- By: Ted Leeson
The introduction of waterproof/breathable fabrics into wading jackets is one of the quieter but most significant evolutions in fly-fishing gear. If you’re old enough and haven’t irretrievably repressed the memories, you recall wearing the dreadful rubberized and PVC-coated afflictions of yesteryear and marinating all day in personal humidity. In fact, there were few jackets specifically designed for fly-fishing and, functionally, they were little more than garbage bags with sleeves and a hood. Everything about wading jackets—everything—has gotten better since then.
Breathable fabrics first appeared on the heavy-duty, full-featured, technical, “guide” jackets and I’ll be first to howl for this kind of armor in truly foul weather conditions.
But realistically, under ordinary circumstances, most anglers are better served by lightweight, packable wading jackets. They provide eminently satisfactory rain protection but are less bulky and restrictive, giving greater arm and upper body mobility. The thinner, typically unlined shells transmit water vapor more efficiently and since most of us fish in the warmer months, they offer the greatest breathability in the season you want it most.
Finally, I’d venture that many of us have gotten wet after leaving a guide-weight jacket in the car or at camp because it seemed like too much freight to haul along. Lightweight jackets are more easily carried in a vest and you’re far more apt to pack one and have it when you need it.
A couple of quick notes: All the jackets here have adjustable hoods and drawcord hems; a length of less than 25 inches would fit into the “shorty” wading jacket category; from 27 to 25 inches is about “standard” length; longer than 27 inches is roughly street-jacket length.
Simms Paclite Jacket
Packability: ? ? ? ? ?
Pockets: 1 zip fly box; zip handwarmers
Length/Weight: 34", 14.6 ounces
Noteworthy Features: Light and extremely packable, especially for a ¾ length jacket. Very clean exterior won’t snag fly line. Good water seal on cuffs. Excellent hood with three-point adjustment.
Caveats: Low on fishing-specific features—no attachment points for pin-on accessories; chest pocket, though large, has somewhat narrow opening for optimum fly-box storage. Not a jacket for deep waders.
In a Nutshell: Nicely sized for bulky vests, chestpacks, or cold-weather clothing. The parka length limits this to shallower wading, but it’s an excellent choice for those who desire extra coverage—wet waders, fanny-pack wearers, boat anglers, and flats fishermen, or those seeking lightweight utility rainwear (in fact, matching rain pants are available).
L.L. Bean Emerger Wading Jacket
Packability: ? ? ?
Pockets: 2 fly box with flap tops, one piggybacked with zip pocket; handwarmers
Length/Weight: 27", 20.8 ounces
Noteworthy Features: Excellent seal on cuffs and a stretchy cuff gusset gives a good fit over bulky clothes. Three-point hood adjustment snugs down nicely in the wind. Good external storage capacity.
Caveats: Shoulder seams are less-than-optimum for use with a daypack. Overly long hood-cord adjustments are a bit of a nuisance. Pocket-flap mounted fly patch is a bad idea; it’s too easy to knock off flies when accessing the pocket.
In a Nutshell: Wide cut and long length accommodate loaded vest, chestpack or fannypack. Some anglers may find this a little warm for hot-weather use, but shell fabric has a softer, more cloth-like feel than some of the more “plasticky” synthetics. The tradeoff is a bit more bulk, but solid weather protection makes this an outstanding value, especially for economy-minded fishermen.