Being comfortable while you’re fly fishing or duck hunting in your waders is key to enjoying your time away from the office. How comfortable you are is all about what you wear under your waders, and you’ll need to tailor it to the seasons you’re fly fishing.
Getting cold, overheating, and piling up a bunch of sweat are the worst nightmares of any fly fisherman. Instead of staying focused on the task at hand, you can’t help but be distracted and uncomfortable. Here is what to wear under waders so that never happens again.
Warm Weather Fly Fishing
To begin with, let’s look at what to wear under waders during the summer when it’s warm out. Don’t be fooled by the temperature forecast though, it might be lovely and hot outside of the river, but the freezing cold river water will soon have you feeling chilly.
Of course, during summer you won’t need such an intense layering system under your waders as you would in the colder months, and sometimes you don’t even need waders at all. Let’s take a look at what to wear fly fishing under waders during summer.
There are some instances in summer though where wearing waders isn’t necessary. You can just wear wading boots along with some neoprene booties to keep you keep your feet warm while you wet wade, free from waders. I even know a fly fisherman or two who just wear shoes made for water when it’s really warm.
The feeling is pretty amazing but I still always bring my stockingfoot waders with me, and under wader wear, as the warmer temps can suddenly change into a storm when you’re in the mountains.
What type of waders should I wear in summer?
During the warmer months, you’ll want to leave your neoprene waders at home as these are not breathable waders and are designed for winter.
Instead, you should be wearing stockingfoot waders which come with neoprene wading socks at the bottom that you then put into your separate wading boots. These are breathable waders and much lighter than their neoprene cousins.
That being said, they are not that breathable as they are both wind and waterproof, and you’re likely to overheat in any season when being active in them.
What not to wear under your waders in summer
Let’s start off with what not to wear under waders for fishing when it’s hot out.
Firstly, do not wear cotton and avoid cotton socks as cotton is a terrible insulation layer that once full of sweat will stay wet and make your feet cold. You should also avoid ankle socks as they will be too short for your wading boots and might result in blisters and chafe.
Some people don’t wear shorts either, even though they help you stay cool, as having your waders touch your bare skin is not very comfortable and can lead to chafe. I personally don’t mind wearing shorts with waders, so it’s a bit of a personal preference there.
What to wear under waders in summer
The most important thing in summer is to wear socks that keep your feet dry and warm. The wading boots you wear with summer waders are not waterproof boots and the cold water of the river will be pressing right up against the neoprene socks of the waders, and your feet.
Look for a pair of light merino wool socks or a single wool sock as these will ensure your feet stay warm and they are moisture-wicking too, meaning they’ll distribute any moisture into a vapor that can then be breathed out of your waders.
When it comes to what to wear on your legs and body during warm humid conditions, it’s all about breathable fabrics with moisture management built-in. I typically wear light pants made from polyester and a polyester fishing shirt that gives me the option to roll up my sleeves or not.
I know some anglers who wear running tights like Nike or Under Armour as a base layer to ensure that their sweat is removed quickly. Another option is some wading pants with removable pant legs that convert into shorts, so you can cool off when needed.
You should also bring a good waterproof outer layer to wear over your waders in case it rains or a cold wind starts. This will ensure your upper body stays warm when the weather changes on cooler days.
Cold Weather Fly Fishing
Staying warm when wading in extreme cold, like during winter steelhead season or early spring, is key to surviving and enjoying your fishing trip. Hypothermia and frostbite can happen especially when you’re waist-deep in super cold water.
There is an art to proper layering when winter fly fishing. Your main aim is to be comfortable which means being able to stay warm and retain body heat whilst being able to do up your wading belt and move around without too much bulk under your waders, which will otherwise slow you down.
That being said, it’s better to be too warm than too cold. You can always remove a layer if you’re getting too hot but you can’t add a layer if you don’t have it with you. As a general rule, you’re going to want two layers on your feet and legs, and two to three layers on your body, depending on how cold it is.
Your Base Layer
The first layer of clothing you wear underneath everything should be your base layer. This is an integral insulating layer. It should be made from a suitable material with insulation capacity that will also wick moisture and has an antimicrobial treatment to reduce bacterial growth and keep you smelling fresh.
When you fish, you fish for 8-10 hours, and without a good moisture-wicking antimicrobial baselayer, you’re going to be very smelly, very quickly. Look for base layers made of merino wool as this material wicks sweat, keeps you warm, and is naturally antimicrobial.
