As a longtime gear junkie and reviewer, I’ve come to expect a certain level of quality from certain brands.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I hold Orvis gear in high regard.
Lately, though, each new release from their shop in Vermont has exceeded my already high expectations. Their Ultralight Convertible wader garnered wide acclaim upon release, as did their Ultralight wading boots.
So, when the new Orvis PRO waders showed up on my door (the day before a weeklong trip to Alaska’s Kodiak Island), I couldn’t wait to get them on the water and see if they lived up to the ever-increasing standard Orvis sets for gear performance.
Orvis built the PRO waders with tons of new features, but the most meaningful change is the switch from traditional DWR-coated nylon to a proprietary Cordura fabric. Per the Orvis marketing department, no other wader on the market is built with Cordura fabric, and thanks to Cordura’s inherent strength, the PRO waders are the most puncture-resistant ones money can buy.
After three months of intense use, I can’t refute any of the company’s marketing claims. The PRO waders definitely feel more durable than any other non-Gore-Tex wader I’ve used or own. They’re hefty, but in the same reassuring way my current workhorse waders and longtime industry standard-setter — the Simms G4 — are.
Another similarity between the G4 and the Orvis PRO is how their proprietary fabric is layered. Both feature a four-layer upper section with five layers in the legs — an ideal design choice for waders built to last through the toughest fishing situations anglers get into.
Time will be the ultimate judge of durability, but based on early returns from heavy field use, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Orvis PRO waders last as long and other pair of waders has before springing a leak (224 days of fishing spread over two years, per my fishing journal).
Removable knee pads
The other big innovation in design with the Orvis PRO waders is the integrated, removable knee pads. Orvis used Ortholite X-25 foam for the pads, and says that particular foam won’t compress over time.
As someone who fishes a lot of small creeks and streams, I’m often crouching on my knees to throw a cast onto a glassy pool. The knee pads certainly make that a more comfortable experience, but that’s not all they’re good for. For the walk-and-wade guides, and even those with a drift boat, added knee support comes in handy while kneeling to remove flies from a trout’s mouth, getting a good angle on a picture, or even kneeling next to the fire or grill while making lunch.
That Orvis made these removable is even better, because the knee pads may not be for everyone. I’m a fan, though, and it’ll be interesting to see if other wader-makers follow suit.
A fishing buddy of mine once complained when I let him borrow a pair of waders. He said, “There’s too many damn pockets in here. I’m gonna lose all my stuff!”
Personally, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too many pockets. Orvis agrees, it seems, because the PRO wader has a big fleece-lined handwarmer pocket on the front of the wader, along with a waterproof zippered pocket. Inside, you’ll find a stretch mesh pocket with a removable, compartmentalized gear pocket. The stretch mesh pocket is nice for phones, wallets, and keys, while the removable pocket has plenty of room for extra fly boxes, tippet, nippers, floatant, and the various other accoutrements that find their way into waders.
Again, I love that Orvis created a removable pocket — and one that’s more user-friendly than their old Velcro waterproof phone pouches. Guides and industry professionals demand varied performance from their gear; giving them the option to remove pockets or knee pads shows an integrated understanding of what exactly anglers deal with while on the water.
When the Orvis Ultralight waders came out, I fell in love immediately because wearing them never made me feel like I was wearing waders. Hiking, walking, crouching, and sitting all felt normal — not constrained the tiniest bit.
The PRO waders aren’t that comfortable, but they’re close. They’re reassuringly hefty, so you won’t think twice about busting through thick brush. You won’t forget you’re wearing waders, but they don’t feel bulky or constraining.
Part of this likely comes from a new seam design Orvis used with the PRO wader. Per their marketing materials, the new design lessens the number of seams across the wader, and strengthens the ones that exist.
What Doesn’t Work
For whatever reason, the gravel guards on the PRO waders don’t seem to fit as snugly over the top of my boots as other waders. Even when wearing them with Orvis boots, the fit is looser than I’d like. When using the PRO waders, I often reattach the gravel guards to the D-ring on my wading boots at least once while on the water.
This could easily be an issue with my size of waders (big feet and long legs), but it’s something I’ve noticed with my Ultralight waders as well.
The Orvis PRO waders are finally a legitimate contender to the throne. With the new puncture-resistant Cordura fabric, removable knee pads, plenty of pockets, and overall comfort, it’s hard to find a fault in these waders. Priced at $498, they’re less expensive than competing waders. And Orvis’ warranty service is legendary — I’m rough on waders, remember? — so regardless of which you choose, you’ll be well cared for.
In the world of waders, I won’t be the least bit surprised if the new Cordura fabric gives Gore-Tex a run for its money. Time will be the ultimate judge, but I’d be surprised if this big step forward from Orvis doesn’t force other wader-makers to make their own move.
Overall, for a $500 pair of waders, I’m not sure I’ve used anything better. Orvis has, once again, made something truly stellar.