sure you land in a set that is comfortable and a good fit, all the way up from your feet to your shoulders.
Editor’s tip: When you try on waders, throw on the undergarments and socks you’d be wearing on a typical hunt to ensure you’re choosing a pair that offers you the best fit. Too tight and you’ll restrict your movement and shoulder mount, too loose and you’ll have butt pad hang ups, trapped cold air, and trouble moving around.
If you’re ordering waders off the web, many manufacturers have sizing charts to assist you. Also be sure to check out their return/exchange policy for peace of mind prior to ordering. Ask you buddies how they chose their favorite pair and see what they like most about them. Read some reviews and sift through some testimony on the social media pages. You’ll eventually find what you’ve been looking for and you’ll be glad you “waded” to make the right choice!
Ready for more?
Check out our list of favorite duck hunting waders!