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Updated Nov 21, 2022 12:58 PM
Besides your shotgun, duck hunting waders are arguably the most important piece of equipment a waterfowl hunter will own. After a shotgun and some shells, a good pair of waders should be your next purchase as they’re critical to your success and safety in the marsh. Waterfowl habitat is a nasty place for gear and your waders will take a beating. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t quality duck hunting waders that will last season after season. When they eventually start to leak (and they will), warranties and repair options are important for wader longevity.
If you were to champion a single group of hunters as gear junkies, it would most likely be waterfowl hunters. Guns, boats, motors, decoys, bags, and waders are what we talk (argue) about when the birds aren’t flying. Everyone has their opinions on what makes the best duck hunting waders, but all hunters should prioritize materials, construction, insulation, and durability before making a selection.
Why It Made the Cut: The Delta Zip wader comes with a steep price tag, but if you’re serious about duck hunting, they’re worth every cent. These are the most comfortable hunting waders I’ve ever worn. They’re also super light and tough as hell.
- Wader Type: Gore-Tex boot foot
- Boot Sizes: 9-13
- Wader Sizes: Small to 3XL
- Camo: Gore Optifade camo pattern, available in Marsh (shown) or Timber
- Other Features: Waterproof front zipper, LaCrosse insulated boot
- Best wader boot in the game
- Super comfortable and durable
- Pack down compactly for travel
- Not cheap
- Uninsulated, which not everyone will like
- Major supply-chain issues at the moment
I was lucky to get my hands on one of the first pairs of the Delta Zip Wader when Sitka launched it in 2018. Since then, I’ve put mine through their paces on waterfowl hunts across North America: eiders in Maine; puddle ducks in Florida; honkers in Iowa; teal in Texas; mallards in South Dakota; and harlequins and Pacific brant in Alaska. Over the course of that mixed bag of adventures, I wore the Delta waders in just about every weather condition a duck hunter could expect to encounter. So, how’d they perform?
Let’s start with the comfort factor. These are the most comfortable hunting waders I’ve ever worn—and a huge reason for that comfort factor stems from how versatile they are for a range of weather conditions. My duck hunts in Texas and Florida were borderline hot and muggy. That sea-duck hunt in Alaska? Wet, windy, and bitterly cold. It’s hard to imagine one pair of waders being so up for the job in such polar-opposite climates—but the Delta is. As long as you wear the appropriate layers, you can hunt comfortably in these waders anywhere.
The Lacrosse boot on the Delta is as good as a wader boot gets. They’re light and comfortable, rugged and grippy—and warm. My feet have never gotten cold in these things.
I’ve yet to spring a leak in mine, and the boots are in fine shape. But for when that day comes, the Delta waders are 100 percent serviceable—which actually brings up one of the few negatives of these waders: I’ve heard complaints from more than one waterfowl guide about how long it can take Sitka to service and repair damaged Deltas. —Colin Kearns
Why It Made The Cut: Chene Gear’s breathables are the greatest waders I’ve ever worn. The boot is the best I’ve ever experienced, staying put even in the stickiest coastal mud. A thoughtful suspension system and full-length zipper rounds out the excellent feature set.
- Wader Type: Gore-Tex boot foot
- Boot Sizes: 6-14
- Wader Sizes: XXS to 3XLT
- Camo: Mossy Oak Original Bottomland, Mossy Oak Bottomland, and Shadow
- Other Features: Waterproof front zipper, custom insulated boot, unique shoulder harness
- The boot is unbelievably comfortable and won’t pull off
- Unique shoulder harness distributes weight
- Zipper makes on-and-off easy no matter how many layers you have on
- Quality is expensive
- They are uninsulated, though I consider this a plus
Chene Gear is a newcomer to the wader game, but with their excellent breathables I’m sure they will be around for the long haul. I had the privilege of wearing a pair for 30 or so days last season, and they quickly impressed me. The full-length zipper, thoughtful suspension system, and top-notch boots made them an instant favorite.
