100 Day Gear Review: Orvis Pro Waders

by | Jul 12, 2020 | 27 comments

Fly fishing gear breaks down. All waders leak, and it’s just a matter of how long until the inevitable takes over. Wading boots fall apart, and soles wear out. Fishing packs fail at the zippers. The stitching at the seams of all this stuff takes a lot of abuse, so how long can it hold up? How well is it built?

Wearable fly fishing gear should be tested on the water before a fair opinion is formed, because durability and longevity are at the heart of quality. Most gear reviews tout the advantages of wearable gear fresh off the shelf, or with only a handful of days as a reference point.

Candidly, I find those kinds of reviews almost useless. Sure, it’s nice to know how the pockets of a vest are laid out or to understand the fit and fabric of a new model of waders. How do the suspenders feel? And does a new lightweight boot still offer firm foot support? Those are fine questions to be answered. But all of these features mean nothing if the product fails early.

This is the part of the Troutbitten series, 100 Day Gear Reviews. After one-hundred days on the waters that I fish, some real perspective is gained. These are days that average eight hours, often covering miles of water through all four seasons, with icy winters and hot summers. Most days are full of hard wading with routine hikes, often including bushwhacking to remote areas. In short, these are the kind of days that challenge fishing gear.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Gear Reviews

I think a large percentage of the fly fishing industry caters to the casual angler. Many popular companies design products fit for comfort. Their priority is visual appeal over function. In truth, I think the industry underestimates you. Because this is Troutbitten. And we fish hard.

But, there are some companies that understand us too.

** Note ** Links for buying Orvis Pro Waders are toward the end of this article.

The Bottom Line

Orvis built a pair of waders that have lasted one-hundred hard days on the water (and counting) — with no leaks or seam failures. That is impressive.

I’ve owned waders from all the major brands, and I’ve never come close to this kind of durability in waders before.

After 100 days and counting

The Orvis Pro Waders are built extremely well. Much of their durability is the result of the Cordura fabric and attention to the details in construction. The tough, Cordura material protects these waders from grabby briers and thorny multi floral rose. It guards against abrasions or tears when sliding down rocky banks (intentional or otherwise). Honestly, I’ve never seen this kind of toughness in a pair of waders.

So they’re perfect, right?

Nope, because durability comes with a downside.

Too Stiff, or Acceptably Tough?

The crew at Orvis was kind enough to send me their Orvis Pro Waders last fall. Because I’m still a little kid when it comes to fishing stuff, I stepped into my new duds immediately and wore them around the house for a few hours. I remember, I was editing an article at my office desk when my wife passed by the door. She paused and shook her head, never saying a word.

The size was right, and the fit was good. Right away, I noticed the relative stiffness of the Cordura. That’s alright, I thought. It’s like a coat of armor for these waders, and it will loosen up.

My first few trips were in cold weather. So when the waders didn’t flex quite like I was used to, I figured they’d stretch out over time and soften up in warmer weather. Both of these assumptions proved to be true. The waders have loosened over time, and they flex more in warmer weather . . . but not by much.

As the winter turned to spring, I complained to some of my friends about this stiffness. When I bent over to tie boot laces, the material never flexed as I expected. And as I lifted my leg over a large, fallen log, the material changed my natural mobility. I got used to it, but I grumbled. I adapted, but I whined a bit.

At fifty trips, I might not have recommended these waders. But that’s because I assumed they would leak soon.  (Because all waders leak.)

They never did. Now, after 100+ hard days on the water, the relative stiffness is something I’ve learned to live with. And if that’s the price paid for true durability, I think I’m alright with it. However, your preferences may well be different than mine.

I don’t mean to make too much of this stiffness, either. Some anglers may not notice a difference. And if this is your first pair of waders, you’ll assume that it’s just the way good things are built. But, without a doubt, the Cordura is what defines these waders. It really is like a thin coat of armor.

By contrast, Simms uses a soft exterior material on their high end waders. It’s comfortable to the touch, and it flexes more. But I cannot say it is as durable.

Photo by Josh Darling

Features

Although toughness is the critical quality in my judgment of waders, boots and packs, other features matter too.

The Orvis Pro Waders are slim in the legs, with an athletic fit that cuts through strong currents. The seams are all clean and streamlined too. Above the belt the waders are bulky enough to easily fit a few extra layers in the winter. For me, the upper feels like it’s cut too wide, but I have a friend who complains that the upper is too slim. His beer belly is bigger than mine, and I guess it’s hard to find a middle ground if you’re a company building waders. Orvis offers fourteen sizes.

Breathability is about what we’ve all come to expect from a quality pair of waders. It’s good. And these ones breath a little better than other waders that rely on multiple layers for durability.

That said, the Orvis Pro Waders are somewhat heavy — again, I assume it’s a result of the Cordura fabric.

