The Patagonia Middle Fork Packable Wader is the lightest and most compressible wader our testers have ever encountered, making it the hands-on favorite for backpacking and ultralight travel. But the Middle Fork gives up a bit in durability and versatility to earn that ultralight distinction. The Middle Fork Packable Waders excel in their specific niche, but aren’t ideal for general purpose use.
The Patagonia Middle Fork Packable Wader sets a new high-water mark in lightweight, packable design. The Middle Fork waders earned unanimous praise from our test team for packability and weight. But savings in weight and bulk mean cuts in other areas, and in this case, those cuts meant a loss of features, durability, and versatility.
Patagonia waders, in general, have earned high praise for their fit among both men and women. The Middle Fork waders continues that tradition with a good selection of sizes to meet the fit-needs of virtually all sizes of anglers. From our slender 5’6” field tester, to the bulky 6’2” test coordinator, the Middle Forks provided a size option that provided good comfort and performance, without being excessively loose — a common complaint about many waders.
Beyond the overall fit, the Middle Fork excels in fit on its bootie. The seamless bootie is built from a tough, four-way stretch material that accommodates a wide range of foot sizes. The slim design makes it fit better inside a wading boot than the wading booties made from the more common but bulky neoprene material.
The biggest complaint about fit came from the women we recruited onto the test team: The Middle Fork Packable Waders are not (yet) offered in women-specific sizing.
Built from Patagonia’s proprietary H2NO waterproof-breathable materials, the Middle Fork waders shed sweat moisture efficiently, even in the hottest weather. Indeed, though the Middle Fork waders are designed specifically for packability and travel usage, their lightweight design and exceptional breathability make them a great option for general-purpose hot-weather use. When wading in icy cold rivers during hot summer days, the Middle Fork waders expel sweat as well as any wader we’ve ever tested.
In order to keep weight down, Patagonia eliminated most secondary features from the Middle Fork waders. The waders feature a single interior pocket. It is waterproof and very secure to ensure safe storage of keys, cell phones, and other important items. Patagonia also offers a drop-panel design that lets anglers slip the wader’s uppers down to their waist, effectively turning the chest waders into wading pants. The conversion isn’t as easy or efficient as the Orvis design, but it does work.
Patagonia engineers created an efficient design that sought a good balance between weight savings and durability. The Middle Forks use Patagonia’s H2NO membrane in a 3-layer nylon shell through most of the waders, with a heavier 4-layer design in the butt and upper leg areas. This gives the waders a little extra wear protection in high impact areas, but the emphasis on weight savings did translate into a loss of durability. One tester who pushed the Middle Forks into heavy use during a hiking trip into Idaho’s upper Kelly Creek area experienced some pinhole leaks in the thigh area after busting through some riverside brambles. But he also noted that he only carried these waders into wilderness area because they were so light — without the lightweight option, he would have opted to wet-wade during this backpacking excursion (which would have limited his fishing options in the ice-cold river).
The Patagonia Middle Fork waders are designed specifically to be packable. They fit a specific niche for backpackers and adventure-travel anglers. But many of our testers also enjoyed using the Middle Forks as a warm-weather option when hit ice-cold mountain streams in hot weather. But the limited durability and lack of secondary features limit the Middle Fork’s functionality in a range of conditions.