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.
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.
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.
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.
** 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.
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.
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.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N