It doesn’t matter how many ducks you shoot, if you’re cold and uncomfortable, duck hunting can be miserable. In my opinion, duck hunters subject themselves to more torture than any other hunters. It’s wet, muddy, windy, and the best days for duck hunters are the worst days to the general public. The words, “cold front,” excite duck hunters. There is no doubt that the key to comfort while duck hunting is dependable waders. Here’s a look at the different styles of waders and what to look for when buying.
Nylon waders are lightweight, roomy, and easy to get on and off. Head down to the nearest trout stream in your area and there is a good chance all the trout anglers you see are wearing nylon waders. They vent very well which makes them great for warm weather use. Hunters in cold weather country should leave the nylon waders to the trout anglers.
Rubber waders are the old reliable of waders. Our granddads most likely wore rubber waders and if you’re like me, your first pair of waders were rubber. They were probably worn by a half dozen other kids as their first pair of waders. They are durable, warm, and cheap. However, they don’t breathe at all. Typically, you sweat in them to the point that your clothes become wet from sweat and then you get cold. They are also heavy and tend to get stiff in cold weather. Another drawback is the boot. Most rubber waders simply have rubber boots made of the same material with little insulation. If you go with a rubber wader, be sure to look for some with Thinsulate in the boot.
Neoprene is the warmest material for duck hunting waders. They are durable and comfortable. Most manufacturers offer 3mil and 5mil waders. This number refers to the thickness of the neoprene. For Gulf Coast hunters and gunners who wouldn’t dare hunt in cold weather, the 3mil are great. Personally, I love to hunt when there is ice on the water. The added durability and insulating qualities of 5mil makes them an easy choice for me. Again, look for a Thinsulate rating on the boot to find out how warm they are. For Northern hunters, I recommend at least an 800 rating, but higher is better. If your feet are cold, your whole body will feel cold. Wearing lightweight cotton socks on opening day will keep you comfortable even in heavily insulated wader boots. If they say “Insulated,” there is a good chance the insulation is low quality.
Hip or Chest?
If you can only afford to buy one pair of waders, buy chest waders. They will keep you dry in most wading situations and better yet, keep you warm. I pull my chest waders down around my waist and use the straps as a belt when hunting shallow water during warm weather. If you plan to hunt creeks or shallow ponds, hip waders can be all you need. They are nice in certain situations. But chest waders always fit the bill. Hip waders can be like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Wearing chest waders can be like bringing a tank to a gun fight. I like those odds!
More Buying Tips
Duck hunting is getting exponentially more popular as a fall sport -- and often that means running about, AND IN, some fairly cold water. Almost every duck hunter has experienced the "shivers" as they tread through water. No less the case with guide Phil Schweik.
Phil says that whether you're in a duck blind, placing decoys, or standing quietly waiting for a fly over... if you're in the water, you're going to get cold. Indeed, Phil has seen some pretty severe cases of hypothermia from hunters who were not properly equipped. And what is that needed equipment? A good set of waders. Waders will of course keep you dry, but it's equally important that they keep you warm.
You have some choices: Waders have been around for a long time -- dating back to the 19th century and before. Most of the "old timers" used (and they're still available), the rubber chest waders. They work for sure, BUT they are heavy, bulky, big, and tough to get on and off. Most modern-day hunters, if they have a choice, will opt for neoprene waders. They're light and warm – and, yes, of course, they'll keep you bone dry. Neoprene waders will run in the hundred-dollar range -- and of course, you can pay a lot more for special "this" or an extra "that." Phil believes that you can spend the money, of course, but a simple GOOD pair of neoprene waders will do the job perfectly.
Neoprene waders come in a variety of colors, insulation and thickness. Phil use a 3-mil thick neoprene wader – which, while not real "fireplace toasty" will keep you "comfortable" -- at least for Phil. Now Phil will also tell you that if you're prone to getting cold quickly, buy a thicker neoprene wader. They come in many thicknesses and materials. Make sure you try them on first so you know how you feel in them, their warmth, how heavy they are, and how quickly you can move. You don't want to end up walking along like Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still"!
There are a couple of different "models" of neoprene waders. There are the most common type which have the boots built right into them. And then there are some models that have a "stocking foot," so you have to buy separate wading boots. "Whoa Nellie," you say, why would you ever do that? When traveling, some hunters like the idea of being able to pack away the waders themselves, while still wearing the boots, and then when they arrive at their hunting spots, they pull the boots off, put on the waders, and then put the boots on again. It does save weight and the confinement of the waders themselves when traveling.