What to Wear Under Waders? 7 Tips to Stay Warm and Dry!


So, you’ve gone and invested in a great pair of waders, and you are about to head out.

But there is a problem… You aren’t quite sure what to wear under waders. It’s ok, we’ve all been there.

Today I’m going to give you the benefit of my experience. Hence, you aren’t too hot or cold, and you can enjoy your day fishing comfortably. I’ll cover both summer and winter too!

Let’s zip up and head out!

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Wearing Layers Under Waders – What to Aim for?

I thought I’d best start with some general advice before we dive down into the nitty-gritty.

When deciding how to kit out your bottom half for a day of fishing, you need to think about a few general things. Once you come up with a few answers, you’ll be in a much better position to decide on your attire. Here’s what I consider…

fisherman wearing waders and sunglasses fly fishing in river

Comfort

This is probably my priority when choosing undergarments.

Why?

You can be warm and dry but still, be uncomfortable.

Want a practical example?

Would you consider sleeping in bed at night while wearing a pair of jeans? Probably not. Why? You’ll be warm and dry… but you’ll probably be really uncomfortable. The same theory applies to what you wear beneath your waders.

Comfort is king. The aim when getting dressed to go fly fishing is that you could stand there all day and feel as comfortable as when you first arrived.

Warmth and Temperature

This comes as a very close second to comfort and kind of follows on from it. If you are freezing cold or too hot, then you aren’t going to be comfortable. This will depend on several factors, the season and weather being the main ones.

It wouldn’t make sense to be all wrapped up like an Eskimo in the summer, nor does it make any sense to wear shorts in the winter. What you choose to wear ‘down below’ depends very much on the conditions in which you will be fishing.

Twinned with this, there is something else you need to think of…

Session Duration

The longer you are going to be stood in the water, the greater the chance that you will start getting cold. Even on warmer days, bit by bit, that body heat will start to radiate out, and you’ll be left with icy legs.

The big picture?

If you are going for a longer session, it is nearly always better to dress a little too warm than to try, and ‘pack light’ and risk being cold as your session draws on.

There are solutions to make sure you get the best of both worlds that I will discuss below.

fly fisherman wearing wader working on line and fishing rod while fishing

Wicking

Wicking goes hand in hand with both maintaining comfort and temperature.

Ever heard of ‘wicking’?

Let me lay it down in simple terms.

‘Wicking’ is a fancy term that means ‘gets rid of sweat and moisture’

Nice.

Essentially if sweat builds up and is left in situ, it can start to feel pretty uncomfortable. Get it wrong, and you are going to have an itchy, chafed, miserable time.

And in waders… scratching and rearranging those hard-to-reach spots is a nightmare.

Be sure to choose undergarments that wick moisture away from your skin and dry quickly.

Layering – Easy-on Easy-off

While you are out on the water, you may need to add or remove clothing items as the day progresses.

I have a common mantra that I remember when talking about fishing clothing.

“You can always take layers off, but if you don’t have them, you can’t put them on”.

Generally, in anything other than the hottest conditions, you’ll find my legs wrapped like an onion. I start from a position of probably being a little too warm, and from there, disrobe in stages until I hit my optimum comfort level.

Layers are the key.

Ok, with all of the above in mind, let’s look at suitable clothing to wear under your waders.

fisherman wearing wader jacket and hat fishing in river

Summer – Underlayers for Waders

Ah, summer! The golden time for fly fishing!

Summer brings longer days, warmer water, and more pleasant conditions. Working from warmest to coldest, let’s look at what you can wear.

Hot Days

When the weather is warm, you might be inclined to ‘go commando’ and wear nothing beneath your waders.

Let me tell you.

This would be a big mistake.

Why?

Listen, if you were sat up on the bank, then I’d agree with you. But you aren’t sat on the bank. You are going to be stood waist deep in water.

And here’s the thing.

Water is significantly colder than the ambient air. Even on days pushing 86°F, the water is often down towards the 50°F mark at best. That means if you are wading, you are going to get cold.

