Ted Leeson Field-Tests 17 Pairs of Sandals & Cleats

Ted Leeson Field-Tests 17 Pairs of Sandals & Cleats

Ted Leeson Field-Tests 17 Pairs of Sandals & Cleats

  • By: Ted Leeson

Wading sandals are one of those gear types (tippet dispensers are another example) that ordinarily maintain a low-level presence in the market-one here, one there-until suddenly a dozen manufacturers simultaneously introduce products. Marketing guys probably have an explanation for this (they have one for everything), but the upshot is that in the past two or three years, wading sandals seem to have caught on again. I consider this a fortunate turn of events, since under the right circumstances sandals are a highly pleasant way to go.

There's no question they are a specialty item that exist solely for convenience and comfort. Sandals are lighter, produce less drag in the water and offer better foot mobility than boots. Lower weight and bulk make them a nice choice for float fishing when you're hopping in and out of a drift boat or raft all day or for packing to hike in. For walking beaches in search of stripers, they're less clunky than the alternative. Their limitations, however, are obvious-they require water warm enough to wet wade (if I need to put on waders, I'm wearing boots). Foot protection, other than soles, is minimal; on really rugged streambeds or sharp-stoned jetties, sandals aren't worth the risk, which is compounded by the lack of foot and ankle support. They can trap sand and gravel under your foot (though this happens less often than you might think). And even the best sandal harnesses don't snug your foot to the footbed as securely as wading boots. As far as wading gear goes, sandals are a supplement to, not a substitute for, boots.

But on a hot summer day, they are far more comfortable than boots and custom made for those occasions, such as wading out to chuck a few casts in the camp water, when you really don't want to bother with the suiting-up routine. The newest wave of wading sandals shows some interesting variety, and I split them into two groups. The felt-sole type, unsurprisingly, give the surest grab on slippery streambeds, and if wade-fishing is the sole employment of your sandals, look no farther than felt. Sandals with textured, rubber-like soles trade away some underwater grip (sometimes just a little, sometimes more) for better traction on other fishing-related surfaces-driftboat bottoms, boat decks, sand and mud, where felts can be murderously slippery. All the sandals in this category have been designated by the manufacturers for use in and around the water, with fishing as one of their recommended applications. A couple of white-coated field-testing assistants and I tromped around for three weeks in these sandals.

Here's what your feet can look forward to:

Felt Soles Chota Felt Wading Sandals Harness: Cordlock laces Steps Ahead: One-piece, full-length felts maximize contact area on slick river bottoms; flexible, waterproof leather uppers and elastic cord-lock lacing snugs foot securely and comfortably to textured footbed; uppers give good sun protection to top of foot; comfortable padded heel Stumbles: All testers experienced a bit of slippage in the heel when walking; not much toe protection Bottom Line: Attention to crucial areas-big felts, long, close-fitting uppers-makes for solid, no-nonsense wading performance; sure-footed feel. I like these for value. Men: 4-13; Women: 5-10. (Also available with textured all-terrain sole.) $68. Dan Bailey Super Sandals Harness: Three hook-and-loop straps Steps Ahead: Comfortable neoprene-lined Nubuck uppers; three hook-and-loop-closing adjustment points; big full-bottom stitched felts Stumbles: Hook-and-loop straps lack the adjustment range to snug uppers to foot, giving overly loose fit; humps in the footbed where uppers are attached to midsole give odd, uncomfortable fit with a big gap under the arch; can sprout mold if stored wet. Bottom Line: Basic design is good, but the execution baffles a bit; fit like a pair of size 14 uppers sewn to a size 11 sole; footbed contour dictated by construction convenience rather than demands of the human foot. Sizes 5-13. $59.95. Simms Keen River Sandals Harness: Three hook-and-loop straps; quick-release instep buckle Steps Ahead: Big toe bumper and recessed footbed give superior toe and foot protection for a sandal; 3-point adjustment permits fine-tuned fit; unusually practical hook-and-loop strap design; neoprene-lined uppers hold foot very securely to footbed; padded insole quite comfortable Stumbles: Felts are recessed into sole, leaving a rubber perimeter for grip on other types of surfaces-an approach that reduces contact area of felt with bottom without, in my opinion, offering much compensatory advantage Bottom Line: Despite the small felts, these still offer good wading performance, primarily owing to intelligent design of the uppers and straps; a perfect candidate to retrofit with Simms' Hard Bite Boot Studs; if you've been wary of sandals because of foot protection, try these; a favorite among the testers. Sizes 7-13. $89.95. Simms South Fork Sandals Harness: Continuous strap with quick-release buckle Steps Ahead: Flat, full-size felts for max contact; neoprene padding beneath straps; continuous strap tightens heel retainer-one of the nicer executions of this design; cushiony textured footbed Stumbles: Could use greater range of adjustment at instep; even fully tightened strap may be a bit loose on narrower feet; low on foot protection Bottom Line: Very basic design, but pleasingly functional and comfortable under moderate- to easy-wading conditions. Nice price for the occasional user. Sizes 5-13. $59.95. Orvis Wading Sandals Harness: Two quick-release buckles Steps Ahead: Padded straps for firm and comfortable fit; low toe bumper and padded sides offer some protection; clever hook-and-loop adjustments conceal strap tags; nicely designed Stumbles: Recessed felts with rubber sole perimeter reduce contact area with only marginal traction gains on other surfaces; straps adjustment is cumbersome; adjustable heel strap would be nice Bottom Line: Once properly adjusted, a nice secure feel; good grip on easy to moderate streambeds; useful choice for days combining boat fishing and wading; good performance for the price. Sizes 7-13. (Also available with textured rubber sole.) $49. Bite Troutstream Sandals Harness: Cordlock laces Steps Ahead: Very firm lacing drawdown makes these fit like a shoe; neoprene padding for comfort even when tightly laced; toe and side bumpers for protection; big, stable footbed; solidly built Stumbles: Recessed, two-piece felts offer only moderate contact area on a sandal otherwise constructed for heavy-duty wading conditions; the lace-adjusting heel strap found on Bite's VStream sandal would be a plus here, too Bottom Line: Good boat/wading combination, though workhorse design and construction argue for a full-felt, wading-specific sole; firm, non-slip fit and perimeter bumpers inspire confidence in the water; a good choice for anglers with narrower feet. Sizes 6-14. $69.99.

