I swim in waders, that is, I swim inside waders. Let's face it, waders are just glorified overalls. And, since fly fishing is a sport dominated by men, most of these glorified overalls are built for men. The reality is, women’s needs when it comes to waders differ significantly from that of men, and waders that are designed for men simply do not work for women. For years, fly fishing women have been in the market for options in the world of waders that fit and function well for women.
Men vs. Women
The most obvious difference between men and women is that our curves are in entirely different places on our body. My first pair of waders was men’s waders, designed for a man’s body. And it should come as no surprise that they were ill-fitting and frumpy. On the plus side, I probably could have stored all my gear inside at the same time I wore them.
Most waders made for men do not fit well for women. We do not need the excess room in the crotch area and from behind we’d prefer to not look like a toddler wearing saggy diapers. A more fitted shape is not only more aesthetically pleasing, it is more comfortable and certainly makes a variety of on-the-water tasks, such as managing my sling pack, easier as a result of not having to wrestle with overhanging, excess wader material.
Women also tend to have longer legs than men. Even if I got the correct size in men’s waders, the length of the inseam would fall a little short for me. Even among women, our shapes differ more than that of men, which adds to the challenge of finding (and designing) waders made specifically for women.
Women also have different on-the-stream needs when compared to men. One prominent example is in regards to our need to carry toiletries when out on the water. And by toiletries, I am not talking about hair brushes and lip gloss. When out in the middle of no-where, women are more vulnerable when nature calls. As a result, it would be helpful to have waterproof pockets roomy enough to store our personal hygiene toiletries.
Reviewing the Options
While “women’s waders” have existed for several years now, many of the models of previous years were little more than men’s waders in smaller sizes, with small changes that would presumably make them appeal to female shoppers. Women know as well as men that fly fishing is not a fashion show, which means that making a quality pair of women’s waders doesn’t mean simply updating men’s waders with colors and styling that appeal to women.
Thankfully, several manufacturers are now making fly fishing apparel designed specifically for women, with seemingly serious functional considerations behind these new designs, but which of these pairs delivers the most for our long ignored segment of the fly fishing world?
Over the course of this summer, I’ll be putting a series of women’s waders to the test and reporting back on where each pair succeeds and where they don’t, in areas such as construction, fit, functionality and comfort. Below is the first in this series of reviews, which details my experiences with Orvis’ Silver Sonic Waders for Women.
When the Orvis Silver Sonic Waders arrived, I was surprised at how lightweight and compact they were given the heavy duty construction and number of features.
Here are some of the notable aspects of the construction.
- 4-layer nylon outer fabric up to the knees for added strength and Sonic Seam technology which means no thread, no stitching. If you’re not familiar with Orvis’ Sonic Seam technology, don’t fear it. The technology has been in Orvis waders for some time, and is also licensed by Redington for use in their waders. Stitches or no, these seams don’t leak.
- The Silver Sonic waders feature a handy suspension system that allows you to convert them to waist highs without removing the suspenders.
- The included wading belt belt held on by three loops.
- Roomy, front chest pocket with waterproof zipper seal.
- A removable, flip-out interior, waterproof pocket with touch-screen capabilities.
- Anatomically correct neoprene booties designed for women’s smaller feet.
I guess I won't be swimming inside these waders. The Silver Sonic has a noticeably slimmer fit, yet enough room to add layers if needed. And, the slimmer fit wasn’t restrictive. I hiked a couple of miles along a dirt path among bushy trees, climbing over rocks and branches. The Silver Sonics wear and move like regular pants. It was a pleasure to not to have the excess baggage I’m accustomed to with men’s waders. During long days on the river, these waders wore very well both in and out of the water.
The chest panel is a bit higher on the Silver Sonic waders and the buckles connect at a higher point when compared to men’s waders. These “fall” more correctly on a women’s frame. The torso and chest area of the Silver Sonics is also adjustable, allowing women of different chest sizes to customize the waders to fit them comfortably.
The anatomically correct neoprene booties were comfortable as long as I wore thin socks. However, it was a bit challenging to put on thicker socks – the ones I usually wear in the winter. I had to wiggle my toes a bit to straighten them out. While these women-specific booties are unquestionably an improvement over bulky men’s booties, they did feel a little snug.
Another important note is that I love to wet wade when summer temperatures spike, due to the comfort and relief that comes with leaving my waders behind. Despite the oppressive air temperatures, however, my favorite river is very cold. Therefore, a good pair of waders will have to pass the comfort test, especially as far as breathability goes, while fly fishing in a cold stream that happens to flow through Dante’s Inferno.
As luck would have it, during my time with Orvis’ Silver Sonic waders, we had record breaking heat. As a result, I had the pleasure of fishing in the Silver Sonic for 9 hours straight in a mere 104 degrees. It turned out to be a great day of fishing, during which I was very comfortable in my waders and felt no urge to strip them off and jump into the river. I even had the waders up high and didn’t feel the need to push them down to my waist.
