Neoprene or Breathable Waders (Pros & Cons) – Which is the Best?


Choosing the right waders for fishing, hunting, or similar outdoor pursuit can be a little tricky.

The market is awash with options, and there’s a lot to consider before you make your purchase.

And one of those factors is deciding on the actual material the waders are made from. So much so, we’ve decided to dedicate a whole article to it.

Without further ado, let’s find out if it’s going to be neoprene or breathable waders that are the best choice for your needs.

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Neoprene vs Breathable Waders – Too Long, Didn’t Read

Less time reading, more time fishing – right? While we explore this match up in more detail below (and would encourage completing the article), if you’re in a hurry, the answer is right here.

For the sake of argument, we’ll agree that both materials are 100% waterproof – providing you’re choosing a good-quality fishing wader. You can follow that link for some excellent examples.

Neoprene waders are less common than their breathable counterparts these days, as the demand for them has sharply decreased over the past two decades or so.

They’re more suitable for colder temperatures, but they are much more restrictive, less comfortable, and you’re very likely to run hot while wearing them.

However, they are considerably cheaper than breathable waders, and in some cases you can save hundreds of dollars when opting for this material.

They’re also arguably more durable, and will probably last longer with care.

Modern breathable waders are at the cutting-edge of modern wader manufacture – which is probably why they can set you back a lot of coin.

They’re unbeatable for offering nonrestrictive movement, while ensuring you stay dry and cool, thanks to the moisture-wicking technology incorporated in their design.

Super lightweight, they can be layered for use in all weather conditions and seasons, and are much more comfortable in general.

But aside from their often expensive cost, they can be prone to rips, tears, and punctures if you’re not careful, and arguably not last as long as neoprene.

Let’s take a look at each type of wader material in more detail – because there are more factors to consider before rushing off and making a purchase.

angler wearing chest waders and fishing in sea

Neoprene Waders – What’s the Story?

Invented back in 1930 by Dupont Chemicals, neoprene is a synthetic rubber, most commonly found in wetsuits, mouse pads, and some kayak fishing/water shoes.

Rubber became popular as a wader material in the early 1900s, but neoprene became the fabric of choice as it was further developed and perfected during and after World War II.

Neoprene remained the go-to wader material until the early 1990s, and since then, demand for a full neoprene garment has dwindled.

Neoprene is still used extensively in the booties of stockingfoot waders, like this selection of the best fly-fishing waders on the market, but is no longer as popular as a full suit.

Advantages of Neoprene Waders

Neoprene waders still offer a couple of significant advantages that prove they’re not quite obsolete just yet.

Because of their design, they’re more rugged, tough, and durable than breathable waders, and are not as susceptible to tears, rips, and punctures as a result.

This means that, with care, they can offer many seasons of practical use.

They also provide a lot more warmth, and can keep you nice and toasty when hunting or fishing in particularly cold weather and waters.

Finally, neoprene waders are considerably cheaper than other versions, as their once sky-high price has tumbled with the advancement of other technologies, and less demand for the material.

Disadvantages of Neoprene Waders

While neoprene waders might not have that many disadvantages, what it does have is significant.

The first is that neoprene waders will run hot. Because of their design, it is not recommended you wear them even if the weather and water is slightly warm.

They’re certainly not as breathable as breathable waders (no surprises there), and as such, they offer poor ventilation and moisture-wicking properties – if any at all.

Working up a sticky sweat in neoprene waders is very easy to do, and this can make your day particularly uncomfortable. The only way moisture can escape neoprene, is if there’s an opening point in the garment – such as at the top of the chest.

And unless they’re treated with antimicrobial properties, neoprene waders are prone to harboring odors, and are a lot more challenging to keep clean than other fabrics.

Aside from this, they can be very restrictive. They’re thicker, not as slimline or lightweight, and it can be a real effort to move with any grace or fluidity when wearing what is essentially a giant rubber sock.

Which will also make them notoriously difficult to get in and out of – especially after you’ve sweat buckets into them. (But another plus point – is that they could be useful as a weight-loss aid.)

Finally, neoprene waders aren’t able to offer the kind of pocket and storage options you’ll find in modern, breathable models.

If you’re fly-fishing in neoprene waders (or breathable waders for that matter) I recommend you try one of these practical fly fishing packs for organizing all your tackle and gear.

fisherman wearing chest waders and holding large fish

Why Choose Neoprene Waders?

While it might already look like a no-brainer when it comes to choosing the best materials for waders, neoprene still has its uses.

Anglers recommend using neoprene if you’re on a budget, and you can’t afford some of the high-end wader options currently on the market. They’re still very good quality, and make an ideal option for a beginner.

They’re also a solid choice for winter hunting and fishing, so if you’re planning on standing in glacial, sub-zero waters, neoprene waders will keep you alive with its excellent insulation properties.

And if you’re just looking for a durable garment that will last, neoprene offers excellent longevity if adequately cared for.

Breathable Waders – What’s the Story?

Moisture-wicking fabrics and materials exploded onto the outdoor clothing scene in the early 1990s – with the development of the coveted GORE-TEX technology, and similar breathable membranes.

I particularly remember my father – a keen fisherman – excitedly throwing a small fortune at a new fishing jacket, during the early days of these innovative fabrics and designs.

(And he would have loved this selection of the best wading jackets that are available today.)

Since circa 1993, this technology has been improving all the time, as lightweight, synthetic, breathable membranes from several companies began to flood the market, all competing to offer the best possible protection while using less material.

