Lightweight waders

DSC01699I’ve had a couple of people ask me about my lightweight waders recently, so I thought I’d do a quick post on my experiences with them. I use a pair of Wiggy’s Waders, which I bought in 2010.

I modified them a bit by replacing the draw cord at the top with some elastic cord and cord grip and cutting off the belt clip, replacing that with a bit of cord to tie on to a trouser belt. I also use some velcro adjustable straps to secure the waders at the ankle and knee. It’s important to expel as much air as possible before you tighten the straps.

The waders are made out of medium-weight proofed nylon. All the seams are sealed and the soles are reinforced with non-slip rubber patches. They are fairly robust and should last a long time. Weight is around 300g per pair.

They were very expensive, taking into account delivery costs and customs duty. However, they are a once in a lifetime purchase and much better than Dry Walkers, which were the only competitor at the time.

Why bother with waders? Well, they are not everybody’s cup of tea. However, if you wear boots, they are a lot quicker than swapping to Crocs or trail shoes when you cross a stream or river. One tip is that I put a plastic carrier bag over my boot to stop the inside of the wader from getting muddy, which should prolong their life.

Secondly, they keep your feet and legs dry! No faffing about drying your feet and legs after a wade. Also, they save a lot of angst in rain. If you have to wade when it’s raining, the odds are that in the process of changing footwear, you’re going to get your socks wet. With waders, you don’t get that problem. On last year’s Challenge, I almost left my waders behind but was glad I took them when I had to make a river crossing in the pouring rain.

Thirdly, your feet and legs don’t get cold. This is particularly pertinent if you are in Northern Europe, especially if the water is coming from a glacier! Even in Scotland, I found that getting cold legs was making me rush stream crossings, making them potentially more hazardous.

I’ve been looking at some videos of treks around Sarek in Sweden recently. They tend to involve quite a lot of river crossings. I’ve been surprised that I’ve yet to see anyone wearing waders. For example, there’s plenty of dodgy looking crossings in this video (e.g. at 7:30 and 11:50 in video).

 I reckon they’d be a lot more comfortable and safer if they were wearing waders! Now, I’m probably going to get a volley from trail shoe users, who don’t change shoes but just wade through streams regardless. That’s fine by me, but I don’t like trail shoes, preferring lightweight mid boots.

Even with trail shoes, you could make an argument for using waders if the water is cold and the river is wide. Keeping your legs and feet warm means you are less likely to rush a crossing, making it safer.

Wiggy’s Waders are not perfect. IMO it’s worth making the tweaks that I outlined earlier. Unless you’ve got a friend in the US, they are quite expensive to import. They could be made out of lighter materials too. I can’t see why the weight couldn’t be reduced to around 200g by using lighter materials. In the end, they are too niche, so I can’t see anyone doing it. Even at 300g, they are hardly heavy weight.

As with all things in backpacking, what suits me, won’t necessarily suit you. However, for places like Scotland where there are plenty of cold water river crossings, I’ve found my waders to be virtually indispensable.

 Diclosure: I purchased my waders with my own money and have no relationship with Wiggy’s.


24 thoughts on “Lightweight waders”

  1. Makes perfect sense to me, Robin.

    As a fly fisherman, I’ve spent a lot of time wading in rivers and they are a heck of a lot more dangerous than many people seem to think. As you say, the key thing when wading is not to rush it. Undo your pack waistbelt, face upstream, ensure your foot is firmly planted before you move the other one, take small steps, use a wading staff (i.e. trekking pole) and go CAREFULLY. Anything that helps you to move slowly and carefully gives you an advantage.

    Moving water is surprisingly powerful and most people simply do not realise it. It’s why folk go into rivers after their dogs and end up dead (mercifully doesn’t seem to happening this year). They seem entirely unaware that if the dog can’t make it out on its own, the owner has no chance at all.

    The weight is a bit of a bummer, though. 300g is a bit heavy for a single-purpose item. Can I ask how long / approximately how many crossings you’ve used them for?

    1. I can’t tell you how many crossings, but I’ve used them for five years and they still seem fine.

      On safety, I’m amazed at the poor technique used on some river crossings in the videos I’ve seen. Hip belts not undone. Not facing upstream. Wading waist deep in fast moving water. Some don’t even use poles!

