What to Wear For Winter Fly Fishing: Plus Winter Guide Hacks

“There is no such thing as bad weather just bad gear,” you’ve probably heard this old saying once or twice before when someone is trying to convince you to go fishing in cold. While bad weather can be a good reason to not go out on the water this winter, wearing the proper gear can make this experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

Getting in waders and stepping into a freezing cold river may not be for the faint of heart, but with today’s technical apparel it really isn’t that bad. So what do you wear when winter fly fishing? In this blog, you will find out exactly what to wear to stay warmer on the water as well as a few other fly fishing guide hacks that we have come to adapt here in the snowy Rocky Mountains in Vail, Colorado.

What to Wear For Winter Fly Fishing:

Baselayers, baselayers, and more baselayers.

Baselayers are essential to staying warm on the water, let alone quality baselayers. They help wick away any sweat that your body may produce to keep your core warm. Baselayers come in a variety of different materials from merino, to synthetic blends. Almost never should a baselayer have cotton in it. Simms has a good selection of different baselayers in both lightweight and heavyweight versions.

Typically a nice lightweight baselayer like the Simms Lightweight Baselayer Bottom followed by an under wader pant (Midlayer) like the Orvis Pro Under Wader Pant is a great option for your bottoms. For the not as cold days, just one solid baselayer on your bottom like the Simms Heavyweight Baselayer Bottom followed by your waders will do the trick. As far as on the top, the Simms Heavyweight Baselayer Hoody or the Simms Lightweight Core Top is a great option depending on how cold the day maybe and what other layers you may be stacking.


After you have the baselayers figured out next comes the midlayer, this could be a fleece or synthetic material of some sort. This is probably the most forgotton and most underrated layer of them all. Some popular options for a decent midlayer would be the Orvis Pro 1/2 Zip Fleece or Simms Thermal 1/4 Zip Top. Other popular ones would be Patagonia’s R1 Fleece or Better Sweater. The midlayer should be a moisture wicking material that fits tight to your body, it usually will have a quarter zip, crew, or hood option.

Under Wader Jacket:

Tricomp Simms Jacket

After your midlayer comes an under wader jacket. This jacket will be the insulator in your whole layering system. This jacket should be the bulk of the material that you will be wearing. A down jacket usually is the best option here for the colder days. A jacket like the Simms ExStream BiComp Hoody or Simms ExStream Hooded Jacket is a great down jacket option for winter days on the water. If you want something a little lighter, the Patagonia Nanopuff Hoody is a popular one among the guide staff.

Over Wader Jacket:

Once you are properly outfitted with baselayers, mid layers, an insulating jacket, breathable waders then comes the over wader jacket. While a ski jacket can work for some people, a proper wading jacket will fit and perform much better. A ski jacket is usually cut a little longer where it will be getting wet when you are wading. A specific wading jacket like the Simms G4 Pro Jacket is a bombproof, breathable, weather-resistant piece of equipment. It will literally save your day out on the water when the weather decides to take a turn for the worst.

Good Socks are Important:

simms socks

Getting cold feet will most likely be one of the first body parts that will make you cut your day short. Feet get cold easily, especially because you are often standing in the water. Having proper socks can aid in keeping your toes warm and your mind focused on fishing. I prefer to double sock in the winter with a super light merino sock like the Simms Merino Lightweight Hiker Sock as the first sock then a thicker heavier sock like the Simms Merino Thermal OTC Socks. Do keep in mind you want a little wiggle room for your toes to move around to keep the blood circulating. Having a little larger wading boots can give you the ability to try the double sock.

Headwear, Hats and BUFFS:

vva beanie

By keep your noggin warm, you can assure that the rest of your body will also do it’s best to stay warm. A good cold weather hat or beanie is essential to keeping the ears and skull nice and toasty. The VVA Logo Cuff Beanie is a guide favorite and if you are wanting a hat with a brim the Simms GORTEX ExStream Hat is a great option. A BUFF is also essential to keeping your neck area warm and not letting any heat get out from your core. The material is moisture wicking and does better than a cotton scarf.

Gloves, Which to Models to Choose:

wool half finger gloves

Gloves are essential to keeping the fingers warm out on the river. Unfortunately, there are soo so many different kinds to choose from. Many anglers prefer, the classic wool half finger gloves while others prefer the newer synthetic blend foldover mitts. To make this decision easier check out this previous blog What are the Best Winter Gloves for Fly Fishing.

Winter Guide Hacks to Stay Warm:

1. Crank the heat in the car before hitting the water.

After you are properly layered and ready for your winter fly fishing adventure. While you are driving to the river, put the heat on in your car and get those feet nice and warm. Don’t overdo it and make your feet sweat as this is a recipe for a disaster as that sweat will turn cold extremely fast.

2. Bring hot tea, coffee, or soup to enjoy on the river.

Nothing like some hot liquid to warm up a cold body. On some of our guided trips, our guides use a 40-ounce YETI bottle or Hydroflask to keep soup warm. This way you don’t have to worry about heating it up on the river and can heat it up in the kitchen at home. A classic Stanley Thermos is a great way to keep hot tea or coffee on hand to enjoy riverside.

3. Bring boiled water in aluminum bottles.

This hack is one that might not be as well known. A guide once had these on a cold winter day and they were worked perfectly to warm up my hands throughout the day. You can find smaller 4-8 ounce aluminum bottles on Amazon or at a gas station. Prior to heading out pour boiling water into these bottles and keep them in your pocket to warm your hands. Sort of like hand warmers but the heat they put off is more intense and you can reuse them over and over again. Another hack to warm up your feet on the water is to pour boiling water on your feet. Use a larger YETI or Hydroflask Thermos to keep this water warm and pour on your feet once they are feeling numb.

4. Make a Riverside Fire or Use a Portable Propane Heater.

If you are planning on being out on the after for a longer period of time, making a fire riverside can be a great way to warm up. Bringing a small portable propane heater like a Mr. Buddy Heater can be a great way to stay warm on the water. That is if you have the ability to carry it or put it in your boat on a float trip. This heater is a great to keep in your boat or car and it doesn’t break the bank.

There you have it, hopefully these tips will help you get you fly fishing this winter season. Winter fly fishing can be a nice escape from the busy ski mountains. You’ll be able to find some snowy solitude out on the river. If you are interested in a winter fly fishing guided trip, give the shop a call at 970-926-0900 or visit us online.

Patrick Perry, Former Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor.