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Home Fly Fishing Gear How to Choose the Right Wading Boots

How to Choose the Right Wading Boots

How to Choose Wading Boots for Freshwater Fly Fishing

Wading Boots



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     As mentioned in another article, waders are commonly available in one of two different types consisting of those that have wading boots permanently attached to the legs of the waders which are known as boot foot waders and, those that have a neoprene bootie attached to the legs instead of a wading boot which are known as stocking foot waders. Therefore, stocking foot waders require an angler to wear a separate pair of wading boots over the neoprene bootie and thus, they are the the type of wader most preferred by experienced fly fishermen. However, wading boots are also divided into different types according to their design as well as the type of soles that they have and, just like the various types of waders, each type of wading boot has both advantages and disadvantages.


     However, it should be noted that even breathable waders are often too hot to wear when fly fishing during the warmer months of the year and thus, some fly fishermen revert to a method called “wet wading” which dispenses with waders altogether. Therefore, wading “boots” are available in a wide range of types from sandals specifically designed for wet wading in warm weather to wading shoes which provide a greater degree of protection to an angler’s foot to high top wading boots that are specifically designed to be worn in conjunction with a pair of stocking foot waders. But, it should also be noted that while wading sandals are much cooler to wear in warm weather than wading boots are, they do have significant disadvantages. For instance, not only do they expose an angler’s foot to stubs and scrapes when wading over a rocky stream bottom, they also allow sand and gravel to enter the sandal and thus, lodge between the sole of the angler’s foot and the footbed of the sandal which can be quite uncomfortable and thus, many anglers who choose to wear wading sandals quickly discover that they are forced to spend a significant amount of time and effort using the stream’s current to wash the debris out of the sandal. Therefore, some anglers have a distinct preference for wading shoes over wading sandals because they not only provide significantly more protection to an angler’s foot than wading sandals do, they are somewhat more comfortable to wear because they do a better job of keeping debris out of the shoe. But, at the same time, due to their enclosed design, any sand or gravel that does enter the shoe tends to lodge there until the angler stops and removes the shoe to wash out the debris. Consequently, most experienced fly fishermen prefer to wear wading boots over either wading sandals or wading shoes because they provide the greatest degree of protection to the anglers foot while also providing a significant degree of ankle support for more secure footing when wading over rocky stream bottoms and, the higher tops do a much better job of keeping sand and gravel out of the shoe. But, even wading boots, no matter how tightly laced, will still allow a certain amount of sand and gravel to enter the boot and lodge between the sole of the angler’s foot and the wading boot’s footbed and thus, experienced anglers often also wear a pair of neoprene gaiters when wearing either wading shoes or wading boots which do an excellent job of keeping both gravel and sand out of the shoe or boot for increased comfort.


     Then, there is the choice between traditional felt soles and sticky rubber soles and, there again, each type of sole has both advantages and disadvantages. For instance, felt soles have been in use on wading boots for a very long time now and they do an excellent job of providing an angler with a reasonably secure grip on rocky stream bottoms; especially when the rocks are covered with a slick layer of biofilm. However, the very properties that enable them to provide a secure grip on slick rocks also cause them to be prone to collect and harbor aquatic microorganisms. Therefore, if an angler fishes more than one stream basin, it is very important that they take to time to allow their felt soled wading sandals, wading shoes, or wading boots to completely dry before wearing them while fishing in a different stream basin because, if the felt soles are allowed to retain moisture, then the microorganisms that can take up residence in the felt soles can be inadvertently transferred to the second stream basin and thus, eventually ruin the water quality by transferring invasive species.


     Consequently, some states have gone as far as banning anglers from wearing felt soled wading sandals, wading shoes and, wading boots and instead force anglers to wear wading footwear with so called “sticky rubber” soles instead. However, while sticky rubber soles are the new vogue in wading footwear because they do not collect and harbor aquatic microorganisms, the fact is that regardless of any claims a manufacturer may make to the contrary, sticky rubber soles are quite simply incapable of providing a fly fishermen with the same degree of secure footing as a felt sole is due to a law of physics that states that a liquid cannot be compressed. Consequently, because liquids cannot be compressed, there will always be a thin layer of water that exists between a sticky rubber sole and any submerged rocks in a steam and thus, regardless of how “sticky” the rubber is, rubber soled wading footwear will always provide a less secure grip than felt soled wading footwear.


