Hey all, George here, your friendly fishing gear reviewer. With Spring around the corner, the good folks at KÜHL have given me the opportunity to survey the product landscape for the best pants for fishing in 2019. Let’s wade in.
I’ll start with the basics. What kind of fisherman are you? Do you stand in the middle of a mountain stream throwing a golden stone fly into an eddy, trying to tempt a trophy trout to the surface? Or do you hang out on the back of your buddy’s boat waiting to do battle with a swordfish? Do you spin cast (or better yet, jigger) for largemouth bass from a skiff? Wade the flats off of Key West spey-casting for tarpon? All of the above? Now we’re talking.
The fishing gear you choose to wear from the waist down depends a lot on your answers to the questions above. The ideal fishing pant should have a form and function to match the kind of fishing you plan to do and the elements in which you plan to do it. For some fishing activities, the best fishing pants are just, you know, pants suitable to fish in. For others, “fishing pants” are pants you can really only fish in. Here’s what we mean:
- Traditional fly fishing: Typically, fly fishing calls for a pair of waders, which are waterproof pants or bibs that have some type of footwear attached. In warmer waters, fly fishers might throw a line in a pair of swim trunks like the KÜHL MUTINY RIVER SHORT. In either case, the primary consideration is the fact that you will likely be standing in the water while you fish.
- Boat and shore fishing: Fishing from a boat or the shore, on the other hand, allows for more flexible fishing pant options. Unlike waders, these are pants you might also wear around the house or on a hike, but that also have performance features you appreciate around your favorite fishing hole.
- Ice fishing: Ice fishing is cold-weather fishing. The environment can be precarious. Insulation, waterproofing, padding, and flotation take priority.
The Three Must-Haves of All Fishing Pants
Before I dive into the details on each category, there are some features all good fishing pants, and fishing clothing in general, should have, no matter where, when, or how you choose to angle for a trophy catch. My new favorite fishing pants must have:
- Burly-enough construction to stand up to rigorous activity.
- Freedom of movement and comfort through the whole range of fishing positions, whether I’m sitting, standing, crouching, or balancing on two wobbly rocks in the middle of a freestone stream.
- Reliable waterproofing when I want to stay completely dry, and quick-drying fabric when I’m willing to be wet for a little while. Most of the best pants for fishing are made of synthetic material like nylon or polyester, or more often, a hi-tech blend or layered fabric that may incorporate both. Nylon tends to be softer and stronger than polyester, however, so it usually has the edge in comfort and style.
These three characteristics are non-negotiable in my fishing apparel, because the lack of any one of them is more-or-less guaranteed to ruin a day of fishing. I don’t ever want my fishing pants to tear on branches, restrict my mobility, or leave me feeling soaked and unable to dry. With those features in mind, here are my suggestions for the three categories of pants above. (Most of my links below are to men’s fishing pants, but all of the outfitters I mention also make equivalent fishing pants for women in the same or comparable materials.)
Key Features: The best fly fishing pants will keep you dry for hours while you stand in the middle of a cool, rushing stream. They feature stocking feet made of neoprene, strong outer material that will not snag or tear on underwater obstructions, and a secure, comfortable fit. I recommended buying waders in bib form, which stay on and keep you dry more reliably than regular pants, and also have handy chest pockets in the better models. I also suggest buying stockingfoot waders with booties attached, rather than full boots, to give yourself options underfoot. (Wading shoes are subject all their own.) As for what you should wear underneath, on colder days I go for a pair of baselayer pants, like these options from KÜHL.
Price Range: Fly fishing is a sport that can break the bank, but that doesn’t have to be the case for your waders. A pair of perfectly adequate, if somewhat basic, waders can be had from an outfitter like Cabela’s for as little as $80. Quality fly fishing outfitters like Orvis have mid-range options on offer for anywhere between $150 and $300. As for high-end wading bibs, the sky is the limit. All of the major U.S. fly fishing brands, including the two above as well as Redington and Simms, will gladly sell you a pair of waders for $400 or more.
Boat and Shore Fishing Pants
Key Features: If you don’t plan on standing in the water all day, pants that dry quickly, resist snagging, and stay comfortable in and out of the boat, should fit the bill. For all but the hottest or beach-going fishing days, I prefer to wear pants when I angle because they protect my legs from scrapes, bugs, and hooks. The trick is to have at least two pairs, one for cool days and one for hot. Cool-weather pants should offer a modicum of insulation. The best fishing pants for warm weather, on the other hand, are breathable and have sun protection. The only thing I will NEVER wear for a day on the water? 100% denim jeans (or really any all-cotton pants), which offer zero insulation when they get wet and take forever to dry.
Price Range: There’s an enormous range of options for the best pants for fishing from a boat or shore. Outdoor outfitters like REI and EMS sell pants to suit in the $40-$60 range. Because the best pants for fishing are also those that I can wear at home, though, I prefer to spend a little more to get the comfort of higher-end materials and intelligent construction, like the DURALUX fabric in the KÜHL AKTION RENEGADE PANT ($89).
Likewise, for those warm days on the water that call for sun protection and breathability, I favor the quick-drying, 50 SPF ENDURO fabric in the KÜHL KONFIDANT AIR PANT ($89), or these Jackson quick-dry pants from Orvis ($98).
Oh, and for you hardcore anglers who will throw a line in a downpour, check out the KÜHL JETSTREAM RAIN PANT ($175), which you just can beat for comfort and rain protection.
Ice Fishing Pants
Key Features: Here’s the thing about ice fishing: if you fall into the water with the wrong clothing on, you can easily die. Given that inescapable fact, the best ice fishing pants don’t just keep you warm when you’re on the surface of a frozen lake. They also give you that little extra flotation protection in the event you break through the ice. In other words, when I get serious about spending time in an ice fishing shanty, I’m not going to buy any-old skiing or snowmobiling pants. I’m going to shell out for a pair of purpose-built insulated ice fishing pants.
Price Range: There are two premier ice-fishing clothing brands on the market: StrikerICE and IceArmor by Clam. A bib from either of them will run you $200-$300 and feature durable material, freedom of movement, knee and seat padding and, most importantly, floatation features that could save your life. Frabill, a respected angler’s brand, also makes an ice-fishing bib with a $200 price point, but it doesn’t advertise floatation feature, which makes the difference for me.
Throw Those Pants on and Go Fish!
Alright y’all, there’s my ultimate fishing pant guide for 2019. Hope you’ve found it helpful. Now get out there before you let another one get away!