Whether you are surf-casting, float-tubing or wading, fishing boots and waders can make or break your fly-fishing adventures. Good fly fishing boots should be comfortable, stable and have ample traction.
Streams have slippery surfaces, loose gravel and steep hills that make it difficult to navigate using regular footwear. Wearing quality fishing boots help manoeuvre these areas safely and enhance comfort when fishing.
The discussion below looks at things that anglers should consider when buying wading boots, and the top five best wading boots.
What to Look for When Buying the Boots
The Type of Sole
The sole should provide a firm grip when navigating slippery and rocky surfaces. Fly fishing boots are made of different types of soles, which offers various benefits to the user.
A while ago, rubber sole boots were known for poor traction and durability. Numerous technological advancements have been made since to improve functionality and longevity, making them the go-to boots by every angler. Rubber soles are great for anglers walking long distances during fishing trips. The rubber sole grips well on slippery rocks. It is also soft and extremely resistant to abrasion compared to felt soles.
Felt sole wading boots offer the best traction on wet, slippery rocks. However, even with the best traction, felt soles work poorly out of the water as they take longer to dry. As such, if the angler is switching places constantly, it is easy for species to spread to areas they are not meant to be. Another problem with felt soles is that they wear out faster than their rubber sole alternatives especially when used outside the stream. While it is replaceable, it creates an additional cost to the angler.
Good boots should fill up and drain water fast. Wet boots are naturally heavy, so you should look for a light boot that drains water quickly. The most widely used material is synthetic leather like the Nubuck or microfiber such as nylon or polyester. These materials allow water to flow in and out of the shoes, and this eliminates the burdensome feel that comes with wet boots.
Neoprene waders are ideal for cold water anglers. They are durable, provide waterproof insulating warmth and come in different thickness to enhance comfort. For moderate climates, anglers should buy neoprene boots with 3mm and 5-7mm thickness respectively for colder climates. Neoprene is buoyant, which a bonus for float-tube fishing.
Nylon boots are ideal for fishers looking for cheap, lightweight waders. However, the boots warm up fast and do not breathe as well. The other downside of nylon boots is they cause your feet to freeze during cold weather.
I found the waterproof fishing boots the most versatile. They are designed for use during all seasons and have an air-permeable membrane that allows internal moisture and sweat to escape even when in water. You can pair them with a t-shirt and a pair of shorts during warm weather or add base layers to extra warmth during the cooler months. They have a loose fit.
Manufacturers like Simms apply a DWR (durable water repellent) coating to create a waterproof feature. DWR is a fluoropolymer treatment that reduces the water absorption and rapidly restores the normal weight after leaving the river. The coating wears out after prolonged use, but anglers can restore it using a waterproofing spray.
Foot and Ankle Support
Most river bottoms are rocky and unstable hence, the need to wear a boot fitted with a well-supported ankle. Boots that are properly supported not only protect your ankles but reduce the risk of getting sprains and other injuries. Most manufacturers insert extra padding around the heel area and collar to enhance support while others fit a tongue to the sides of the boots to improve the feature. You should also look out for heel and toe caps; they should have a rubber build to promote longevity and protect your heels and toes when you bump into rocks.
The boots should also provide a screw-in cleat where you can fit a stud to improve traction when walking on extremely slippery places. The screw-in cleats can be used on both felt and rubber-soled boots. However, anglers should avoid fitting them when using a boat as they can damage the boat deck.
Look for boots that have the uppers constructed of microfiber or synthetic leather. The material is lightweight, flexible and durable. It also dries fast when you are out of the water.
Best Wading Boots Reviews
Patagonia Foot Tractor Boots – The Best Overall
These boots have aluminium bars spread across the soles, which gives them a broad, burly look. The rubber sole does not come into contact with the ground due to the aluminium bars, but they work exceptionally well in and out of the water. Patagonia Foot Tractor Wading Boots will give you a firm grip when walking underwater slime, rocks and muddy trails. They don’t accumulate snow or hold moisture. Also, the zig-zag design used on the bars helps fishers navigate the broad, flat stones easily. The bars are replaceable, which is pretty impressive for any angler. Also, the latest design has counter-sunk screws, which prevent the bars from becoming loose as was the case with previous versions.
What I liked about this boot was the roomy fit created by the large foot box and bevvy interior cushioning. The box provides ample room for waders to stuff the layers of socks without feeling constrained or stuffed. Patagonia Foot Tractor boot is made of fast-drying Clarino synthetic leather with a monofilament mesh panel that reduces the overall weight of the boot and drains fast.
For a pair of boots with large pieces of metal fitted on the soles, the Patagonia Foot Tractor, I’d say, this boot is pretty light. It weighs a little more than most flagship boots from other brand, but it barely feels like it.