The floor of the coastal marshes I hunt consists of nearly bottomless muck. Having a boot pulled off by this goop is the norm, but at no point did my feet ever come loose. The excellent fit is provided by a series of cutouts on the side that utilize neoprene to capture your ankles without creating any pressure points. Deep lugs on the sole provide plenty of traction but shed mud with ease.
A full-length zipper makes adding and subtracting layers a breeze, letting you take advantage of their breathable nature. Support is provided via a unique suspension system that utilizes a broad yoke—even swinging hard for that diver escaping the spread doesn’t put any strain on any particular spot. The straps attach and adjust via a webbing ladder and low-profile metal buckle, so there’s nothing to interfere with mounting your gun.
These are the best waders I’ve ever worn, but at $1100, they are also the most expensive. You do get what you pay for, and these will last a lifetime with reasonable care. And if you do manage to tear them on a barnacle or crossing a barbed wire fence, just send them back for repairs. Their fully-staffed Memphis, Tennessee shop promises fast turn-around so you won’t miss your next hunting trip if the unthinkable does happen. —Joseph Albanese
Why It Made the Cut: The Cabela’s Classic Series is perfect for a first-time hunter as well as a seasoned waterfowler. They are one of the most popular duck hunting waders on the market and provide great insulation during those cold mornings.
- Wader Type: Neoprene boot foot
- Boot Sizes: 6-13
- Wader Sizes: Regular
- Camo: True Timber DRT, Mossy Oak Bottomland, True Timber Prarie
- 600-gram 3M Thinsulate Ultra Insulation
- Reinforced knees
- Adjustable webbing suspenders
- Front handwarmer pocket with built-in shell holder
- Very warm in early season
- It may only last a few seasons
For a neoprene wader, it is tough to beat Cabela’s Classic Series. I’ve been wearing an older model of the classic series for over a decade, and I am only on my second pair. Considering the affordable price, I am thrilled (and shocked) how long these waders have lasted me. My season starts in early October near the Canadian border and ends four months later on the salt marshes of Long Island. During this stretch, my waders see a wide variety of conditions, including early season high temps, steady rain, snow, saltwater, and an endless amount of mud. They are tried and true.
The first feature to touch on is the neoprene construction. There is no way around it—these waders are thick and heavy. During mid- and late-season, the Cabela’s Classic Series is comfortable and warm. I can usually get away with a baselayer and a pair of sweatpants under these waders and remain comfortable. When the ice starts to accumulate in late January, these waders really shine. The 600-gram 3M Thinsulate Ultra Insulation will keep your entire lower half warm with only a few layers.
Early season is a different story. These waders do get hot and sweaty if you’re hunting in warm climates. It’s doable, but hunters consistently pursuing ducks and geese in warm weather should look for a more breathable wader. The durability of these waders is slightly above average, which is what you’d expect at its price point. I did puncture a hole in mine while wading flooded timber, but I’m not sure if any wader could have stopped that sharp stick. After a couple of seasons, it’s not unlikely you’ll spring a leak. But with a simple wader repair kit, you should be back hunting with them in no time. —Ryan Chelius
Why It Made the Cut: The Frogg Toggs Amphib wader is built with the budget hunter in mind. Affordable, rugged, and comfortable, they are great for beginner hunters or anyone hunting on a budget.
- Wader Type: Neoprene boot foot
- Boot Sizes: 7-13
- Wader Sizes: Changes based on foot size
- Camo: Realtree Max 5, Mossy Oak Bottomland
- Other Features: Chest handwarmer pocket, internal phone/gear pocket
- Comfortable for the price
- Triple-finished seams to prevent leaks
- Insulated for fall and winter hunts
- Waders run big, so downsize
While duck hunting may be one of the most exciting pursuits to do in a pair of waders, it is also one of the most gear intensive. I learned this the hard way, and when it came time to find a pair of hunting waders, I opted for the budget-friendly Frogg Toggs Amphib wader. At well under $200, they certainly fit the bill for a budget-friendly option, but after two seasons and multiple states hunted, I am happy to say they also meet the performance criteria.
