My fly fishing beginnings were with soggy cheap tennis shoes, where every hidden rock and slippery log was a lesson learned the hard way. Those early days were marked by makeshift gear and the youthful belief that any footwear could double as wading boots.
But as I slowly upgraded my gear and waded into more challenging waters, the shortcomings of my trusty sneakers became all too clear.
The transition to actual wading boots was a game-changer. I could wade with confidence, my focus shifted from maintaining balance to perfecting my presentation.
Now, I wouldn’t dream of hitting the water without the solid foundation of real wading boots. They’ve become as essential to my fishing trips as my rod and flies.
And while the choice of wading wear is personal, I’ve found that nothing beats the assurance and comfort of quality wading boots.
Guide Pro Tip: Looking for my full breakdown of the best wading boots? Read this article 👉 The Best Wading Boots for Slippery Rocks
Decoding the Basics of Wading Boots
Two words! Toes and Ankles. These are the two parts on the foot that I always find get damaged or hurt when you choose to wade without boots on. I have seen broken toes, black nails, and rolled ankles all too often to even think twice about not wearing my wading boots.
A Balance of Safety and Comfort: The Importance of Wading Boots
Breaking down the important features of wading boots reminds me of a construction worker’s boot. They have been designed with one goal in mind, and that is to protect the toes and, in the wading boot case, the ankles as well. Comfort was the last thing on the list. But don’t be disheartened.
Even the most uncomfortable pair of wading boots can be made wearable with a good pair of wading socks or boots. 2mm Simms wading socks with gravel guards are my personal choice, and their cushioning goes a long way in the comfort topic.
These days most of brands have comfort in mind along with all the other necessities. Some of the new models are amazing, and once you are kitted, you won’t want to take them off.
Learn More about Waders and Wading Boots
Of the fly fishing equipment I own my wading boots and waders take a beating. In the last 30 years, I’ve learned some things I’d love to share.
👉Instructions for repairing leaky waders the correct way -> How to Care for and Repair Leaky Waders
👉Want to learn a couple HACKS for using your waders? YouTube Video -> Waders Hacks
👉Here’s a list of 7 breathable waders built for comfort PLUS my favorite. -> 7 Breathable Chest Waders for Fly Fishing
👉Over the years my favorite wading boots have changed. Read about what I think are the best wading boots HERE
Key Components of Wading Boots: Soles, Uppers, and Lacing Systems
When in the market for a new pair of wading boots, whether it is your first pair or not, there are a few things to consider.
Wading boots come out with two different types of soles. Rubber soles and felt soles. The rubber soles are the more modern approach and work very well when you need to hike into a fishing spot. The grip they provide on normally dry ground is great.
My experience is that they work very well in the freestone riverbeds that don’t have an excess of algae growth or something similar. They can be very slippery when on the green algae rocks.
The felt sole boots have an amazing grip on most wet surfaces, and I feel very comfortable when I have them on. The negative is that when you need to hike into a river, they need more traction on the hiking trails. They are quite cumbersome and hazardous. To prevent any injury, I tend to hike in a pair of hiking boots or trail shoes and change at the river. This is a little more tedious, but I’m a safety nutter.
It is important to mention that FELT soles boots are restricted in certain water systems, and it is worth finding this out before you travel. More on this later.
The uppers are imperative to a good boot. One of the most common injuries on the rivers is a rolled ankle or damage to the ankle area. Good ankle support is very important, and it is recommended to look for a boot that has a lacing system all the way up the ankle, allowing you to tighten the ankle area of the boot securely.
Often overlooked and something that I can only comment on because of my experience with different boots and lacing systems. I now only buy boots with a metal eyelet lacing system. In my experience and in my local waters, the material eyelets chafe on the larger rock faces and only last a few sessions, maybe a season at most.
This can be a very annoying problem to keep attending to, and having a lacing system fail when fishing and wading in the deeper stretches of the river.
Weight Matters: The Impact of Wading Boot Weight on Comfort and Performance
Consider the boot’s weight—both dry and wet. A heavy boot can turn a day on the river into an exhausting trek, leading to sore muscles and shin splints.
The boot materials, sole type and drainage system are key: absorbent materials and felt soles tend to be heavier, and well-placed drainage holes are crucial for comfort to prevent water log and annoying pebbles.
