Our fly fishing gear takes a lot of abuse, and eventually all waders leak, boots fall apart and pack zippers fail. But how long can it hold up? How well is it built?
The 100 Day Gear Review Series on Troutbitten takes a look at how gear is performing after the century benchmark. Should our fly fishing gear last longer than 100 days? You bet. And after many months of heavy use, we can have an excellent understanding of what we bought.
The gear reviews on Troutbitten feature products I’ve used extensively and believe in. These reviews are an honest account and reflection of my time spent fishing with these products. I fish hard, and I tell you no lies. That’s the way it is here.
** Note ** Links for buying the Skwala Carbon Waders are at the end of this article.
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Skwala Carbon waders have become my first choice for comfort and durability while fishing long days on the water. Regardless of the season, I love the fit and the performance of the Carbons. They breath well and are remarkably light, so it never feels like wet waders are weighing me down.
Modern waders have grown into something entirely different than what we were wearing a couple of decades ago.
Designs have trended toward thicker textiles and more layers. Our fishing waders now come with more accessories like zippers, layered pockets, flap-out-tool caddies, zingers, knee pads and more. All of this is useful in limited conditions, but oftentimes, these accessories get in the way. And when features become a burden, it’s time to remove them.
Every zipper, pad and pocket sewn into a wader adds weight and limits breathability. For some anglers, it’s an unwelcome trade off, and just when I was bemoaning the loss of simplicity and function, Skwala came to market with their Carbon waders.
Most manufacturers offer stripped-down versions of their flagship models, with limited features and inferior fabrics. But Skwala took the minimalist approach seriously. The Carbons are high-end waders, built from the ground-up with mobility, comfort and toughness at the forefront.
The Skwala Carbon waders are a workhorse for the die hard angler.
Here’s a closer look at the best (and worst) features of the Carbons, as I see them, from bottom to top . . .
Fit and Fabric
The Skwala Carbon waders feature a four-layer breathable laminate throughout the wader, finished with an extra-dense and durable nylon textile. After 100+ hard days on my favorite rivers, I’ve had just one half-inch tear, from a rusty nail on a fence post. That was my fault, and It was easily patched with Aquseal from the inside.
The Carbon waders are super light, and the fabric is quiet — meaning on long walks in your cadence isn’t accompanied by the music of your pant legs. (If you know, you know.)
After long hours and seasons on the water, the DWR treatment of every wader wears down, and most waders are heavy when they wet out. But the Carbons remain light and comfortable, no matter what.
That comfort also comes from the unique fit. I noticed this first while my Skwalas hung to dry. A close look at a pair of Carbon waders reveals what Skwala calls an articulated fourchette leg design. That means they’re already bent instead of straight legged. They’re built with a slight angle, because our knees are rarely locked while wading and fishing. This fit, this articulation, is a repeated feature throughout Skwala’s designs, from waders to sun shirts, and it’s a (mostly) invisible reason why Skwala gear feels so comfortable. You just don’t think about the Carbons much while you’re wearing them.
Warm and Cold
Breathable waders are not designed to keep you warm, nor should they be. Instead, their purpose is to keep you dry by blocking water from the outside and letting water vapor escape from the inside. Insulation is up to you. So when the snow is flying, I wear wool base layers and maybe add a pair of fleece pants. That’s where warmth should come from, but I’ve noticed how this concept has recently become confusing for consumers.
I get the question a lot: “Will those waders keep me warm? Are those summer waders or winter waders?”
They are neither.
Remember, breathable waders are not built to keep you warm. But I know where this confusion started . . .
Most wader builders have continued adding layers and features, aiming to meet the demand for more durability and more convenience with that handy-dandy tool caddy. But the consequence is less breathability.
Even Skwala acknowledges that their RS wader (feature rich) is not the best choice for warm weather. However, this message is misunderstood by the public. It doesn’t mean that a lighter wader like the Carbon is a poor choice for the winter, and it doesn’t mean that the RS will actually keep you warm in cold weather. It simply means that a heavier wader breathes less, and that it’s not a great option for sweaty seasons.
That’s good to know. Pass it on.
Skwala’s Carbon waders feature multiple panels of 4mm neoprene for the anatomically patterned feet. The taping is well executed, without bulk where multiple seams come together. Bottom line: the booties are comfortable and trim — not sloppy.
The interior of the booties have a jersey fabric layered over the neoprene, with an antimicrobial treatment that limits bacteria which can break down the adhesive of wader seams. It’s another unique feature in Skwala’s waders.
Early waders required separate add-on gaiters. We wrapped those around our ankles and above the boot tops to keep out sand and gravel. They worked well enough, but I still have a collection of wrap-around gaiters that I found laying streamside. They fell off too often.
