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Wader Leaks & How to Repair Them

I recently discussed waders and the many options available for purchasing the right wader.  Once you have a new pair reality sets in that all waders will leak sooner or later.  Aside from warranty to make the repairs, often you are forced to make the repairs yourself after the warranty has expired or to prepare immediately for another hunt.  This is how to make the best effort at repairing those waders. 

Standing in the wader and realizing your waders leak is never fun.  It can end or make miserable, a great day in the marsh.

First off, whatever style of waders you have determines your available methods of repair and how much time you have to make the repairs is the second critical determinate.  Glues take time to set and harden, but finding the leak might be the most time consuming requiring several fixes to get to the actual hole, seam, rip or puncture.

An exterior fix using Aquaseal to seal the stitching on an exterior seam.  The interior seam will also likely need to be treated.
This was an early season puncture through the heal.  The repair was a combination of Aquaseal and a covering of Flexsteel tape.  Eventually, both heals leaked and these were very difficult leaks to find.  Flexing the boat heal revealed a split between the heel lugs. 

When in the marsh I tend to be in shallow water, maybe thigh deep.  In the timber you quickly can go to waist and chest deep, so it is possible a leak never shows up until you go deep enough to reveal the wet spot.  It makes sense as the pressure builds the deeper you go.  Honestly, even the waders pictured here really never caused me any concern until I took them fishing and got waist deep in the water.  If not for that, I easily might have used them again unknowing they had significant leaks.  Finally, these waders are a project.  First pair I had leaked first time I crossed a deep ditch and were in warranty.  I was without those waders a month before a replacement was sent.  I will admit, I have had two pretty good years out of these, but early in the 2021 season I started to have problems.  Obviously out of warranty I grabbed the bull by the horns and made the fixes, as I needed them all season and in 2021 waders were hard to come by.  Nothing worse that starting a hunt and feeling water but not knowing where it is coming in or just as bad, removing your waders after a long day and feeling moist wet spots.  Either is frustrating. 

A couple methods I have used are wearing a light colored pair of sweat pants under the waders and then going deep and afterwards looking for the relationship between the leak and the interior pants.  This helps you align the leak.  If you stay in the waders too long while they leak the area becomes too large to nail it down.  So a quick in and then out and check for wet spots. 

Wearing light pants the water spots show up quickly.  Not a bad idea to take a picture to reference the spots and establish a relationship to the waders.  These spots were along the knee perpendicular seam and the spotting is due to slight movement of the waders while under water.
The largest leak was the left knee and obviously much quicker than the right knee.
The leak was all the way around the knee so that was a tip off that the seam was the culprit.

I have also seen people fill their waders with water and look for leaks on the exterior.  This is OK, but waders full of water are heavy and hard to move around to see where they leak.  Lined waders make this impossible.  An alternative is to simply take a shop vacuum and inflate the waders and then run water over them and look for air bubbles.  This really does work.  I used it to find a leak I was totally confused about.  I did not draw water when standing in the mud or sitting but tended to draw it in when I was walking. 

This was perhaps one of the more difficult leaks I had to deal with as I could not determine just when and how water was coming in.  I would have a wet sock one day and only a damp sock the next day.  In the end I attached a shop vacuum and filled the waders and only after flexing the boot under water did I see the bubble to reveal the leak.

Unlined waders are easy to fix and there are a variety of great sealing products on the market.  I tend to use Aquaseal as it seals great and dries semi-soft.  They have several products specific for repairs and Aquaseal even provides a version with an accelerator for fast repairs.  Aquaseal can cover large areas as another advantage.  Some use Shoe Goo but I have had limited success with the durability.  Finally, Loon makes a great product that uses UV light to set the seal making it a fast and quick way to seal you waders.  The product is .5 ounces so coverage is smaller than Aquaseal at .75 ounces.  Shoe Goo covers a larger area at 1.0 ounce.  Seam tape is another alternative that irons onto the seam.  This really is only an option when you have a seam that is flat.  Many times over the years, seams shrink and then do not lay flat so getting the tape to adhere is tough.  As well there can be so many turns and twists that laying down a good line of tape is impossible.  Most sealing tape is ¾” so look for wider tape if that might work for you.

The interior iron-on tape is very likely too wrinkled to lay another layer upon the first.  As well, joints are difficult.  For these seams it is best to coat them with Aquaseal or try wider tape.

Lets start with neoprene waders.  Seams on these waders are often glued together and then taped on the interior then stitched on the outside to complete the seal.  These seams tend to leak in high stress areas like the crotch.  Stretching and pulling the materials eventually breaks the seal and a fix is in order. 