Textured Soles Bite VStream Sandals Harness: Cordlock laces Steps Ahead: Ingenious lacing design tightens both uppers and heel strap for superbly firm fit; neoprene cushioning for comfort even when tightly laced; toe and side bumpers for protection; big stable footbed; solidly constructed Stumbles: Anglers with wide feet may find these a little snug Bottom Line: A good boat shoe with moderate grip on slippery streambeds; best for lighter-duty wading; a nice sure-footed fit. Sizes 7-14. $69.99. Chaco Z/1 Sandals (with AquaStealth sole) Harness: Continuous strap with slider buckle Steps Ahead: Best streambed grip of any non-felt sole; ergonomically contoured, textured footbed will fit some anglers magnificently, especially those who like a lot of arch support; thick, protective soles; can be re-soled; available in two widths and women's sizes Stumbles: Low on foot protection other than sole; no heel strap adjustment; contoured footbed not for everyone Bottom Line: AquaStealth sole (now found on many wading boots) approaches the grip of felt on many types of stream bottom (though not all) and makes these the most secure wading sandal in the textured-sole group and a highly versatile item; footbed fit will probably be a love-it-or-hate-it affair; if your foot matches the insole shape, you may find these the most comfortable sandals you've worn; excellent quality. Men's 7-14 (med. width), 7-12 (wide); women's 5-11 (medium), 5-10 (wide). $105. Chaco Z/1 Sandals (with Colorado sole) Bottom Line: Construction and fit as above, but a lighter-weight, all-terrain sole; moderate grab on slick rock, but best for boat fishing with occasional wading involved; sole pattern sheds sand for good beach traction. Sizes as above. $90. Teva Guide Pro Sandals Harness: Fixed strap over toes; continuous strap over instep and heel; both with slider buckles Steps Ahead: Harness provides better fine-tuning of fit than other continuous-strap designs; tacky rubber topsole reduces foot skating; excellent shock pad conforms to heel; lightweight, low-profile design; comfortable Stumbles: Low on foot protection other than heel; thin sole transmits the feel of streambed stones; awkward heel adjustment; thin harness straps trade away security for fashion Bottom Line: A favorite of the river-rat crowd for good footing on smooth, wet surfaces such as boat bottoms and decks, but best used in water where wading is undemanding; heel protector is a godsend when rowing or propping your feet on the cooler; a good all-purpose sandal around water. Sizes 7-14. $90. Columbia Titanium Interchange Sandals Harness: Hook-and-loop adjusting quick-release buckle at instep; hook-and-loop strap at heel (removable to make slide-in sandal) Steps Ahead: Heavily textured footbed prevents foot slippage; harness firmly anchors instep and heel; stretchy uppers give some flex; protection on side of foot Stumbles: Lack of adjustable toe strap gives looser fit to front of foot; instep material can bunch up under tightly cinched strap; some rough interior seams; footbed rolls heels slightly inward Bottom Line: Best as a boat/beach-fishing sandal or for light-duty river wading; anglers with narrower feet may find too much room and stretch at the front of the foot for solid anchor to footbed. Sizes 7-15. $65.

Doubling Up An entirely different category of cleated sandals is designed to be worn over wading boots. They give the flexibility of using felts or cleats as wading conditions demand and can be removed when floating from spot to spot in a raft or drift boat. Formidable spikes on some models allow for extremely aggressive wading or added safety on slick jetties and smooth bedrock. Cabela's Boot Chains Harness: Slip-on elastic rubber Sole: Crisscrossed steel chains Comments: Chains shift a bit when you wade, offer less bite than studs, and will skate on dry rock; rubber harness and rivet construction don't argue for high durability. Not the choice for extended everyday use. But compact size, light weight and low price make these ideal for an emergency vestback pack-along or for travel, where they are cheap insurance against unexpected wading conditions. S-XL. $12.95. Compleat Angler Stamina Wading Sandals Harness: Slider-adjust web cage at toe; quick-release strap at instep Sole: 3/8-inch high-density felt fitted with 3/16-inch RokDawg spikes-tool-hardened steel with ceramic tips, more like golf spikes than conventional studs Comments: Terrific spikes, and felt/cleat combination grips securely on a wide variety of surfaces and gives good foot mobility. On/off, however, is fussy; webbing cage at heel is small, and heavy lateral force or torque can twist your boot heel out of the sandal. At their best in moderate-duty wading. Lightweight and compact; practical for travel. S-L. $56.95. Dan Bailey Super Stream Cleats Harness: Rubber slipper-type, with drawstring/cordlock neoprene upper Sole: Felt with 3/8-inch zig-zag aluminum bars Comments: Reasonably quick on/off (helps if they're wet), with a great no-slip fit. Very flexible for easy walking and wading. Unlike the brute-force approach of hard-tipped spikes, aluminum bars are soft-gripping, almost sticking to rocks (aluminum boat users know what I mean). These stay on your feet and keep you on yours. Excellent choice for aggressive wading and nicely priced. S-G (giant). $47.95. Hodgman Gladiator Sandals Harness: Cord-lock lacing toe cage; quick-release instep buckle Sole: 5/16-inch carbide-tipped spikes, golf type, replaceable Comments: Secure fit over almost all boot styles, though excessively long lace ends are a nuisance and instep strap could be longer for easier tightening. Carbide tips give good bite, but steel spike housings seem to wear quickly. (Also available in felt-sole version.) S-XL. $49.99. Korkers K-5000 Sandals Harness: Continuous strap with quick-release instep buckle Sole: Carbide-tipped spikes, threaded and replaceable Comments: Harness takes a little jiggering to get properly seated, but molded sidewalls and strap design give rock-solid, non-shifting fit. Beefy construction entails some loss of flexibility in sole, but great bite from the spikes and secure straps make these a top choice for extreme wading. Pricey and heavy, but as good as they come. XS-XL. (Also available in the original lighter, lace-up version without sidewalls, $49.95.) $89.95. L.L. Bean Stream Cleats Harness: Slip-in toe cage; instep strap with quick-release buckle Sole: Aqua Stealth with carbide studs Comments: Very easy on/off, but wide footprint fits best on wider-soled boots. Nice secure harness, and studded, sticky-rubber soles are a good all-around combination for wet and dry rock. Rather bulky, and fairly rigid footbed doesn't flex much with your foot. A good choice for sandals that must go and off repeatedly during a day. Test fit if possible; these seem to run on the large side. S-2XL. $49.

