Best Wading Boots for Fly Fishing – Expert’s Top Picks for Men & Women

Best Wading Boots for fly fishing

No matter what footwear you relied upon in the past for wading streams or other waters, you know how adrenalin takes over every ounce of common sense you possess when your reflexes innately turn you toward a sudden rise from a fish to the side or rear.

In an unconscious reflex, you pivot toward the rise, then splash! You end up on your keister amid rushing water.

Instead of an instinctive fly fisher, you now look like one less than experienced.

It’s then time to look at your wading boots rather than the next, best rise and your fly’s presentation. Are the boots doing their job and saving you from embarrassment, not to mention hazards?

The 5 Best Men’s Wading Boots Reviewed

Editor’s Pick: Simms Freestone Felt Wading Boots

Pros:

  • As indestructible as a wading boot gets
  • Superior grip
  • Agile despite its appearance
  • Comfortable
  • Easy to enter and exit

 Cons:

  • The higher end of the price spectrum
  • Heftier feel on dry land at more than four pounds to a pair

They may not be light, but the Simms Freestone boots get high grades for grip, comfort, and most certainly, endurance.

This bomber is not as unwieldy or stiff as it looks, mostly due to its snug fit and neoprene-lined collar, as well as a flexing StreamTread platform for stability on uneven river bottoms.

A secure lacing system can be either loosened or tightened to meet the particular comfort zone of an angler’s feet. A heavy-duty loop on the back collar of the ankle allows the angler to easily pull the boot on over the wader stocking.

This is the kind of boot that looks like it belongs in a war zone with its extra layer of toe rubber, noticeable width and thick synthetic leather upper. Despite its girth, it feels surprisingly lithe and manageable once in the water.

If you need to kick a rock after losing that 20-inch trout, however, it will look none the worse for your tirade. This boot is intended to last many seasons, especially if you choose the rubber sole option.

We recommend the felt sole, but know that after 2-3 years of some heavy overland travel, you may be shelling out another $160 or so for a new pair of these extremely supportive wading boots.

Patagonia Ultralight Sticky Rubber Wading Boots

Pros:

  • Sturdy yet light
  • Agile
  • Fit the footwell
  • Minimal collection of water
  • Best traction shy of felt outsoles

 Cons:

  • Monofilament midsole slightly vulnerable to extremely fine gravel and sand
  • No felt sole option

On the other side of the scale—yes, as in weight—the Patagonia Ultralight rubber wading boot misses our editor’s pick by a hair and partly because it doesn’t include a felt outsole option.

However, its sticky rubber that accepts studs for auxiliary traction comes as close to matching felt for grip as any other innovation on the market.

At 2 lbs., 2 oz. (nearly 2 lbs. lighter than the Simms Freestone), this boot may be as combat-ready as our No. 1 pick, but it withstands what most any terrain can dish out—i.e. if you need to navigate the craggy, scabby domain of the badger to reach your honey hole, they will get you there.

You won’t need to replace some felt soles as a result. If you ever do need to replace the durable Rock Grip soles of these very comfortable above- and below-water walkers with full-length molded EVA midsoles, they are designed by Patagonia for easy re-soling.

The versatile lacing system wraps around snugly or loosely to accommodate either a wader stocking or no waders at all on those sultry days. A strong toe box and heel don’t flinch from head-ons or rear-ends with boulders.

The boot’s synthetic leather upper and its monofilament midsole don’t seem to dry any faster or slower than most wading boots, but the mono mesh drains water well to keep these boots light in stream and still protective from encroaching gravel.

As for entering and exiting these, a rubber overhang on the back of the heel section makes both a snap. For a sturdy yet light, water-shedding wading boot, in the same price bracket as the Freestones, the Ultralight outshines almost all other wading boots.

Simms G3 Guide Wading Boot

Pros:

  • Good grip
  • Especially with added cleats
  • Felt-sole option
  • Durable in water and on land

 Cons:

  • Not as easy entry or exit as some other boots
  • Not as warm as more armored boots

We are not listing this near the top because it is not necessarily every angler’s boot when it comes to cost, hovering at the $200 mark.

Intended for those who make a living on fishing—guides and the like—or those who live to fish, the G3 rivals our Editor’s pick from the same manufacturer in terms of durability.

For the sake of keeping home streams free of biological invaders, this boot’s standard model shed its felt outsoles for lugged rubber a few years ago.

However, to bolster traction, its sole takes well to the insertion of Simms Alumabite Star Cleats (highly recommended). That said, a felt sole version of the G3 is available.

Like its aforementioned cousin, the fit is comfy from toe to heel and perhaps a bit wide at first blush, but it allows enough room for a wader stocking and its lace-up system compensates for any loose feeling when wearing the boot sans waders on hot days.

Similarly, its high collar provides plenty of support and wrap while a flexing joint near the top of the laces helps for walking distances on terra firma.

