Fly Fishers 1 – Elements 0
Very often we as fly fishers fall into the trap of tunnel vision and become besotted with the rods, reels & lines our mates will see us flailing around and neglect the equally vital (in some cases even more so) gear and clothing that make for an all-round comfortable and epic day ‘out there’. Because we are not exposed to remotely as harsh winter conditions as our fly fishing brethren in the Northern Hemisphere, here on the tip of Africa purchasing a wader is often an afterthought or a rushed decision when winter suddenly hits – this equates to money being wasted on ill-fitting and uncomfortable waders that do not meet the non-negotiables you set out with.
Gliding between the passages of the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show (IFTD) last year, the Vagabond Fly Editors were like kids in a candy store drooling over all the new gear to hit the market. Partly due to their prominent placement, Hodgman® immediately caught our attention with their new wading gear and apparel on display and it was clear that they were focused to hit the market hard with their new ranges. They undoubtedly managed to get the design, look and colour schemes right, you know, those that make your ‘plastic’ throb in your wallet and send your thoughts in search of an even-handed reason as to why you need another piece of fishing equipment – but the verdict was still out on the performance of these new items.
So the timing was impeccable when our local Pure Fishing Agency contacted us a few months later to test an array of the new Hodgman® Waders, Wade Boots and Technical Apparel. With winter on our doorstep it is time to get back to Stillwater Trout and Largemouth Yellowfish fishing with focussed determination and from just attending several local clubs’ events it is clear that purchasing waders are top of mind.
This is a part-gear-review-part-purchasing-recommendation article because we will also attempt to give you a few practical pointers for when selecting new waders and illustrate why the Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader should be on your shopping list.
SAFETY & COMFORT
Purposefully set as the heading of this section, safety & comfort should be your main priority when purchasing any pair of waders. In our Wader Safety 101 article we specifically focused on those features you should be looking for in a pair of waders that directly translate into Safety & Comfort benefits.
- Correct Fit
Your waders should neither hinder your movement nor drag like a drogue behind you in the water. It should also allow you to wear warmer layers underneath for those icy mornings.
- Belt & Straps
It is not just about being able to adjust the fit and distribute the weight off your shoulders, but the belt serves as another safety measure preventing the entire wader to fill with water should you take a dunk.
- Comfortable Neoprene Socks
Waders can be constructed from the most high-tech breathable fabrics out there, if the neoprene sock is of low/poor quality it negates all of this. Check the seams and the quality thereof.
This includes staying dry, the fit of the waders, not boiling or freezing inside them (breathability) and you being able to spend an entire day in them without flinching.
Colin Campbell (co-editor) goes into more detail on each of these elements in the following video:
CLICK HERE to go to the article for a complete breakdown of each element
VERSATILITY & LONGEVITY
The old adage of “Buy once, cry once” especially holds fast when purchasing waders. For the consumer it is difficult to make an informed decision if they do not think about the specific and possible applications they will be using their new waders for. From the most basic PVC and Neoprene Waders to those adorned with more tech than the International Space Station, they all have their place and price points and if you enter into this market with clear answers to the following your choices will be narrowed down significantly:
- What is the %-split between time spent wet-wading, walking on the bank and float-tubing?
If you are spending most of your time in a float tube with very little wading, Neoprene waders will do just fine. But should there be a more equal split or bias towards wading and walking on the bank breathability, the ability to move freely and durability of the construction should be a priority.
- Which boots am I going to wear with my waders?
It is crucial that you take your wading boots/booties/shoes that you intend to wear over the neoprene stocking foot along when you go to purchase your waders. Having to buy a new pair of boots after you realised you can’t slip your current pair over your new wader is going to hurt your wader-directed-budget.
- Am I buying Waders simply to stay warm in winter or so that I can actually wade?
It sounds flawed doesn’t it? If you simply need to stay warm during winter there is an array of technical apparel on the market that you can and should look at that will cover this base. If staying dry and comfortable (notice how we do not say warm) then you should look nowhere other than a pair of Breathable Waders.
- Can I do back-flips in my new waders?