These days, almost all waders come with built-in gators, and there are many designs. Some stand out, some pass and some fail. The Carbon gaiters do the job well. I like how easily they lift up to permit access to the boot laces at the end of the day. Some gaiters of similar designs are stiff and hard to lift, especially in frozen conditions, but the Carbon gaiters start a couple inches higher on the calf than most, lending easier access, while also providing full coverage.
While the gaiters are often the first failure on aging waders, the Carbon design has held up perfectly.
Given a choice, I still prefer the full wrap-around, stretchy gaiters. It’s an old-school design and might not look as modern, but the super-snug fit keeps everything out, even on sandy beaches. I brought this up with Rich Hohne, from Skwala, and here’s what he told me . . .
“One reason the Skwala gravel gaiter works so well is that it removes a point where everything comes together. That is a constriction point and is the reason that a lot of waders are hard to take off and on. The Skwala waders actually get larger as the bootie moves towards the connection point, which means there is more room for removal and putting on. Also, the gaiter provides a sacrificial sheath to protect an area of the wader where a lot of wear occurs.”
Legs and Waist
I already mentioned how the legs fit. And the same holds true in the waist and uppers of the Carbons. I dislike waders with too much space built in. I need enough room for winter layers, but that’s all — no more than necessary. I can easily fit all the wool I need under the Carbons, without a problem. And in the summer, I don’t feel like I’m swimming in extra wader material.
The Carbons do not come with an integrated belt. That’s a good thing! Integrated belts are just another unnecessary feature that adds bulk and subtracts breathability from a wader. The Carbons do have belt loops and a detachable belt, but I don’t use either of those. Instead, I use my own belt over my waders, just like we all did before built-in belt loops. This makes more sense to me. How does any wader manufacturer know where my waist is anyway?
So I don’t use the built-in belt loops, but if you like ‘em, you have ‘em. Skwala actually builds two belt loop placements into the Carbons — one lower, one higher.
Here’s where the Carbon’s really do something unique for a modern wader. The uppers have a great design, purpose-built for remaining light in all seasons, and for dropping down and converting to waist highs very easily in the warmest weather.
There’s no pass-through hand pocket in the Carbons. This took a few trips for me to adjust to. At first, it seemed like a throwback to the first waders I ever bought, back in the nineties. There are two pockets in the uppers, however: one horizontal zipper at the top exterior and another on the interior. But Skwala, wisely, kept the Carbons light.
A pass-through pocket must be large enough for two hands and some extra space. Think about how much more material this requires — more tape, more weight, less breathability. Think too about the microfleece liner found in most of these pass-through pockets. What do you think that fleece panel does for your sweating core in the summertime? Nothing good. So Skwala bucked the trend, and eliminated the pass-through pocket, because . . .
They are built for breathability. Built to be light. Built to be comfortable and durable.
Drop Down Top and Suspenders
The minimalist top-panel of the Carbons is perfectly suited to the drop-down feature that Skwala had in mind. I’ve slid the suspenders down from my shoulders on every wader I’ve ever worn, converting them to makeshift waist-highs. On the warmest days, many anglers do the same, and we’re left with a large roll of wader material, pockets, fleece and mixed-in suspenders. It’s a fair solution on the hottest days, but it’s admittedly clunky. I’ve also worn Patagonia waders with the internal suspension system. But Skwala’s take on this idea really nails the objective.
The magnetic attachment system eliminates the bulk of buckles while allowing for fast conversion to waist high waders. Until I wore the Carbons, I didn’t know what I was missing. Sliding the uppers up and down is so easy with the Carbons that I do this often. As soon as I warm up, dropping the top down clears out the extra heat. And when I’m about to wade over my waist again, I pull the tops up, where they easily attach at the magnetic connection.
I do miss the classic buckles sometimes. Stretchy suspenders with plastic sliders allow for a wider range of adjustment, and that can be helpful.
Skwala also added light and airy padding around the shoulders of the suspenders. They never dig in, and the unique pad keeps suspenders from feeling sweaty and clingy against thin, damp shirts.
Skwala came on the scene strong in 2022, quickly earning their reputation as builders of the finest fly fishing gear on the market.
But don’t sleep on the Carbons. They are equally top notch, but they are built for a different purpose.
If you walk long miles, cast long hours and fish long seasons, Skwala designed the Carbon waders for you.
I never think about the Carbons once I step into them. They don’t get in my way, they wear like a pair of comfortable pants, and they’ve now kept me dry for 100+ days (and counting).
** Note ** The partnerships and the support of this industry are part of what keeps Troutbitten going. And I’m proud that Troutbitten is a Skwala affiliate. You can read my policy on gear reviews HERE. And if you decide to buy the Skwala Carbon Waders, (or any other product at these links), Troutbitten receives a commission of the sale, at no additional cost to you. So thank you for your support.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N