Gear test: Orvis Ultralight waders

A good pair of waders is essential to most anglers’ enjoyment of our sport. So when you think about good waders, what do you think of?

They need to be reliable, as leaky waders will end an enjoyable day pretty quickly. They need to be durable, built to last against the rigors of a long day in the water and the ups and downs of climbing in and out of the river. They need to be easy to get on and off, especially when you need to get those few precious extra minutes on the stream. And the waders I’ve owned over the years have met most of these requirements most of the time.

But I started thinking— what would make a great pair of waders? Well, I’d add to our list. They need to be really light, so I can pack them easily, and they don’t take up so much room in my gear bag. But I wondered if that meant they had to be less reliable and durable. It would be an improvement if they were somehow convertible, from chest waders to hip waders in a way that was quick and easy. But that might mean making getting them on and off more challenging. And lastly, make them top brand at a good price point.

Imagine all of that in a single pair of waders: reliable, durable, extremely easy to get on and off, packable and lightweight, easily convertible from chest to hip waders and back again, and top-line quality at a good price point. Frankly, I’ve just described the new Ultrlight waders from Orvis.

I knew these were different from the moment the box arrived. Extremely light, these waders feel closer to the thickness of wet wading pants than my traditional waders, and I noticed that difference the second I slipped them on. It was more like putting on pants than pulling on thick rubber. I could move more easily, and they literally pulled right oft.

But then I worried about durability and reliability. So I wore them— a lot. And not just fishing. I wore them putting in my dock at the lake, and cleaning up the shore line. I wore them through long marches through rocks and weeds up the river, and I wore them climbing up and down steep banks, sometimes on my hands and knees. These things are solidly reinforced, and I have been delighted with how dry and protected they have kept me all season.

It’s protection coupled with lightweight comfort I never expected. Because of the fidlock snap magnet system, I love the ability to slide the chest portion down to convert them to hip waders in under 10 seconds— no need to take them off or even pull the straps off my shoulders. And the built-in tool dock, water resistant zippers and easy access fly patch make these waders closer to something you’d expect in a wader costing hundreds more than the Orvis Ultralights.

Orvis quality at a price extremely competitive with lesser brands. These really are worth your attention. All told, I found what I think will be the last model of waders I’ll ever need. And why not— when you find great waders, with features that are beyond what you expect, you need look no further.

— Ron Gardner

By Chris Hunt.