I tried to fly fish in a wetsuit once. I don’t know if that’s exactly normal or not, but other surfers I know who fly fish all reported they’d tried it too. Hey, we already have, uh, water pants, that keep us warm in freezing cold water, why should we buy actual waders? It’s a reasonable question, but really one born out of cheapskatery. Waders are expensive. Or at least, they can be. I tried the cheapskate way out, looked foolish, sweated like nobody’s business wrapped in four millimeters of neoprene, and vowed to never do that again. What’s the point of this anecdote? If you want to wade while fishing, you need waders. You just do. But which ones? Especially if you’re just getting into it?
Patagonia doesn’t exactly bill their Rio Azul waders as entry-level, but for Patagonia, they are. They’re the least expensive waders the company makes ($125), with the fewest bells and whistles. They’re also the lightest and most breathable–an asset in summer, but maybe too little warmth for winter. They’re designed to be the waders you can easily travel with if you have heavier sets at home, but they’re also ideal as a first pair of waders for an angler who is new to waders and is more concerned with affordability and comfort than they are with a pair of waders that will keep them warm while chest-deep in freezing winter rivers as they two-hand cast for big steelhead.
The cut is relatively slim, the waders don’t feel overly bulky. I’m 6’2″ and 165 pounds and the medium wader/large booties size fit me perfectly. The waders are just as lightweight (roughly 31 ounces, depending on size) and breathable as advertised. They’re made with a four-layer fabric consisting of a series of waterproof exterior fabrics, and interior fabrics that are designed to pull moisture away from the body.
The booties are four millimeter neoprene, nice and warm, cushion-y, and durable so far. They’re anatomically-cut for left and right feet too. Plenty comfortable.
You get built-in gravel guards that clip to your boot laces, an elastic belt, and you can unfasten the shoulder harness and reattach it at the waist to ditch the chest portion and wear the waders as pants only. There’s a small waterproof pocket inside the chest panel which can handle a phone and/or fly box, nippers, or whatever you like, though I do wish there was an outside pocket too.
After using them for weeks on fishing trips through Northern California and Oregon, and in my local casting pools, I can report no pinhole leaks and no tears on the outside fabric despite a huge amount of bushwhacking in them while small stream fishing. A whole lot of bushwhacking in fact. The Rio Azuls are light enough to wear on fairly lengthy hikes to get to fishing spots without reducing you to a puddle of sweat with waders floating on top, crucial for a summer wader.
You can absolutely find cheaper waders out there. You could also spend upwards of $500 for some reason. If you’re just getting into wading, or you want a high quality set of simple waders, the Rio Azuls are an awesome choice.
$125 • BUY
More Wading Goodness
I like Patagonia’s entry-level wading boot too, the Ultralights. I prefer the sticky soles, but if you’re an old-school felt bottom person too, they have you covered. $189
The Redington Crosswater waders are less than $100 and have lots of fans in the budget fly-fishing department. $96
Simms’ entry-level Freestone waders cost the same as the Rio Azuls, but they weigh a lot more too. But then you get fleece-lined hand-warming pockets for your trouble. $250