That is maybe taking it too far. When heading into the shop to buy your new pair of waders, slip them on, put on your wading boots and move around. Get down on your haunches, pretend you are casting from various positions (you are already wearing waders in public no need to worry about your image), sit down flat on the ground – make sure the fit is perfect for you. Keep in mind various waders now come with multiple layers over the knees and seat area so make sure these do not encroach on your natural movement.
Vagabond Fly Tip: Before heading to the shop, throw in a pair of thick socks and make sure your wading boots are clean – only fair if you are going to be trying on waders.
Budget is a personal thing and to cover each possible price-point will require a dedicated article but to this point we cannot stress the value of Versatility and Durability enough. Rather save up and get that pair of waders that will meet the majority of your requirements than, in a rush, purchase a one trick pony that forces you to make sacrifices on comfort and safety.
Now, time to introduce you to the Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader.
HODGMAN H5 STOCKING FOOT WADERS
(NOTICE: we only comment and review features that we noticed during the review, for a complete list visit their website)
We have hopefully already set the scene and foundation to this review and admit that whilst doing so the Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader was most certainly top of mind, but so it should be as it met all of the aforementioned requirements with ease. Straight out of the box they scream of features and some serious applied thinking but if nothing else, we love their look and Bronze/Charcoal colour scheme; if waders could make you look good these will certainly turn heads on the catwalk.
Features that Translated directly into benefits
- The wade belt with fitted belt loops and added pull-cord translate to a custom fit and reduces the amount of water that could potentially rush in during a dunk even further.
- Y-Back Elastic Suspenders are hugely adjustable and comfortable no matter the size of your frame.
- Not only are the two side pockets armed with water resistant zips but they are also Micro-fleece lined – perfect for keeping your hands toasty when standing around trying to figure out why you are being skunked.
- The flip out internal pocket is great to keep car keys and any other smaller items dry and out of harm’s way
- The big top loading chest pocket on the front with its water resistant zip is great if you want to go the minimalistic route and keep your fly-boxes etc. with you.
- The built-in Comfort Fit Gravel guards are slim, retain perfect tension and seal all day long around your boots and the incorporated lace-hook keep them in place.
Fit & Comfort
Tested in Autumn, mornings are icy but by the afternoon the temperature is up to 20 °C and there is no longer need for excessive layering. The Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader is one of the best fitting waders we have come across – neither baggy nor slim, just perfect with or without thick layers underneath. Whether you are crawling around on your knees, sitting on the bank or bobbing around on a tube, their design with the various adjustable straps make for an extremely comfortable day on the water. Though not obvious Hodgman® have incorporated a 3-layer shell fabric construction on the upper of the wader which aids in breathability and continued comfort.
They call it their Durable Water Repellant (DWR) coating, all we have to say is that it most certainly is – dry, comfortable and on the water all day long.
The quality, fit and design of the actual Neoprene Stocking Foot, aptly named the Anatomic Fit Bootie, deserves its own paragraph and mention – without a doubt the best we have tested on any pair of waders. They take on a custom fit and are neither overly tight nor loose – well done Hodgman®.
Editor, Pieter Taljaard, found them so comfortable that at a recent stillwater clinic he kept the Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader on from the morning right throughout the evening during a celebratory bar session.
Durability & Versatility
Wet wading, bank stalking or float-tube crusading the Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader proved over and over that they are tremendously versatile and comfortable if you purchase the correct fitting pair. We have tested them during several stillwater sessions and two lengthy days wade-fishing the torturous Vaal River. With the 5-layer construction of the leg and seat areas, we did not feel guilty for one second to crawl on our knees or sit down flat on gravel areas to remain hidden from those spooky trophies. Time will tell, but we can confidently state that the Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader are built for Versatility and Durability.
RRP: ZAR 2999.95 (incl. VAT)
You have most probably already jumped ahead to this part so if cost and budget are the biggest deterrents to you owning your own pair of breathable waders that will give you seasons of unwavering service and comfort, we trust that after seeing its highly competitive price-tag you feel more at ease. The Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader offers incredible value for the price and does not sacrifice on any of the essentials you would expect from a premium pair of waders.
We usually incorporate a section on where an item falls short or we believe improvement is required – the lack thereof should be enough of a closing statement. Vagabond Fly is particularly impressed with the Hodgman® H5 Stocking Foot Wader and know we will be seeing more of these on the water within our winter season.