      1. Five years is pretty good, really. Some fishermen go through a pair of 5-layer Goretex chest waders in a couple of seasons as they can be difficult to repair, especially if they go at the seams.

        I’m planning on a lightweight backpacking/fishing expedition to Dartmoor this summer but will take stockingfoot Goretex hip waders and separate wading boots. Given Dartmoor’s terrain, waders are a surprisingly appropriate choice of footwear, even if you aren’t planning on going into the rivers!

  2. Yes, the guys in your video crossing line abreast are asking for trouble. If one of them at either end of the line goes over, chances are he’ll take the rest of them down with him. It would be far better for them to stand in a circle with joined hands and shuffle across.

  3. Hi Robin. As someone who has crossed a fair few large glacial rivers in northern Sweden I have to say I find your suggestion of wearing waders for them horrifying!

    The thought of having something wrapped around my legs when crossing those rivers makes me shudder. The waders would create drag, the force of some of those rivers has been very scary. Best off with bare legs and firm well fitting footwear (either boots, trail shoes or sandals, NOT crocs etc as they would be swept away). There is the real risk of falling over, I would not want something flapping round my legs when trying to get up whilst struggling against the current.

    The thing that would be most dangerous is that with glacial rivers you simply cannot tell how deep they are, the water is milky. On my last trip the water was just below our waists twice. It was deep enough to make me gasp as the cold water touched my sensitive parts (to remove any doubt I am talking about my scrotum). One of the rivers I thought would be knee deep, it definitely was not and I had to wring out my boxers. Water over topping a pair of waders is something that I would not want to experience!

    Yes they would be fine for many simple crossings, perhaps knee deep but you would always be safer with good sturdy footwear and bare legs! I carried a pair of the lightest inov’8s and it literally took a couple of minutes to change. The water was very refreshing!

    Each to their own though.

    1. Fairly extreme example, there. Frankly, I would not attempt to cross a river which seemed to be getting deeper as I progressed and the depth of which I could not see at all, even wearing proper chest waders and unburdened by a rucksack.

      On a backpacking trip, I wouldn’t attempt to wade in water much more than knee-deep and waders would be fine for that. It’s a general rule for anglers that once the water reaches your knackers, proceed very carefully indeed! I can’t imagine what it would be like wading bare-legged in freezing, fast-moving water, carrying a backpacking load and not knowing how deep the water would get before I reached the other bank. Maybe I’m just a wimp;-)

      1. It’s all part of the course when backpacking in places like Sarek, no bridges and many rivers straight from a glacier. If you want to cross the National Park its something you have to deal with. We did actually get beaten back by a river that was too dangerous to cross, it was 3 and a half days walking back the way we had come to get back to the nearest road. It’s proper remote up there!

      2. Yes. It’s a big challenge. As I said, I’m horrified at some of the crossings I’ve seen on video.

    2. The water pressure and straps mean they don’t flap. I wouldn’t use them if the water came much over the knee though if the water was fast flowing. In fact unless the water was slow moving, I wouldn’t want to wade a river much over knee deep anyway. You’re definitely right to be cautious if you can’t see the river bed. TBH, I’m horrified at some of the crossings I’ve seen on videos.

      I’ve not had a problem so far using waders. I think they have their place. I only did the post because a couple of people asked me about them. As with everything, some common sense is essential!

      Additional: the Wiggy’s waders are sealable at the top with a draw cord (I’ve replaced it with elastic shock cord), so they won’t fill with water if they are overtopped unlike rubber fishing waders.

  4. This is the biggest river we crossed, it almost involved swimming. It was either cross / send out an sos and get helicoptered out or walk 7 days to get round it……..

  5. Just been looking at that video properly and they are on the same route James and I did for the first three and a half days. Consequently, the first 5 river crossings you see are all the same as we did (including the one with the snow bridge). So, the one at 6:30 is the Ruopsokjahka river and the one at 7:30 is the one I recognised straight away, ie the Skajdasjjahka river. After this river, they turn north before getting to the river we didn’t cross in the end, and go up to the glacier area we also went to. Then they go off on a totally different route….
    Thought that water looked familiar!

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