They call ducks and geese “waterfowl” for a reason. The birds like hanging out in the wet stuff. Which is why hunters who pursue them often find themselves having an immersive experience. Whether it’s slogging to a blind, setting decoys, standing in flooded timber or retrieving downed birds, waterfowlers find plenty of ways to jump in with both feet. If the water’s more than hip deep, this necessitates chest waders—and these days the choice is between neoprene (heavier, heat- and moisture-retaining, durable, cheaper) and breathable (lighter, moisture-wicking, more flexible, more expensive). For their versatility, lighter weight, comfort and flexibility, we decided to test four breathable waders to see which would stand up to water work.
The Banded ASPIRE Collection Catalyst Breathable Wader is like a modular armored wetsuit. Made of eVent waterproof, breathable fabric, the wader has Arc Welded, stitchless seam construction and seam mapping to reduce stress. An over-the-boot, removable pant attaches with a belt system and offers padded knee and shin protection. The rubber boot has 1,600-gram PrimaLoft insulation, a PrimaLoft Aerogel insert that locks out cold and heat, and serious tread on the outsole. Other features include side zippers, a removable interior hand-warmer pocket, an interior phone pocket, two exterior chest pockets, D-rings for attachments, and an LED light system above the chest pockets. The Catalyst wader was easy on-off and true to size. It was lightweight and roomy, offering complete freedom of movement and plenty of room for layering. The boots stayed secure in mud and offered excellent traction.
Colors: Mossy Oak Bottomland (shown), Crocodile, Realtree MAX-5.
Weight: 9 pounds 7 ounces (8 pounds 2 ounces without pant).
Sizes: Regular 8 through 14, Stout 10 through 13.
Price: starting at $900.
Geared more for cool and cold weather, LaCrosse’s Insulated Alpha Swampfox Wader offers heavy-duty protection. The breathable, waterproof nylon upper has double-stitched and taped seams and an integrated layer of 120-gram lofted insulation. The upper can be rolled down and secured with the belt to convert the chest wader to a pant wader. The Alpha-constructed boot contains 1,000-gram Thinsulate Ultra and has a Swamp Tuff low-lug outsole. Other features include a chest pocket backed by a lined hand-warmer pocket, a hook-and-loop-closure belt, a cinch for tightening the chest and two clips on each side for adjustment. Because of its snug-fitting boots, the Alpha Swampfox required some effort to put on and take off. Once on, the wader offered decent mobility and plenty of warmth. The boots were secure in the mud and offered good traction.
Color: Realtree MAX-5 (shown), Mossy Oak Bottomland.
Weight: 10 pounds 5 ounces.
Sizes: Medium 7 through 15, King 10 through 14, Stout 8 through 12.
For getting the job done with minimal weight, L.L. Bean’s Apex Waterfowl Bootfoot Wader fills the bill. The Apex has a tough polyester outer shell with Super Seam technology for strength and leak resistance, and the knees and seat are reinforced for durability. The waist belt adjusts on each side with hook-and-loop fasteners and is quick and easy to operate. The boot has 1,200-gram Thinsulate Ultra insulation and moderate tread. There is one large exterior chest pocket backed by a lined hand-warmer pocket, two small exterior chest pockets each with three neoprene shell holders, an interior phone pocket, D-rings for accessories, and two cinch chords for tightening the chest. The Apex Wader was easy on-off and fit well. It was slightly binding when bending and squatting and did not have a lot of extra room for layers. The boot was roomy, but it stayed secure in the muck.
Color: Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades.
Weight: 7 pounds 11 ounces.
Sizes: S through XXL.
Boot sizes: 8 through 13.
Originally designed as workwear for the aquaculture industry, the High ’N Dry Breathable Wader is a rugged piece of gear. The wader features a four-layer, waterproof, breathable fabric and sonic-welded seam-sealing technology. Knees are reinforced with Kevlar backed by neoprene. The boot has a neoprene-and-synthetic-wool lining paired with Thinsulate Ultra insulation (1,500-gram in the mid- to late-season model; 800-gram in the early- to mid-season) and moderate tread. Exterior chest pockets include a reach-through pocket and a “rainproof” pocket with Velcro closure. There is also an interior phone pocket and D-rings for attachments. The High ’N Dry wader was easy on-off, but it did not reach to the top of the chest and did not have a lot of room for layering. Movement was restricted, and though the boots were a bit large, they stayed on in the mud.
Colors: Mossy Oak Bottomland (pictured), Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, Brown.
Weight: 9 pounds 6 ounces.
Sizes: Regular 7 through 15, Stout 9 through 15, Tall 10 through 15.