Fly fishing isn’t a very risky sport, but wading a river to find fish can be tricky. The rocks are slippery, the footing is awkward and potentially dangerous, and you have to cope with the fatigue brought on by standing up all day. But with the right pair of wading boots, navigating your favorite river on foot becomes much easier and safer.
As with most fly fishing gear, there are countless wading boot options on the market with innovative new models coming out every year. But before you go and spend a bunch of money on a pair of boots that may or may not perform as you need them to, use this article to get acquainted with three of the best wading boots available in 2017.
Best Budget-Friendly Wading Boots Cabela’s Ultralight Wading Boots
You won’t find a better pair of wading boots for under $100. While they aren’t fancy or over-the-top innovative, Cabela’s Ultralight boots offer everything a quality wading boot should mesh side panels for fast drainage, steel shanks in the soles for superb stability, and scuff-resistant heel and toe caps for increased durability.
Generally, the less expensive a boot, the heavier it is. However, as their name implies, that’s not the case with Cabela’s Ultralight boots. At 3.2 pounds per pair, the Ultralights are comparable in weight to many higher-end wading boots made by Simms or Patagonia. The best thing is that even though they’re lightweight, the synthetic uppers are stout enough to hold up the inevitable abuse of river wading.
Cabela’s Ultralight wading boots are available in both rubber sole and felt sole versions. Both versions come with 28 hardened steel cleats that can be screwed into the sole to add extra traction for wading the sketchiest riverbeds.
Best Mid-Range Wading Boots Simms Freestone Boots
If you have a little more wiggle room in your budget and want a wading boot that is more durable, more comfortable, and offers more stability, check out the Simms Freestones (Link to Simms).
You’ll notice right away that unlike most wading boots that feature mesh or nylon uppers, the Freestone boots have panels of full grain synthetic leather sewn together with a heavy-duty triple-stitch seam. This material gives the boot a classic style reminiscent of a mountaineering boot while adding a great deal of durability and stiffness. Not everyone will appreciate the rigid feel of the Freestones, but for those who fish the most hazardous rivers, the extra support and stability could be the ticket to safer wading.
For even greater durability, the toes and heels of the Freestone boots are wrapped with a generous amount of scratch rubber. For extra comfort, the collar of the boot is lined with neoprene to help maintain a tight but soft grip around the leg. The Simms Freestone wading boots are available in both a rubber sole version made with StreamTread technology as well as a felt sole version. Like many of Simms’ products, the Freestone wading boots feature the company’s signature CleanStream design aspects which help reduce the spread of invasive species.
Best High-End Wading Boots for Fly Fishing (SIMMS and Korkers)
For years the Simms has been a leader in wading boots. Offering more sizes, materials and innovation than any other brand. If you’re looking for traction, comfort and durability, I highly recommend the SIMMS G3 Guide Wading Boot (Link to Simms to read more).
The G3’s are built to stand up to all the situations that might arise for a fly fishing guide. The nubuck leather uppers and 12 mm felt sole are made to combat freezing temperatures, ankle twisting streams and all day hikes.
One of the most innovative boots to hit the market in recent times is the Korker HatchBack (link to Amazon). What separates this boot from all the others is that instead of the foot entering the boot from the front like a standard boot, the HatchBacks feature a unique rear-entry design. The hinged back of the boot drops down allowing you to slip your foot in and out with ease ? ideal for suiting up at your truck before hiking to the stream.
Along with the rear-entry system, the HatchBack boots also feature a BOA lace system which uses steel laces and a ratchet dial to cinch up the boots. While the BOA system is extremely easy to use, it’s also very efficient at creating uniform pressure across the lace points. Simply put, if you like to get into boots and to the river as fast as possible without giving up proper fit, these are the boots for you.
The outsides of the HatchBack boots are built very tough with molded TPU calf, shin, and toe guards. The interiors of the HatchBacks feature Korkers Flow Foam fit system which adapts to the unique shape of your foot for one of the most custom-feeling fits of any wading boot. The Flow Foam fills any space between your neoprene booties and the boot to greatly reduce foot shift and potential hot spots where blisters might form.
Like all of Korkers wading boots, the HatchBacks utilize the OmniTrax interchangeable sole system that allows you to switch from standard rubber to studded to felt soles in a matter of seconds. When you order your pair of HatchBacks you can select from two different sole packages to suit the conditions of your local rivers. Korkers also has a wide range of sole styles available for purchase, all of which are compatible with the HatchBacks. Few other wading boots rival the versatility and adaptability of the Korkers HatchBacks.
Some Additional Wading Boot Considerations…
Now that we’ve shown you which wading boots to buy depending on your budget and preferences, let’s take a look at a few other factors you must consider when selecting wading boots.
Should You Go with Rubber or Felt Soles?
For a versatile wading boot that will perform in practically every situation, go with rubber soles.
Felt soles provide excellent traction on slick river rocks, but tend to slip and slide on dry land. But performance aside, felt-soled wading boots are quickly losing favor because they are thought to spread invasive species that “hitch hike” on the felt material. Several states have banned the use of felt-soled wading boots, so if you do decide to use them, be sure to check your local regulations to see if they’re approved.
Do You Need Studs in Your Wading Boots?
Adding metal studs to the soles of your wading boots is a great idea if you plan on wading rivers that have slick, rocky bottoms. Studs, or cleats as they’re sometimes called, give you better grip by “biting” the rocks where rubber would likely slip.
Studs can be installed on both felt and rubber soled wading boots but are more commonly found on rubber soles. Several manufacturers make specialized studs for wading boots but there are also many DIY alternatives available that cost significantly less. Installing studs into wading boots is a simple process that only takes a few minutes. For detailed instructions, check out our guide here.
What Sizes Wading Boots Should You Buy?
Since you’ll be wearing your wading boots with the neoprene booties of your stocking foot breathable waders, the size of your boots has to account for the thickness of the neoprene.
Luckily, most wading boot manufacturers adjust their sizing accordingly which means you can buy the same size boot as your street shoes. Other companies, like Simms, choose to keep their wading boot sizes congruent with street shoes sizing instructing customers to size-up their wading boots one size from their street shoes.
Proper fit is perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing wading boots, so it’s highly recommended that you try on wading boots while wearing your waders before buying. Of course, you can always use your best judgment and order online without trying them on, just make sure the online store you buy them from has a generous returns policy!