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Can you Wear Waders while Ice Fishing?

chest waders for ice fishing

When ice fishing, your first concern is staying on top of the ice, your next concern is enduring frigid temperatures as you pull in your favorite catch. You have many options to consider when choosing the right clothes for keeping toasty on the hard water. Today we’re going to answer the question, Are waders the right choice for ice fishing? Don’t answer too quickly. There’s more to consider than you might think.

Snippet – The use of chest waders for fly-fishing, open water, or ice fishing isn’t without risk, but contrary to fishing folklore, chest waders aren’t a near-certain promise of death if God forbid, you fell through the ice or slipped in a fast-moving stream. Because neoprene increases buoyancy, a high-quality pair of Neoprene Chest waders is worth considering when ice fishing.

Can you use waders for ice fishing?

The clothes you choose for ice fishing need to keep you warm and dry. Because you’re out in frigid temperatures and working around the ice near-freezing water, achieving these goals isn’t always easy.

You need insulated water repellent clothing. An option worth considering, but rarely mentioned, is waders. There are different styles and types of waders. Read on to see if any of these might be for you.

Types of waders.

HISEA Neoprene Fishing Chest Waders for Men with Boots

Basic wader types are hip waders, wading pants, and, of course, chest waders. In each of these divisions, you can find warm-water/weather waders and cold-water/weather waders. Each has its practical use and purpose,

You can also choose between boot or sock-type waders. Regardless of which waders you choose, they’re not designed for ice fishing.

Many Warm-water/weather waders use three to five layers of nylon/polyester material. Top-end waders often use Gore-tex for waterproofing. Warm water types aren’t worth consideration because they lack insulation and do not keep body heat on the ice.

Cold-water/weather waders use Neoprene, a waterproof synthetic rubber with good insulating properties to protect the wearer from cold and wet environments like ice fishing. Being synthetic rubber, neoprene remains more flexible in frigid climates.

If you choose to use waders for ice fishing, neoprene is the obvious choice. A benefit of modern, neoprene chest waders is that they run more true to size and fit closer than old-style PVC coated waders. As a result, they’ll fit under a snowmobile suit size or two bigger than you typically wear.

Are fishing waders dangerous?

HISEA Upgrade Chest Waders Fishing Waders for Men with Boots

Using chest waders for fly-fishing open water or ice fishing isn’t without risk, but contrary to fishing folklore, Chest-waders aren’t a near-certain promise of death. If God forbid you to fall through the ice or slip and go under in a fast-moving stream.

You may be more at risk when fishing near rapids in a river than on the ice. Over fifty percent of wading-related deaths are “flush drownings,” Thirty percent of these drown when pulled under by a rushing current, only to not surface because of an undertow.

Twenty percent get caught up in underwater obstructions like fallen trees and are unable to get free themselves. The remaining 10 percent die from head injuries after having collided with rocks while being flushed through rapids.

So, yes, fishing waders are potentially dangerous, but the risk they represent is highly manageable. Read on to learn how.

Safety Gear & Through the Ice in Chest Waders. 

Going through the ice in chest waders could be your worst nightmare, but it needn’t be. Being aware of ice conditions, your surroundings, and wearing proper safety gear can decide if you or a loved one lives or dies.

Safety Gear

FishPond West Bank Wading Belt

Seen as the potential hazards guy, should you fall through the ice, Neoprene waders are actually part of your safety gear. Cold-water waders made of Neoprene are buoyant. Higher quality models use more layers of thick Neoprene. Your waders are also waterproof and have good insulators.

Neoprene waders run more true to size and fit closer to your body. Should you go underwater, surrounding water pressure presses the closer fitting waders to your skin, limiting the amount of water entering your wader. This is only true if you’re wearing a wading belt.

Safety is easy. A simple wading belt, properly adjusted, can stop your waders from becoming a personal anchor. Tragically, many wading-related accidents have occurred when anglers, highly experienced in wading, did so without a wading belt.

Whether you’re fishing on the ice or open water, a wading belt serves the same purpose, which is to limit how much water enters your waders. Any belt will work, but belts made for this purpose seal a little better and have places to keep gear . Check out this video:

Fishpond Westbank Wader Belt - Fishpond USA

Personal & Emergency Flotation Devices


Life preservers don’t look cool, but they’re better than drowning and probably help keep you warmer. They are a simple no-fuss way to keep safe when on the ice.