The Silver Sonics are unique in that they have a suspension system that allows you to convert the waders to waist highs without removing the suspenders. It was a pleasure to be able to don and doff my waders without twisting my arms like a pretzel to reach for the straps. All I had to do was slip the suspenders on and the clips simply slid up and down to fasten. Accessing the back clip was challenging, but I was still able to take the waders on and off by only using the front clips – problem solved. The width of the top is also adjustable with side cords to accommodate room for your chest area.
Silver Sonic also includes a belt held on by three loops. While this may sound inconsequential, it’s not. More belt loops result in your belt staying attached to your waders even when unbuckled – an added bonus for sure.
The front chest pocket is roomy enough to hold a few necessary toiletries sealed with a waterproof zipper.
I confess, I have a terrible habit of falling in the river. After losing a couple of cameras, I finally purchased a waterproof one. Unfortunately, my phone is not waterproof. Given my penchant for falls, I jumped at the chance to slip my phone in the flip-out interior waterproof pocket with touch screen capabilities that is attached to the inside front of the waders. I didn’t dare fall in to test the waterproof aspect of this feature, but the touch screen capabilities worked just fine while my phone was in the pocket. This allowed me to make use of my smart phone without removing it from the waterproof pocket and risk a drop in the river.
Because I love to fly fish year round – even in freezing temperatures – a few things would have been an added bonus. Things like hand warmer pockets and roomier booties to accommodate thicker socks would have made these Orvis Silver Sonic Waders for Women nearly perfect.
These minor flaws aside, the Silver Sonic’s delivered on features most women look for in waders:
- A fit designed for women that really fits our curves and eliminates the excess baggage of men’s waders.
- Ease of getting them on and off thanks to the suspension system.
- Light weight
- Comfort, with the feel of regular pants.
- Adjustable top to accommodate each woman’s different chest size.
- Front chest pocket with waterproof zipper to store toiletries if needed.
- Convert waders from chest high to waist high without removing the suspenders.
Overall, I was very pleased with the Orvis Silver Sonic waders for women. The best feature of all is the price – for $259 you get a lot for your money.
she_fishes replied on Permalink
Looking forward to the whole series. Finding feedback on fly gear for women is hard. Glad someone is paying attention!
Shelly Ehmer replied on Permalink
Thank you for this great informative review.. You are making me think twice about my next set...
Heidi L replied on Permalink
I like these waders as well. They fit good, breathe well but I did have 2 that leaked. Orvis replaced them right away though.
Sally Roberts replied on Permalink
Not exactly the kind of gear review that I expected....so the knees aren't as baggy. How do the stocking feet fit? Do the straps work as a belt to allow for wearing turned down around the waist? Bells and whistles? The reviewers sounded like "chicks" rather than gal guides or even avid fly fishers.....
Chad Shmukler replied on Permalink
Sally, Aileen addresses in detail the fit of the stocking feet, noting:
as well as the system for wearing these at the waist (Orvis's drop-down strap/suspension system) and also discusses bells and whistles like the waterproof smartphone pouch, etc.
What other details were you hoping to learn more about?
Erica replied on Permalink
I bought my pair last summer, I'm not a tiny person (5'5" and around size 16) I have the XL size. I have worn them with shorts in the summer and thin socks as well as just yesterday wore them with leggings and fleece pants under them in 25 degrees and snowing. I was still able to move around in them fine and in the summer not have them feel baggy at all.
As for the feet - my women's shoe size is 9 and I was able to have heavy socks on with no issues.
I love that I can pull them down to the waste easily also.
Only think I would like to add is the hand warmer pocket. For the price difference alone it didn't make sense to go to the Patagonia ones for me.
Nicole replied on Permalink
I have these waders and love them. I am 4'11" and wear a size 5 shoe. The XS fits PERFECTLY and I am shocked, happily. I have worn them with thick wool socks in the dead of winter with snow falling and worn a puff jacket under them. I have also worn them with thin socks (right after work - accidentally) and just a tee shirt. I push and pull my booties into my boots a couple of times to get them to fit just right but I feel that is part of the gig. I do this just at the beginning, before I tie the boots up. As to your question about the suspenders being used as a belt…they have a belt and suspenders but they also have a pretty cool feature of pulling the bib down while leaving the suspenders up. They have side stitched knees so that when you are bending, you are not bending against fabric and the knees LET you bend. I have had other waders that don't allow this so I thought I'd mention it. Another plus is a waterproof pocket on the back side of the bib. It "velcros" in and out and you can also have your phone/camera in there and actually take pictures (or call out sick :-)) without taking it out in the stream. The ONLY thing I have a problem with is that there are no chest pockets. I would LOVE to be able to put my cold/wet hands in a cozy chest pocket after releasing a fish. I am considering adding a muff of some sort and using that velcro strip to hold it in place.
econ replied on Permalink
Yes great strides have been made with women's waders except for the boot size. just because a women might take a XL wader does not mean that her boot size is 9-11. Manufactures need to address women's boot sizes, right now it seems the mantra is that only small framed women have small feet.