I'm on the cusp of my 38th birthday, and quite frankly, I'm sick of being uncomfortable. As a lifelong Minnesota resident, I'm supposed to take pride in my ability to shrug off misery when it comes to weather. The problem with that is when you spend as much time outside as I do, it's not such a simple proposition.
This is never more evident than when I get to duck hunt. My early fall is filled with western big game and whitetails. I just don't get too many chances to chase ducks and geese until the back half of November, and by that time in my home state we are often flirting with the surface water icing over and pushing the last of our ducks on to their southern haunts.
Even when the weather is warm for that time of year, it's not really warm. The water in which I wade is usually about three degrees above freezing at best, and if it's moving, might be significantly colder. My favorite spot to duck hunt is a piece of public land that borders a good-sized interior river and is pockmarked by smaller ponds. The river is a flyway that leads to the Mississippi, and the hunting can be really good — especially when the weather is nasty and most hunters don't want to make the mile-long hike back to the best areas.
My desire to hunt this spot led me, at one point about eight years ago, to stroll into Cabela's and shop for chest waders that wouldn't be horrible to hike in and would keep me warm once I got there. I spent $200 on a pair, and quite frankly, they didn't cut it. I've never worn a dress — seriously, I haven't — but I can't imagine I'd feel any more uncomfortable walking around in an evening gown than I did in those waders. They were bulky, noisy, and the boot part was as ill-fitting as they come. I hated them so much that I went back to wearing knee-high boots to hunt the spot and ended up wet and cold most of the time.
The whole thing was a lesson in buying quality.
The Best Option
The reality with killer waders is they are expensive. That might be deal breaker for some people, and I get that. But if you're a hardcore duck hunter who lives for it, I suggest sticking a $10 bill into a piggy bank each week and at the end of the year treating yourself to waders like the new Aero Elites from LaCrosse.
I wore the insulated version of these waders all last season, from a dream trip to Argentina to the last days in my home state of Minnesota when we were breaking ice to put out decoys. Aero Elites are designed off of the AeroForm boot, which feels sort of like wearing a pair of Crocs. No joke. It sounds strange, but they not only fit extremely well, but the boot part weighs next to nothing so it's a different experience than typical waders where you always have that nagging sensation of feeling like you've got a boat anchor strapped to each foot. Their revolutionary design also makes them extremely easy to take off after a hunt, which is always so welcome.
And Aero Elites waders overall are very comfortable, so comfortable that my hikes back to my favorite stretch of duck water resulted in no blisters and no discomfort. In fact, comfort — especially compared to the other waders I've worn — is a woefully inadequate adjective to describe them. Better yet, they are ultra breathable, allow you to layer appropriately underneath without bulk, and can be converted to a pant wader with suspenders if you use them early-season.
One of the things I liked best about them was the way the Aero Elites allowed for a lot of adjustment. There are several spots on these waders where you can cinch them up and get them to fit snugly, while still allowing a free range of movement. It is hard to appreciate this until you're going through the little motions that make up a duck hunt from hiking out, to setting your spread, to hunching up in a blind, to packing the whole thing up after the ducks have quite flying.
Aero Elites aren't cheap by any stretch, but they are so worth it.
Full disclosure, I haven't gotten the chance to test out the new Delta Wader from Sitka Gear. With that out of the way, I'm confident in saying they are probably a very solid choice for most duck junkies. Sitka Gear doesn't crank out duds, and I've worn their big game, whitetail, and waterfowl clothing a lot. It is, without question, some of the absolute best stuff out there.
The Delta Wader Collection, which contains the Delta Zip Wader as well as the Delta Wader, is the culmination of five years of research. Both models utilize GORE-TEX PRO laminate, which is breathable and highly resilient. True-to-Sitka form, the concept behind the Delta lineup is to provide everything you'd expect out of top-end waders without the bulk. These waders are also designed to easily integrate into the existing Marsh and Timber waterfowl systems Sitka currently offers. Or in other words, if you're hooked on Sitka's clothing, you can finish out your duck hunting collection with their new waders when they become available this summer.
If you're hesitant to pull the trigger on these waders, consider this — they are made in the USA and thus serviceable quickly. Anything manufacturer-related is covered for life. If you happen to punch a hole in them or your new pup uses them as a chew toy, you can send them in for a small cost and get them back finished and repaired within two weeks, meaning you won't miss the next flight of greenheads.
There are a lot of options in the wader category, but not a ton of them that promise to keep you dry, warm, comfortable and content no matter what Mother Nature throws your way. If you're like me and you're starting to get sick of having to show your toughness by wearing a badge of misery, consider splurging on quality waders. It might sting at the cash register, but you'll forget that as soon as you've spent a little time standing belly-button deep in a ducky patch of cold, cold water.