Understanding the Pricing of Wading Boots
As with anything in life, you get entry-level boots and top-end ranges. They all do the same thing, and that’s to provide grip, comfort, and stability in the water. Some do it better than others, and your choice of boot needs to be based on what your budget is and what you need from the boot.
|Boot Description||Price at Time of Writing|
|Redington Wading Boots||$92|
|Simms Flyweight Boots||$199|
|Paramount Deep Eddy Boots||$99|
I always say to a newbie to start off with a cheaper pair, and if you know, you will make use of a better pair, then spend the money on a good pair. You won’t look back.
The below list are boots that I have worn or have friends who have used them extensively.
Redington Wading Boot
These were a great pair of boots. I wore them for two seasons with minimal damage. By the third season, they needed some TLC, but they finished the season out. These boots are super popular on Amazon, read the reviews and check the prices with this shortcut link 👉 Redington Wading Boots
I’m guessing over 100 outings in those 3 years of use. For $100, you can’t go wrong with these boots. They come in a felt or rubber sole and are very comfy boots to wear all day. They don’t have a gator sock ring, but that’s not an issue and a simple clipping on the bottom lace will work just fine.
Simms Flyweight Boot
My current pair of boots, and I can’t complain. They are a little pricier at $200 but they are a great pair of boots. SIMMS has brought out a newer version which I can only imagine to be great.
I have the rubber sole pair, and they work great on my local waters. Their biggest attraction is their weight when wet. Very light and maneuverable. A very fitting name.
Paramount Outdoors Deep Eddy’s
A new and up and coming brand, Paramount Outdoors has launched a whole lineup of wading gear. I’ve had been wearing the Deep Eddy Wading Boots for a couple of months, and they’ve held up admirably. Priced around $100, these boots offer great traction and comfort all at a significant value.
Available with either felt or rubber soles, lightweight and reliable, the Deep Eddy Boots are a solid choice for any angler on a budget. Check the current prices and reviews on Amazon with this link 👉 Paramount Deep Eddy Wading Boots
Patagonia Danner Boot
The Danner brand is not a stranger to the boot’s world, and when you combine their expertise with a fly-fishing mega brand like Patagonia, things can only be good. The boot they make is amazing, and I have only heard great things about its comfort and durability.
This type of boot isn’t cheap ($499), but it is most definitely a choice if you want a pair of boots that will last. These would be my next choice of boots in the future. Read more about the Patagonia Tractor Foot Wading Boot
Comparing Types of Wading Boot Soles and Their Performance
We have briefly touched on the types of soles wading boots come out with, but we will dive deeper into the whys and what’s about each type in the below paragraphs. For now, just an understanding of them.
Felt Soles: Pros, Cons, and Performance
My preferred choice of sole for the waters I fish in the summer months. What I lose in grip when hiking in they make up for when walking on the green algae rocks that at times feel like you are walking on ice.
A little trick that I have done in the past Is to grind out two small patches on the heel and front arch of the boot, and stick felt patches in place. This worked very well, giving me a good balance of support and grip on both terrains.
I’ve got a complete article talking about when to use felt or rubber sole wading boots. Wade into the details 👉 Felt vs Rubber Sole Wading Boots
Felt soles grip better, and as mentioned before, they work very well on my home waters. I walk with more confidence and can concentrate on fishing. They are heavier than rubber soles, and this can be felt during longer fishing sessions.
One thing to note is that when you are fishing different water systems over consecutive days, you should rinse the felt out thoroughly as they are a very good harbor for bacteria and organisms that may have a harmful impact on other water systems. We need to be environmentally conscious of this and the impact it may cause.
Rubber Soles: Benefits, Drawbacks, and Effectiveness
Rubber soles are the more preferred choice of boot these days. The more modern boots have the VIBRAM sole technologies, which in theory, help with traction. I’m of the opinion that when the rocks are slippery, there isn’t much that any boot will do. One needs to move with a more instinctive caution and feeling.
Rubber soles are great for everything else involved in wading and wet wading, walking to the river, climbing and out, and for the general day out on the water. They are a very effective choice and, to be honest, there aren’t many drawbacks to mention. The only one is that they can have less traction on the wet rocks when compared to a felt-soled boot.
In-Water and Out-of-Water Performance: Felt vs. Rubber
If we had to compare the two soles in and out of the water, we would be very surprised at the similarities they share, along with the very definitive differences.
The below scores are out of ten, with ten being great.
|Factor to Consider||Felt||Rubber|
|Comfort after full day wading||8||8|
|Traction on land||3||9|
|Traction in water||9||5|
|Weight when walking||7||5|
|Ease to clean||5||9|
The above scoring is based on my experiences and on my home waters. As you can see, the only thing that really trumps the rubber-soled boot is the felt-soled boot’s traction qualities. I still maintain that I feel more comfortable in my local rivers with a pair of them on. Anywhere else in the country or world, for that matter, I will fish a pair of rubber-soled boots.