The suspenders should be changed on the next model. Instead of using an elastic suspender material, Orvis chose a stiffer nylon elastic without much give. This only adds to the relative stiffness of everything. And when bending over to tie those boot laces again, the wader straps hold you back. To accommodate, the straps must be set loosely, and that only adds to the bagginess of the upper, for me.

The large exterior pocket in the front is micro-fleece lined and great for storing fishing things or stowing hand warmers in the winter. The horizontal zipper pocket is waterproof, which is a nice touch. That’s a good place for your phone. There’s also a detachable flap-out pocket for tippet storage, nippers, etc. Since I already have my storage solutions in my vest, I removed this. But other anglers may like it.

Dense foam knee pads are included on the interior of the waders, which I promptly removed. They make waders less flexible and less breathable. But again, plenty of anglers out there will love them. The pads are good quality.

Aside from the overall toughness, I’m most impressed with the seam construction. Everywhere, the waders are holding up. Most waders have failing tape seams by now, especially on the neoprene booties. But the Orvis seams are solid.

Here’s the crotch seam of the waders, after 100+ days. Solid, inside and out.

The bootie seams are still like new, with no peeling at all. The junctions from bootie to waders — a source of routine failure in other waders — still remain perfect.

 

** Note **  The partnerships and the support of this industry are part of what keeps Troutbitten going. And I’m proud that Troutbitten is an Orvis affiliate. You can read my policy on gear reviews HERE. And if you decide to buy the Orvis Pro Waders (or if you buy any other Orvis 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 Orvis Pro Waders HERE to Support Troutbitten **

Just One Failure

The Orvis Pro Waders have held up to 100+ days of use (and sometimes abuse) in all but one way. The gaiter failed at the bottom of my left leg.

Gaiters probably sustain more wear and tear than any other part of the wader. And here, the seam gave way. In my opinion, a full neoprene gaiter cannot be beat, because it hugs to the ankle and keeps out more sand and pebbles than this style.

As a quick fix, I sewed the seam together with Kevlar thread. I suspect it will hold for a while but eventually tear again.

Notice the tear from the bottom of the gaiter. If I didn’t stitch it back up, it would have continued separating.

Damn Good

No holes or leaks after 100+ days on a pair of waders is remarkable. Normally, I expect to break out the Aquaseal before fifty trips, whether it’s a few pinholes of my own doing or a small seam failure that I always accepted as what happens with all waders. But for these Orvis Pro Waders, maybe it’s not.

For years, the Troutbitten crew and I have complained about the generally delicate nature of breathable waders. And we’ve wanted someone to manufacture a wader built for durability as the primary feature. Orvis might have done just that.

READ: Troutbitten | Page | Recommended Gear

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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27 Comments

  1. Dom,

    Oris does make some quality equipment. I own a bunch of their stuff including a 4wt Recon & 5wt Encounter that I started out with. My only issue with them is they don’t take the “big guy” in to consideration enough. Need bigger sizes than 2xl and size 13 wader & boots.

    Reply
    • I own the Orvis Ultralight series of waders, and can attest to their tuffness and durability. I really love the quick adjustmen of the shoulder straps to quickly lower them to waist high when weather is warm, or shallow water permits.

      Reply
  2. I love Orvis and have A LOT OF THEIR STUFF. I have one rod in particular that I broke twice that they have replaced twice, no questions asked. I got the Recon 10′ 3 weight last year and absolutely love it! When I needed new waders in April, the Orvis Pro was on my short list of considerations. However, in the middle of corona virus mess that we were in, to find out that they were made in China didn’t sit well with me. (Please, anywhere but China!) So I opted for the Simms G3. So far so good with them, but like you say Dom, I won’t really know how they are holding up for a couple years. I won’t put in 100 days quite as quickly as you do unfortunately!

    Reply
  3. I think the Orvis Pro wader is great. At first I was a little concerned with the weight and stiffness, I got over it very quickly after the first 5 miles of boulder bouncing and climbing and sliding. No rips, no leaks and continue to be a great, by far my favorite wader.

    Reply
  4. Thank you for the review Domenick. Gear that can take the abuse of getting to where you need to be to catch the fish simply pays out in the end. There‘s some satisfaction to be gained by being properly set up to tackle whatever obstacle you‘re facing. But speaking of reviews. Have you been able to test the Sage ESN reel? I presonally don‘t even struggle that much with a conventional reel, but your insights are always an interesting read.

    Reply
    • I agree about the larger sizes on the pants and shirts.

      Reply
    • Yes. I’ll put some time on the ESN reel, and then get a review up after a while

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  5. I agree with your review. I got the women’s Orvis Pro waders this Spring, I had the same concerns about the stiffness and weight, but got over that quickly. The shoulder straps are a problem with their lack of stretch for sure.
    I have my fingers crossed these last more than 90 days on the water, which I think they will. My last several pairs of “very expensive waders” didn’t last 90 days, which was very disappointing. Overall, I like these waders!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Mina.

