Waders and Boots for the Nomadic Angler

I’ve fairly recently gotten into ultralight backpacking – which then has impacted other hobbies I enjoy. So a few months ago I picked up a pair of minimalist waders from Patagonia, the Swiftcurrent Ultralight Wader (36 oz.), and their newest Forra Wading Boot (41 oz.) – for those of you who like to count ounces too.

The waders showed up in a tiny little box that made you wonder if anything was actually in there. I was immediately impressed that they pack into about half or less the space of your normal breathable waders. With some upcoming international travel, I was particularly excited at the possibility that I could even avoid a checked bag – that’s how small they roll up, aided by a single waterproof inside the wader pouch and minimalist shoulder straps.

The next thing you’d notice about these waders is that they’ve forgone the common neoprene bootie for your feet – replaced with some sort of fancy rubber(?) bootie. I’ll admit I was skeptical of this at first; in particular, I wondered about how clammy my feet were going to get. After wearing several times, however, I’m surprised to say I think my feet are much more comfortable and less sweaty in these than in neoprene. The seams on the booties and the feel takes a little mental adjustment, but now I think I like them more than neoprene. And, unlike neoprene, they dry out quickly and pack small – great for jumping on a flight right after fishing. (If there’s any downside, it’s the lack of insulation this booty style provides compared to neoprene. In cold weather, figure on an extra warm pair of socks.)

Anytime you get something ultralight, durability becomes a big question mark. While the waders are only a few months old, I’ve now busted through enough brush with them to no longer worry – they’ve done great. Long term durability remains to be seen. 

It was a little while later I received the Forra boot. I’m now even more excited about these than the waders. They are bar none the most comfortable wading boot I’ve ever worn – fitting more like a good hiking boot than a wading boot. They’re so comfortable in that regard that I wouldn’t hesitate to wear them sans waders on a long, hot hike into the river – donning the waders when I get there. 

 I was again skeptical of the rubber sole for steelheading – I’ve remained a felt guy – but I recently wore them on a rather slick steelhead river and the aggressive Vibram sole did far and away better than any lug-soled boot I’ve ever worn. I’d still probably get a traction kit if you’re not a confident wader or are visiting the North Umpqua, but for now, I’ll be spending more time with the plain lug sole and see how it goes.

I’ll be continuing to wear these as my primary wader and boot through the winter and then taking them on a plane to Argentina in March – where we’ll see if I can travel carryon for a week of destination angling, complete with six-piece travel rods.

There’s some potential for bias in this review: Patagonia supports Swing the Fly, but more importantly, they support wild fish — much more so than some of your other wader and boot options — and that means a lot to Swing the Fly. I also really, truly like this wader and boot.