Legal Considerations for Felt Soles
The legal constraints a pair of felt-soled boots have in various US waters, and the rest world is worthy of mention. In most New Zealand waters, both North and South Islands, felt-soled boots are banned.
Guide Pro Tip: Check this article to see if felt is banned 👉 Are Felt Wading Boots Banned in My State?
The felt is the perfect environment for microorganisms to be carried from one water system to the next, with the consequences often being negative.
The best thing to do is to find out about the rules and regulations of the waters you intend to fish and speak to the local fly shop. They should have the correct info. You wouldn’t want to arrive at a destination and be told you can’t wet wade because you have the wrong boots. Take the time and investigate!
A Look at Boot Foot Waders vs. Stocking Foot Waders
When wading in the warmer months, you may be able to get away with a pair of shorts, gator socks, and boots, but in the colder months, you will need to have a pair of waders.
There are two types of waders, each with their pros and cons to consider. While this isn’t a wader article, I will provide a brief insight into what I use and why.
The Pros and Cons of Boot Foot Waders
The boot foot wader is a single piece wader with a PVC boot attached. They are like the design of a Gumboot and work very well in conditions where minimal walking is needed. You can layer up beneath them and stay very warm and dry. They are very easy to slip on and off and will allow you to have a great day on the water.
As mentioned, you can only walk a little in this type of wader, and the boots offer little to no grip on the wet rocks. So, it is important that you walk very slowly and carefully when on wet rocks.
I like to use mine when out on the boat for the day or if I am wading a shallow dam or lake that has a gravel bottom. They are also considerably cheaper than the stocking foot waders.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Stocking Foot Waders
Stocking foot waders are great and a necessity when wet wading in cooler waters. They bring a level of comfort to the day and a lot more versatility. Stocking foot waders like boots come in different price and quality ranges.
The main difference is whether they are breathable or not.
This means that the 2-way material allows the air to escape in the legs when you are bending down. This is imperative to have when fishing a section where much movement is required. Your legs don’t puff up, and the air is able to escape giving the waders a very pants-like feel.
This type of dry comfort comes at a price, though, and they aren’t cheap. But a good pair will last if they are looked after and the correct care is given to them. I’ve got a great article reviewing 7 of my favorite breathable waders 👉 read it here.
Size and Fit: Key Aspects in Choosing Wading Boots
I must admit that it was a tricky thing for me in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to ask retailers and local shops if you can try the boots on to make sure.
Sizing with Waders and Socks in Mind
The general rule is that you should size up a size when buying boots to make up for the wading sock or stocking foot. Now, many brands still design their boots this way, but there are a few that size the boot as if you are wearing a sock already. So, an 11-foot is an 11 shoe that can fit a wading sock.
The Importance of the Right Fit: Trying on Wading Boots Before Purchase
If this is a possibility, I recommend it. But as most things are online these days, make sure you know if the boot brand sizes up before they make the boot.
I know that some SIMMS boots are like this. I have worn boots that are one size too big, and they are ok, I mean, they aren’t perfect, but you can walk and wade in them. A pair of boots that is too small is the worst. You can’t walk nicely or comfortably.
Learn about my fitting experience with my Simms Freestones 👉 Freestone Boot Review
Ease of Use: Putting on and Taking off Wading Boots
Easier to put on dry and clean than take off when wet and muddy; that’s my feeling about wading boots. What’s important to add is that it’s worth investing in a changing mat.
A taco shell by SIMMS is great. It allows you to gear up and change out of the wet gear without getting any sand or dirt on the wet gear. And when done, you zip the bag up and throw it in the trunk.
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Lacing Systems, Additional Features, and Their Role
Understanding Different Lacing Systems
The lacing systems are an important factor in wading boots. The material eyelet design is the option on the cheaper boots. They work well, but I find they tend to chafe through after some time. The metal eyelet is my first choice these days.
I haven’t had an issue with them as long as the actual metal eyelet stays in place. There are a few cable systems that brands like Korkers and Simms bring to the table. It’s a tension system that twists off the center boot tongue.
Another key consideration when looking at the lacing system is for the speed lacing hooks to extend low enough to actually make removing your boots easier. So many boots keep the speed hooks to high making removing with cold, wet fingers a chore.