Granted, some streams are warmer than others, so here’s what I suggest wearing beneath your bottoms:

  • Sports Shorts (as a minimum).
  • Lightweight sports leggings or tights.

Want examples?

Alright then… something like these would be ideal. Under armor is well-practiced in providing sports gear that insulates and keeps you cool and comfortable at the same time.

Remember our ‘big picture’ criteria above? These leggings will:

  • Be comfortable.
  • Allow you to regulate your temperature.
  • Help with wicking.
  • They are easy to remove if it does get a bit hot downstairs.

Cooler Days

Trust me when I say this.

I’ve been fishing in the height of summer and been utterly miserable because I’ve been chilled to the bone. We can’t always guarantee the weather, and there are plenty of milder days in the summer. On those days, I would probably consider wearing leggings as a minimum.

But, to be honest…

I’m much more of a fan of slightly thicker garments if there is even the remotest chance that I will be cold.

When I say ‘thicker,’ I’m talking sweatpants or joggers. They don’t need to be ‘designer’ or anything fancy. After all, nobody is going to see them. I prefer to pick joggers with elasticated ankles. This stops them from riding up inside your waders.

If you are looking for something slightly more specialized, I’d recommend something like this from Orvis.

Orvis Men's PRO Underwader Pants

They offer plenty of comfort, stretch, wicking, and warmth. They also have nice little features like heel gaiters to stop them from riding up mid-stride. The nice thing about these is that you can wear them as standard fishing trousers on days where you aren’t wading.

And What to Wear on Top?

While waders and what you wear underneath go a long way to keeping you warm, you’ve got to consider what to wear over your waders too.

If it is a hot sunny day, you will be ok with a sweatshirt or your favorite fishing top; however, you will need something to keep the elements at bay for days with inclement weather. It’s no use being bone dry from the waist down but soaked to the skin above your belt.

I’d recommend a lightweight wading jacket. These tend to be easy to store in a fishing backpack or fly fishing pack. They are normally really easy to put on and take off, giving you ultimate flexibility.

fly fisherman fishing in river in winter

Winter – What to Wear

Winter is a whole different kettle of fish (pun intended).

Unlike in summer, where you can perhaps make your way to the bank to warm up, that just isn’t going to happen in winter.

What I’m saying is…

Once you are cold, you will stay cold.

The solution?

Dress as warm as you can. Remember, if you are wearing it, you can always take it off, but not the other way around!

The key to dressing warm under waders in winter is layers.

Here is what I’d wear:

Underwear (obviously… we’re not savages):

  • A pair of thicker insulating leggings
  • Fleece-lined sweatpants
  • Thick Socks

While that might not seem like a lot of layers, you don’t want to overdo it either. If you bulk up too much, you will have problems with sweating and will be pretty uncomfortable.

If you do end up too warm, you’ve got a few options. You can lose the leggings or take the sweatpants off as you wish until you find the ‘goldilocks zone’.

And what to Wear on Top?

I’d be inclined to follow suit with my upper body. Layers are the key. I’d start with a warm base layer, followed by a warm sweater, and finish my entire ensemble off with a good-quality fishing jacket.

catch of a rainbow trout with a fly

Socks and Waders (What You Need to Know!)

Ok, I’m going to try and keep it as simple as I can.

Here’s the deal.

You must wear socks with waders. If you’ve seen my article on wading boots, you’ll know that I recommend going a size bigger than your regular shoe size.

Why?

To accommodate the bulk of the neoprene socks in your waders and a further thick pair of socks worn beneath them.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • When your feet are submerged, the neoprene compresses to your foot shape. This means your feet are effectively ‘vacuum packed’ with cold water pressing the neoprene against your feet. It gets cold.
  • You will need your boots to be nice and snug when you are walking to the venue. If your wading boots are slopping around, you are going to get chafing and, eventually, blisters.
  • You will need your wading boots tied fairly tight to stop them from coming off in the water. A pair of ankle socks will stop rubbing and will also mean that you don’t need to cut the blood supply off to your feet in an effort to secure them.
  • Look, toenails and neoprene aren’t best friends. The last thing you want to do is wear through the toe of your neoprene socks while walking. I’ve had a hole in my waders. Trust me, it’s a bad time.

