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Waders for Kids

Waders for Kids

Waders are a gear item I wanted but resisted buying for my kids for years. They aren’t cheap (though our discount code helps: use MTNMAMA for 15% off Oaki!) and I wondered if we’d really get enough use out of them.

We’ve now put them to the test for a year, but it did not take that long to fall in love with using waders for creek and mud play (it happened the very first day we went out with them!).

Why Waders are Worth Budgeting For

The key benefit to waders are that they keep kids (and their clothes) dry! This prolongs play in cold and wet environments. Sometimes my kids like to play in the icy spring water without waders, but it’s not long before they are cold and play has to stop. Wearing waders also keeps your baselayers clean, which means less laundry!

Three children wearing waders in a stream, two are bending over to touch the water. Oaki waders for kids.

Less laundry was a huge draw for me. In the winter we wear our wool layers for many wears between washing, and then spring hits and the laundry situation gets out of control fast. Waders (and rain bibs) are huge sanity-savers as they really don’t require any washing and allow parents more time in their day to be enjoying the outdoors rather than worrying about all the laundry.

A child wearing waders for kids and a life vest slides down a mud hill with a smile.

Protection from the Elements

As mentioned above, the most obvious advantage of waders is to keep water from penetrating kids’ clothing. We love our rain bibs and they get tons of use, but when we’re exploring creeks and very deep puddles it is only a matter of time before someone falls in (either intentionally or unintentionally) and gets wet.

The seal between rain bibs and boots is going to stop water from sneaking in during splashing, but for truly immersive play where you’re going over your boots, you’ll get swamped.

Toddlers are often not as aware of how deep they can go, and their boots are shorter; this often results in a cold upset child when water starts pouring into their boots.

Two children playing in a spring pond, one in rain bibs is on an ice berg, the other in waders is walking off into the water while wearing a life jacket.
Waders allow you to go out much farther in this very shallow pond, in rain bibs you’re constrained to the shoreline or ice bergs.

With waders you don’t have to be reminding them of how deep they can go before they get swamped, you just get to sit back and watch the fun (or join in yourself). Kids can splash and wade past their knees (or just sit right down in that puddle!) and have complete protection.

The only concern with waders is falling and swamping them from the top. Most waders come with belts to cinch them tight and prevent a large flow of water inside them all at once. This is a safety feature, but one we stopped using because of how we play in waders (close supervision at all times, and in shallow water).

The belt loops are also very low on the Oaki waders and the kids don’t like how it feels on their hips.

Three children sit in a large puddle in waders
Use code MTNMAMA to save 15% on Oaki waders

Waders keep kids warmer

Neoprene is a very warm layer, and a great choice for shoulder season exploration in northern climates. When we’re wearing our waders in the spring, sometimes we wear them with a winter puffy jacket or a softshell, but rarely to add extra insulation besides our wool baselayer pants.

We have occasionally paired the waders with an extra fleece or puffy pant when they’re out in freezing weather, and there is plenty of room for this extra layer.

Two children playing in a midwinter melt puddle, one child kneeling down to play with some ice
Enjoying a midwinter melt in waders and winter gear

Ease of Use

Gear that’s easy for kids to put on is a win. Younger children will need help getting into their waders, but they really just need to sit down and scoot into the boots, then pull it up and snap the straps. Getting out is equally easy. Since they have a little stiffness to them, you just need a hook or hanger to air them up and dry them out. Sometimes I’ll clip the straps of two pairs together and drape them over a chair.

Durability

We have found waders to be very durable. Ideally climbing and sliding along tree trunks would be minimized, but it’s hard for me to put a limit on play and our waders have held up very well over the past year, seeing lots of use. One pair did develop a hole and a leak after some sliding, but they come with a patch kit. The hole did not go all the way through but it was enough to make them take on a little water (slowly, but enough to get wet pants and socks).

Wader patch kit next to a hole needing repair in a pair of pink camo waders.
Wader patch kit next to a hole needing repair

In addition to the hole, some of the stitching is coming apart on our pink camo waders. I haven’t noticed this happening to our Realtree waders. We have played very hard in these and the patch kit should make them usable again, there hasn’t been any leaking coming in from the seams.

Closeup photo of pink camo waders, showing a hole and some unraveling stitching.
Stitching coming apart in several areas and a hole

Types of Waders and Where to Buy Them

Neoprene vs Breathable Waders

There are two main categories of waders: neoprene and breathable. In our climate (Alaska), neoprene is an easy choice. Our water is never warm, and we use them for exploring ice breakup and glacial water. In a warmer environment, a breathable wader might be a better choice.

My kids haven’t gotten too hot in their neoprene waders, but if it’s warm enough that they’d overheat, we just don’t use them because that means it’s warm enough to be in the water without them.

