I spent the fair part of this past year watching Orvis’ new Ultralight waders endure a full season’s worth of abuse as rentals, while working my summer job at a fly fishing outfitter on the Upper Delaware River system. Despite the innumerable anglers who squeezed into them over the course of the spring and summer months, we had zero problems with any of our rental pairs. For the pairs we sold, which was a fair number, we received no returns or complaints. Given this and the experience I’d previously had with the Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots, I was excited to get my hands on the centerpiece of the Orvis Ultralight system—the Orvis Ultralight Waders—as I was sure they would impress.
As the name suggests, these waders are are ultra light. While I didn’t throw mine on the scale, Orvis claims the men’s medium/regular waders come in at a feathery 35 oz, with the womens version coming in at a few ounces lighter still. But the term “ultralight” implies more than just lightweight, though they certainly are that. In this case, the ultralight moniker has as much to do with their packability, breathability, and philosophy of use, as it has to do with their minimal heft. If you’re an angler on the move, whether that involves hiking, driving, or flying, you’ll appreciate the thoughtful design of these waders and the Orvis Ultralight system.
Fit and comfort
The Orvis Ultralight Waders are cut with a modern, athletic fit. They conform to your body in all the right places, but provide a little extra space where you need it. At 5’ 7” 145 lbs, the size small fit me perfectly in every way but length. The legs and suspenders could have been a few inches shorter, though I acknowledge that not everyone is as vertically challenged as I am. Compared to other Orvis waders, the Ultralights sport slimmer legs and a more form fitting cut. This is especially noticeable around the knees, crotch, and hips, as bending, leaning, squatting, and other such movements are extremely comfortable without the need for a baggy design to accommodate movement. Using the same exterior fabric as the Orvis Sonic waders, the Ultralights are not stiff or noisy, while remaining light, comfortable, and durable. According to Orvis, an upgraded laminate makes the Ultralights nearly twice as breathable as the Sonics, and I was pleased at how well they regulated body heat and perspiration.
As much as I admire the creative size/weight saving design of booties in other ultralight options, I’ll take the minimal increase in weight and bulk of the Orvis for the comfort. The neoprene booties feature an extremely comfortable sock-like fit that fills the wading boot more accurately with less scrunched material. This means less friction and wear on the booties, less rubbing and hotspots on your feet, and the comfort to hike farther and fish longer.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have intentionally tried to break these waders, but I certainly haven’t gone easy on them. The word “ultralight” hasn't deterred me from all the rock sliding, bushwacking, and bank climbing one might need to do in a standard day of fishing. They are tougher than they ought to be for their weight. The 4-layer nylon fabric construction, comprised of waterproof/breathable, and puncture/abrasion-resistant layers works as advertised, providing an Ultralight design that sacrifices little in the way of durability. The stitched and double tape-reinforced seams are also one of the wader’s selling points, and for good reason. According to Orvis, the seams on the Ultralight waders are reinforced at high stress areas and are tested to withstand a force of 77 lbs before seam failure, whereas many competitors come in at the 40-50 lb mark.
Convertibility is not something that I usually look for when choosing a pair of waders. It's a nice bonus, sure, but not a dealbreaker. But when it comes to these Orvis Ultralight Waders, the design is just so perfect and so useful that I would be remiss not to give them the credit they are due. The Fidlock Snap magnetic fasteners and well routed design of the straps are among the best strap systems I have encountered. It is so effortless and easy to use it makes you wonder why all waders aren’t designed as such. Whether you wear them fully extended or pulled down, you won’t feel like you are fighting with your waders every time you go to make an adjustment. The magnetic snaps lock and unlock easily, and the waders slide up and down independently of the Y-shaped suspender straps, so minimal phenagiling is necessary. Rather than creating a jumbled mass around your midline like many other waders, these waders allow excess fabric to slide down around your abdominals and fold at your waist comfortably and intuitively. It's just an awesome design.
Paired with the Ultralight boots, the Orvis Ultralight wader are a fantastic option for anglers and other users for whom weight and packability is important. I’ve used them for both fishing and hunting as a lightweight solution, from hiking into fishing spots, to packing treestands into public swamps. I fish the same way I hunt—mobile. I am always moving around and searching for fresh action as conditions and circumstances change, and this wading system lets me do that. I could see a variety of people—from fishermen, to hunters, to biologists and other professionals, utilizing the Orvis Ultralight system as a useful tool for those on the move who need a lightweight, packable wader to get the job done.
Set proper expectations
Look, these waders are great. If you are expecting something with the word “ultralight” in the name to take the same kind of abuse as a heavy-duty design, then the fault is with your expectations and not the product. Not to mention, at a $298 MSRP, these come in at $100-200 less than more robust (and therefore heavier) waders worth a comparison. If you are realistic about what gear can be expected to do, I think these waders will surpass your expectations. If and when I do finally get a leak or other failure—which I haven’t, despite the considerable amount of abuse and scorn I’ve heaped on the Orvis Ultralights—I’ll be interested to see the where, how, and why of it. I don’t expect it will be anything unreasonable.
Interior dry pocket not included
The Orvis Ultralight waders feature a patch on the interior pocket where you attach Orvis’ waterproof pocket—a durable, waterproof, touch-screen compatible pocket—but you’ll have to buy it separately for $12. Despite the added weight, I would have prefered for a waterproof pocket to have been included. I’ve fried too many phones to take the risk. Since there's a $12 solution to this problem, it's obviously not a deal breaker, but I would have liked to have seen it included.
If you’re the kind of person who has a few stamps on their passport, six digits on their odometer, a lot of miles on their hiking boots, or maybe just wants to stay a little cooler under the hot sun to better enjoy their time on the water, these Orvis waders may be the best ultralight option currently on the market to cover the widest range of users and circumstances. I think Orvis has a winner here, and if you choose to pair them with other lightweight gear, you’ll augment the mobility, packability, and comfort of your entire system. Just think, with the Orvis Ultralight waders and boots, for under $500 you can fish just about anywhere with a package that weighs around 5 lbs and takes up about as much space as a spare change of clothes.