Let’s Rethink the Wading Belt

by | May 1, 2019 | 48 comments

Seems to me, the last piece of gear many anglers think of is the wading belt. Often seen as an add-on, an accessory, or even unnecessary, some guys will tell you to tie a rope around your waist and be done with it. The wading belt provided with your new pair of waders perpetuates this notion. Every fresh box of breathables I’ve opened has a thin, flimsy belt thrown in as an afterthought. It’s good for helping you not drown as you go ass-over-tee-cups into the river, but not much else.

So I propose a rethinking of the wading belt. I treat mine as a utility belt — a place to carry heavier things. It’s an integrated part of my system for having everything I need right and ready at any moment, while keeping the weight and resulting fatigue of that gear to a minimum.

What works for me may not feel right to you. But some of these ideas may meet your own needs and preferences.

My belt system is designed for the wading angler who covers a lot of water, who walks away from the parking lot and hikes in a bit, who spends long hours pushing through heavy river currents and returns at dark. Of course, I don’t have the hours to fish like that all the time, but even on short trips, this wading belt system serves me well.

Safety First

Let’s get this out of the way. Wear a wading belt if you love your family. To me, most of the risks anglers talk about are negligible: snake bites, lightning, and broken legs in the backcountry are pretty rare. Drowning because you didn’t wear a wading belt seems more awful. But hey, choose your own adventure.

Fall into the flow with a wading belt snugged up, and the water stops at your waist. That’s nice, because the air trapped in your pant legs helps keep you afloat until you reach shallower water. (Yes, I’ve experienced this first hand. And no, there are no pictures documenting the event.)

Fall into the flow without a wading belt, and any water over your waders fills your pant legs, dragging you down and preventing the leg motion you need to swim to safety. Worst case scenario, you drown.

Again, choose your own adventure.

Batman

One of the greatest superheroes of all time actually has no superpowers — no bullet immunity, no invisibility, telepathy or even superhuman strength. Batman is just really smart, super rich, and he works out a lot.

He also wears a utility belt to hold a bunch of his gadgets at the ready — because he’s ultra-prepared and obsessed with efficiency.

As a walk and wade fisherman, I treat my wading belt as a utility belt, purposed for holding a few things I want within easy reach, conveniently keeping the weight off my shoulders and on my hips.

Hiker’s Weight

Backpackers, law enforcement officers, hikers and scores of others use the concept of carrying weight on your hips rather than your shoulders. The hips carry a heavier load longer than your shoulders ever will, without fatigue.

So instead of carrying heavy items in your vest or fishing pack, attach them to your wading belt. Seriously, the difference is huge.

READ: Troutbitten | What about the wading staff? Thoughts on choosing and carrying a wading stick

What’s Heavy?

Attached to my own wading belt are the following items: water bottle, net, wading staff and camera (in a case). All of these things would significantly weigh down my vest, pull down on my shoulders and wear me out faster if they were in my vest. I literally fish longer and harder because I carry the weight of those heavy items on my belt.

I do like my fly boxes, tippet, forceps, nippers, leaders, split shot, and all the other small stuff accessible higher up — in my vest and closed in behind zippers and Velcro.

Incidentally, I’m not a fan of hip packs, because I often wade real deep. And the waterproof zippers required in high-end hip packs are too stiff to be efficient. There’s also never enough room in a hip pack to carry everything I need. So for me, a vest or chest pack for the regular stuff and a utility belt for carrying the heavy things is just the right combination.

The Best Belt

In the next month or so, I’ll publish an article about each of the four things I carry on my wading belt. But first, let’s cover home base — the belt itself.

If you know me, you won’t be surprised when I admit that I bought six belts before I found the right one. But true to my nature, when I did find the best tool for the job, I stopped searching and have been satisfied ever since.

My favorite wading belt is a Blackhawk Two Inch Web Duty Belt. It’s sturdy enough to hold the heavier things I attach, without being overly stiff or uncomfortable (and that’s important).

 

** Note **  The links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Troutbitten earns a commission if you click through and make a purchase. So, thank you for your support.

 

Buy Blackhawk Web Duty Belt with Hook and Loop Closure Here
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The two-inch width and a tight, double-layer nylon web is necessary for a belt to hold its shape when heavier things are mounted. Flimsy, thin or elastic belts simply won’t do.

Blackhawk makes high quality gear designed for law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel. I’ve had the same belt for about five years now, and I suspect I might wear it for the rest of my life. It shows no signs of wear and is pretty much bulletproof.

A sturdy two-inch belt also lends a bit of lower back support, and that’s nice too. It’s not as much support as a wider belt, of course, but anything over about two inches becomes prohibitive for what you can mount on the belt and slide around it.

The Smith Creek Wading Belt is another good option. It’s thinner and more flexible, so if you don’t plan to add many things to the belt, but you do want the utility of a wider belt, it’s a good solution.

