Hip Waders or Chest Waders – Here’s What You Really Need to Know


Ah, the big question. Hip waders or chest waders? The answer is probably more important than you think.

Get it right, and you’ll have a great days fishing. Get it wrong, and you are going to end up in deep water (literally).

Today I’m going to go through all you need to know about the different types of waders. I’ll show you a couple of examples and tell you what’s good (and not so good) about each.

Let’s dive right in!

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What are Hip Waders Used for?

Ever seen a pair of wellington boots?

How deep would water need to be to come over the top?

Not very deep, right?

Hip waders are the answer. Consider them a pair of wellington boots, but instead of them ending below your knee, they come all the way up to your hips… Hence the name.

Hip waders are suited to water that isn’t too deep. What do we mean by ‘too deep’? Well, I’d say anything well below hip height. While the outer edge of the waders may reach your hip, their ‘cuff’ is actually limited by where your legs meet in the middle.

Hip waders are good if you occasionally need to venture out a little deeper but won’t spend all day standing in the water.

inflatable boat on the lake at dawn and fisherman fishing

What are hip waders good for?

Ok, here are some places where you could use hip waders.

Still Water

Normally the bottom of ponds and lakes tends to stay as it is. As a result, you aren’t likely to encounter a deep hole or bolder if you are wading. Moving water leads to a disturbed and ever-changing bottom. This means that you could end up walking out of your depth.

Oh, and before I forget. Hip waders are relatively easy to remove. This means that they can be pulled off in fast currents. Losing a wader makes for a miserable day’s fishing.

Ask me how I know…

Shallow Streams

The one caveat to the above is if you fish on very shallow streams. What counts as ‘very shallow’? Anywhere that you can easily see the bottom.

Swampy Areas

If you fish in an area prone to flooding, you may find that you need to wade out to your favorite spot after heavy rainfall. Hip waders are a great choice if wellington boots aren’t ‘heavy duty’ enough, but chest waders would be overkill.

What are Chest Waders Used for?

Chest waders are 100% guaranteed to keep you dry, regardless of the water’s depth (as long as it isn’t higher than chest height).

They are the perfect solution if you are going to be fishing in fast-moving or deep water.

Why?

Well, a combination of the above means that you will be relatively immune from ending up soaking wet if you take the odd stumble or find you’ve stepped into a deeper pocket of water.

Chest waders come up to the area just under your armpits. As long as you stay shallower than that, you’ll stay completely dry.

fisherman wearing waders and sunglasses fly fishing in river

What are chest waders good for?

Chest waders give you the ultimate flexibility. Essentially you can fish in water of any depth. Here are some places where you could use chest waders.

Deep Water

Because they cover more of your legs and body, chest waders are perfect for deeper swims. They are particularly effective if you are going to be fishing in an area that you are unfamiliar with, as they will allow you to make the odd ‘misstep’ without worrying about water coming over the top of your boot.

Fast Flowing Water

Want to hear a fact about fishing?

Standing upright in moving water is hard.

And here’s the thing.

At some point, you will stumble. Due to their length, chest waders allow for the occasional ‘trip’ without any lasting ‘flood damage’.

Areas That are Easy to Walk to

Listen.

There are lots of things that I love about chest waders. But, walking significant distances in them is hard work… And, it is even harder when you are on the way back from fishing with soaked and heavy wading boots.

If you are going to be walking a long way, you might want to consider an alternative.

man fly fishing for trout and salmon in autumn river

What is the Difference Between Chest Waders and Hip Waders?

There are quite a few differences between chest waders and hip waders. While they share a few common features, here are the things that will really stand out…

Donning and Removing

As we’ve already seen, hip waders are much shorter than chest waders. They are like an extended waterproof boot.

Here’s the main difference:

Hip Waders

Are slip-on and slip-off. Just like a pair of wellington boots, you simply slide them on and off. It’s really easy!

Chest Waders

Chest waders can be tricky to get in and out of… You step into them like a pair of overalls before pulling them all the way up to cover your legs, torso, and chest.

Boots and Soles

Hip Waders

Hip waders tend to include an integral boot or sole. As a result, you probably won’t need to invest in a brand-new pair of wading boots

Chest Waders

Chest waders can come with a boot included. However, the most popular kind of chest waders has neoprene booties that are permanently attached to the ankles of your waders. You will need a separate pair of wading boots to go over the top.

If you want to take a good look at wading boots, here’s my dedicated guide.

fisherman wearing waist pack and fly fishing in river

Material

Hip Waders

As I’ve said, hip waders are basically an extended wellington boot. I meant this quite literally. You’ll tend to find that hip waders are made of thick rubber. Occasionally you’ll find cheaper and thinner pairs made of Nylon or PVC.

Chest Waders

Imagine walking around in a rubber bodysuit?

Only at weekends, right?

Joking aside, it sounds most uncomfortable. The best wader manufacturers agree. For that reason, you’ll find that chest waders are made from lighter fabrics, such as Gore-Tex. This keeps them breathable, flexible, and more comfortable to wear for longer periods.

