The BIG Question – Wading Pants or Chest Waders – Which is Better?


Here at Bonfirebob, we tirelessly seek to answer the seriously important questions about life and the universe.

With a particular emphasis on fishing.

In this article, we take a look at the conundrum that’s on everyone’s lips – wading pants or chest waders – which one is better?

Both have their advantages and disadvantages for the angler, so without further ado, let’s see which product comes out on top, in our handy bite-sized guide.

Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.

What are Wading Pants Used For?

Wading pants are the happy medium between hip waders and chest waders. They work in a similar fashion to waterproof pants.

They’re most commonly used for fishing where the water doesn’t reach above the waist. Ideally, a couple of inches below it.

You don’t want to be pushing your luck too much and risking water flowing over the top, that’s for sure.

They can be used in slow to moderately flowing waterways, again, providing the level is going to remain below the waistline.

Because of their design, they’re often used to gain access to more challenging fishing spots, or if you need to hike any sort of distance in relative comfort.

And while they can be used in cold weather (depending on the material and layering) they’re more commonly preferred by anglers fishing in warmer climes – if wearing any waders at all.

Check out this article on the best wading pants on the market for more information.

fly fisherman wearing wading pants and fly fishing in river

What are Chest Waders Used For?

Chest waders come into their own when tackling larger bodies of water, where the level is likely to come up over the waist.

Usually a bib-style design, they come up to chest level – as the moniker suggests – and are useful for fishing fast flowing, deep waterways.

However, they’re versatile enough to be able to fish in most conditions.

They’re also the preferred garment of choice when out in cold weather and water temperatures.

Because of their design, chest waders are better suited when fishing easy-to-access spots, and/or if you don’t need to walk that far.

For more information, check out this article on the best chest waders currently available.

fly fisherman fishing in river

What’s the Difference Between Wading Pants and Chest Waders?

While both garments are designed to get you into the water and closer to the action, there are a few key differences you should be aware of.

How They’re Worn

Wading Pants

One of the main advantages of wading pants is that they’re easy to put on – pretty much the same way as you would any pair of normal pants, sitting comfortably at the waist.

As such, they offer a nonrestrictive range of movement, which can be beneficial if you’re traveling to your fishing spot, or negotiating more challenging terrain.

Chest Waders

Chest waders, on the other hand, are a bit tricker. They’re usually heavier duty, with not as much give, and you have to climb into them and pull the straps up above your chest and onto your shoulders.

However, while they might be harder to get in and out of in a hurry, it’s worth noting that you can easily roll down the top half and achieve more or less the same effect as wading pants.

This can be handy in warmer weather, and you still benefit from more storage options, and the possibility of accessing deeper waterways with the chest-height design.

Soles and Boots

Here’s where the two garments will share some similarities, as both chest waders and wading pants are available with a choice of ankle cuffs:

  • Barefoot waders – have no boots or stockings attached.
  • Stockingfoot waders – come with a neoprene bootie that joins at the ankle.
  • Bootfoot waders – will include a full wading boot built-in to the ankle of the leg.

With barefoot and stockingfoot waders, you’ll need to choose one of these excellent wading boot options to go with your loadout.

You certainly don’t want to be getting trench foot, after spending hours in the water.

fly fishing wading boots close up

Materials

Again, both chest waders and wading pants are made out of similar materials. Providing they’re 100% waterproof – it’s going to get the job done.

Neoprene is a popular choice, the kind of material you find in wetsuits (and mouse pads). The advantage here is that it’s available in different thicknesses, and the thicker the neoprene, the warmer you’re going to be.

The popular GORE-TEX technology is also commonly found incorporated into the design of the very best waders, as it offers the ultimate in protection, without sacrificing breathability.

It’s vital that whichever style of wader you choose, it offers moisture-wicking tech that will keep you cool and dry, and help prevent the dreaded jock-itch or other such chaffage close to your skin.

Other, cheaper materials might be available – such as rubber – but I would highly recommend against them. They’re not nearly as comfortable and can be more restrictive, so save them for the Wellington boots.

Length

Wading Pants

Designed to come up to the waist, wading pants will likely be a similar length to just about any pair of pants you already have in your wardrobe. The exception being, they might have booties sewn in at the feet.

You can more or less choose your regular sizing here, but bear in mind you should go up a size if you want to layer underneath.

Chest Waders

As the same suggests, chest waders are slightly different, utilizing a bib-design that will come up just under your armpits, with protection around your chest.

For sizing, chest waders tend to run large – as they’re designed to be worn with layers. Double-check with the manufacturer or the garment’s specifications if you’re in doubt.

Secure Fit

Wading Pants

Wading pants are commonly secured with an elasticated waist or belt at the hip, which may or may not be permanently secured to belt hoops.

This is to ensure a comfortable, snug fit, and can also feature quick-release buckles, accessory loops, or other useful hardware and features.

Chest Waders

Using bungee-style straps, chest waders are held in place with braces that come up over the shoulder. They should have adjustable buckles to help achieve a comfortable fit, regardless of your size.

Additional strapping, belts, or drawstring toggles might also be present – particularly across the chest.

This can help keep water out if you were to accidentally slip in, as well as improving the overall wearing experience, snug fit, and security.

Durability

The durability of both garments will depend entirely on the quality of the materials, and how much punishment they’re going to take.

Having said that, chest waders tend to be designed to endure more of a beating, and are generally regarded as the more heavier-duty option of the two, but are more restrictive as the trade-off.

To each their own. Some anglers will have one set of waders that will last a lifetime, others might go through several pairs in a season.

It can be helpful to choose a pair in relation to how much use you’re going to get out of it.

fly fisherman wearing wading boots and jacket fishing trouts in river

What to Consider When Buying Waders?

We’ve explored the differences and the similarities between these two wader options, so you should be in a better position to make a choice.

But let’s take a more detailed look at the factors that will influence your decision.

Water Depth

Probably the most important consideration when in the market for the best fishing waders, is how high the water is going to be.

And it’s not rocket science here – choose wading pants if the water level is no higher than the tops of your thighs, and choose a chest wader if it’s any higher than that – up to your chest.

Remember, though, chest waders are considered more versatile, as they can fish in more diverse and deep conditions, although you might look a little out of place in a shallow brook.

Water Speed

Wading pants are suitable for slow to moderate water speeds, while chest waders are capable of handling a bit more pep.

Generally speaking, though, I would err on the side of caution here. Depending on the water depth, I would choose chest waders if that river offers anything more than class I water, to talk in kayak speak.

Type of Fishing

When it comes to choosing the best waders, it’s important that you understand the type of fishing you’ll be practicing.

And for the most part, this is probably going to be fly.

Although other fishing styles and techniques can benefit from wader use, fly-fishing is by far the most common. They were pretty much invented for that reason, as far back as the 1850s.

While both garments are suitable for this fishing art form, consider your freedom of movement, and which option is going to be better suited to your particular style.

Check out this article on the best waders for fly fishing for more information, and head on over to my in-depth article on fly-fishing for beginners if you’re just getting started.

Surrounding Terrain

I touched upon this point in the introduction, but it’s worth repeating. The type of waders you choose will also depend on where you’re fishing.

Let’s face it, you’re not going to be at your most mobile when you’re slugging it out in a pair of heavy-duty chest waders.

As a result, wading pants are often preferable if you have distance to cover, you’re negotiating tricky terrain, or you just want day-long comfort regardless of where you venture.

Prevailing Conditions

Last, but certainly not least, the weather is the final factor in choosing the right waders for fishing.

Wading pants are the better options for warmer, sunnier days, whereas chest waders could make you run hot and sweaty – regardless of how good they are at moisture-wicking.

Don’t forget to protect your head, too, and you’ll seriously benefit from one of these fishing hats when under those UV rays.

Chest waders come into their own when the Mercury drops, though, and are more preferable in colder climes, such as early spring and late fall.

And if temperatures are a bit nippy out there, you’ll want the added protection of one of these toasty wading jackets. There’s some seriously attractive fishing gear to be found at that link, so go check them out.

fisherman wearing waders and sunglasses fly fishing in river

Wading Pants or Chest Waders – Which is Better?

So, we’ve thoroughly explored the advantages and disadvantages of each, and it’s time to reveal the winner.

The truth is – they both have their uses, and there isn’t one garment that comes out on top. Both wading pants and chest waders are good at what they do, given the right circumstances and conditions.

Use wading pants for warmer temps, shallower rivers, and day-long, non-restrictive comfort.

Use chest waders for colder weather and water, deeper levels, and more heavy-duty use.

If push comes to shove, however, I would say a pair of good-quality chest waders would edge it – as you can always wear them like pants, and they’re more versatile for all water conditions.

A Note on Wading Safety

It’s always worth noting a couple of important wading safety tips before we sign off here – which can be particularly useful for beginners and pros alike.

Because it’s not a matter of IF you’ll fall in – but a matter of WHEN!

Never wade too deep or outside your own comfort zone, and use a wading staff or suitable stick to probe out your route. You can never be 100% sure what’s happening beneath the surface.

Always inform someone where you’re going and what time you’ll be back – especially if you’re fishing alone. Just because you’re an adult, doesn’t mean this life-long outdoor advice doesn’t still ring true.

You’re not Batman – don’t wade at night.

Take care in cold conditions – remember, it’s the water temperature and not the air that can do the most damage. Always make sure you’re dressed accordingly.

Head for home if you start to feel cold, wet, and miserable – for any reason. The river and fish will be there another day. At least until the Apocalypse.

Check out the video below for some more top tips on wading safely.

Summary

In the battle of the wading pants versus chest waders, there’s no clear winner – but I hope the article has helped you pick out the right gear for your needs.

Let me know which one you’ve gone for and why.

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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