And while they all have their own take on this textile advancement, “breathable waders” is an umbrella term for a waterproof, lightweight garment that allows the moisture to get out – but never in.

Advantages of Breathable Waders

As wader design and manufacturing improves, the advantages of modern waders become even more undeniable.

Perhaps the most obvious – and important – is the coveted moisture-wicking technology, which allows sweat and water vapor to escape through the membrane, keeping it away from your body, simultaneously preventing water from getting in.

It’s quite remarkable, really, and ensures you stay cool and dry, so you can have a comfortable, day-long experience out in the water.

Far more lightweight than neoprene, these fabrics offer a superior range-of-movement to the wearer, with unrestricted mobility that is essential to the very nature of hunting and fishing.

With articulated knees and gusseted crotches, breathable waders set you free.

And the difference when trying to put these waders on is remarkable, as the thinner material is easier to manipulate onto the body, and they’re nowhere near as tight as neoprene.

Breathable waders are easier to clean, and are not as susceptible to dirt, debris, and odors from lingering in the fabric.

And you can still layer up with breathable waders, with thermal undergarments or slips that will keep you warm even in the coldest conditions.

Finally, and this is just a general note, breathable waders are simply more comfortable and versatile overall. You’ll be particularly glad of this when you’re hiking any sort of distance to and from your favorite fishing spot.

Even if the lining of neoprene waders has improved over time, for long hours on the water, as well as getting from A to B – it really is no contest.

And you should check out these wading pants if you’re looking for the ultimate in freedom-of-movement during a fishing or hunting adventure.

fisherman wearing waders and sunglasses fly fishing in river

Disadvantages of Breathable Waders

Having sung the extensive praises of breathable waders, it’s time to look at the downsides.

The most obvious of these – is the cost.

Some of the most popular chest waders on the market (follow that link for some examples) can reach exorbitant prices, which can make one’s eyes water – particularly if you’re a beginner.

As advancements are made with the technology, prices will start to come down. But for now, top-quality breathable waders remain on the pricey side.

They’re arguably not as durable as neoprene waders, nor are they likely to last as long (as things stand). These materials are much more likely to take on cosmetic damage, which is worth bearing in mind if you’re hacking through wooded areas.

Having said that, they are still very rugged and tough, so this shouldn’t be that much of a problem if worn with care.

Why Choose Breathable Waders?

It’s not rocket science, and there are several key reasons why you should choose breathable waders over neoprene.

The first clue is in the name.

If you want to remain cool, dry, and comfortable in warmer conditions, then breathable waders should be your go-to choice.

If you need to hike or travel any sort of distance to your fishing or hunting spot, then these waders will be the best option.

For the ultimate in versatility, allowing you to layer your undergarments depending on the weather and water temperatures, breathable waders are the ideal choice.

For easy transport and storage when not in use, choose breathable waders.

Finally, if you enjoy having more pockets and compartments close to hand when fishing or hunting, breathable waders will have you covered.

And don’t forget a pair of quality wading boots while you’re at it. Follow that link to find the right fishing footwear for you.

fly fisherman wearing wading pants and fly fishing in river

Overall Verdict

While neoprene waders do have their place in some (limited) situations, this looks like a pretty open and shut case to me.

Breathable waders win hands down.

And the good news is – the technology is just going to keep getting better and better. Like rubber, and neoprene before it, perhaps GORE-TEX and similar breathable materials might also eventually be replaced by a superior material.

But for the time being, at least, breathable waders are king – providing you don’t mind the cost.

FAQs

Is neoprene good for waders?

Yes, neoprene is a good material for waders, having been the material of choice for several decades. It is still available, even if not as popular as it once was, and more commonly found as the bootie material, rather than the full suit.

That’s because there’s a (relatively) new kid on the block.

How long will neoprene waders last?

One of the main advantages of neoprene, is that they are built to last, and with the right care and all being well, you can expect to get 15 years + use out of a good quality pair.

What is the best material for waders?

Breathable materials (such as GORE-TEX and derivatives thereof) are the best choice overall when it comes to hunting and fishing waders.

Are breathable waders waterproof?

Yes! Perhaps one of the most common questions asked when folks are transitioning over from neoprene, are breathable waders waterproof? Are they going to keep me dry?

For a simple, bite-sized explanation of this, check out the video below.

Do breathable waders rip easily?

I wouldn’t say “easily,” but they can be more prone to ripping compared to the thicker neoprene.

Still, breathable waders are designed to be heavy-duty these days, and the best products available should be able to take a beating.

Which breathable waders are best?

There’s no definitive answer to this question, as the best for me might not be the best for you. Take a look at this article on the best fishing waders on the market and see if you can make a decision.

Look for brands like Simms, Redington, Orvis, and Frogg Toggs to get you started.

Are breathable waders more durable than neoprene?

While breathable waders are designed to be highly durable and built-to-last, I think neoprene is still more rugged, given the nature of the obviously thicker, denser material.

Breathable waders are designed to be more lightweight, but they can still hold up to the trials and tribulations of modern hunting and fishing experiences.

Summary

I think the result in the neoprene or breathable waders debate is pretty conclusive, with modern fabrics and technology taking the crown.

That said, let me know in the comments which option you would prefer, or if I’ve missed any important information out that might swing the favor.

In the meantime, stay safe out there, tight lines, and happy fishing!

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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