Most fly-fishermen aren’t known for being minimalists. Your typical bug-thrower heads to the stream with about 800 flies, a net with magnetic release, vest with 46 pockets, stack of six spools of tippet, gadgets and gewgaws bursting out of their waterproof pack, and full sun protection with a hat, neck gaiter, and sunglasses (with retaining strap). And that’s just for starters…
For them to even get close enough to present a carefully selected fly, there’s a whole other batch of gear needed. Mainly, that’s the stuff that allows you to walk through rivers and pools and creeks without freezing your ass off, or slipping and sliding into the water: a good pair of waders along with some sticky boots, maybe a collapsible wading staff if you’re on the clumsy side.
But some fly-fishermen like to eschew the sometimes-obsessive focus on the sheer amount of gear, and strip down to a more ultralight and manageable load-out that will still result in landing lots of quality fish. Recent advances in material science and design have allowed that move toward faster, lighter gear to benefit the wading side, specifically. We selected the five best packable waders that will help you cut down on bulk and weight, and allow you to get farther into the backcountry for more solitude and less fished-out areas.
Swiftcurrent Packable Waders
Probably the gold standard of ultralight and packable waders, these lithe water-blockers drop the usual neoprene bootie (which is bulky and heavy) for a seamless synthetic rubber. It’s lighter and thinner that neoprene, and works just as well, though not quite as warm. The waders themselves are stripped down to just one chest pocket, but include a no-snag belt and adjustable suspenders. They are also made with 64 percent recycled materials and weigh 36 ounces while packing up to the size of a Nalgene bottle.
Flyweight Stockingfoot Waders
New for 2021, these nifty waders are the result of a collab between Simms and tactical gear maker 5.11—its contribution is a chest panel based on its HexGrid system to allow for a myriad of attachment options. Another neat addition are the stretchy Gore-Tex panels stitched into the crotch and arm gussets, which lets you bend down and flip rocks to gauge the hatch a lot easier than in old, unforgiving waders. The Hex Air gravel guards are stretchy and light compared to the standard neoprene and help make the 36-ounce Flyweights more packable.
Inexpensive, but still great performers, the Redington Crosswater waders don’t offer many innovations or quirky design elements—they are just solid waders that don’t weigh much and will get you close to fish without denting your wallet much. Constructed with three-layers of a waterproof and breathable material mated to high-density neoprene booties, the waders have the usual flip-out chest pocket and adjustable suspenders for on-the-go conversion to waist-high height when the weather gets warm.
Ultralight Convertible Waders
In a nod to the emergence of fly-fishermen who want to go the minimalist route, Orvis has created a whole Ultralight Wading System. These 35-ounce waders are made out of a four-layer nylon shell with polyurethane membrane in a more modern, athletic cut to make scrambling in and out of streams a breeze compared to stiff, old styles. Other highlights include magnetic fasteners on the suspenders for quick adjustments, a chest pocket with water-resistant YKK zipper, internal mesh pocket, and anatomical neoprene booties.
Lightweight Gear to Pack With Your Waders
Don’t just get light and packable waders for your next deep backcountry trip. Accessorize smartly with these latest, greatest picks in ultralight fly-fishing gear so you can make every pound count—while getting to and getting on the water.
Pro Approach Shoe
Though technically a wet wading shoe (which means you walk through the water with just shoes and some shorts, no waders), these are a good ultralight combo with the Patagonia Swiftcurrent waders—just bump up a size to allow extra space for the thin rubber bootie. Sleek and light (only 23 ounces) as these shoes are, they still offer a ton of grip and slip-resistance over slick rocks with their special Michelin rubber outsole, plus protection from errant pebble and grit intrusion with a perforated neoprene sock that’s breathable and provides support over rocky riverbeds.
Benchmark Wading Boot
If you’d rather have a little more support, but don’t want to tote along the traditionally bulky wading boot, the Redington Benchmarks were made to offer a svelter silhouette and considerable weight savings. Built more like a hiking boot, these bargain water-walkers have a wide rubber rand to combat abrasive underwater obstacles, a light and tough upper that’s quick drying and breathable, and come with either a felt or rubber sole option.
Litespeed F Reel
Weighing in at just 3.6 ounces for the 5wt version, this CNC-machined, super sexy reel is the perfect choice for weight-conscious fly-fishermen who love to sport a little bling at the bottom of their rod. Looking like a supercar wheel with its spidery spokes, the airy and strong design not only cuts weight drastically, but it also promotes quicker line drying. Form doesn’t mean no function: The click-stop drag knob utilizes a special spring to give you a linear progression that makes for ultra-fine adjustments at the lighter end of the drag.
Temple Fork Outfitters
Built to be lightweight and extra responsive so fewer wily trout can outwit you, the BVK rod line is constructed with a carbon-fiber reel seat and outfitted with TFO’s special Tactical Series Stripping Guides. These ultra-lightweight guides are made from chromium-impregnated stainless steel and are hard-chrome anodized so you get strength with corrosion resistance in a featherweight package. Available in multiple lengths in a 3- to 8-weight range (from 2.4 to 3.8 ounces) so you can find the perfect stick to catch your next trophy trout.
[From $250; tforods.com]
Sushi Roll and Tacky Daypack Fly Box
When trying to strip your fly-fishing kit down for a more ultralight experience, toss those book-sized 500+ fly-capacity boxes and go for something sleeker and smaller, like this box from Fishpond that holds 180 flies. It uses a patented silicone material for holding your flies securely without tearing or ripping over time, and the super clear, recycled polymer lid makes fly ID quick and easy.
If you’re heading out with a bunch of streamers for fresh or saltwater fish, check out the Sushi Roll. This wallet-style fly holder has a foam inner liner for securing your flies, but utilizes a segmented ridge along both sides to give soaked flies the room to dry off even when rolled up and stored away. Two straps keep the bundle rolled, and a convenient fabric loop secures it to a pack or waders.
[$20 box, From $25 roll; fishpondusa.com]
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