Constructed out of 3.5mm neoprene, they are insulated for fall hunts, and with a couple of added layers, they work great in the late season. I was plenty warm with an added wool base layer during a cold December hunt last winter. As for comfort, the boots fit well but run large. I typically wear an eleven but opted for a ten, and I am happy I did. In addition to being well insulated, the knees are reinforced to prevent leaks in high wear places.
After two seasons, my Amphib waders are still running strong, and I don’t anticipate replacing them any time soon. The one complaint I have is that the wader size changes based on the boot size. This is best for taller people as the waders run big compared to the boot size. —RC
Why It Made The Cut: Drake’s Guardian Elite Front Zip breathable waders give waterfowlers the ability to adjust insulation levels on the fly. The zipper provides easy on and off, eliminating the balancing act that often occurs at tailgates.
- Wader Type: Guardian Elite 4-layer DWR Boot-Foot
- Boot Sizes: 8-14
- Wader Sizes: Short and slim, regular
- Camo: Mossy Oak Bottomland, Realtree Timber, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass
- Other Features: Two front zippered call pockets
- TIZIP MasterSeal 10 front zipper
- X-Crossing-Back shoulder straps
- 1600g Thinsulate Buckshot Mudder Boot
- Boots can be too warm
- Not as durable as more premium offerings
Drake’s Guardian Elite Front Zip breathable waders can be worn everywhere, from early season wood duck holes to mostly frozen late season marshes. I know because I did it and was comfortable the entire time. The secret is the liner that allows waterfowlers to adjust the insulation on the fly, staving off the chill before the sun rises and removing it in an instant when the mercury climbs.
The tear-away liner is body-mapped to place insulation exactly where it is needed, with 125 grams in the front and 200 in the back. Hook and loop tabs around the waist and down the sides let them pull off just like a pair of warm-up pants, without having to remove the waders.
The zipper featured in the wader’s name is another high point letting you put them on and take them off easily. Reinforced knees stand up to in-field abuse, so you can kneel on barnacle-crusted rocks without worry. The boots are cut just like the ones you would use for field hunting, so they are comfortable enough for even sunrise to sunset hunts.
The boots feature 1600 grams of Thinsulate, which is great on really cold days but can be a bit much in the early season. This wader costs half of what the premium offerings from Sitka and Chene go for, so don’t expect the same level of refinement. But for around $500, you can get some of the best features currently found in waders. —JA
Things To Consider Before Buying Duck Hunting Waders
Two of the most important considerations that will determine the best duck hunting waders for you are your style of hunting and how often you hunt. These two factors can help point you in the right direction towards premium waders, casual hunting waders, or something in between. Once you know what you need out of your waders, you can begin to consider these other factors below.
Most duck hunting waders are made from neoprene, a synthetic rubber that provides good insulation and a strong waterproof seal. This thick rubber design is the choice of many waterfowlers and excels in cold temperatures providing great insulation. Recently, many wader manufacturers have migrated to a more breathable and lightweight design. These materials usually consist of a Gore-Tex or heavy-duty nylon construction that provides a watertight seal. The benefits of using lighter materials include improved breathability, mobility, and all-season use. Hunters should remember that if they choose to go with a lighter material like Gore-Tex, they will have to implement a good layer system for colder temperatures.
Stockingfoot or Boot Foot
The majority of duck hunting waders use a boot foot construction. This means that the boot and wader are one whole piece rather than using a separate wading boot. The boot foot design makes it easy to wader up but provides less foot support than a stocking foot wader paired with a wading boot. Stockingfoot waders (seen more commonly in fishing) are more susceptible to trapping mud and rocks in between the wading boot and wader. For a hunting specific wader, boot foot construction is the way to go.