Strapping In One of the key components of wading sandals is the part that holds them on your feet. Because both your feet and the sandals are wet, there's a tendency for your foot to slide against the footbed. A harness that draws the foot firmly against the insole is crucial to wading securely and safely. The sandals reviewed here use one of three approaches: Laces distribute pressure continuously along the top of the foot, making sandals that feel and fit like a shoe. Wrap-around uppers conform to the contours of your feet, and snugging down the laces doesn't produce the pinch you sometimes feel with straps. In my experience, laces typically give the firmest, non-slip fit. Uppers provide sun protection-not to be taken lightly if you've ever sunburned the tops of your feet. Laced uppers, though, have a more restrictive feel and can take longer to dry. Adjustable Straps secure the foot at strategic points-the base of the toes, the instep, and in the best designs, around the back of the heel. Individual adjustments allow you to tune fit to foot. The best of these, which usually involve three-point adjustment, prevent skating on the insole as well as laces do, though cinching down the straps for a tight fit can pinch your feet. Thus some sandals use neoprene-backed straps or straps over cut-away padded uppers to reduce binding and chafing. Adjustments and closures come in various types. Hook-and-loop closures are fast, but they frequently lack much range in adjustment, leave tags that flop around, and can become contaminated by stream debris, at which point they lose some of their grip. This approach is best on toe and heel straps, which are typically adjusted only once. But on instep straps, which are used every time the sandals are put on or removed, I find them less desirable. Some straps adjust and secure with slider buckles; you pull the tag, and it slides through a buckle which then maintains tension. Adjustment is quick, but long tag ends are prime candidates for fouling fly line when fishing from boats. My own preference runs to straps that have hook-and-loop or slider adjustments, but secure with quick-release buckles. You adjust the sandals once for a snug fit, and the buckle allows you to take them on and off while maintaining the fit adjustment. Some sandals use a Continuous Strap that slides underneath the footbed and criss-crosses the foot. Pulling the tag tightens the strap over toes and instep simultaneously. Though it's fast, this is my least favorite design. Getting comfortable pressure over the various points of your foot with a single adjustment can be fussy, as the strap tends to tighten unevenly. When snugged down for wading, this strap design is most apt to pinch. Among the testers, though, this approach produced the widest range of opinion. Some liked it fine, others couldn't bear it. Quick-release instep buckles really make sense here; slider buckles leave excessively long tags because of the slack required to loosen the buckle and get the sandals off.

Where To Go
Bite 800-248-3465 www.biteshoes.com
Cabela's 800-237-4444 www.cabelas.com
Chaco 970-527-4990 www.chacousa.com
Chota 877-462-4682 www.chotaoutdoorgear.com
Columbia 503-985-4000 www.columbia.com
Compleat Angler 208-522-1794 www.compleatanglerinc.com
L.L. Bean 800-441-5713 www.llbean.com
Orvis 888-235-9763 www.orvis.com
Simms 406-585-3557 www.simmsfishing.com
Teva 800-367-8382 www.teva.com