The Latest in Wading Boots

The Latest in Wading Boots

The ongoing changes in fly tackle are sometimes easily explained. A new technology-graphite, or waterproof/breathable fabrics-presents possibilities that

  • By: Ted Leeson
The ongoing changes in fly tackle are sometimes easily explained. A new technology-graphite, or waterproof/breathable fabrics-presents possibilities that are then busily exploited for several seasons. But other flurries of change are less scrutable, which is the case with wading boots over the past few years. After chugging along at a normal pace for some time, suddenly everybody's got new shoes on the market and more in the pipeline. It would be interesting to know why, but I've been too busy just trying to stay current with what's come down the pike recently.

A few general trends in the market are worth noting. Those big-profile, blocky wading boots upholstered like a love seat that were once widely available seem largely to have disappeared in favor of minimally padded, or unpadded, designs. More boots now have uppers that conform more closely to foot and ankle. Materials, including cushioning when it's used, tend to be non-absorbent; wet boots weigh less and dry more quickly. And looking over my past couple of boot reviews, it seems that the average, overall boot weight in general is dropping slightly. Lighter and more streamlined, many of the boots on the market now are simply more pleasant to wade in than were older models. Finally, with improved anti-stiffening, anti-cracking treatments, natural leather-a material I've always favored for comfort and durability-is now more widely used in boots.

Some manufacturers have redesigned and improved existing models in the past few years-L.L. Bean's River Treads II, Orvis Henry's Fork II, Chota's STL Plus, among others-and these updated products are certainly worth considering. But already squeezed for space with just the new stuff, I've omitted them. Weights and prices given below are for size 11 boots with felt soles. Expect to pay about $20 to $30 more for studded felt (SF); $15 to $30 more for AquaStealth (AS) or sticky-rubber (SR) soles.
Bite Upstream Boot

The Good: Suppleness is the story here. Non-stiffening suede and mesh uppers, and thinner midsole, offer almost athletic-shoe flexibility and comfort, with good sensitivity to streambed. Eight lacing eyelets allow snug draw-down over foot top. Reasonably priced.

The Bad: Ankle and tongue padding seem needlessly thick and can push sleeve-type gaiters above boot tops. Relatively small footprint and insert felts reduce contact area, especially around the sole perimeter. Partially recessed felt reduces thickness of material available for wear. Somewhat heavy at 3.3 pounds.

The Lowdown: A good choice for those who put a premium on a comfortable, shoe-like feel or walk miles when fishing. A practical all-around boot for stronger or more confident waders; the tentative or hesitant might want more bottom grip from a larger felt footprint. Sizes: 8-14 (F), $79.99.

Cabela's Guidewear Wading Boot
The Good: Rigid toe and heel and moderate padding in uppers offer good foot protection; even with padding, synthetic-leather uppers are surprisingly supple. Large, triple-stitched toe cap for abrasion resistance. Big footprint for wading security and control.

The Bad: Overly bulky ankle and tongue padding; very little insole cushioning makes for a hard footbed. Heel counter seems wider than most; anglers with narrower feet may not get the best heel stability. At 3.8 pounds, these are fairly heavy.

The Lowdown: A good, heavy-duty boot where a higher degree of foot protection and sole contact area is desired, though you pay for it in weight. With a hard footbed and little arch, these wouldn't be my top choice for long-distance treks, despite the hiking-boot styling. But a sturdy, workmanlike boot, especially for the money. Sizes: 8-14, (F, SF), $69.95.

Chota Citico Creek Wading Boot
The Good: Lightly padded uppers offer some foot protection but are still flexible and low bulk. Removable cleats (included) install in pre-tapped plastic bases on sole. Very rigid heel counter gives excellent foot stability; good toe protection. Comfortable.

The Bad: Outside edge of foot is still partially vulnerable to bumps and bruises. Cleat installation is not a streamside operation; large cleats (essentially hex-head screws) are more prone to skating on dry rock than smaller, pointed studs.