Buy the Smith Creek Wading Belt Here

 

The Blackhawk belt is adjusted with Velcro on the inside. And while it allows for a precise fit, adjusting this way is not as easy as a standard belt clasp or one with holes. But there are good reasons for the design. It’s a utility belt. And once you start mounting a few things to it, the features become apparent.

Keep the weight on your hips, and fish longer.

I mount a Smith Creek Net Holster at the back center of the belt. A carabiner holds my Nalgene water bottle next to it on the left, and a Gear Keeper retractor holds my wading staff at the ready, behind me and out of the way. On the right side, I mount my Ape Case camera bag, keeping it behind me until I slide it around to the front when I want the camera.

Because of the sliding camera bag, I’ve cut the extra length from the right side of my belt and permanently stitched it near the clasp. So the occasional adjustments (to accommodate for extra layers) happens only on the left side.

A few stitches keep the right side fixed. Adjustments for fit on the left side.

Do It

The whole system really works for me. By keeping extra weight off my shoulders and on my hips, I carry all the things that I very well might leave at home because they’re too heavy.

One more thing, if there are belt loops on your waders, just ignore them and place the belt on top. Put the belt when you want it, not where the manufacturer thought it should be.

The bottom line: I’m sure you’ll find your own things to mount to a belt, with a system that matches your needs. But treating a wading belt as a tool, and not a frivolous accessory, can really improve your efficiency and enjoyment of long, wonderful days on the river.

** NOTE ** Throughout the next couple months, I’ll detail each item that hangs off my belt, in a dedicated article for each. Here’s the first one:

READ: Troutbitten | What about the wading staff? Thoughts on choosing and carrying a wading stick

Fish hard, friends.

 

** Subscribe to Troutbitten and follow along **

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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48 Comments

  1. Hi Don
    Totally agree it’s very key piece for me
    I really like the fish pond wading belt
    I attach their small zip bag and put a water tight liner with items so need
    I really do need a vest hip bag. Just the wafer belt with items attached and my lanyard

    I really spend some serious time putting it together but take it with me for local and travel fishing trips

    Reply
    • Sounds great, man. Whatever works for you.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  2. Great read. However despite swimming many times both in the surf and bobbing down the farmington river like a cork when I trip…I have never filled my waders to a point where it threatened my life. If others have had such an experience I’d love to understand the how’s and why’s of the event. As Dom said…we should love our family’s and take the extra precaution… I’m with that. But I’ve already swam 2x this year. (I trip a lot) and instantly my waders were pressed tightly to my body via water pressure. Did I fill up…sure…but not enough to sink.

    I forget which wader company it was…but back in the day someone died and the family had claimed the waders filling was the culprit…long story short, through live testimony (an angler deliberately tired to sink himself in waders) they disproved the notion that it could happen.

    Edge cases may exist but….panic will kill you first. Meanwhile you can carry all the cool stuff on a good belt and look good doing it!

    Reply
  3. Domenick, have you tried out the new wading belt from fishpond?

    Reply
    • Hey buddy, if you mean the West Bank Wading Belt, I’ve seen it in shops but not tried it. I’m not really looking for any other solution, because I’ve found my belt soulmate, listed above. Ha.

      I did notice that the Fishpond belt seems really well built, and I think it would be a good solution. My only troubles are that the belt itself is much thinner than the double web belt that I use, I think the padding also takes away breath-ability all around your waist and traps heat, and I wouldn’t be able to slide my camera case all the way to the front.

      Looks like a nice piece. Everyone just have different needs, really.

      Dom

      Reply
  4. I purchased a Smith Creek net holder and the first time my net caught a branch, the Velcro closure on the holder failed. I didn’t realize this for a while, but fortunately I was able to back track and retrieve my net. Perhaps I did something wrong ?

    I very unhappy with the belt that came with my Orvis waders. I’d be interested in your opinion of the Fishpond belt. I like their products a lot.

    Reply
    • I’ve had nothing but frustration with the Smith Creek net holder too. Would be happy to find out that I have been doing something wrong. It wasn’t cheap and I had high hopes for the holder, but it doesn’t work as well for me as just sticking the handle behind my wading belt.

      Reply
      • I’ve gone to clipping my net to my sling pack with a magnet. Not perfect,but it works. My favorite net holder is called “a guide”, but until I hit the lottery, that is a special occasion accessory.

        Reply
        • Nice

          Reply
      • So I did that for a while too.

        I don’t understand how it wouldn’t work. Will you email me a pic of how you have it set up? It’s seriously one of the strongest and most well built fishing items I’ve ever bought. No joke.

        Dom

        https://troutbitten.com/2016/04/27/of-nets-and-holsters/

        Reply
    • So, honestly I think you might be doing something wrong. I can’t imagine how the velcro can let go on that thing.

      Now, the net CAN slip out when tree limb grabs it, but I don’t consider that a failure. Send me a picture of how you have it set up. Email me.

      Dom

      Reply
  5. The only item on my g4z’s belt is my staff holder. Belts are good for for keeping to much water goin down the legs if you fall into the drink. I also love the lower back support.

    Reply
  6. I am a police officer in SE PA and have been fly fishing for years. This has to be the absolute best idea, and can’t believe I never thought of it since I have my old Web gear sitting in a box in my garage. Thank you Dom for the blatantly obvious thatbl always seems ton elude me, lol. I am gonna get my gear together now. Love your blog and always learning from them. Tightlines!

    Reply
    • Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  7. Dom, Great point on the utility of the wading belt. I never caught onto the sling pack craze, I ditched my vest years ago. I’ve used a belt for years. Primarily I’ve used a butt pack in various forms. I’ve got 3 systems – one that is a true buttpack, one that is a military rig, complete with utility belt and MOLLE system pouches and third is a scaled down version of the second that has 3 pouches for when I travel light. Along with a lanyard that is all I carry and I find it works well. I’ve yet to find a net holster I like, and usually end up jamming it into the belt behind my back.

    Reply
    • Nice. It’s all about finding the things that solve your own problems.

      Reply
  8. Having worn a gun belt and chest rig for almost a quarter century in my profession, I was sold on this concept a long time ago. The same concepts that work for military and law enforcement gear translate very well into our applications on the river.; the need for easy and efficient access of the right tool at the right time while maintaining maximum mobility. Another good read, thanks.

    Reply
    • Right on.

      Reply
  9. Sweet. Is your camera bag waterproof?

    Reply
    • Hi Dave.

      No. I explored waterproof options, but hated all those bags. My solution MUST be quickly and easily accessible, or I won’t carry or use the camera. And fishing comes first.

      So it took me a while, but I came upon the Ape Case listed above. I make it waterproof with a Ziploc freezer bag on the inside. Don’t laugh. It works really well. And if you think of what makes a waterproof case actually waterproof, it’s probably thinner and more prone to failure than a thick Ziploc bag.

      Full article here:

      https://troutbitten.com/2017/10/19/fishing-with-a-camera/

      And that bag and ziploc solution is STILL going strong. Pretty amazing case, really.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Awesome. (It’s the simple solutions…) %!!

        Reply
  10. Thank you for practically expressing an idea and feeling that has been formulating in my mind the past year.
    Well done!

    Reply
    • Sure thing, man.

      Reply
  11. Hi Dom,
    Good article. I walk/wade 90 percent of the time spending many long hours hiking and in the water. I’ve not given much thought to my wading belt until now. When I get home from vacation I’m going to measure the belt loop on my waders to see if your recommended 2″ wide wading belt fits.

    Also, I noticed the wading staff you use and clicked on the link to study more closely. I own a small independent family business where we specialize in building handcrafted hiking/wading staffs. Looking forward to hopefully seeing a future article on your thoughts and experience with respect to wading staffs. Many Thanks for the read…, really enjoying it while on vacation.

    Reply
    • Hi Ty.

      First thing, just ignore the belt loops on the waders. Place whatever belt you use right over them. That’s what I’ve always done, and I like the fit much better.

      Thanks for the compliments about the writing.

      I plan a wading staff article soon. As you can see from the staff I linked to, I’m not much for spending a lot on a staff, in large part because I believe they all eventually become lost.

      I also want it very light and fold-able.

      Thanks again for reading.

      Dom

      Reply
  12. There’s a good youtube video of a guy jumping into a pool with and without a wading belt. It’s good for showing you how essential it is.

    Reply
    • I’m with you there. I don’t understand the point of no belt. Doesn’t even look good, if you ask me. Ha.

      Reply
  13. Wow, your not gonna belive this, but I went to a class I thought was going to be on euro nymphing at my local flyshop. Me the dope got things screwed up, it was a flyfishing 101, but I still a good time, one of things that struck me was the guys going through waders, the wading belt was not even an after thought. Kinda scary, but I love this, I need to get things off my shoulders, I carry all the things I may or may not need, but many could be far more manageable on the belt. Also as a mature adult male who drinks to much coffee on his 2 hr drive up north and doesn’t have to take a leak until fully dressed and ready to go a more user friendly belt is in the cards. What are your thoughts on the net holster?

    Thanks, Mike.

    Reply
  14. All,
    I absolutely love the new Fishpond Switchback Wading Belt System for all the reasons mentioned by Dom, and concerns mentioned by others. Can’t say enough good things about it.
    Is this not the greatest fly fishing website/article resource out there? So grateful Dom!

    Reply
    • Cheers, man. Thanks for reading.

