Finding Wader Leaks

By Scott Richmond

It starts with a cold sensation. Sometimes it's around the knees, sometimes on the side of the foot, and sometimes it only happens when you wade more than crotch deep. "Uh-oh," you say. "Another leak in the waders."

Leaky waders are one of the inevitabilities of fly fishing. Sooner or later you're going to have to find those leaks and fix them. Unless the holes are large and obvious--which they usually aren't--it's the finding, not the fixing, that's the hard part.

This month I talked to Simms, Dan Bailey, and John Hagen at Northwest Fly Fishing Outfitters in Portland, Oregon, about the best ways to find leaks in breathable waders. Here's some ways to do it:

  1. Simms' website recommends turning the waders inside-out and using rubbing alcohol to locate the leaks. They suggest applying the alcohol with a cotton ball, but John Hagen says he uses a spray bottle. "You can do it a lot quicker that way," says John. "Just spray the rubbing alcohol on the inside of the waders. It evaporates faster where there's a leak, and that area turns dark." Use a permanent marker (Sharpie, Identi-pen, etc.) to mark the dark spots. When the alcohol has evaporated and the fabric is dry, put a dab of Aquaseal on the spot. One problem with this approach is that some wader brands use dark fabric on the inside, which makes it hard to tell where the alcohol is getting darker. If you use a spray bottle, don't saturate the fabric; just get it slightly damp.
  2. Dan Bailey suggests three additional methods. One is to turn the waders inside-out and take them into a dark room; shine a flashlight inside them and see where the pinpoints of light occur. Mark those points with a marking pen and patch with Aquaseal. Another suggestion is to trap air in the waders and hold them under water; bubbles will come out of the leaks. The third suggestion is to fill them with water and see where the water comes out.

I've tried all of these leak-finding tactics on my Simms Gore-Tex waders. The rubbing alcohol/spray bottle approach worked best for me. The flashlight-in-a-closet strategy is okay, but not as effective as rubbing alcohol. The other two tactics have only worked for me when the holes are big.

Leaks in the feet and seams can be problematic. You void Simms warranty if you put Aquaseal on a seam. Simms suggests sending the waders back to them if you have a serious tear or problem with the feet or seams. Feet can be replaced for about $50 for both feet. Seam repair is free if the waders are still on warranty.

The best strategy for foot leaks is prevention: wear gravel guards and you'll significantly extend the life of your wader's feet.

Also, turn your waders inside-out after using them and let the insides dry thoroughly. When the inside is dry, reverse the waders and dry the outside. Don't store them until they're thoroughly dry inside and out. Store in a cool, dry space out of the light.

Can you repair breathable waders forever? 'Fraid not. Rocks live forever, but Gore-Tex and other breathable fabrics will eventually wear out.

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).