If you’re using them for fishing, you will want to select a type based on the temperatures of the air and water in the seasons they’ll see the most use for you.

Brands to Look At

We use Oaki Waders (use code MTNMAMA for 15% off), but there are a lot of other options for kids too. Popular choice from amazon include budget-friendly options Magreel Chest Waders ($35, made of PVC), HISEA Neoprene Waders ($50) and 8 Fans Neoprene Chest Waders ($80). We have not tried any of these options, and knowing my kids are hard on their gear I wanted to spend the money on the Oaki waders feeling that they would hold up the longest.

Stock photo of child in Magreel waders giving two thumbs up.

Oaki Waders Fit

The Oaki waders we use can fit a variety of sizes. The boots are a fixed size, but my kids haven’t had a problem wearing them sized up. The straps are adjustable, but if you’re wearing a pair that’s too small the front will not come up nearly as far as when they’re sized a bit bigger.

In the photo below, you can see the difference in how high the bib reaches on the child on the right (in waders a bit too small) versus the other children who are in sizes a bit too big.

Three children being goofy pretending to be slipping on ice in their waders.

Oaki makes two different styles for neoprene, and I don’t know the difference between Realtree MAX and Realtree Edge. We have the Max but I think either would be great, just go for whichever style has the sizes you need! Remember you can use our discount code: MTNMAMA for 15% off Oaki!

What I love about Oaki waders:

Warmth, durability, ease of use, the handwarmer pocket. And I love the patterns, I didn’t think I’d like camo but it’s a lovely design and does feel right at home in the environments they use them in.

What I’m not wild about Oaki waders:

The straps are always flapping around, and they clip in “upside down” to prevent the strap from being floppy on top, but it still sticks out and sometimes gets in the way. The tread isn’t fantastic on ice; of course this isn’t what they’re meant for, and the traction is great on mud and dirt and any stream or lake bed. I’d love for them to have extra material on the knees and butt as I know those are the areas we’ll wear out first.

Fun Places to Explore in Waders

*Disclaimer* It can be very dangerous for children to wear waders around deep water. They should never be used in water that’s over anyone’s head, if they fall in water will immediately fill up the waders and they’ll become heavy and it may be hard to keep themselves above water, even with a PFD on.

Of course you can use waders for fishing. I don’t cover that here because we don’t fish very well. We’ve made some attempts but it’s not really our thing. If you do fish you probably already have waders and if you didn’t already know, you can use them for so much more than fishing!

Ponds, Especially Shallow Partially Frozen Ones

Small lakes or ponds are great to explore in waders. Walking along the edges of ponds in the spring when the water level is low and there is lots of mud has always been a favorite activity. It’s so much easier with waders when they don’t have to worry about getting a boot stuck (well the boot can still get stuck, but it won’t come off!), or going in too far.

A child in waders stands at the waters edge, the pond shows a reflection of the clouds and there is mud on the bank.

Spring is also fun when the ice on the pond is breaking up. There are places in shallow ponds you can walk right up to it and break chunks off to play with.

A child in pink waders stands up to her knees in a spring pond, rocks can be seen through the bottom and ice covers parts of the lake in the background.

Creeks

Creeks are fun to explore in waders at any time of year. But in the spring is our favorite, because it otherwise would be much too cold to explore this way. There are all sorts of opportunities for fun in this environment (see a bit more about seasonal candled ice exploration on the Wild Ice Play post).

Three children sit on ice in a creek in their waders, smiling while splashing.
Making creek hot chocolate with endless splashing

Kids will be able to splash their biggest splashes as they run down a creek, and the temperature of the water doesn’t matter! Waders plus a jacket, hats, waterproof mittens, and play can continue as long as they want even in the early spring and late fall.

Three children running around a shallow stream in waders in the fall, the sun is just peeking out from behind a mountain in the background.

Puddle Kayaking

*Disclaimer again, we only wear waders in kayaks when we are in extremely shallow water*

We love using our waders and kayaks in our yard puddles. You need surprisingly little water to float on in a Lifetime Recruit Kayak, LL Bean sled, or any other type of floatable object your kids can find to play on. They can wade around in these puddles and break up all the ice, and then float it away on their kayaks.

Three children stand in a puddle surrounded by ice chunks. Kids are in their waders and have brightly colored kayaks.
Puddle kayaking in spring melt in the yard

“Puddle season” is a time of year that’s often dull and dreary but has endless opportunities for exploration. Waders help get the most out of that time of year!

A child dressed entirely in pink wades across a small stream.

Youth Waders for Water Play

The bottom line is that waders can be an excellent addition to your gear closet. They prolong exploration in environments it is very hard to explore comfortably otherwise.

Use code MTNMAMA to save 15% at Oaki.com

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