      Good stuff keeping track of your days, too. Most don’t do that, I don’t think. Most anglers talk about years or seasons of use, but that can me a LOT of different things.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  6. I got a pair of these waders almost the day they were released, through a relative who works there. I haven’t put 100 days in them but 25 or 30. I love them. They are indeed tough. I personally don’t mind the relative stiffness Dom points out, maybe because I move gingerly to begin with. I’m thin, and I really love the good fit these have – first pair of waders I’ve owned that weren’t baggy on me to one degree or another. That helps in strong currents. I don’t automatically buy something based on brand, but I have to say that Orvis scored on this product.

    Reply
  7. Dom,
    Really appreciate such a thorough review. I’m on the water about 125 days a year and need good equipment. Recently bought a new pair of waders & passed on these due to the suspenders that you pointed out. Hope they make the change, if they do I’m all in. Thx.

    Reply
    • I do think the suspenders should change. It’s my number one complaint, really. Just make them stretchier.

      Dom

      Reply
  8. I have the Pro waders and like them a lot. I find Simms waders hard to pull off at the end of the day, and the Orvis waders come off easier, despite the Cordura. And they are a lot easier to turn inside out to avoid wader funk. I think in part it’s because they are cut a bit looser in the lower leg. I did find them to be a bit tight in the knees at first, and I removed the knee pads. That helped some. But recently with the low clear water, I’ve been on my knees from time to time, and put them back in. I sometimes use a roofer’s knee and shin pad for this, but they are extra to strap on, and bulky. The Orvis wader knee pads are good enough for many situations, and they are always there now when I need them. I haven’t reached 100 days on my waders yet, but am glad to hear that they didn’t leak for you, Dom. I’m hoping mine won’t either. By the way, my Orvis Pro boots fell apart relatively quickly. I got a replacement pair, but others have had similar problems with them, so one should not make any assumptions about the boots based on the wader quality. Overall these are the best waders I’ve had in a while. Thanks for the review.

    Reply
  9. Great review. I bought a pair of the Simms G4 Guide model when they first came out. They felt like armor for Arctic wading. The stiffness was so bad I sold them like-new. I have always owned Simms waders since buying my first Streamline royal blue neoprenes decades ago. I am a huge fan, but I have also learned the detect and repair method for leaks, and it frankly doesn’t bother me much at all. Good to know that Orvis makes such a durable product. My girlfriend has a pair of Redingtons that have been great for her, without a terrific amount of hard use. I swear by my old lightweight Patagonia boots!

    Reply
  10. Might have to get a pair of these next time. Love my Patagonia waders for fit and weight, but they’re starting to look like polka dot pants with all the repairs and patching. Lots of bushwhacking and deadfall in the Rockies has done a number on them. Great write up!

    Reply
  11. I would only add that I have worn many types of Simms and Orvis waders and found the following differences: In size large the standard length of Simms is 33-34 while Orvis is 30-32, which may account for less comfort or flexibility when bending over. Also, the feet of Simms are listed as 9-11 in the standard large size and Orvis is 10-12. I think that may account for the easier on/off someone mentioned. Sizing is often tricky between brands.

    :

    Reply
    • Good stuff. I’ll also add that the listed size is often nothing close to the actual size (length in this case). It’s like “5X” tippet. There’s a good reason why some brands of tippet are much stronger than others — their diameter is thicker!!

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  12. Part of the decision process for me in buying a product is how good is the warranty. I’ll pay more for something knowing that a company stands behind their products. You pay for what you get. My Orvis rod, 3 years old with a 1 year warranty needed a new tip. I broke it trying to retreve a fly from a tree. I called to order a new tip. They sent a new complete rod at no charge , knowing how I broke it and being out of warranty. So when I needed a new pair of waders I bought the pro waders. Stiff at first like mentioned but have loosen up after wearing them 10 times or so. Very comfortable . One thing that doesn’t work are the clips on the gaiters. It doesn’t stay fasten to my boots. Not a big deal because they stay in place anyway

    Reply
    • Good point about the clip. I used pliers to make the gap just a little more narrow, and that worked.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  13. 100d is just crazy. Can I ask when the gaiter failed? Day 100 or earlier (approx what day)?

    Reply
    • Hi Greg. A small tear started at about 50 days. That’s just an estimate. I don’t keep track of anything specific like that — just general number of days worn.

      It has also started on my right side now, so I reinforced the seam in the same way.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  14. Dom – I have owned a pair g TG or over a year, and have subjected them to extreme abuse – they are solid. And as for the stiff material, I fish a lot of backcountry rivers in VA and WV and I like to think that extra thickness will stop a copperhead or rattlesnake.

    Reply

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