January 07, 2022
This article was originally titled "Time Tested" in the 2022 Gear Guide issue of Fly Fisherman magazine.
At about the same time many of us started tying our own Pheasant Tails and Woolly Buggers, and having our first good streamer days, we also started shopping for Simms waders and other apparel. And over the past 20 years, many thousands have opted for G3 waders.
Simms’s G3 wader, the company’s flagship product in terms of longevity and sales volume, this year is celebrating 20 years of success and popularity.
“It’s probably our most iconic product,” Simms CEO Casey Sheahan says. “The G3 means a lot to a lot of people.”
The G3 name derived from being Simms’s third line of Gore-Tex waders (the first was Simms Gore-Tex Wader, then Gore-Tex Guide Wader). There have been seven or eight generations of the G3 (depending on how you define a generation), each of which aimed to raise the bar of what a fishing wader could be.
“Ultimately, we are always looking for a better solution,” said John Frazier, Simms’s manager of PR, content, and digital marketing.
The company was the creation of John Simms, a Jackson, Wyoming fishing guide. Its first neoprene waders rolled off the assembly line in 1980.
Los Angeles business consultant K.C. Walsh—in search of a different lifestyle and an escape from the city—purchased the company from John Simms in 1993, and relocated it to Bozeman, Montana, where it still produces waders today. Walsh was the president of Simms until 2017, when Simms brought on Sheahan, a former CEO of Patagonia, and Walsh transitioned to executive chairman.
20 Years of innovation
Waders have come a long way from the shiny rubber hip boots your grandfather wore, or even the oven-like neoprene overalls of your dad’s era. The single biggest leap was the introduction of Gore-Tex breathable fabric, which Simms began using as the main ingredient upon Walsh’s ownership in 1993. Frazier referred to this development as “the game changer.”
“It was a quantum leap,” said Product Line Manager Matt Carara, of the switch to Gore-Tex. “It gave anglers the ability to stay on the water longer. It’s like going from click-and-pawl reels to sealed drag. Going from fiberglass or bamboo to graphite rods.”
Gore-Tex breathability starts with a layer of what’s called expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) that has microscopic pores too small for water molecules to penetrate, but which does allow water vapor (sweat, in this case) to pass through. This fabric layer is combined with layers of polyester, polyurethane, and a tricot liner to increase durability while protecting against body oils that can break down some fabrics. The result is a pliable material that can withstand the rigors of intense outdoor use with a degree of comfort for the wearer. Unlike some other breathable fabrics, it is resistant to potentially harmful chemicals like gasoline, insect repellent, and sunscreen.
With this innovation, Simms quickly rose to the top of the wader industry. Neoprene waders became obsolete. But competitors were quick to adapt, introducing their own versions of breathable waders, most of them without Gore-Tex brand fabric.
Since then, Simms has adopted successive Gore-Tex improvements, at times having an exclusive license to produce Gore-Tex waders. For many years it was the only company making waders in the U.S., and today remains the lone U.S. company making them at scale.
Simms’s success over the following several years led them to needing more space, and the company moved to a larger production facility a few miles west of Bozeman in 2013, where it continues to develop and produce waders.
A turning point occurred in 2003, when Simms introduced a new iteration of Gore-Tex waders called the G3 (Simms is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the G3 in 2022 because the idea was conceived in 2002). The G3 was immediately hailed as “state of the art” and the “ultimate waders” in a The New York Times review, and has since become the company’s all-time best-selling wader.
This new wader introduced mainstay features like quick-drying, fleece-lined handwarmer chest pockets, the flip-out Tippet Tender interior chest pocket, and built-in gravel guards, along with increased breathability and puncture resistance in the Gore-Tex body.
Each new generation of the G3 has brought improvements and features such as articulated knees for better range of motion, patented leg seams, removable pockets, gravel-guard boot hooks, retractor docking stations, built-in low-profile belt loops, and Microban odor control and mold and mildew inhibition and “quick dry technology” in the neoprene feet. The G3’s total weight is just under 4 pounds.
“Over the years,” Frazier said, “some of the more significant improvements have been incorporating the anatomically correct left and right stockingfoot design, and transitioning from a five-layer Gore-Tex lower to a four-layer Gore-Tex lower, which drastically increased breathability, enhanced comfort, and allowed for a much better fit.”