Pro Tips When Wearing Waders

Ok, I’ve got a lot of experience when fishing in waders, and I’m more than happy to share.

fly fishing wading boots close up

Here are some great tips when considering what to wear underneath:

  • Don’t go ‘Commando’! By this, I mean you must wear layers under your waders. Waders aren’t the most comfortable things to wear at the best of times. If you’ve got bare skin touching them, you are going to get chafing and rubbing. Also, waders aren’t that great at wicking on their own
  • Avoid Cotton. Literally, it is the devil when it comes to being comfortable. Cotton soaks up sweat, and then it just sits there. Furthermore, it doesn’t dry quickly, so if you do get the odd splash over the top of your waders, you are going to stay wet for the rest of the day. Yuck!
  • Use a wading belt. Something like this (link to Amazon.com) is ideal. Not only does it give you a few extra places to hang gear if you do take a tumble while wading around, but it will also stop the bulk of the water from entering your waders from above.
  • Use a Wading Staff. A good quality wading staff is a blessing. It allows you to keep your balance, test the depths and stay upright. Which is the best way I know of keeping dry.
  • Keep a repair kit handy. Look, these things cost a few dollars and can save the day when fly fishing. They stow easily in a pocket or pack and are vital. Having a hole in your waders is infuriating!
  • No jeans allowed. Nope, I don’t care if they are your favorites. Jeans take forever to dry, are really crappy at wicking, and are super uncomfortable. It gives me anxiety even writing about it. Just don’t do it!
  • If you are going to be wading in saltwater, you are going to need different gear. There are special boots for saltwater with a couple of extra features that you won’t fin in freshwater wading boots.

What to Wear Under Waders – FAQs

Still got questions. It’s all good, I’ve got you. Here’s what I get asked about waders all the time:

Can you wear shorts with waders?

If it is boiling hot in summer, then you could consider wearing shorts. I’d go for shorts made from stretchy manmade fibers. These tend to be the most comfortable.

If you are going to be fishing for the day, I’d probably advise against it as you will get cold. Furthermore, as I said above, skin on waders is something that you really want to avoid.

How do I keep my feet warm with waders?

In 99% of cases, you are going to have to wear a thick pair of socks. This should be plenty to keep your hooves warm. Remember, on top of the socks, you will have an extra pair of neoprene booties that come stitched into the waders.

Do you wear shoes under waders?

No, you don’t. You wear wading boots over the top of the foot section of the waders. Wading boots are designed to let water in. It’s the booty/sock part of the wader that protects your feet from getting wet.

Working from the inside out, it looks something like this:

  • Your feet
  • A thick pair of socks
  • The neoprene wading booties
  • Your wading boots

If you haven’t seen wading boots before, I’ve got a dedicated guide right here.

Do you wear socks inside stocking foot waders

Yes, you do. How thick you go depends on personal preference, the fit of your wading boot, and how warm you want your feet to be.

Here’s a bonus pro tip. Always wear thick socks. There has never been a day yet where I’ve said ‘man, my feet are too hot’ either in winter or summer.

What do you wear on your feet with waders?

There are a few different types of waders, so the true answer is, it depends.

Most waders you’ll see nowadays are called stocking foot waders. This is where there is a waterproof neoprene sock stitched and permanently fixed to the waders.

Occasional, you may see boot-style waders. These are similar to stocking waders, except the neoprene sock is replaced by an integrated rubber boot.

With stocking foot waders, you will need wading boots. For boot style waders, boots aren’t required. My advice to you is to go for stocking style waders every time. They are much more comfortable.

Final Thoughts

Knowing what to wear under waders can be a little tricky. Not only do you have to think about warmth, but you need to consider comfort and wicking too.

If you follow my advice and get it right, you’ll be able to enjoy many days of comfortable fishing and remain dry as you do so.

Ever got a hole in your waders? How did you deal with it? Let me know in the comments. I love hearing your fishing stories!

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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