Orvis Men’s Ultralight Convertible Wader ReviewMay 28, 2018
- Very lightweight & breathable
- Great packability
- Excellent fit through legs and torso
- Lightweight design reduces durability
- Minimal pockets
- Booties are a bit bulky
The Orvis Ultralight Waders fill an important niche of the market — lightweight waders suitable for travel and summer conditions in cold-water environments. The Ultralights cover both bases admirably. The Ultralights weigh less than 2 pounds (Men’s Medium) and pack down to just a bit bigger than a standard Nalgene water bottle. The 4-layer nylon material, though, breathes well and does not hold body heat, so they are ideal for warm-weather conditions when fishing cold trout streams. Given their lightweight nature, it’s understandable that the biggest complaints from testers focused on the lack of features—most notably, a dearth of pockets. But the Ultralights, despite their lack of bulk and mass, proved incredibly durable and highly functional in a variety of conditions. Many testers proclaimed these their new favorite daily-wear waders. We also tested the Women’s specific version.
The Orvis Ultralight Waders fill the middle-ground of fit perfectly. That is, they are not form-fitting, nor are they overly generous in cut. Testers who ranged in body styles from a slim 5’8” 160-lb runner to a 6’2”, 240-lb beer-swilling writer, found the Ultralights fit comfortably, without being excessively loose, nor overly snug.
The one knock on fit came from the wader’s booties. Testers who found themselves in the small side of the size range of a specific wader size — for instance, that slim, 5’8” runner sports size 8 feet and he proclaimed the booties on his waders were a bit too bulky. Since the booties have to fit the largest possible foot-size correlating to the body size, this is somewhat understandable. Our 6’2” tester found the booties on his XL-sized waders perfectly fit his size 13 feet.
The Ultralight waders utilize a proprietary waterproof-breathable membrane in their four-layer shell material. This fabric structure provided more than adequate breathability in any conditions we tested. Some of our team pressed the waders into use during weather conditions that would suggest abandoning waders all together in favor of wet-wading — for instance, during sunny 85ºF days in eastern Montana — and they report excellent breathability, with no more sweat buildup under the waders than they had under their T-shirts.
Beyond the breathability, the convertible design proved to be the strongest features of the Orvis Ultralight Waders. The traditional chest-high wader design can be altered to a waist-high pant-style wader by simply unclipping the wader tops from the should straps and sliding the uppers down to the waist-belt. This convertibility drew rave comments from every tester who wore them.
“For summer weather, a wader pant is far more comfortable than a full-on chest-wader,” said one Fish and Wildlife Officer who tested the waders. “But sometimes, the water demands protection above the belt. The Orvis design allows for good flexibility, letting me regulate my body temperature while also let me stay dry when I need to get chest-deep in a river.”
The Ultralights, though, live up to their name in part by trimming secondary features, and one of the big losers is pocket space. The Ultralight does sport an interior waterproof pocket and a simple exterior zippered storage pocket. But there are no side slash pockets and no lined ‘hard-warmer’ pockets — a lack that drew immediate notice from the female testers especially, but also from our resident game warden who suffers from a mild case of Raynaud’s disease (i.e. a vascular disease that can severely limit blood-flow to extremities when exposed to cold conditions. Informally called “chalk fingers” due to the almost instantaneous change of finger color from natural pink to chalk-white when dipped in cold water).
The four-layer material comprising the body of the Ultralight Waders absorbed a lot of abuse without fail. In fact, the waders showed little evidence of abuse even after treks through prickly briers alongside desert streams in Eastern Oregon and tangled flood debris along Washington’s Yakima River. The waders held up well to every challenging environment to which they were exposed, with no failures reported by any test team members. The wader seams held firm for the burliest among us, and the fabric itself seemed impenetrable to anything nature could devise to try to puncture it.
At first glance, the Ultralight Waders from Orvis seem pretty one-dimensional. Lightweight and suitable for warm weather. But those characteristics open the Ultralights up to many applications, and the wader’s other features greatly expand their versatility.
The Ultralights proved exceptional for travelers. At right around 2 pounds (for men’s medium — the men’s XL regulars are just 41 ounces) and rolled down to about the size of a 1-quart water bottle, the waders are small enough to fit into a carry-on bag. One tester found he and his wife could pack Ultralight Waders for both of them as well as lightweight wading boots, modestly outfitted wading packs full of flies and gear, and their clothing for a week into one checked bag.
Beyond travel, the Ultralight Waders also drew rave comments from testers on their convertible design. The ability to transform the full-height chest waders into comfortable waist-high wading pants in mere seconds was praised by everyone who wore them. The simple clip-on upper design meant the chest section could be dropped down the waistbelt with a couple simple flicks of the wrist. And reattaching the uppers to the chest-straps is a one-handed operation, making the ability to move them up or down fast and efficient, even when wading in fast water.
Dan Nelson- Managing Editor & Fly Fishing Editor
Dan Nelson is GearInstitute.com's Managing Editor & fly fishing editor. He is based in the Pacific Northwest.