Sheahan doesn’t see the G3 going away anytime soon.
“It’s the strongest secondary brand within Simms,” he said. “We agonize over it because we have so many self-proclaimed critics in the building . . . We aren’t willing to settle for less, because our fishing experience deserves more. If we ever got away from the G3, we’d have our work cut out for us.”
As such, breathability, comfort, and fit have always been the hallmarks of the G3. Regarding fit in particular, the G3 has more size offerings (currently 19 standard, plus 6 custom) than any other Simms wader, including different foot sizes, inseams, and girths. Frazier believes the size options and appropriate fit play big roles in the longevity of a given pair of waders.
Carara agrees that reliability is the G3’s calling card, while acknowledging that that’s often a difficult selling point.
“Reliability isn’t sexy,” he said. But serious anglers and guides recognize and appreciate this reliability, as their jobs and lifestyles depend upon it, to a degree.
“There’s sort of a quiet, understated level of competence,” added Sheahan.
Due to the success of the G3 wader, Simms developed an entire line of G3 products, including the wader in men’s and women’s, a G3 Pant wader, the G3 Guide Boot, G3 Guide Vest, G3 Guide Backpack, and the G3 Guide Jacket in men’s and women’s.
The 2022 G3 is the latest in this prodigious pedigree.
New features include the elimination of the gravel guard boot hook in order to reduce line snag, a new suspender system that uses spacer mesh that lends comfort and is easier to convert to waist-high waders, dual belt loops—one high and one low—to accommodate different torso shapes, and rain flaps on the handwarmer pockets to reduce water drips. But the biggest improvement in the 2022 G3, according to Simms representatives, is the improved laminate package.
“Compared to our current G3, the new G3 Guide Wader boasts a 7.5% increase in ‘Tongue Tear Strength’ (which is basically tear strength the way you’d try to rip paper), a 23% increase in standard puncture resistance, an 84% greater pinhole puncture resistance, and a 33% increase in breathability,” Frazier said.
“The new one’s going to be the Porsche Cayenne of new waders,” Sheahan added. “It’ll be comfortable, it’ll be sleek, it’ll be safe to use in an off-road environment, but you’re going to really like the ride.”
The G3 was originally designed to appeal to many different angler types, from full-time career fishing guides who need durability, to weekend warriors or once-a-year week-trippers who want warmth, comfort, and style. Frazier refers to it as their “workhorse wader.”
In 2007, Simms debuted a new top-price-point wader called the G4 (which now comes in Pro and Z models—Z means it has a waterproof zipper) which boasts more bells and whistles than the G3, but the construction and overall quality do not vary too far from the flagship G3.
“The DNA is by and large the same,” said Frazier.
Simms credits as much of its reputation to its production process as it does its design and materials. Simms makes waders at its headquarters and production facility just outside of Bozeman city limits. During manufacture, each G3 wader is handled by about 20 different production operators, from start to finish (from cutting, pressing pockets and belt loops, and sewing, to taping, cross-patching, hemming, attachments, and testing). Each G3 panel is cut from large rolls of Gore-Tex fabric and hand-sewn (with sewing machines), then each seam is taped and patched, and each wader is put through a waterproofing test once built.
If a given wader fails the test, it is sent back to the production floor until it proves to be leak-free. Nothing about the process is automated or robotic—the work floor is a genuine human-operated textile manufacturing plant. While expensive and time-consuming, it’s what Simms hangs its reputation on.
“It’s about passion, quality control, talented sewers and tapers, and that [the waders are] made by diehard anglers,” Sheahan said. “They’re unearthing ways to make these waders better, and we get immediate feedback.”
The well-lit production floor is a tangle of cords, tubes, and industrial machines that operate beneath the purview of piscatorial paintings, fish mounts, a sizable rendition of the iconic orange “Simms fish” logo, and an American flag. Of Simms’s nearly 200 employees, about 70 of them are production floor wader makers.
“They respect the work and take pride in building the best waders possible for their angling brothers and sisters,” Frazier added. “Having such a talented team right here in Bozeman not only allows us to experiment and make adjustments on the fly, it also allows us to test those adjustments right then and there.”
