Gear Review: Simms Bulkley Wading Jacket

by | Nov 27, 2019 | 6 comments

A great hood, smart cuffs and pockets in the right places. That’s what makes a good wading jacket. Let’s assume that any fishing coat worth considering is first waterproof. Now add in breathability. The price tag goes up, but so does the comfort level and the amount of time you want to spend in it. Now take all of that good stuff, from the bottom hem to the hood, and add Primaloft insulation. What do you have? The perfect winter fishing jacket — the Bulkley from Simms.

My expectations are high for fishing gear. I spend a couple-hundred days on the water every year, not just wading around casually, but fishing hard — I walk far, wade deep and bust through a lot of brush. (And I plan to fish that way until I just can’t do it anymore.)

So, early on, I realized that my extra dollars were better spent on waders, boots, vests and jackets than high-priced rods and reels. Because the apparel gets you to the river and keeps you there. As a poor college kid, I scrounged the money to buy my first pair of Simms waders, and it proved to be a wise decision.

** Note ** Links for buying the Simms Bulkley are at the end of this article.

Most fly fishing gear isn’t made for anglers like me. It’s made for the weekend warrior. And that’s fine too. There’s a place in the market for stuff that isn’t built to last forever — it’s built to last long enough. But there are plenty more fishermen like me too — Troutbitten anglers who fish hard and get after it. Simms knows this, and they’ve shaped their reputation around gear that’s durable and well-designed. Does it last forever? Of course not. But my Simms stuff holds up longer than anything else.

Here’s the lowdown on the Simms Bulkley insulated fishing jacket . . .

Nice Stuff

Simms sent me both the Bulkley and the G3 Tactical Wading jacket last year. I love each of them (and I’ll write about the G3 Tactical sometime too).

I already had a good system for winter fishing. I knew how to stay warm in cold weather, and I’d been wearing the same layers for years. So, as always, I was skeptical. But it took one trip to fall in love with the Bulkley, and it became my new outer layer for cold weather.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Winter Fishing

Zip into anything with the Simms label on it, and you can tell it was designed by people who fish a lot. And while wearing the Bulkley, I marveled at how well-thought-out the jacket really was. It’s clearly built by people who understand cold-weather fly fishing.

From top to bottom, here’s what’s good.

 

The Insulation and the Shell

Stop the wind and keep me dry. That’s what I want from a jacket. The Bulkley is windproof. And that makes a world of difference, because cold wind can’t rip away precious body heat.

The outer shell of the Bulkley is softer than you might expect. It moves and flexes naturally, without the crisp exterior of most waterproof jackets. And yet, it’s surprisingly durable — I’ve pulled through a lot of briers with very little damage to the shell.

Under that shell is the GoreTex membrane, keeping you dry but your body breathing. Remember life before GoreTex? These days, you can wade for an hour in a frigid pool below the spillout and then walk a fast mile through the woods to the next section. You can do it all in the same gear if it’s breathable, without holding extra body heat that turns into sweat. The Bulkley’s design allows for easy release of the extra heat. And that’s critical in a daily winter jacket.

The Bulkley’s insulation is Hi-Loft Primaloft. And until the last couple years, that’s another thing I was skeptical of. This new generation of insulation is designed to mimic all the wonderful properties of down, without the added weight. It also stays warm when wet, won’t hold water, doesn’t mat down, and is extremely light for the retained warmth. Plus-one for Primaloft.

The Bulkley is cut a little wide. And that’s a good thing. It’s designed to fit over your waders and allow for as many extra layers as you might like. However, I found that with the Bulkley, I have no need for the extra fleece I once wore under my previous outer shell.

As Henry Ford once said, “You can have it any color you want as long as it’s black.” Simms makes a camo version of the Bulkely as well, but black is where it’s at. All my winter gear is black, to absorb as much heat from the sun as possible, thank you.

The Hood

Most hoods don’t move with the person. Meaning, when you turn your head to see midge-eating, rising trout near the riverbank, you look into the side of the hood on most jackets. This is one of the many reasons no one likes wearing a hood.

But Simms solved this problem on all of their wading jackets. The Bulkley has a three-way adjustable system. Pull it snug at the grommet in the back, and the hood turns with you. Pull the elastic tags at the front/bottom of the hood, and it cinches down to keep the wind out. Toasty!

Simms put the Primaloft insulation all the way up into the hood too. Because, why not? If it’s too warm, put the hood down. And on most days, the wind-blocking, noggin-warming hood of the Bulkley is oh, so nice.

The Cuffs

The sleeves on the Bulkley also have Primaloft insulation, and I love Simms’ design decision here. Keep me warm. That’s the job. So yes, insulate the sleeves too.

Simms features what they call a shingle cuff on all their modern wading jackets, and the design is brilliant. The sleeve looks normal, and goes all the way to the wrist. But under the “shingle” is an adjustable cuff designed for dunking your hand under the water to retrieve your favorite streamer — the one that took you forty-five minutes to tie. Get the fly back, and your arm is still dry. Man, that’s nice.

The cuff design is a real deal-breaker on many wading jackets. But Simms’ shingle cuff allows for excellent adjustability while keeping the water out, even while casting.

Photo by Josh Darling

The Pockets

Fishermen love pockets because we love stuff. The Bulkley easily holds a bunch of gear, like your tippet spools and split shot. And the pockets are plenty big enough to hold a few fly boxes. No doubt that’s partly what Simms had in mind. But they also thought about your hands. Any cold-weather jacket solution must address the hands first, because with numb digits, a fly angler is finished.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing in the Winter — Your Hands

Each side of the jacket houses two pockets. The deep front pockets are where I store random gear and a rag or two. But the side pockets are built for your hands. Lined with fleece, they stay warm, right next to all that Primaloft insulation. There is nothing like recharging your hands with a couple of burning hand warmers resting in these two pockets. Protected from the wind, a pair of Hot Hands lasts me all day long.

The pockets ride high, because plenty of us wade deep. Thank you, Simms. There are even weep holes at the bottom of the pockets to release any water when you’re a little too ambitious and somehow wade over those high pockets — or when you fall in.

 

** Note **  The partnerships and the support of this industry are part of what keeps Troutbitten going. And I’m proud that Troutbitten is a Simms affiliate. You can read my policy on gear reviews HERE. And if you decide to buy the Bulkley from Simms (or if you buy any other Simms product), Troutbitten receives a commission of the sale, at no additional cost to you, when you click through any of these links. So thank you for your support.

 

Buy Simms Bulkley Insulated Jacket HERE

Fish More

“Expensive gear doesn’t catch you more trout.” Anglers say this all the time, and I wholeheartedly agree with it, in most cases. But I’ll argue that the Bulkley may catch you more trout — simply because you’ll fish more.

As I’ve written in the Troutbitten Winter Fishing Series, the first and most important thing about winter fishing is dealing with the cold. It’s a stumbling block that stops most anglers right out of the gate. Dealing with the kind of cold that a river can throw your way is tough. But the Bulkley makes it easier. And you’ll catch more fish because you’re comfortable enough to stay out there, weather be damned.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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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6 Comments

  1. Dom: I do enjoy your essays, though because of age and circumstances, I am largely relegated to stillwaters. The Bulkley jacket sounds like a marvelous piece of winter gear. I hope this question is not too inane, but I have read in several sources that “breathable” waders can only “breathe” when in the water. Can this be true? They would lose much of their supposed utility when you are traipsing through the underbrush.
    Thanks for the good work and the vicarious adventures astream.
    Kevin

    Reply
    • Hi Kevin,

      Mostly true. I asked Simms about that directly. Submersible breathables transfer vapor best when the inside is warm and the outside of the membrane is significantly cooler. In cold weather, that’s not much of a problem. But in warmer weather, that explains why waders become so clammy and uncomfortable.

      “They would lose much of their supposed utility when you are traipsing through the underbrush.”

      Yes, they certainly do.

      More on that here:

      https://troutbitten.com/2018/07/04/fly-fishers-how-to-wet-wade/

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  2. You seem so right on everything else thought I’d get your opinion on ultimate winter hand gear? Wasn’t a problem till I rolled my truck and banged my left hand up,and good. Lost a fingertip,resulting in about 30 minutes of cold water,then pain. Hate to give up winter fishing,what do you think?

    Reply
  3. Dom, what’s the length of this jacket and do you wear your wadining belt under it or on top of it?

    Reply
    • Hi Eddie.

      The jacket is cut to ride at your waist and not much lower. Again, for washing deep. Definitely wear the belt under it.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply

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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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