Length

Hip Waders

Hip waders, as the name suggests, stop at your hips.

Well, actually, that’s not quite true.

In fact, they stop at the top of your inner legs.

Chest Waders

Again, the clue is in the name. Consider a pair of chest waders as a 100% waterproof overall which stops just under your armpits.

Securing

Hip Waders

The majority of hip waders rely on nothing but friction to stay on your legs. While this makes them easy to put on and take off, it also means that they can get pulled off, especially when wading through thick mud.

Chest Waders

Chest waders are secured in several ways. You’ll find that most have ‘braces’ or shoulder straps that keep them nice, snug, and secure all day long. Some also have a chest strap that keeps them fitted and also helps to prevent water from spilling in if you suddenly slip

Durability

Hip Waders

Because they are constructed from thick rubber, hip waders tend to be pretty durable. They are great for fishing around spiky branches or in areas where you might encounter sharp objects. However, if they do spring a leak, they are notoriously difficult to repair.

Chest Waders

Chest waders are much lighter in their construction, however. As a result, they can tend to be prone to rips and tears. This is another great reason not to walk long distances in them. The good news is that they can be easily patched up.

Want to see how… Check this out

What to Consider When Buying Waders?

Ok, so now you’ve got a good idea about the key differences between hip waders and chest waders. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing:

Water Depth

This is the most obvious thing you need to look at before choosing a great pair of waders. If the water is any higher than mid-thigh level, you will need a pair of chest waders.

Conversely, suppose you only ever fish in relatively shallow water. In that case, chest waders is probably overkill, and you’ll be able to use hip waders.

Water Speed

Ok, let’s get real.

If you fish in water that flows at anything more than a gentle pace, get chest waders.

Why?

You will eventually end up taking the odd dunking. Hip waders might protect your legs (just about), chest waders will keep dry, even if you do end up temporarily sitting on the bottom.

angler wearing chest waders and fishing in sea

Type of Fishing

There are certain types of fishing that are much more suited to wading. Fly fishing in particular.

Why?

It can be hard to cast a long way when fly fishing, check my beginner’s guide and see for yourself! As a result, you can gain a significant advantage by literally walking closer to the fish!

Surrounding Terrain

I mention this for a few reasons.

Like?

Well, first you have to get down to the water to fish. If you are walking along woody trails or near sharp rocks, you might find that chest waders are very easily damaged. That isn’t to say you should definitely go for hip waders. But it is worthy of consideration if you can get away with them.

Likewise, when fishing in the above terrain, you need to consider which type would offer the best compromise between durability and performance.

While talking about the surrounding terrain and walk to the swim, you’ll want something comfortable. Chest waders tend to fit better and be much more flexible. If you get a comfy pair of boots, you’ll find it easier to make your way from the truck down to the water.

Prevailing Conditions

‘Prevailing conditions’, what does that mean?

Sorry, I meant ‘the weather.’

You might think that hip waders will be cooler than chest waders as they cover less of your body, and therefore would be better for warmer conditions…

But, here’s the thing.

If you’ve got chest waders on, you’ll be submerged for most of the day in nice cool water, so you tend not to overheat. If you are smart about your layers and know what to wear under waders, you’ll keep a good temperature.

If you fish in all weathers, you’ll find that you’ll be able to stay dry all day by making smart choices with fishing clothing. Check out my guide to wading jackets for some great info.

fisherman standing in the lake and catching the fish during rain

Hip or Chest Waders – Which Waders are Best?

Ah, I’m glad you asked!

There are plenty of great suggestions for excellent waders out there. My custom waders’ guides are a great place to start. If you are a dedicated fly fisherman, you have to see my fly fishing wader guide here.

All that said, if you are looking for a quick rundown, here’s what you need to know

Conditions The Best Waders
Shallow still water Hip waders
Deep still water Chest waders
Shallow slow-moving streams Hip waders
Shallow fast-moving streams Chest waders
Deep Streams Chest waders
New venues Chest waders
Cold water irrespective of depth Chest waders

As you can probably see from the above, chest waders, tend to be much more versatile and can be used in most circumstances. If you are looking for the ultimate flexibility, then chest waders could be the way to go.

A Note on Wading Safety

Before I go, I want to tell you something.

It is so important that you keep yourself safe when wading. Here are a few top tips to keep you right side up and happy fishing…

  • Don’t wade too deep.
  • Use a wading staff in unfamiliar water.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back.
  • Keep anything valuable in a waterproof pocket.
  • Don’t wade at night!
  • Only wade to places where you can easily get back to dry land.
  • If you are tired, cold, or wet, stay on the bank!

Summary

Hip or chest waders, which is better? The true answer is that it all depends on the type of fishing you intend to do and where you normally fish. If in doubt, a great pair of chest waders covers you for 90% of your fishing.

While you are here, why not take a look at my other fly fishing guides?

Which waders do you prefer? Care to share your wader mishaps so others can learn… Leave a comment below.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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