Prototypes of each new G3 design are also sent out to numerous field testers in locations such as New Zealand, Montana, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, and British Columbia. These testers include some of the busiest and most adventurous fishing guides in the world, who spend more time bushwhacking through thorns and brushing against boulders in a month than most of us do in a year. After several thousand hours of use and abuse, feedback is given about what works and what needs improvement, and the final product is tweaked based on the guides’ assessments.
“In the case of the new G3, we had 24 testers. Ten of them logged over 300 hours each without a single issue,” Frazier said.
As an organization, Simms also has a track record of standing up for protecting the fish, fisheries, access, and other causes that are near and dear to both Simms employees and anglers at large. Simms sponsors Fly Fisherman’s annual Conservationist of the Year Award, which in 2021 celebrated the volunteer work of Charles Charlesworth and donated $10,000 to Lackawanna Valley Trout Unlimited. Other Simms beneficiaries include Warriors and Quiet Waters, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Casting for Recovery, and dozens more.
Recently, Simms partnered with TU on its Home Rivers Initiative to protect Montana’s Gallatin River, which flows about a mile from Simms’s headquarters. In doing so, Simms committed $250,000 to fund a full-time position that will coordinate conservation and access work with existing organizations and provide science-based community outreach.
Simms also donates to many local charities, and in partnership with The River’s Edge fly shop formerly put on an annual “Chica de Mayo” women’s fly-fishing event each May. The event consisted of clinics and fellowship for local female anglers and women interested in learning about fly fishing. Simms is currently retooling this event “to be more inclusive of the wave of fishing enthusiasts that have come as a result of COVID.”
Simms headquarters is open to the public, and they invite the public for tours to see firsthand how the waders are made (during non-COVID times, anyhow). Simms waders come with a warranty valid for the lifetime of the product. If a leak occurs within the first 12 months of ownership, there’s no fee for the repair.
Many anglers will tell you that once you don Simms waders, the days of wearing waders akin to “Hefty bags” with “crotch sag” and “elephant legs” will be in the past. With 20 years under its belt, the G3 continues to keep anglers comfortable and dry.
Said Sheahan: “If waders could talk, they would have said a lot of great things to say about the anglers in them, using them to get to great places, and having success. We know that there are countless people out there who’ve experienced some of their best, most memorable moments in a pair of G3s.”
Simms G3 Waders
Around the turn of the millennium, Simms Fishing Products made a yellowish-tan Gore-Tex wader called the Classic Guide. It was comfortable and warm, and I loved it. I still have a beat-up pair in my closet. But I might have a new favorite.
The Simms 2022 G3 wader is the latest upgrade to a veteran line that has served anglers for years. This iteration’s biggest enhancements are due to a new Gore-Tex material with a 7.5% increase in tear strength, 23% increase in standard puncture resistance, 84% greater pinhole puncture resistance, and 33% increase in breathability compared to the material used in previous generations of G3s. While not terribly flashy, this all means a more durable wader that keeps you drier. The new wader has 4-layer material in the lower portion to better protect against thorns, branches, and barbed wire; and 3-layer material in the torso for better breathability.
The new men’s and women’s G3 waders have anatomically correct left and right booties, fleece-lined handwarmer chest pockets with rain flaps, zippered chest stash pockets, hook-and-loop fly patches, and a flip-out Tippet Tender, which operates as a useful tool, rather than an ostentatious tchotchke. Simms has removed the gravel-guard boot hook in these waders to prevent catching your fly line. The new gravel guards stay in place with a trim, stretchy finished cuff.
The suspender system has also been overhauled using spacer mesh for a more comfortable fit, and a new design that makes it easier to convert the chest-high waders to waist-high wear for hot summer weather. The G3s also have two sets of belt loops, one higher and one lower to fit different body proportions. Every G3 is built in Simms’s Montana facility, and they come in 19 standard and 6 custom sizes to fit all body shapes for men and women.
If on-the-water confidence is a factor in fishing success, the style and fit of this new generation of the G3 can’t hurt. And if comfort and warmth allow you to stay you on the water until that hungry 2-footer lets its guard down, there will be one more fish story, attributable in part to this historic line of waders.
Simms G3 wader won the Fly Fisherman Gear Guide Best New Waders award for 2022.
Joshua Bergan is Fly Fisherman magazine’s digital editor, and author of the Flyfisher’s Guide to Southwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes and Tributary: Fishing the Northern Rockies’ Periphery. He basecamps out of Belgrade, Montana.