As published in issue 29 of The Mission, Jazz Kuschke’s review of Patagonia’s Swiftcurrent Expedition Zip-Front Waders.
Zip-front waders are a little bit like an air fryer. Okay, if you don’t have kids then perhaps that analogy may be lost, but bear with me here. You know when there is that one thing that people just won’t stop going on about. Everyone keeps telling you how good it is and why you just have to get it, but you don’t believe the hype. You hold out for a long time until finally relenting. One day in and you wonder how you ever survived without it.
I remember seeing Platon Trakoshis in his zip-front waders on the Breede about four years ago and questioning the logic and extra investment. As he turned away to take a slash, he said something to the tune of, ‘no, you don’t understand.’
Well I do today Platon. I do today.
So let’s start with that zipper. In 2020 Patagonia released what they regarded as their ‘most innovative, feature-rich waders to date.’ As one would come to expect from the likes of Patagonia, every attention to detail was considered. To begin with, the YKK Vision zipper is completely watertight. This might seem like a throwaway comment but to me that might well be the proverbial weakest link in zip-fronts. If that thing fails, you’re done. The zipper also features a neat closure flap (with rust-proof stainless steel clasps) and the entire mechanism is easy to access and operate. Once open (zipped down) you simply slide off the Y-shaped, padded shoulder straps and step into (or out of) your waders. (I use an old Island Style wetsuit changing mat for this. It’s the best R350 you’ll ever spend watersportswarehouse.co.za).
In addition it’s quite easy to zip open and take a leak (another big selling point on zip-fronts for Platon back then, or so I recall, but we won’t go into that).
Now, I’m not the world’s tallest human so in the past waders have often been a juggling act of ill-fitting compromise between height, shoe size (bootie fit) and chest-size fit. With the Swiftcurrent range there are some 17 sizes (normal and ‘extended’) with various combination options between girth, height and shoe size. I tested the SSS which refers to ‘Small Short’ (ed. Jazz is frequently referred to as one of our tame Garden Route gnomes, the other being the similarly diminutive LeRoy Botha).
Aside from the huge range of basic fits and sizes, these waders are highly customisable. The Y-shaped, suspender-style shoulder straps are attached with a ‘ladder system’ so you can get the chest height just as you want it, and then keep them like that indefinitely never having to fiddle with the adjustment. They also feature pull tabs for easy conversion up or down, depending on the temperatures or your wading conditions. If you get hot you’re able to pull them down at the back and the front to open up your chest. I’ve used them in warmer and colder conditions, even a few very slow winter grunter sessions where the water and the air were both way too cold to really have a chance at finding a feeding fish.
I also found the adjustment quite useful when driving and can imagine it might work well when sitting in a boat with a backed seat. The back panel fits neatly under a backpack without any friction or discomfort. In addition, the upper section features elasticised pull tabs where-by you can tighten or loosen the fit around your chest depending on how many layers (or not) you’re wearing underneath. On some of the warmer sessions I’ve often worn only a single sun hoodie underneath while on the colder sessions a cotton hoodie, soft shell and thick outer jacket and the fit is great every time.
The wading belt is a static unit which features a stretch panel on the back again adding to the ‘security’ of the fit. A line basket or lumbar pack fits comfortably over the belt.
Thanks to the articulated legs and a gusseted crotch, not only is the leg fit comfortable and ‘pants-like,’ but the ergonomics were thought out by fishers doing long walks in and out of their beats. I can appreciate that. I’ve used them mainly in an estuary application but I reckon they’ll be great for uneven ground and freestone streams.
Coming from a surfing background I’m quite particular about booties and find them a bit of a bugbear on stocking-foot waders. These impressed right out of the box. The 2mm anatomical (left and right) Yulex booties are made from the same neoprene-free ‘rubber’ compound used in Patagonia wetsuits, they have a genuine sock-like feel to them and are polygrid-lined for additional warmth.
The booties sit snug in wading boots and the clever addition of ‘sticky’ stretch mesh on the inside back of the leg means the waders don’t ride up. The in-built gravel guards kept the sand out of my boots, something which I’ve found a regular issue on some other brands.
I briefly mentioned materials in the booties and this combination of advanced, performance textile and attention to the lowest environmental impact possible is a feature throughout. Patagonia is in business to ‘save our home planet’ so they’ve cut-down across all their products on use of petroleum-based materials and focussed on using recycled fabrics wherever possible. This without any compromise in performance. In this vein the Swiftcurrent waders are made from 4-layer fabrics and include at least 70% recycled materials.
As one would expect from a company so obsessed with performance the list of tech features is long and impressive, without being gimmicky or superfluous (which I find is happening with some products in the industry). They feature an interior fold-out, waterproof pocket big enough (and secure enough) for your phone and car keys on the left and a ‘drop’ pouch on the inside right in which you could put a small soft flask, water bottle, beer or hip flask. Tippet material or a small fly box would also sit there quite comfortably. On the outside there are two, lined, handwarmer pockets with neat little flaps to protect your hands from the (potentially cold) zippers and making sure no water splashes in. Fishing without a pack on some sessions I put a small clouser box on one side and a grunter box in the other.
I removed the foam knee guards for the estuary sessions but am looking forward to trying them on a trout stream soon.
These are heavy duty, heavy weight and might be seen by some as overkill for South African conditions. Then again a Loop 7X 9wt paired with Hardy Fortuna is also overkill for our estuaries but that’s not going to stop you from using the rig, now is it? It’s not going to stop me and it won’t stop me from using these waders whenever it’s cold enough. I love a beautifully-engineered piece of equipment and appreciate what’s gone into the design and R&D process. It’s part of my DNA. So I overkill it whenever I can. These bulletproof waders might just inspire me to look at doing more trips to colder climes. Thrift in July anyone?
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