Wader evolution

Do you remember Seal Dris? Columnist Rob Brown does.

Pete Broomhall is a tall, long-legged fellow who had a lot of trouble with conventional chest waders because their crotches came to his knees. He solved this problem by cutting off the feet of the world’s first stocking foot waders, Seal Dris, which he then glued to the tops of a solid pair of gum boots using contact cement.

Seal Dris were the first latex wader. They were seamless. Latex was quite flexible, conferring more mobility upon their wearer. The downside to the seamless latex construction was that punctures that could easily turn into giant tears were a constant worry. Pete wore a pair of light rain pants overtop his waders in response to this problem.

Inspired by Pete Broomhall’s example, I ordered a pair of Seal Dris.

Thirty years ago, $150 dollars was a lot of money. When I added the price of a decent pair of gumboots and a pair of rain pants, I’d spent just over $200 dollars for the waders. I don’t know exactly how much that would be in 21st century loot, but I suspect it would be about twice that amount.

Easily the most flexible and comfortable wader I’d worn until that time, they were worth every penny. Pete told me he got six seasons out of a pair of Seal Dris that were more patch than wader when he was through with them. I wore mine for half that, which was longer than any other wader had lasted me.

Sunlight and ozone eventually ate away at the latex and my Seal Dris began to rot. I ordered a new pair that lasted almost as long, then neoprene waders arrived on the scene and the Krene Company stopped producing their latex waders.

It’s surprising that nobody had thought of using neoprene for waders earlier since the material was invented by scientists working for DuPont in 1930. Originally marketed as Duprene, neoprene was produced through the polymerization of chloroprene to produce a synthetic rubber material that is light, strong, and a terrific insulator.

Because it contains closed cells, neoprene had the additional benefit to anglers of providing floatation, a vital safety feature in the event of an unintentional dip in the river. The first neoprene waders fit like casing on a sausage, which made them difficult to put on and take off, but soon they appeared with a lining that took care of that problem.

Neoprene waders were warm, a blessing for steelheaders since they spend almost all their fishing time standing in cold rivers in weather ranging from cool to cold. Some models came with boots attached, but these were in the minority. Most had stocking feet, necessitating the purchase of wading boots.

Stocking foot waders are safer insofar as the wading boots one wears with them are normally felted or have cleats (or, in some cases, have both) and offer more ankle support. The drawbacks to them are that they wear more quickly and, being tighter, they reduce circulation to the feet and they afford no room for air, the best insulator against the cold.

Unless they are a perfect fit, and even then to a degree, neoprene waders are less elastic than the newer so-called breathable materials, and because of the nature of the material it can be devilishly difficult to find leaks in them, but easy to patch them once they are located.

The latest thing in outdoor wear is breathable material. This is stuff that is reputed to keep water out while simultaneously exhaling sweat, a miraculous quality indeed. The many breathable waders I have owned are amazingly light weight and offer more freedom of movement that any of their predecessors. Unfortunately, they are frail.

To date I have worn waders made by Patagonia, Simms, Gray’s, Protac, and Hodgman. I haven’t torn or punctured any of them, yet they have all leaked, some after only a few outings. Most of the leaks have been along the seams, some have been in the material, and in two cases the stocking feet turned into sponges. 

After all this testing, talking to guides, retailers, and the manufacturers, I have come to the conclusion that breathable waders have a longevity of approximately 150 days. That may not seem like a long time, but for an avid angler living in the Lower Mainland it represents three to five years. For a fishing guide or someone like me who fishes over a 100 days a year, breathable waders will last about a year.

Simms makes a wader that costs $900, including taxes, that they claim will last longer. I’m not willing to pay close to a grand and take a chance especially since the material they are made from appears to be identical to the stuff all the other leaky breathables I have are made from. In fact, the most durable breathable waders I’ve owned were the least expensive.

Now I wear neoprene waders in the winter. For the rest of the year I buy cheap breathables and two tubes of glue.


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