The Nebulus Flotation Device is an emergency flotation device. Most users attach the device to the ATV or snowmobile that hauls their gear. In the event of breaking through the ice, they pull a trigger cord to deploy a raft large enough to float you and keep your ride off the bottom.

Cold Water Shock

How to survive cold water shock


When falling through ice in chest waders, cold water shock is an equal or perhaps greater threat to drowning. Knowing its stages, how each stage affects you, and the response is critical:

Cold Shock. After falling into freezing water, gasping or gulping for air is an uncontrollable, involuntary response, followed by extreme hyperventilation. Persons 65 and older with chronic cardiac conditions are at high risk of cardiac arrest.

Cold shock passes in about a minute. However, in that brief time, gasping for air makes it easy to swallow enough water to cause drowning.

Wearing a lifejacket before falling through the ice is critically important to keep you afloat and breathing once in the water.

In only 10 minutes, cold-water paralysis sets in. Remaining calm and keeping your airway clear is necessary. You will probably lose the use of your limbs. If you’re in the water without a lifejacket, drowning is imminent.

The onset of hypothermia will vary based on water temperature and the amount of skin in direct contact with freezing water. Falling unconscious may take as long as one hour, even in freezing water.

How to dress for ice fishing? 

When choosing clothes for ice fishing, your primary goal is to keep warm and dry. Striking the right balance of warmth and breathability without causing excessive sweating is challenging. So I like to follow a few simple principles.

Keep the whole Body Warm

keep the whole body warm when ice fishing
The old wive’s tale that you lose the most heat through the top of your head is only a myth.

You lose your body the most heat through the largest exposed area. So if you’re the shirtless guy at a winter football game,  get a shirt on because you’re losing the most heat through your exposed chest and stomach.

When your body temperature drops, your body restricts blood flow to your extremities to keep adequate blood flow to the brain and organs. The downside to this is your fingers and toes become more susceptible to frostbite.

Be an Onion

wearing layers when ice fishing
Can you see “Donkey” telling “Shrek”, “…you know onions have layers,” and layers are the key to you staying warm and dry. The layers closest to your skin should be a wicking type of fiber.

Wicking fibers pull moisture away from your skin and allow it to evaporate, and breathable fabrics like cotton allow air to pass through for evaporation to occur. Merino wool and micro modal are two of the best natural wicking fibers on the market today.

For Ice fishing, go with merino wool because it has wool’s natural warmth retention. You will find it in lightweight blends perfect for undergarments and activewear. A benefit of wearing layers is, easily adjusting to weather and temperature changes by removing or replacing a layer as necessary.


wearing water repellant gear when ice fishing
You’re going ice fishing, so at some point, you’ll come in contact with water. It can be when drilling a hole and water bubbles up when you pull up a fish or other things.

Some contact with water is unavoidable when ice fishing, wearing water repellant gear, will limit the water your clothes absorb.

It can be a waterproof snowmobile or fishing suit, waterproof pants with the fishing pants. Waterproof gloves  and don’t forget waterproof boots with several layers of Merino wool socks.

Air Infiltration

Cold air blowing in a loose pant leg, sleeve cuff, zipper, or neckline will chill you quickly. Be sure to choose clothes with elastic cuffs on interior pant legs or sleeve cuffs to block cold air. Also, be sure to look for coats or snowsuits that have covered zippers with velcro closures to stop cold air infiltration, and take the same precautions around the neckline.

All the Reasons Waders Can be Used For Ice Fishing.

Foxelli Neoprene Chest Waders – Camo Fishing Waders for Men with Boots

I’m as surprised as you because I’m the guy that was always too afraid of drowning to use chest waders when going after salmon and steelhead trout in local rivers. Sure, using chest waders isn’t without risk, but that risk is manageable.

The proper use of wading belts, life preservers, and other safety equipment along with common sense, awareness of ice thickness and quality,  bends the odds in favor of considering waders as a viable clothing option for ice fishing.

Wearing layers of clothing made with wicking fabrics as Merino wool keeps you dry and warm under your insulated waterproof outerwear. Finally, educate yourself on ice safety and how to manage the hazards of cold water shock. With layers of changeable clothes and all other precautions in place, you’re ready for a successful, fun day of ice fishing.