The Lowdown: A simplified version of Chota's popular STL Plus-synthetic leather and nylon (rather than real leather); conventional lacing system (not cordlock); more lightly built. A good all-around boot-nothing fancy, but solid performance-well-suited to anglers who do a bit of everything: wade, hike, float-tube. Honest value. Sizes: 5-14, (F/SF), $74.95.

Cloudveil 8x Boot
The Good: Lightweight, fairly compact profile and reduced water resistance make for an easy wade. Moderately, but not overly, padded uppers and rigid toe cap offer some protection. Good flexibility for comfortable walking. Unique web strap around back of ankle tightens when boots are laced for snug anchoring to footbed. Removable 4mm and 8mm insoles to tweak fit for half sizes or wet wading.

The Bad: Sidewalls offer little protection for outside edge of foot; flexible midsole makes bottom of feet more vulnerable. Wish there were a studded version.

The Lowdown: A pleasing compromise between light weight (2.2 pounds), ruggedness and foot stability. A good choice for anglers who value sure-footedness over bombproof foot protection and a large sole footprint. With 8mm insoles installed, one of the most comfortable boots of the group-especially if you walk a lot. A value in this price range. Sizes: 5-14, (F, AS), $115.

Korkers Guide Boot
The Good: Boa lacing system uses steel cable and ratcheting dial on tongue to tighten boots-fast, easily adjusted, non-loosening and trouble free (though I was scrupulous about keeping the ratchet mechanism covered with gaiters to prevent contamination). Interchangeable soles are recessed into lip on perimeter of boot and stay put; changing soles is reasonably simple, and worn felts are easily replaced. Light padding for flexibility; durably made at a reasonable weight (3.1 pounds), with very comfortable leather and mesh uppers.

The Bad: Recessed soles slightly reduce the felt area and effective footprint, and give less thickness available for wear. A little light on toe protection. Changing soles requires a prying tool (supplied)-the kind of thing one is apt to lose.

The Lowdown: A solidly made general-purpose boot, but best for anglers willing to pay for the features-the lacing system (which is quite cunning) and especially the interchangeable soles. For anglers who want the versatility of sole options in one boot (or hate replacing worn felts), this is the only game in town. Sizes: 8-14, $169.99 (felt and lug soles included); additional soles (F, SF, AS, lug, studded rubber, and boat sole) $29.99.

Korkers Streamborn Wading Boot
The Good: Same interchangeable soles as the Guide Boot but with conventional lacing. Good support from supple Nubuck and mesh uppers; comfortably cushiony footbed; rigid toe cap for protection. Sturdily made, triple-stitched, and not excessively heavy at 3.2 pounds.

The Bad: Same reduced footprint and felt-sole wear as the Guide Boot.

The Lowdown: Again, useful as an all-purpose boot, but the appeal here is for anglers who want a lower-cost, lighter-weight boot with change-out soles, or for those who wear out felts faster than the boots themselves. Sizes 6-15, $129.99 (felt and lug soles included); additional soles (F, SF, AS, lug, studded rubber, and boat sole) $29.99.

L.L. Bean West Branch Wading Boot
The Good: Nubuck and Cordura uppers snug down tightly for support, and overall design and construction give a close-profile boot that decreases drag in the water. Rigid toe and heel and moderate padding in uppers give good overall foot protection in a boot that is fairly light (2.7 pounds). One of the few mid-price boots to offer AquaStealth soles and women's sizes.

The Bad: Ring-type speed laces not all that speedy. Ankle padding seems unnecessarily thick and interferes slightly with tight lace draw-down. Footbed is a little hard.

The Lowdown: The very definition of "sensible shoes." Nothing fancy here, just a pleasingly practical balance of foot protection, stability, fairly low water resistance and light weight. A good value for anglers who want reliable performance and overall utility in a moderately priced boot. Sizes: 7-14, (F, AS), $69.

L.L. Bean Emerger Wading Boot

The Good: Unpadded uppers are low bulk and reduce water resistance, and soles give a good feel for the river bottom. Nylon/synthetic leather makes for light weight (2.5 pounds). Practical and affordable. (Anglers of ample feet take note of size 15s, which can be hard to come by.)

