Simms Fishing’s Guide to What to Wear Under Waders

Unlocking the puzzle of what to wear under waders

Today’s the day. You’ve got big plans to spend a long day hiking around in waders, looking for risers, and playing in natures’ playground. You pull out your rod and reel, some flies, maybe a libation or two, and you’re ready to go. You’re about to step into your waders, look down at your blue jeans and think to yourself, “there’s got to be something better than this.” And wouldn’t you know it- there is.

From the hottest days on the Henry’s Fork to the coldest days swinging for steelhead, base layers are essential items to stay comfortable in your waders. That part is obvious. However, choosing the right layer for your particular fishing situation might be less obvious.

Continue reading below to hear what we think are some of the right clothing options for layering up under waders for different fishing scenarios throughout the year.

Here’s What We’re Covering: 

  • Best Materials to Wear and Avoid Under Waders
  • Under Stockingfoot Waders
  • Under Bootfoot Waders
  • Types of Socks to Wear
  • What to Wear in the Summer
  • What to Wear in the Winter

Best Materials to Wear Under Waders

Something to keep in mind when layering up before putting on your waders- despite the season- you are likely to sweat to some degree. Whether it’s a long hike in through the snow or baking in the sun on a hot summer day, you get hot in waders. Wearing clothing underneath waders that breathes and wicks moisture away from the skin is key. Look for base layers that contain polyester, which is a tried and true moisture-wicking material. Other materials to consider are: 

  • Nylon
  • Wool
  • Bamboo 

Neoprene waders

If you by chance have a pair of neoprene waders, what you wear under your waders will be a bit of a different story. Neoprene waders are less breathable because they’re meant to keep you warm in the wintertime. You’ll want to wear moisture-wicking materials that make polypropylene and fleece excellent options for under-wader wear. 

Pro:tip – Avoid cotton!

No matter your waders’ material, all waders have one thing in common: avoid wearing cotton underneath at all costs! Cotton is extremely hydrophilic (i.e. water-loving), meaning that if it gets wet, you’re pretty much out of luck. No one wants to be soggy and damp while fishing, especially in colder temps, so nix the cotton on your next fishing trip.

Best Options Depending on Wader Style

Stockingfoot waders

Stockingfoot waders are ideal if you’re planning on doing most of your fishing during the warmer months. They’re more lightweight and less bulky than bootfoot waders; however, you’ll need to purchase a separate pair of wading boots before you set out on the water. It is always a good idea to wear socks that go above your ankle to prevent rubbing against the neoprene in the booties of your waders.

As for what shoes to wear with these waders, there are a wide variety of wading boots for both men and women out there. If you plan on wading into rocky waters, you’ll want to make sure that your wading boots or shoes have solid traction. If that’s the case, look for boots that have a Vibram or felt sole. Otherwise, rubber sole wading boots will work just fine. 

Bootfoot waders

Unlike stockingfoot waders, bootfoot waders come with the advantage of built-in boots, which means there’s one less piece of gear for you to worry about. While bulkier than stockingfoot waders, the burliness of bootfoot waders makes them perfect for colder days. Bootfoot waders are also ideal for those who plan to do some fishing from the beach, since there’s no way for sand to get through. 
Whether you choose to go with stockingfoot or bootfoot waders, you’ll want to invest in a quality pair of wading socks. Again, avoid wearing cotton and instead opt for a pair of wool or neoprene socks.

Something to keep in mind when layering up before putting on your waders- despite the season- you are likely to sweat to some degree. Whether it’s a long hike in through the snow or baking in the sun on a hot summer day, you get hot in waders.

Best Socks to Wear With Waders

Let’s start at the bottom- the socks. Simms offers a whole line of merino wool socks for any season and any scenario. It is always a good idea to wear socks that go above your ankle to prevent rubbing against the neoprene in the booties of your waders. Longer socks also give you the option to tuck your leg layers in to prevent bunching and cold spots where the skin is directly against the waders. 

For the warmer summer months, the Merino Midweight OTC (Over the Calf) Socks are going to be your best friend. In the cooler months when air temps are more variable and the water temps are on the chillier side- Guide Midweight OTC Socks are going to be the perfect fit. For any cold-weather fishing or water that’s constantly below 45 to 50 degrees, we recommend the Guide Thermal OTC Socks. You have to be careful about layering socks when the weather gets cold- constricting blood flow to your feet in cold weather is only going to make you get colder faster.

Wader Base Layers by Season

Of course, what you wear under your waders will vary slightly depending on the seasons. Here’s a brief guide on what to wear under waders in cold and warm weather.

