By Wade Bourne, DU Magazine Editor-At-Large
"Zipper waders? I'd be afraid they'd leak." This is a comment I've heard repeatedly since I started wearing waders that zipped up the front more than two years ago. My standard answer to these doubters is, "Once you try them, you'll never go back."
To be more specific, I was provided a prototype pair of Hodgman Guidelite Breathable Zippered Waders for personal testing (with no promotional strings attached). I've worn these waders now for two full hunting seasons, and I'm a big fan. These waders have many redeeming features, and I've found no drawbacks. Following is an overview of these boots and the advantages I believe they offer.
For starters, Hodgman Guidelite Breathable Zippered Waders are what the name says – lightweight and breathable. They are constructed from a waterproof polyester material that is lined with a mesh fabric that provides comfort and great ease in putting these boots on and taking them off. These waders also feature Neotrek rubber boots with cleated outsoles. The boots are insulated with 600 grams of 3M Thinsulate insulation and wool felt midsoles.
These waders incorporate a Riri waterproof zipper, a time-tested component in commercial diving garments and equipment. They also feature shoulder straps with opposite male/female buckle snaps. This allows the waders to be rolled down to the waist on warm days and the straps to be used as a waist belt.
So, what has my testing revealed about these boots?
For starters, the zipper up the front is 100% waterproof. I've stood in water nearly to the top of my waders for lengthy periods and have never experienced a drop of leakage. My initial uncertainty has been replaced with complete confidence in the zipper's reliability.
The zipper offers two additional advantages. These waders are far easier and faster to put on and take off than traditional no-zip waders. (This can be a life saver in an emergency situation.) And two, they greatly facilitate meeting bathroom needs! Older hunters will understand the value in this more than younger hunters.
The light weight of these waders provides great versatility. On warm hunting days heavy neoprene's can be sweltering, but not the Hodgman Guidelites. And on cold days, I simply add more insulation in my clothing – heavier underwear, thick wool pants, etc. By doing so, I've never gotten chilled when wearing these waders.
The light weight is also a blessing when slopping across muddy fields, building temporary blinds, packing decoys or handling other strenuous chores. At the end of the day I have more energy than I used to when wearing heavier, hotter waders to handle these jobs.
The 600 grams of 3M Thinsulate in the boots is plenty to keep my feet warm. I wear a thin pair of liners beneath a heavy pair of all-wool socks, and my feet stay toasty, even on below freezing days.
The polyester outers are less prone to snags and tears than neoprene waders. In two years of heavy use I've had no tears to repair.
This season I will still be wearing my prototype Hodgman Guidelite Breathable Zippered Waders. They have held up that well. And now, since early 2011, these boots are available to the hunting public. Perhaps their only drawback is their cost: suggested retail price - $289. However, in this case you get what you pay for. Again, I'm a fan, and I recommend these boots to other hunters who would like to zip up in waders but who have been afraid to do so before.