The Bad: Relatively low in foot protection, and lateral stability is not great; lack of rigidity in heel tends to roll ankles slightly inward. Very little cushion over hard footbed. Uppers seem to stretch a bit with use.

The Lowdown: Not my top choice for heavy-duty, toe-bumping, shin-banging wading or walking long distances, but a perfectly serviceable boot for ordinary fishing. Workmanlike function and quality for the money, and a good choice for entry-level or cost-conscious anglers. Sizes: 5-15, (F), $49.

Orvis Easy-On Battenkill Brogue

The Good: Box toe, rigid heel counter and high-density padding make these high in foot and ankle protection. Good ankle support and stability in wading. Rugged construction. Once the laces are snugged down and tied, boot can be removed and put on using side zipper, which works acceptably well.

The Bad: Not much flex in uppers or sole; boots have a stiff feel with only modest sensitivity to streambed, and are heavy at 3.9 pounds. Not a boot I'd hike long distances in. Uppers can stretch when wet, or with ordinary break-in, requiring periodic re-tightening of laces, which mitigates convenience of zipper.

The Lowdown: A solid, practical all-around boot. A good choice for those who want the fast, easy on/off of zippered closure or may have problems (arthritis, for instance) that make lacing and tying boots cumbersome; also good for anglers who value a stiff, protective, high-topped wading boot-there are fewer of these than there used to be. Sizes: 6-15, (F, SF), $119.

Orvis Pack& Travel Wading Shoe
The Good: Very light weight at 1.8 pounds. Flexible uppers hug foot firmly, fold flat for low-bulk packing, and dry quickly. Good sole protection for a lightweight boot. Removable cushioned insole gives surprising comfort for what is really stripped-down wading footwear. Inexpensive enough to acquire or reserve exclusively for travel.

The Bad: Basic, single-layer polyester uppers are low on foot protection and ankle support. Conventional eyelets slower and less convenient than speed laces.

The Lowdown: Fairly advertised as a travel boot; low bulk, light weight and compactness are desirable for anglers who need to shave weight and save space. Certainly practical and functional for travel, but rather lightly built for long-term, everyday use. Sizes: 5-14, (F), $49.

Patagonia Riverwalker

The Good: Supple polyester/synthetic-leather uppers and neoprene tongue draw down snugly and conform to foot and ankle. EVA Rockstopper shank and thermoplastic heel and toe counters give good foot stability and abrasion resistance. Non-absorbent materials are quick to drain and dry, and boots have an overall sturdy feel that is surprising for the light weight (2.4 pounds).

The Bad: Toe counter gives only modest protection for outside edge of foot. Some binding in the upper lacing eyelets. Hybrid uppers require lots of stitching-always a potential failure point, though no problems so far.

The Lowdown: Minimal padding gives a close-fitting boot for sure-footed stability and slimmer profile for reducing water resistance. A good choice for anglers who'll trade maximum foot protection for lighter weight, but still want a full-featured, practical, all-around boot rather than a stripped-down "ultralight" type. Sizes: 5-14, (F, SF, SR), $150.

Patagonia Canyonwalker
The Good: Extremely supple uppers and web-type eyelets give a close, firm fit; good sensitivity to bottom when wading. Wrap-around rand (the reinforcing strip of material that encircles the boot above the sole) protects this lightweight boot from abrasion. Good ankle support. Comfortable.

The Bad: I found these to flex a bit more in the heel than the Riverwalkers under more demanding wading conditions and to provide a little less protection to your foot soles. Minor matters: hole in toe-rand material, at base of laces, for hooking gravel-guard is a great idea, but some guards won't stretch that far; pull-on heel loops somewhat insubstantial.

The Lowdown: Not high in foot protection, but very low in weight (2.1 pounds), yet more sturdily built and durable than most ultralight boots. Comfort and weight make these a good choice for fishing that requires a lot of walking (not heavy-duty hiking); streamlined fit and low water-resistance are a good match with fins for tubes or pontoons. Sizes: 5-14, (F, SF), $120.

Simms Guide Boot
The Good: A new redesign of what has become a classic, it wisely preserves the waterproof-leather construction. The boxy toe allows for heavy socks without pinching, and rubber toe cap gives extra bite on rock. Superior ankle support from higher-top design, and secure, form-fitting laces; a solid, protective wading platform.