What to Wear Under Waders in the Summer

Depending on where you live, summer temps can range from pleasantly warm to blazing hot. When shopping for summer fly fishing apparel, you’ll want to make sure that your clothing features both moisture-wicking and sun protection materials. When summer hits, it’s smart to invest in an assortment of warm weather fly fishing apparel to wear under waders, including:

Shoes and sandals – Warmer temps welcome almost bare feet. A good pair of wading sandals or shoes can be worn both in the water and from the shore or boat.

For the remainder of the year, you are going to want to focus more around the base layers and thermals we have on offer. Even on hotter days when the water is on the colder side, you will always be more comfortable with some level of insulation.

On the women’s side of things, the Women’s Lightweight Core Bottom and the Women’s Fleece Midlayer Bottom‘s apply to the same scenarios. The fleece midlayers are on the warmer end of the spectrum, so those are best served in the early spring and fall temps.

Summer Leg Layers

During the warmer summer months, you can usually get away with a pair of light pants under the waders rather than a core bottom. Since wool is a little more insulating, focus on the quick-dry pants like the Superlight Pants. Our female pros and ambassadors swear by our Bugstopper Leggings or, for slightly cooler water temps, the Midweight Core leggings. MC B from Bozeman, MT, says “…They’re great under waders because they’re so tight, don’t slip down and no adjustments needed throughout the day.” This way you will still have a barrier between your legs and the waders to draw a bit of moisture away from the skin, but won’t insulate heat towards your legs.

What to Wear Under Waders in Winter

When it comes to winter fly fishing, there are three things you’ll want to keep in mind: layers, layers, layers. It’s better to be over prepared and shed layers you don’t need than to be left out in the cold. There’s an abundance of women’s and men’s base layers for you to choose from, but some basic pieces to include in your cold weather fishing outfit include:

  • Wading jacket – Look for a hooded, insulated jacket to keep you warm and dry. 
  • Fleece sweater – A half-zip fleece sweater is the perfect midlayer for cold weather and can be worn on its own on milder winter days.  
  • Long johns/leggings – A quality pair of long underwear or leggings is a must for winter fly fishing. They can be worn under pants for added warmth, or worn alone under your waders on early spring days. 
  • Insulated pants – Perfect for those exceptionally cold days, a solid pair of insulated pants will provide you with unparalleled warmth all day long. 
  • Sungaiter – A sungaiter not only protects your face from the wind, sun, and cold, but it also adds extra warmth around your neck. 
  • Hat – Invest in a quality beanie to keep you as warm as possible. 
  • Gloves or mittens – Cold hands or fingers are a surefire way to cut your fishing trip short. Invest in a quality pair of gloves or mittens to keep the cold at bay. 

Boots and socks – Make sure your wading boots fit snugly to keep your feet dry, and wear a pair of high-quality merino wool wading socks underneath for maximum warmth.

Winter Leg Layers

If you are anticipating spending the day in freezing air temps and frigid water, finding bottoms that have multiple layers is going to help with trapping heat close to the body. This is the point where you should start looking towards our Men’s Thermal Midlayer Bottom or the beefier Fjord Pants, as well as the Women’s Midweight Core Leggings. The Mid-layer or Midweight core bottoms are going to suit you well for that late fall/early winter situation where you need insulation, but also might be moving around quite a bit from spot to spot.

The Fjords and the Insulated pants are for those extreme conditions where you know it’s going to be cold the whole time. Consider combining layers if you are going to be spending long days wading rather than hiking. For anyone that has spent a day swinging for winter steelhead knows that the heat slowly gets sucked away from your legs the longer you spend standing in 35 degrees water. Combining a few layers together like Midweight Core or the Fleece Midlayers under one of the heavier Fjords or the Midstream Insulated pants will give you optimal warmth without adding too much bulk under the waders.  

Being Prepared While Fly Fishing

It often takes a bit of time coming up for the perfect layering formula for each fishing scenario, so mix it up until you find what you are most comfortable in. Nothing is worse than trying to take your waders off to adjust your leg layers during the middle of a freezing cold day, so do your best to plan accordingly.

No matter the season or weather, it’s essential that you dress properly for fly fishing. Not only will it make for a more enjoyable experience overall, but keeping the elements at bay is crucial for your health and safety out in the wild. 
Simms Fishing Products is the No.1 destination for all of your fly fishing needs. Whether you’re seeking the perfect pair of waders or some new clothing to wear under your waders, we have you covered. Shop our men’s and women’s fly fishing apparel today to meet your new favorite fishing companion