Redington Skagit Boot – Best On a Budget
The Skagit boot is Redington’s mainstay boot that guarantees comfort, support and resilience. It is ideal for anglers looking for the best wading boot without a compromise on quality. To begin with, Redington Skagit boot has a mesh panelling added to the body to allow quick drying times and drainage. The mesh panelling extends to the upper part to enhance breathability in and out of the water. The nylon and synthetic leather construction also increase durability and flexibility over time. The boot has a padded collar that keeps the ankles well-supported and reduces the risk of injury in case you slip under water.
Redington provides two types of soles for this design- the felt soles and sticky rubber. I tested both types during my last fishing trip, and I must say, the rubber soles would pass for felt soles. The rubber becomes extremely soft, providing a firm grip under water, and the crushed walnut shells added to the bottoms improve traction. Anglers fishing in streams spotted with rotten leaves may add studs (purchased separately) to create additional traction. The process of fitting and removing them is natural. When you are out of the water, they drain pretty fast compared to other low budget boots. The boots are very light, weighing a mere 3.5 pounds. This makes it incredibly easy to navigate the stream when fishing.
Korkers BuckSkin Wading Boot – Most Versatile
What I like about this boot is the manufacturer’s proprietary Omni Trax interchangeable sole system that allows fishers to fit the traditional felt sole or the rubber KlingOn sole. You are not restricted to this kind, so you can fit a choice outsole. The rubber KlingOn outsole performs well on muddy and snowy surfaces but does not hold up very well on slimy rocks. As such, you may want to fit the felt outsole when going out for fly fishing. The soft and spongy rubber fitted on the KlingOn tread offers great traction in water but wears out more rapidly when used on dry land.
Also, regular changing of the soles reduces the life of the boots when the clip-ins break or weaken from repeated use. The boot is pretty lightweight, weighing 1.6 pounds when dry and 2.2 pounds when wet; the fabric dries very fast. Korkers Buckskin boot also features high ankle support, a well-padded high cuff and a stiff heel lock to protect your ankles from twisting when navigating dangerous river bottoms.
Chota Outdoor Gear Hybrid – Best Wading Shoe
The Chota Hybrid it the best wading shoe. It has a low-top design that is ideal for outdoor activities such as rafting, canoeing and kayaking. Its lightweight build makes it the perfect choice for wading, portaging and other water-related activities. It has a large micro-screen panel that drains water rapidly while preventing debris from entering the footbed.
The wading shoes offer the Chota’s unique dual-insert footbed system. It allows fishers to wear them with their stocking foot waders or wading socks. If you are not wearing the sock, you only need to remove the footbed insert to adjust its volume. Another unique feature of the Chota Hybrid Felt Soled Wading Shoe is that it is outfitted with a padded PU mid-sole that enhances comfort if you are wearing it the whole day. The bonded felt sole improves grip on the slick stream surfaces while the lacing system offers a secure fit and makes it easy to wear and remove. Its heel and toe caps are reinforced to protect your feet from injury.
Merrell All Out Blaze Sieve Water Shoe – Best Wading Sandal
If you are looking for the best wading sandal that doubles as a wading sandal, hiking or beach sandal, Merrell Men’s All Out Blaze Sieve Water Shoe is your ultimate choice. To begin with, the sandal is fitted with a TC5+ Vibram material that gives excellent traction on different terrains. 3mm lugs are added beneath the shoe to provide additional grip. The wading sandal several holes that aid in draining water.
Additionally, the manufacturer uses a UniFly midsole that has great padding that enhances comfort when walking or hiking.
The upper part features a cut-out sandal design that also ensures rapid water drainage. It is made of waterproof leather, and the interior has a neoprene liner that repels water. The manufacturer includes M Select Fresh material that keeps off bacteria. As such, you are confident that the wading sandals will not accumulate moisture that leads to bacteria growth and odour. Merrell Men’s All Out Blaze Sieve Water Shoe features a sandal-like design that is easy to slip in and off, and users can easily adjust the fit using its bungee cord laces.
Investing in a pair of high-quality boots should be your main priority when shopping for fly fishing equipment. A fly fishing adventure involves navigating slippery surfaces, so safety is paramount. Traction is the main feature you should look for when buying the boot. As earlier highlighted, rubber outsoles offer better traction than felt sole wading boots as they are more resistant to abrasion and dry more rapidly. The boot should also allow you to add a screw-in cleat to enhance traction. The ankle support is another important feature to look for as it increases safety and reduces the risk of injury. The type of material used to construct the boot also determines how comfortable you feel. While synthetic and nubuck leather boots feel comfortable, the waterproof fishing boots stand out. Anglers can wear them during cold and warm seasons without compromising comfort.