The Bad: Wide toe may prove too loose for some anglers, and overall, the boot is fairly stiff and heavy at 3.8 pounds. Not much in the way of arch support.

The Lowdown: Design and construction make these a first-rate choice for aggressive waders who'll trade the weight for foot protection and wading security. Snug-fitting uppers, rigid toe and heel, good torsional stability, a little sole flex to feel the bottom and the durability of leather make these my favorite boots in the Simms line. Sizes: 7-14 (F, SF), $159.95.

Simms Rivershed Boot
The Good: Synthetic-leather and ballistic-nylon construction shave a little weight (3.6 pounds), and a usefully wide, tough wrap-around rubber rand protects seams and abrasion-vulnerable portions of the boot. Excellent ankle support and foot stability; neoprene lining makes for easy on/off. Textured-rubber toe cap gives bite during those tip-toe moves.

The Bad: Ankle padding seems overly thick, and snug lacing takes some effort to overcome friction in the lower eyelets and stiffness at the ankle.

The Lowdown: To me, this is Simms' best all-around, everyday boot, with low water resistance from the smooth profile, reasonable weight, good wading control, and total perimeter protection to take hard use. A value in a higher-end boot. Bonus: available in studded AquaStealth, in my opinion the best all-purpose sole made. Sizes: 7-14 (F), $139.95.

William Joseph W20 Boot

The Good: Comfortable, supple leather uppers hug foot securely and don't stiffen when dry; wrap-around Hypalon lowers for abrasion resistance and protection. Good foot sensitivity in wading. Low-back uppers give good ankle mobility. Moderate padding in uppers doesn't add too much weight (2.9 pounds) or bulk.

The Bad: Cord-lock-securing laces can loosen. Ankle strap needs more adjustability for tightening, and tag end can snag fly line. Thickly padded ankle combined with low cut can cause gaiters to ride up above boot tops.

The Lowdown: The general design and fit of boot and the hybrid sole-rubber tread beneath toe and heel, the rest felt-is an advantage for anglers who bushwhack, climb banks, hike and are otherwise aggressively amphibious. But there's roughly 25 percent less felt-an acceptable compromise if you want on-land traction from the rubber, but less desirable than full felts for exclusive, in-stream use. Sizes: 9-14, (F) $98.

Simms G3 Guide Boot
The Good: Padded uppers, ankle, tongue. Supple, waterproof-Nubuck uppers don't stiffen when they dry. Unique "pulley" style eyelet promotes easy, firm lacing. Thick, protective midsole and 7/16" felts for long wear. Huge footprint gives lots of contact area for secure wading. Full, wraparound rand for abrasion resistance; very beefy construction.

The Bad: Weight-at 4.4 pounds, these are the heaviest of the group. These are big and blocky, with noticeable water resistance in wading and less sensitivity to the bottom.

The Lowdown: Padding and insole make these an excellent choice if you seek ultimate foot protection throughout, and they offer a secure grip on the streambed. Very comfortable uppers, though footbed is a little hard. Materials and construction that minimize seams are high quality and suggest good durability, but you'll have to live with the weight and bulkiness. And the price. Sizes: 7-14, (F), $179.95.

Simms L2 Boots

The Good: Suppleness in uppers and contoured speed laces (closely spaced on instep) conform closely to foot for feeling of security; sole flexibility and articulation at ankle make for easy walking. Sturdy, rigid toe cap and padded collar cushion the bumps, and overall, a comfortable boot.

The Bad: Flexibility in uppers and sole trades away some foot protection, particularly on the outside edge. Ankle padding, though comfortable, seems overly thick and bulky.

The Lowdown: Designed along the lines of a lightweight hiker, this is a perfectly serviceable all-around boot, but of particular interest to those that hoof it to the outback, who'll appreciate the flexibility and comfort, even if the weight is not notably low (3.3 pound). Built on a narrow last, it's a good choice for anglers with narrower feet-especially women-and for use with float-tube fins. Sizes: 5-14 (F, SF), $119.95.