      Dom

      Reply
  15. Not to push product, but I’ve used the Lifestraw Play for 2 years, always carrying it empty saving water weight. I hydrate big-time at the car, and while fishing I fill/filter/hydrate unlimited with cold river water.

    I hunt mostly near water and do the same.

    Reply
    • Hi Dan,

      My friend, Austin, uses the same, I think. Man, I just don’t know if it’s convenient enough. I go through at least a litre of water on most every trip. I also had a bottle like that for a while by Katadyne, and I hated how much effort it took to suck the water through the filter. Is the LifeStraw the same? How much water does the bottle hold? Meaning, how often would I have to fill it up? I’m also wondering about the durability. Mounted on my belt, my Nalgene bottle takes a lot of abuse. But those bottles last for many years. Last thing is I don’t love the Lifestraw attaches. I wish it had a larger D-Ring or something.

      Thoughts?

      Dom

      Reply
      • True Dom, it sucks with effort… I expect it to get worst as the filter clogs. Also they say if it freezes problems with the filter can occur.
        I measured the capacity and it stores 12oz. It is ’bout 7″ high by 2.5″ wide. I fill it, drink it dry or dump the water afterwards. Using it like this, it stays light and maybe you don’t need to mount it on belt. I throw it in my waders on warm days when I use it more. When leaving the river back to car I will load-it up.
        If I am remote all day, I like the idea of unlimited cold water on demand. Like frying the liver of the whitetail after the shot, I sometimes surmise being closer to trout/salmon drinking its water…so I digress.
        No holy grail surely but hope I answered all your questions.

        Reply
        • Thanks for all that info, Dan.

          I may buy one and give it a shot.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          Reply
  16. As I’ve gotten older my wading/fishing habits have changed significantly. I no longer wear chest waders; wading where mere mortals dare not tread has been left to the past. I wouldn’t be able to use the net holder as neither shoulder possesses the requisite range of motion to reach it. I found a military web belt at a yard sale years ago and used it just as you have done; the purpose wasn’t so much to hang things off of but to cinch up my waders so I could wade fast and deep. Now, with various body parts being augmented by teflon and titanium I harken unto my inner Thoreau and ‘Simplify!’ My search and destroy days of carpet bombing a river with flies are over. I no longer wade past my knees and find that the fewer things hanging off me the better my enjoyment. Life is funny that way. Where once I embraced certain fishing behaviors now I sit on the bank with a twig fire and wallow in the memories; it’s enough. I really enjoy the passion you’ve brought to your fishing, it’s fun to read along.

    Reply
  17. Great article. I use a sling pack and only hang water off my belt. I was looking into a rod holder that clips to the belt for when I need both hands for knots etc. Have you tried anything that you would recomend? Or is there a more simple solution?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hey buddy,

      I feel like yes, I do have a simpler solution. I just tuck the rod under my right arm, usually. At times, I will also tuck it in between my legs. But mostly, I put it under my arm, then use two hands. I think all my fishing friends do the same. I find rod holders and other gadgets like that to be more trouble than they’re worth, actually wasting time rather than saving it.

      BUT . . . that’s what works for me, and you might find the opposite to be true for you.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Thanks man, my knot skills are no where near yours and my eyes are crap. I’ll try and figure something out or try and get better with the under arm.

        Reply
  18. I thought I was the only diehard who thought of his wading belt…. what I use might amuse some of you… but it WORKS!
    I use a military style web-belt with the hook and eye closers…. I attach nets, water bottle wading staff…. I hike into my streams sometimes 5-10 miles if need be I find this belt incredible!!

    Reply
  19. Don,
    Great stuff.
    Bought the BlackHawk belt….question:
    You hooked the Gear Keeper to the pin going through the staff handle…removed Webb handhold loop. Did you just punch it through?
    Or did you find something better?

    I will use magnet clips for the net.
    Lots of options.

    Lance Egan is at my local, go to fly shop.

    cT

    Reply
    • Hi Clark. There’s bar/ pin in there that the web handle was around. I threaded a zip tie around it and through the removable end of the Gear Keeper. Does that make sense?

      I’ll probably have an article up about it soon . . .

      Dom

      Reply
  20. I would like to add one thing about the Fishpond WestBank Wading Belt. I have a herniated disc on the L4-L5. One of the only reasons i can make it through a day of wading anymore is because of the support that belt offers. If anyone has a bad lower back, give it a shot. I have not had any issues with the breathe-ability and can really crank it down to hold my spine in place. (Exaggeration, but anyone with back pain knows what i am talking about)

    Reply
  21. How did you connect the gear keeper to the utility belt? Thanks

    Reply
  22. Dom,

    This is one great idea. How do the belts run for size? 38 waist on a good day trying to figure out whether lg or xl. Leaning towards xl

    Reply

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