Neoprene is usually stitched on the outside creating a very durable seal to the neoprene that has been butt glued. 
On the interior, seam tape is applied with heat to not only provide the final seal, but also to reinforce the weld.

Fixing the seam on neoprene waders is typically done on the outside.  The same process for finding the leak is required, and often unless ripped they leak slowly.  You might in fact wear them for several hours before really even noticing you have a leak.  Once again these waders like the breathable waders discussed here, did not show a leak until I got deep into the water.  It was pretty obvious the crotch was the culprit and a simple application of Aquaseal stopped the leak completely.  I should add here neoprene does not breathe and because of this moisture will collect and deceive you as to where the leak is really occurring.  Breathable might also collect moisture, but in my experience if you wear the right clothes it wicks to the outer layer.  Not so for neoprene.

The crotch was the intersection of three seams and a source of pressure through stretching and pulling.  It was perhaps one of the easiest repairs I have made that worked perfectly and stopped the leak.
Aquaseal is soft when set and will not create another hot spot or leak from rubbing. 
Over time, wear will occur on the stitching, which will eventually lead to a leaking seam.  Anything you can to stop the unraveling will help ensure the strength of the seam.

It might be intimidating to try and make a repair to breathable and lined waders.  The soft lining keeps the breathable cloth from sticking to your skin and provides some warmth. 

The quilted material is really functional in warmth and in quickly drying from moisture.  The slick lining also helps in putting the waders on allowing your foot to slide easily into the boot.  It is easy to sew.
The quilt lines are obvious as opposed to the seams that are stitched that you will split to access the breathable material.
Under the quilting is the breathable material along with the seams, and intersections.  Most stitching you see will be on the outside but this iron-on seam ensures the seam retards water.  Over time the material breaks down and cracks causing leaks.

With lined waders, simply split the material at the center seam and fold back the quilted material to reveal the breathable fabric with its seams and joints.  There will be plenty of material to place on a sewing machine to re-seam the material.  Don’t be afraid to cut into the quilt seams wherever you feel you need to make a fix.  Once in, take a look at the pictures you took of the spots and align those with the material. 

When you are really frustrated with small holes try spraying the material on the inside with alcohol.  This method will often reveal small leaks as discolorations of the materials.

A light spray of alcohol is how the pros and warranty departments look for leaks.  It is a great way to find pinholes and small punctures.
When you see a dark spot go ahead and coat it to be sure.

For this fix I had to completely ring the knee seam with Aquaseal both inside and out.  As I mentioned Aquaseal can be purchased with an accelerator to speed up the set time.  I mixed small batches and coated the seam. 

The seam gets coated, as does the junction patch.  This has to be down across all the leaking seams. 
I sealed the stitching on the outside to be sure I had the leak stopped.  Pull back the material if needed to reveal the stitches and coat them well.
The interior seam is also thoroughly sealed all the way around. 
For the most part I covered the center of the tape.  This was where the seam had cracked and opened up. 

I also had some large areas that had completely come unglued allowing a full flow of water into my waders if I went chest deep.  Luckily I found this before having a full fill-up. 

These were tough fixes as the seam was already being pulled so it was a slow fix to get all those seams tight.
Behind this material is a zipper to tighten up the waders around your chest.  Very convoluted in nature and a tough fix but one that was very necessary.

My final leak was pretty easy, but it was a rip.  Not sure how it happened, but I found it before I went too deep and I simply stitched it by hand through the material and then sealed both sides.

This is the interior stitch that I also sealed on the inside after hand stitching the rip.
The outside of the rip all sealed up.

I really hope my trials and tribulations help you in figuring out your leaks.  The process is simple but never easy.  We find leaks on the first day of a three-day hunt and endure the other days until we can dry out our waders.  Still eventually, you might need to take this on, as the cost of waders seems to be heading ever upward.  Lots of different fixes here to guide you through your leaky wader problems. As a final footnote, I was able to find some wide iron-on tape that can cover existing seams and still seal the seam.  Give this a try as well. 

About the author:
David R. Vaught, Ph.D. began hunting waterfowl at a young age due to his father being a waterfowl biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. Today he hunts both public and private waterfowl grounds and is always working on something related to waterfowl throughout the year. He loves to turkey hunt and fish for walleye and crappie in the spring. David is a university professor, holds an NRA Level II coaching certification and works with youth in trap and skeet shooting in the summer with his annual trap-shooting academy.

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