How to Keep Feet Warm Winter Fly Fishing-Plus my Trick

Cabin fever is driving me crazy and I need to get out , but I hate getting cold.  I especially don’t like my feet getting cold so here are my tricks to keep my feet warm while winter fly fishing:

  • Select wading boots with lots of wiggle room for your toes.
  • Keep your feet DRY, and just in case carry a towel.
  • Use thicker socks with a high wool content.
  • Think about getting some dedicated cold weather waders with a bootfoot.
  • Invest in some “artificial” heat like HOTHANDS Toe Warmers

In this article, I will cover all of the different ways that I keep my feet warm while fly fishing in the winter.  If you take my advice, you can be sure you will no longer have icicle toes when you pull them out of your waders.

What Socks Are Best in Waders

When it comes to keeping my feet warm while fly fishing, my socks can make a huge difference.  I personally just wore plain old white cotton socks for years and ended up with wet, cold feet.  They would soak up water like a sponge and offered absolutely no warmth.

One good solution for this issue is to use 100% wool socks.  You may not believe it, but wool is the only natural material known to man that will keep you warm even when wet.  Ever since I was old enough to hold a gun I wore wool socks when I went deer hunting in the winter. Temperatures were typically about 20F, and even with cheap, lousy boots the wool socks would keep my feet warm.

A downside to traditional wool socks is that they are typically thick.  For a solution to this, try a wool blend. Many companies have combined wool with nylon and spandex to create a thin sock that can keep your feet very warm and dry.  I have a pair of these and often like them as they give me a little more circulation in my toes.

There are a wide variety of specialty socks that can make a big difference.  There are thermal socks designed to keep the air in between the socks and the skin seven times warmer.  There are socks that have built in layers, so moisture is wicked from the inside layer to the outside layer.  There are even bison down and alpaca socks if you want to spend more to stay warm.

Finally, you can even find heated socks these days.  These socks have heating pads built in that are fully rechargeable.  They are designed to keep at roughly 90F for anywhere from 5 to 10 hours of comfortable fly fishing.  This would be the equivalent of keeping your feet near a campfire the entire time you are fishing.

Tips to Keep Feet Dry while Fly Fishing

When we talk about wet feet in waders, we are talking about torture.  There are not many experiences I have had less comfortable than allowing my feet to get wet when I am fly fishing.  So how exactly do I keep my feet dry?

First, when it comes to water entering my waders the design of the waders themselves can make a big difference.  The first pair of waders I ever had were a bit low cut. This allowed water to sometimes splash up over the edge in places giving me soggy feet.  When you select your waders, look at the shape of the top edge and ask yourself if you will be splash-free.

Above and beyond a good pair of waders, I like an extra layer of protection.  I remember a time I was fly fishing in Arkansas and accidentally turned back into the swift current in deep water.  This created a splash that came up over the top of my perfectly good waders. Since then I have used duct tape or other waterproof tape around the top of my waders to keep them tight against my body.  It may look silly, but I would rather look silly than to have my feet freeze.

Finally, sweat can create a good amount of moisture around my feet.  This is especially true if I am working against a strong current. To avoid this, I try to keep my physical activity to a minimum.  I am sure to pick and ideal spot before entering the water, so I do not have to do much walking in the water. I try to avoid strong currents, so walking is easier.  Some foot powder to absorb moisture can help as well.

Should I Get Boot Foot Waders for Fly Fishing

There are two primary types of waders.  You have your standard sock foot waders with separate wading boots and then you have boot foot waders.  So what is the difference, and which is better for winter fly fishing?

Sock foot waders require you to purchase separate wading boots that you tie on over your waders.  Boot foot waders have a boot built into the waders, so they come in one piece. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

I can first address warmth.  I have used both types of waders, and boot foot waders are 100% warmer.  The structure of the boot prevents water from getting close to the skin, so it allows for a pocket of air in between the skin and the wader.  This pocket of air will warm up from body heat and keep my feet nice and warm. Most people do not realize it, but the key to insulation of any kind is that pocket of air around the skin.

Next, let’s talk about laces.  With boot foot waders I simply slip them on.  With sock foot waders I must bend over and lace up the boots.  For a big guy like me, this is a real pain in the rear. I much prefer the slip-on boot foot waders.  In addition, you will often be dealing with frozen laces when you walk from the water to your vehicle.  That means you must wait for them to thaw to get them off of you. This is not ideal for me.

You do have to consider the hiking aspect of fly fishing in the winter.  By the nature of the sport, you will likely have to park a distance from your spot and hike over rocks, ice, and snow to get to your ideal spot.  Sock foot waders with wading boots typically offer better traction and ankle support, so they are better for this aspect of your fishing trip. However, I have yet to experience a slip and fall with my boot foot waders.  I just take it nice and slow.

There are just a few other factors to consider on this topic.  Boot foot waders must be cleaned by hand while sock foot waders allow you to machine wash them for cleaning.  Any type of wader should be cleaned periodically to maintain the watershed aspect that makes water bead off of the sides. Boot foot waders also slip on faster, so I can get to my fishing spot and beat out my buddies.  

If you do much travelling, boot foot waders do not pack down nearly as well as sock foot waders.  This can make a difference if you are flying to your destination. Finally, if you fly fish in sand or fine gravel you can get lots of it inside of a separate wading boot.  Boot foot waders prevent you from dealing with this issue.

For winter fly fishing, the final verdict is that I always use boot foot waders.  Between the warmth, the lack of laces, and the convenience they just make more sense.  I can get by with sock foot waders, but you should be prepared to take more measure to keep your feet warm.  Even if you must own two pairs of waders, I think it is worth the investment to get some boot foot.

Other Ways to Keep Your Feet Warm

There are a few other secrets that I have for keeping my feet toasty warm when I fly fish in the winter.  One of the biggest is using toe warming products such as HOTHANDS Toe Warmers. I’m sure you are familiar with HOTHANDS products if you have ever done any winter hunting. 

feet warm winter fly fishing

feet warm winter fly fishing

For decades I have used their hand warmers when I am sitting in a tree stand 30 feet in the air.  When the wind was gusting and the temperatures were 20F, my hands were toasty warm. I even used to shove their hand warmers into the toes of my boots.  

Now they have come out with a specific toe warmer that is thinner and shaped to fit over my toes inside my boot.  If you are not familiar with these product, you simply squeeze and shake it up to activate the warming chemical in the pouch.  Then you just place it over your toes on your sock and slip your feet into your waders.

In addition, you want to get the feet of your waders one or two sizes too large.  This may sound weird, but I do the same thing with my hunting boots. It gives you that pocket of air that you need between your skin and the boot.  This pocket of air will provide you with the warmth that you need to stay in the water all day.

I think every angler wants to get in the water early and stay there until they catch their limit.  With winter fly fishing, this can be a difficult venture. Nothing will make me bail out faster than frozen toes.  However, I can assure you that these tips have helped me beat the cold and catch more fish. If you follow these suggestion, you will surely find the same success.  Stay warm and happy fishing everybody!