What to Wear Under Waders: Top Layering Choices for Comfort

Modern breathable waders are great for fishing in a very wide variety of temperatures. You can fish in comfort in quite cold weather and water before you reach for the …

Modern breathable waders are great for fishing in a very wide variety of temperatures.

You can fish in comfort in quite cold weather and water before you reach for the neoprene waders.

And in summer you can fish in quite hot conditions before it’s necessary to discard the waders and wet wade.

And with careful choice of what you wear under your waders, you can fish in comfort in an even greater range of temperature conditions.

In this article, we are going to explore some of the best gear to wear under waders to keep your body at the right temperature.

A word on temperatures

In this article, we discussed underlayers and socks that are suitable for various temperatures and seasons when wearing waders. Remember this is a very general way to look at it. As all of us who fly fish know, whether you feel warm or cold is a function of both the air temperature and the water temperature when you are wading. For example, you might need an underlayer even on a hot day if you are fishing a tailrace with cool water where you need to wade out a fair way.

Things to Consider Besides Temperature

Along with maintaining the right body temperature, socks and underlayers that you wear under your waders while fly fishing need to prevent or avoid chafing and blisters. That means elastic, form fitting layers that don’t retain moisture are usually best and are the best choice for a fly fisherman.

Best Materials to Wear Under Waders

We are going to start with discussing materials. As well as being form fitting – ie elastacized – under layers should be made from a wicking fabric that allows for moisture to pass through the fabric and evaporate off.

Polyester, bamboo, nylon or wool are the best fabrics for most underlayers to wear under waders.

What Should You NOT Wear Under Waders?

The main fabric to avoid is cotton because it tends to retain moisture and becomes quite abrasive when wet. Say you have a small puncture in your waders and you are wearing cotton pants or shorts underneath, pretty soon you are going to end up with a chafing issues that could have been avoided if you’d gone with a moisture wicking fabric.

Personally speaking, I’ll avoid cotton socks, sweat pants and cotton underwear or any kind of cotton garment to wear under waders.

The other thing we don’t recommend wearing under waders is just your underpants! This can result in chafing too as you have skin on skin contact between your thighs. If it’s hot and you are going minimalist better to go with some tight training shorts or Simms M’s Boxer briefs, which are designed for wading.

What to Wear Under Waders: Summer (warm weather)

The best thing you can wear under your waders on a hot summer day is lightweight fishing pants. 

Wet Wading: Socks and Boots

Before we look at what to wear under waders when it comes to socks, it’s worth briefly looking at options for wet wading.

Sometimes it’s great to avoid the stockingfoot waders on a hot summer day during a fishing trip and wear shorts instead. You can add an underlayer if the cold river water is likely to make you a bit uncomfortable.

When you leave the waders at home and wear shorts you need to thing extra carefully about what socks you are going to wear with the main consideration being that they need to be thick to fit your wading boots – ideally a similar thickness to the neoprene booties in your stockingfoot waders.

You have a couple of choices:

  • Neoprene wading socks: We use the M’s Neoprene Wading Socks
    Neoprene socks are good to use when wet wading to retain a good fit with your wading boots as they are similar thickness to the stockingfoot waders
  • Wet wading socks: We use the M’s Guide Wet Wading Socks
    These are a thick pair of quick dry wool socks that are suitable for wearing with flats shoes or wading boots.

Socks for wearing under waders

It is always advisable to wear socks under waders. We’ve forgotten them before and ended up with blisters as the stockingfoot neoprene rubs directly against your skin in the wading boots. Not good. Always choose a good pair of socks to wear beneath your waders.

Bamboo socks are a good choice for wearing under waders. The other option is specialised wading socks. Simms has a good range of these for various temperature conditions made with fine Merino wool:

  • Summer: M’s Merino Lightweight Hiker Sock (buy direct from Simms)
    These Merino wool socks are thin and comfortable
  • Spring and Fall: M’s Merino Midweight OTC Sock  (buy direct from Simms)
    These wool socks will keep your feet warm while wading in cool river water
  • Winter: M’s Merino Thermal OTC Sock  (buy direct from Simms)
    A good choice for freezing cold conditions to help you stay warm

Under layers for Summer Fly Fishing

Assuming you need an underlayer – ie tight fitting long underwear – and can’t just get away with the Simms M’s Boxers or M’s Cooling Boxers, you should go for something nice and light so you don’t overheat.

Simms underlayers for various warm temperatures are:

Hot: Simms M’s Boxer Briefs  (buy direct from Simms), Simms M’s Cooling Boxer Briefs (buy direct from Simms)

Warm: Simms M’s Lightweight Base Layer (buy direct from Simms)

What to Wear Under Waders: Cooler Seasons (fall, winter and spring)

You could wear a fleece or down vest which will keep your body core warmer during the winter as it is important to stay warm. 


This is when you need a bit more warmth in your socks as feet tend to get cold. For starters they are an extremity and the blood supply can struggle to circulate right to your feet leaving them numb and cold without the right socks when you are winter fly fishing in particular. When you are clambering around in wading boots, you feet cop a bit of punishment so it’s good to wear socks with a little bit of cushioning too.

We recommend:

  • Spring and Fall: M’s Merino Midweight OTC Sock (buy direct from Simms)
    Simms has gone with fine Merino wool as the best breathable material for its socks for its ability to wick moisture. These are great for those milder winter days or spring and fall fishing to keep your feet warm.
  • Winter: M’s Merino Thermal OTC Sock (buy direct from Simms)
    These are the perfect option for cooler days and cold water. The provide excellent warmth for your feet without adding too much bulk.


In these seasons, most times you’ll need an underlayer that’s more than just boxer briefs or bike shorts, particular during winter fly fishing such as steelheading or fishing early spring snowmelt rivers.

Here are Simms’ recommended underlayers to wear under waders to stay warm for the cooler seasons.

  • Cool: M’s Fleece Midweight Layer (buy direct from Simms)
    This is good as a first layer in cool to mild conditions and is nice all round item for under wader wear
  • Cold: M’s Thermal Midlayer (buy direct from Simms), M’s Fjord Pants  (buy direct from Simms)
    A fleece pant is a good choice of insulation layer for icy conditions, extreme cold and low air temps to help you stay warm and retain body heat

Neoprene Waders

The other option when things get really cold is to switch from breathable waders to neoprene waders. You can either wear them as is or with an insulating layer underneath. They aren’t as breathable and can leave you sweating up a storm if things warm up, but they do work well to keep the cold away if you are going to spending a long time wading in icy cold water.

What to Wear Under Waders: Conclusion

Hopefully this article has answered your questions about what base layers and other items to wear under waders. Stick to the quality gear listed in this article and you’ll be comfortable during cold weather fishing and on a hot summer day.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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