     Therefore, some wading boot manufacturers now offer wading boots with interchangeable soles which enable an angler to choose either felt soles or sticky rubber soles by simply removing one type of sole and replacing it with the other type. But, while this is an excellent concept, it does not always work as intended because, unless the sole attachment system is very secure, it can allow the soles to detach from the shoe when wading. Consequently, most experienced fly fisherman still have a distinct preference for permanently attached felt soles on their wading footwear.


     Last, there is the issue of soles with cleats versus soles without cleats. Of course, the idea behind adding cleats to the soles of wading boots is to provide anglers with a more secure footing by adding metal points that are capable of cutting though  moss, aquatic plants, and the layer of biofilm that tends to build up on rocks submerged in trout streams. But, the fact is that while cleats do an excellent job of penetrating both plant matter and biofilm, they are not capable penetrating the surface of rocks and thus, they reduce the surface area of a wading boot’s sole to the points of the cleats which then have to bear the angler’s full weight. Therefore, wading boots with cleats in the soles can actually provide a less secure footing than those without cleats when wading on water polished rocks! But, even so, there are fly fisherman who simply would not fish without their cleats because they feel that the cleats do provide a more secure grip while, others would not wear wading boots with cleats even if they were paid to do so. Plus, many anglers find than having cleats in the soles of their wading boots to be uncomfortable because, in order to prevent the cleats from causing distinct pressure points on the soles of an angler’s foot, the soles of the boots must necessarily be relatively stiff. Consequently, the very large majority of experienced fly fishermen tend to prefer felt soled wading boots without cleats.


Wading footwear that we recommend that you consider –

     Thus, below you will find a list of some of the most popular brands and models of wading boots on the market with models ranging in price from moderate to relatively inexpensive which will serve to enhance, rather than detract from, your fly fishing experience by providing you good durability without breaking the bank. But, please note that there are so many different wading footwear manufacturers on the market today who produce so many different models in both men’s and women’s styles and sizes, it is simply not feasible to review all of them here. Therefore, we have chosen a few from among the many that we feel provide fly fishermen with a good value for the money.


  • · Simms RipRap wading sandals – Simms RipRap sandals are some of the best known and most widely used wading sandals on the market today because they feature a wrap-around design that is very secure on an angler’s foot and, they are available with either sticky rubber soles or a combination sole that combines sticky rubber with felt. In addition, they also feature are available in both men’s and women’s styles and sizes.  

  • · Simms RipRap wading shoes – Very similar to the RipRap sandals listed above, Simms RipRap wading shoes have the same features as their RipRap wading sandals in that they too feature fatigue-fighting Right Angle Footbed technology combined with synthetic, hydrophobic, mesh uppers but, instead feature an enclosed shoe design. Plus, they are only available with sticky rubber soles in a men’s style and sizes.  

  • · Chota Hybrid felt soled wading shoes
  • · Simms men’s Headwater Pro wading boots – One of Simms most popular wading boot models, their Headwater Pro wading boots feature
  • · Simms women’s Vaporhead wading boots – Simms only model of wading boot designed specifically for women, their Vaporhead wading boots feature a lightweight, hiking-friendly build and waterproof, synthetic leather, rip 

  • · Korkers Buckskin and Buckskin Mary wading boots – Korker’s Buckskin (men’s)  and Buckskin Mary (women’s) wading boots are both made from hydrophobic materialsOmniTrax
  • · Orvis Encounter wading boots

  • · Cabela’s Ultralight Wading Boots


     So, as you can see, just like waders, there is a very wide range of wading boots on the market to choose from ranging from sandals to shoes to boots with price points that range from the expensive to the inexpensive. Thus, choosing wading footwear can easily be every bit as confusing as choosing a pair of waders! But, with a little knowledge, the process can be greatly simplified by first deciding if you will be using them with or without waders combined with the level of comfort and durability that you require which will help to narrow your choices to best suite your particular needs.





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