As we walked along the precarious, scree-strewn banks of Turn Creek, hoping against hope that we’d find the first of the creek’s pink salmon of the summer, I noticed a six-inch gash in my daughter’s waders, just below her hip on her backside.
The tear, an “L”-shaped, full-on breathable laceration could have spelled doom for a precarious fly fishing adventure in the wilds of Southeast Alaska, had I not come prepared with a spare pair, albeit one that was quite a bit larger than the stylish baby blue pair of waders we’d picked up before we left town on our two-week Odyssey to the rainforest.
Truth be told, I didn’t bring the spare pair for her. I brought them for me—I’m hell on waders. Always have been. But despite nearly a fortnight of daily abuse to the main pair of waders I'd brought along, Simms G4Zs, they held firm. Delaney’s little off-the-shelf models, while serviceable and certainly more appealing to a 16-year-old girl? Patchable, maybe. But they’ll probably always have a leak in the butt.
With a few adjustments to the wading belt and some creativity with the shoulder straps upon arrival at the next fishy destination, Delaney was all set in my backups, an old pair of my waders that have served faithfully over the last few years. The thin blue waders were rolled up and tucked away. Meanwhile, I didn’t worry one bit about staying dry in the G4s, even after putting them through a serious field trial in the Alaskan temperate jungle. I’d never risk it on a trip this long and this taxing on gear, but if I had to travel to the rainforest with one pair of waders, and one pair only, it might be this pair.
Construction of the Simms G4Z stockingfoot waders is … thorough. The folks in Bozeman didn’t screw around with these things, and it shows. The company marketing material will tell you that the five-layer Gore-tex Pro Shell material “bolsters durability and enhances breathability by 25 percent,” and that may be absolutely true. They feel strong. They feel rugged. And when you slip them on, it feels like you just might be one step closer to fly fishing invincibility. Simply put, I liked wearing them.
It wasn’t meant to be a true field test—it was a father-daughter fishing trip that included bear viewing, whale watching, glaciers, museums, boat trips, plane trips and a few days spent washboarding across old logging roads in a beat-up rented pickup. But throw in the above-mentioned scree slopes, nipple deep, tannin-stained water that runs under fallen cedars and over boulders the size of Jeeps, and it didn’t take long to realize just how comfortable the G4Zs really are. I found the waders to perfectly wearable—a rarity among high-end “breathables” that tend to truly enhance personal humidity and make for a pretty ripe bouquet on Day 2. Or Day 22.
I literally lived in them for days at a time, and they stood up to everything from wind-driven rain on boat rides across the Stikine Delta to being peeled off on the sidewalk in front of our hotel in Wrangell and quickly tossed into the back of a truck so we could make dinner in time. The shoulder straps didn’t dig into my clavicles and there was enough room to bend and squat and step up into pickup trucks and climb over rocks… the list goes on. They wore well. They felt good. The G4Zs proved to me that you didn’t have to sacrifice comfort to don a pair of heavy-duty waders.
This is important. The G4Zs were warm, but not hot. Perhaps that has something to do with that 25-percent figure Simms mentions above, or maybe it has something to do with the fact that it never really warmed up in the Maritime climate of the Panhandle. When I put waders on, I almost always expect to be “moist” at the end of the day when I take them off—I think this is one of those accepted “absolutes” among avid anglers who spend a lot of time wearing Gore-tex, right? It keeps water out, but … it also keeps moisture in. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sweat a bit, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy that refreshing moment when I stepped out of the G4Zs at the end of every day spent fishing. But, truth be told, there’s something to the breathability factor in these waders. I was dry on the outside, and I was dry on the inside, too.
I’m a big guy. My “Yeti” nickname was not something pulled out of a hat, sadly. Finding waders that fit is always a challenge. Simms’ size chart for waders is perhaps the best idea the company ever came up with, and it’s something, as a consumer, I can count on when the time comes for me to do a little soft-goods shopping. The XXLs that I took with me to Alaska fit just right and allowed to me to move around well. They didn’t bind or ride up tailbone like some other brands do. They fit well.
I realize this may sound snobbish in a snooty, “let them eat cake” kind of way, but who would buy waders without that waterproof zipper in front if they had any other option? Of course, for years, I did, largely because, as I said, I’m hell on waders, and I could only imagine the havoc I could wreak on my nether-regions with a leaky zipper. The good news is, advances in zipper technology (where else would you read that phrase, right?) make for a truly dependable feature that makes life so much easier when the weather goes from downright nasty to borderline muggy in a matter of just a few minutes. Not to mention the quick trip behind the bushes to ditch that third cup of coffee.
I liked how, with a few simple modifications to the shoulder straps, they became waist straps, and with few more adjustments, the G4Zs became a pretty heavy-duty set of guide pants.
When in full chest-wader mode, the G4Zs feature a pair of sizeable, zip-up pockets, perfect for a small camera one side and a fly box on the other. The little spring-cord “zinger” is a nice, touch, too, ideal for a set of hemos or nippers.
What doesn’t work
I’m being picky, but it can’t all be good news, right?
First, the G4Zs are heavy. I guess that’s to be expected given the five layers of Gore-tex and all the bells and whistles that come with these waders, but the weight was a bit alarming. At one point, when my daughter was moving gear around in the back of the truck, she asked me if it was exhausting wearing the G4Zs all day because they were “hella heavy, Dad.”
I’m not sure how Simms could solve this riddle, frankly. And given the durability of these waders, I’m not sure I’d want them to put too much effort into trying to lighten the load. It’s not something I notice while I fish, up to my good-times in cold water that flows into the Inside Passage, which is why we wear waders to begin with. It’s a bit onerous on the bushwhacks into the salmon streams, I suppose, but, again, as fly fishers, we’ve come to expect certain sacrifices in order to stay warm and dry.
Holy major fly fishing investment, Batman.
These bad boys retail at $800. I’ll be honest, here. In 25 years of fly fishing, evolving from the cheap trout bum who donned a pair rubber hip boots to the guy who thought Neoprene was the second coming of sliced bread, I never imagined that a pair of waders would cost more than my monthly mortgage.
But, as I’ve come to realize, good waders purchased once are truly an investment. I used to go through waders about every two years, which says something about the waders I was buying. Simms makes this sticker shock a bit more tolerable thanks to a fair and reasonable warranty—if the G4Zs tear or rip in the first year, the repairs are on Simms. After that, repairs involving manufacturing issues are free, too. After that first year, repairs for wear and tear are perfectly reasonable, topping out at $65. It’s safe to say that, for many anglers, this may be the last pair of waders they have to buy. That’s saying something.
It took me a while to come around to the idea that spending that kind of money on waders was worth the expense. That’s a lot of cheddar, and it’s a safe bet that not every angler is going to hand over that kind of money when there are literally of dozens of less expensive wader options. But, if you fish hard or if you fish in places where the climate can be as challenging as the fishing is exhilarating, a good pair of waders can save your trip and make it possible to enjoy the experience rather than worrying about your gear.
The Simms G4Zs are excellent fishing waders, made in the center of the fly-fishing universe in Bozeman, Mont., by folks who live there. If you’re ready for fly fishing investment—not just another purchase—these waders might be just what you’re looking for.