You should wear socks, long johns/tights, and a long-sleeved T-shirt all made from merino wool as your base. Make sure the merino wool socks are a good pair and a little thin, as you’ll be putting a second pair of thicker socks over them.
The reason you want a good pair of thin socks as your base layer is to ensure you don’t affect the blood supply to your feet, as good blood flow makes your feet warmer.
Your Second Layer
Your next layer is all about insulation and warmth. This means thick wool jumpers and socks, and other things that are guaranteed to keep you warm.
You’ll need this second layer for every part of your body and I have focussed on each part below, as each layer for each part of your body is a little different from the next.
Your feet are likely to get colder than any other part of your body, as they will be sitting on the bottom of the river most of the time. On top of your merino socks, you should wear a thick pair of thermal/wool socks that come up above your ankles. This will allow you to pull them over your base layers and tuck your trouser legs into them for comfort while wading.
Make sure they are not too tight and allow your blow flow to move freely around your feet and keep them warm.
If you’re wading in a river, part of your legs are going to be in the icy water and they need layering and insulating just as much as your feet do. Remember though, you’re still going to need to be able to walk around and be mobile, so you shouldn’t were anything that is too constricting.
The best thing to wear on your legs in my opinion as a second layer are insulated fleece/wool lined winter sweat pants. These are super comfy, super warm, and they allow great freedom of movement while you’re walking around.
You can also wear some standard blue jeans from your cupboard as they are actually pretty good at keeping you warm but they are not the best when it comes to comfort and freedom of movement.
Last but certainly not least, is the second layer for your body. This should also be very warm and insulating and things like a thick wool jumper, fleece jacket, or even a down jacket are an excellent choice for this layer.
I personally wear a fleece jacket and I have my down jacket ready in my bag in case I need an extra warm layer. I do tend to need an extra layer when fishing at sunrise or sunset during the fall, spring, and wintertime, and a down jacket is exceptionally warm.
I also love having a jacket (fleece or down) as it can zip it up around my neck to keep it warm too, unlike with a sweater.
The Final Layer
The final layer isn’t something you wear under your waders, it is the final part of your weatherproof shell. Your waders are both wind and waterproof, and you need a similar hardshell jacket that wraps up your upper body and comes over your waders to ensure your body doesn’t get wet or have cold winds blowing through it.
Be sure to pick a good hardshell jacket that is windproof, waterproof, has a hood, and is large enough to go over your waders and all your layers.
I own one of these jackets and I can’t tell you the confidence it gives me. I know that no matter what the weather throws at me, between my jacket and waders, I’ll stay dry and warm until I can reach my car/cabin.
There are some parts of the body that haven’t been covered when it comes to layering and these are your head, nack, and your hands.
Your hands are going to get very cold as they will be exposed when holding your rod, making casts, and stripping your line in, and they will probably get wet while doing it.
A good pair of waterproof neoprene fly fishing gloves for cold weather will keep your hands warm and dry while you’re fishing, and you can opt for some fingerless ones to give you more grip and dexterity. I would also recommend bringing an extra pair of gloves with you, as if your others get wet, say when you land and release a fish, you’ll have a dry pair to put on.
If you’re wearing a down jacket and or a fleece jacket as your second and or third body layer, then your neck will have some insulation from the cold. A fleece neck warmer is also a good idea to have as this will provide a super warm layer from your shoulders to your ears.
Last but not least, you’ll want something to wear on your head that also works with a hood and I recommend a windproof fleece cap. This will keep your head warm, block any wind, and when it rains you can quickly whip your hardshell jacket’s hood over to keep you dry.
Why I recommend a cap over a beanie or wooly hat is that a cap blocks the sun so you can see properly, and if it rains, the cap will also keep the rain off your polarized sunglasses so you can continue fishing a lot more easily.
Do you wear socks inside stocking foot waders?
Yes, you 100% wear socks inside stocking foot waders as the feet are made from waterproof neoprene to keep your feet dry but not warm. Without any socks on you’ll get cold feet and all your sweat will go into the neoprene making your waders very smelly.
Can I use the same waders for summer and winter?
Yes, you can use the same waders for summer and winter if you want to, just make sure to layer up as described above.
But, if you want to be more comfortable in winter, or are planning on wading when it’s snowing outside, you will want to buy a second pair of waders just for winter.
Winter waders are made with insulation and will keep you much warmer than the waders you’d wear in the summer.