Style of Hunting
How and where you hunt ducks will also play a role in deciding on what waders to buy. Many states open with an early-season teal hunt in September. This often means high temperatures and bugs. Breathable waders are a godsend when hunting in heat and allow you to remain as comfortable as possible.
It is also important to consider your style of hunting. Are you canoeing in and portaging over beaver dams? Do you boat to your blind and sit all day? Will you move around to retrieve birds and reset your spread? The key component here is mobility. For most waterfowlers, duck hunting is a pretty mobile pursuit. Hunters can also benefit from breathable and lightweight waders if they often find themselves on the move.
Insulation and Layering System
We’ve already talked about it multiple times, but insulation is a key consideration when it comes to duck waders. Many hunters prefer neoprene, especially in the late season, because they provide strong insulation. Although that doesn’t mean you’ll be cold in Gore-Tex or breathable waders. Hunters who prefer lightweight waders need to put some thought into their layering system to ensure they remain warm and comfortable in the marsh. A well constructed layering system can provide the perfect amount of insulation and allows you to remain comfortable from early September teal season to late season mallards.
Q: Are waders necessary for duck hunting?
Other than field hunting and a few specific scenarios, waders are necessary for duck hunting. If you plan to hunt in or around water, which is on most duck hunts, you want a pair of reliable waders.
Q: How long do hunting waders last?
The longevity of a wader depends on materials, construction, and usage. A pair of premium waders like the Sitka Delta Zip Wader and Chene Gear Waders should last you years, and if they do leak, both waders have strong warranties to make sure they are the last wader you ever purchase. If you decide to go with a budget option like the Cabela’s Classic Series or the Frogg Toggs Amphib wader, you should get at least two to three seasons before you encounter any issues.
Q: How do you pick duck waders?
Choosing the right pair of duck waders should be based on where and how you hunt. Do you need a breathable pair of waders for early season warm temps? Would you benefit from the insulation of a neoprene wader? Durability, insulation, and style of hunting are going to determine what waders to buy. If you spend 45-plus days in the field, a pair of premium waders is a good choice. If you need something to get you through 10 hunts each season, a more affordable pair is more than enough to get the job done.
The best duck hunting waders are going to be different for every person. Considerations like location, style of hunting, and the number of days you hunt factor into determining which pair of waders to purchase. For anyone who hunts more than 30 days a year, it is worth considering a premium pair of waders like the Sitka Delta Zip or Chene Gear Waders. If you hunt less or are looking for a budget option, you can’t go wrong with the Cabela’s Classic Series or Frogg Togg Amphib waders. The key to determining the best duck hunting waders is to decide what you need them to do and find the right pair that meets those requirements.
How We Made Our Picks
We have a combined 50 years of waterfowl hunting experience, and in that time, we have used our fair of hunting waders. From early season teal hunting in South Texas to harlequin hunting in Alaska—we have tested duck hunting waders in nearly every condition. Our authority on this subject comes from not only understanding what makes a strong hunting wader but also knowing (from experience) what makes a poor wader.
We tested our waders in the ocean, intertidal marshes, flooded timber, freshwater creeks, swampy bayous, blazing heat, snowstorms, icy rivers, and every other piece of habitat a duck or goose might call home. We looked for the wader that can excel in every one of these conditions because, as you already know, waterfowl hunters are willing to do whatever it takes to fill their strap—and the best duck hunting waders must meet that dedication.
We based our selection on the following criteria.
- Wader Design: Is the wader stockingfoot or boot foot?
- Materials: What materials is the wader made from?
- Comfortability: Can you hunt in the waders day after day and feel comfortable?
- Insulation/Breathability: Are the waders insulated? Are they breathable? Will you get too cold or too hot in them?
- Durability: How many seasons will the waders last? Can they withstand your style of hunting?
- Boot Construction: How supportive is the boot? Is it insulated?
- Warranty: Do the waders have a warranty or repair program?