Essential Design Features
The Role of a Padded Collar in Ankle Support- this is a must. It helps to add protection and comfort around the whole ankle area. This gives the angler better support throughout the whole day.
Gravel Guard Loop- the gravel guard loop is a very handy addition to a pair of boots but optional. The gravel guard clip does fit onto a standard lacing system. The guard ring is just easier and more secure.
The Importance of a Durable Toe Box- again, this is a great addition but not essential. It has its perks and advantages, mainly to protect the toe and front area of the foot against rocks and underwater debris. The cheaper boots don’t have a toe cap, and that is ok. You can still walk in the water and fish.
Full Gussets- This is an important feature and one to look out for. The Gusset on a boot is where the tongue and boot upper meet. A full gusset is where the tongue and boot are attached right up the arch; This is important because the higher up it is joined, the less chance you have of small stones getting into your boots. This is a common issue when wading in a normal pair of hiking boots.
Reinforced Toes and Heels- if they have, then great; while a specialized toe cap isn’t a must, reinforcement around these areas is important to protect your foot.
Drain Holes- very important! The boot needs to drain when it gets lifted out of the water. There are ringlet eyes, usually on the arch of the foot.
Synthetic Uppers- Synthetics dry and drain faster. These are all qualities that make a good wading boot. The synthetics get the least water clogged and thus are the lightest to walk in when wet. Synthetic uppers are more comfortable all around.
Enhancing Traction for Better Safety
Traction is what defines the wading boot, and if it slips on the rocks, then the immediate thought is that they aren’t that good. There are a few additions we can add to the boots to help with the traction issue. Cleats or studs are the game changers in my mind.
Understanding Traction Enhancements: Studs and Cleats
Cleats and Bars
Like any traction add-on, come at an extra price but often make up for their extra pricing in one trip. The cleat has a few designs, but they basically fit around the boot and in a chainmail-type design. Supported by the ankle and arch, the sole then has this extra bit of protruding metal for grip.
Some boot designs have little holes in the felt sole to screw metal studs into. These can help tremendously with grip on all slippery surfaces. The one thing I dislike is the sound they make when you walk on cement or concrete.
How and When to Add Traction Enhancements to Your Wading Boots
Adding the additional tractions to the boot should be done off the water. This is always best. How the exact method works is dependent on the actual boot itself. When to add? Well, that’s easy, I add them all the time; I would rather have 100% grip all the time than have to worry and be upset because I didn’t pack extra traction measures.
Warmth and Insulation in Wading Boots
Ok, so I learn this the hard way. Wading socks don’t keep your feet dry. ONLY stocking foot waders do, or full boot waders. The Gator socks are just a 2or 3-mm wetsuit material and do what a wetsuit does and warm the water layer between the material and your skin. Stocking foot waders are waterproof and don’t allow water in. It is with these that wearing certain types of material socks helps with warmth better than others.
The Role of Wading Boots in Keeping Feet Warm
The boot fits snuggly on your foot with the sock and wading sock or gator, whichever you are wearing. Minimal water is around the foot, allowing less fresh cool water in. In addition to this simple science, the type of sock you choose to wear with your stocking foot waders is very important. You want to wear wool or a moister-wicking sock. This will pull moister away from the skin so that any sweat will be dispersed.
Insulation and Material Choices for Warmer Wading Boots
Merino wool or a technical blend is the best bet. Many of the boot companies have their own socks available as well. I use an extra-long pair of Merino wool socks that work great.
Guide Tip- when you get that new pair of boots. Take some time and cover all the stitching with water-resistant silicone. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but just enough to protect the stitching a little longer. This adds some extra life to the boots.
Caring for Your Wading Boots
The two most important things when cleaning and storing your boots are to make sure you wash all the dirt off the soles. This is particularly true with felt soles and to make sure you dry your boots out of direct sunlight.
The direct sunlight will decrease the longevity of the boots and cause them to crack and tear. Think of your boots like a wetsuit, and they will last longer than you thought. Read more in this article 👉 Cleaning and Caring For Wading Boots
Guide Recommended: If you’re in the market for a durable, comfortable, and reasonably priced wading boot, consider looking at alternatives like the Paramount Deep Eddy 👈 link to Amazon. They offer better value for money and are likely to outlast the Cabela’s Ultralight boots.
One More Cast – Wading Boots
So, there you have it. If you want to get your first pair of boots or replace your old pair, I hope this will help you make better and easier choices. They are an important part of the gear that can really make or break your day on the water. Even if you do end up catching anything. At least you were comfortable and warm.
Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.