Redington Skagit River Boot

Pros:

  • Good grip for rubber (amenable to the addition of studs)
  • Felt-sole option
  • Durable
  • Above-average shedding of water once on dry land

 Cons:

  • Some customers complain they are too wide

Another boot whose sole is girded by sticky rubber but offers a felt version as well, the Redington Skagit excels in ventilation which also results in rapid water expulsion after you step from the stream to scout for other drifts and holes on dry land.

Its synthetic leather and nylon construction lend to such drainage and a relatively light pair of boots overall (3.5 lbs.)—one that can quick-step and pivot at the sound of a fish’s plunk on your peripheral.

Not a barnstormer but rugged enough for most conditions, the exterior of the Skagit’s footbed is surrounded by an extra layer of rubber as is the heel to resist abrasions.

A big rubber toe-cap and strong eyelets should endure many seasons. If you choose the sticky rubber outsole, it allows for adding studs to gain extra grip. If you choose a felt sole, you gain the best in traction while in water but poorer wear on shore—and you save a little on the price of the boot. At a few lattes over $100, this boot offers a very good value on the dollar.

Korkers Greenback Wading Boot with Felt & Kling-On Soles

Pros:

  • Versatility on land and in water with exchangeable outsoles
  • Light on the feet in and out of water

 Cons:

  • Not the most rugged boot
  • Must carry along additional soles if wishing to walk a distance on land without wearing down the felt soles

Korkers Greenback may win the title as everyman’s wading boot in the realm of performance and affordability. At about the same price as the Redington Skagit, this versatile stomper offers interchangeable soles in accordance to the river bottom or terrain you encounter on a given trip: sticky rubber or better-gripping felt.

When a lot of walking is required between fishing holes, you can simply swap felt for rubber and vice versa once you reenter the water a mile or so downstream.

Korkers take a different broach to quick dries after exiting the water by building the upper from water-repellent synthetic leather and textiles to allow easy water exit. Once on land, water exits as fast as it entered.

This way, you can appreciate the relative lightness of this pair of boots at 2 lbs. Its foam midsoles with water-drainage channels also expedite water expulsion. The toe cap and heels are reinforced to withstand the hard knocks on water-bound and land-bound boulders.

Another good boot for the money, the Greenback is also easy to clean and dry because of its removable insole.

The 5 Best Women’s Wading Boots Reviewed

Believe it or not, women’s feet received little attention from wading boot manufacturers until the last few years.

Now, most of the best men’s wading boot manufacturers offer top-notch women’s models.

Perhaps the growing number of women anglers’ input about boot boxes being so big they could feel the fish swimming inside them persuaded boot makers to finally and duly customize their designs to suit the female’s foot instead of simply downsizing men’s boots.

Following are five of the best wading boots for women—with some overlap on men’s picks—based on our expert female anglers’ input.

Patagonia Ultralight Women’s Wading Boot

Pros:

  • Great fit
  • Agile
  • Great grip

 Cons:

  • Spendy

Always about style with all of its gear—and environmentally friendly composition—Patagonia speaks to the discriminative taste and a sure fit with its Ultralight women’s wading boot.

Its low-volume, snug upper leaves nary room for a minnow between foot and boot. A comfy ankle wrap, a very secure lacing system, and outstanding traction highlight this upper-range priced boot.

Korkers Buckskin Mary Women’s Wading Boots

Pros:

  • Good drainage for light walking
  • Interchangeable soles
  • Comfy fit

 Cons:

  • Locked-in rubber soles pose some vulnerability

The Buckskin Mary offers the best of both worlds like some of the men’s boots in that it offers interchangeable felt and rubber soles. Women deferring to lengthy walks between casts will find this versatility to their liking.

But, even the rubber soles with their studs offer decent traction when the hatch is so fleeting you have no time to switch. Drainage is good and the fit is quite conducive to a woman’s foot.

Orvis Women’s Encounter Wading Boot

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Durable

 Cons:

  • A bit heavy on the feet
  • Retains water due to a lack of drainage ports

The Orvis Encounter offers great all-around construction, design, fit, and durability for a better price than our top pick. Plenty of toe room, but the remainder is snug due to versatile lacing options. The Vibram-soled Encounter includes a gravel guard hook for your waders and the flexibility of a sneaker—all while providing ample support.

Simms Women’s VaporTread Wading Boots

Pros:

  • Light and flexible
  • Dries quickly
  • Warm

 Cons:

  • Grip lacking on slicker rocks
  • Awkward fit at the ankle
  • Not highly supportive

This is an extremely light, durable boot that also feels like a sneaker. A neoprene liner insulates from extreme cold.

The VaporTread dries quickly and fits comfortably with versatile lacing in bright turquoise to boot!

The ankle wrap can be less than comfortable for bulkier feet. Vibram IDROGRIP rubber on outsoles can use better-gripping properties.

Redington Willow River Women’s Rubber Wading Boot

Pros:

  • Lighter than many boots
  • Good drainage
  • Decent grip (better with its felt-sole option)
  • Dries fast

 Cons:

  • Some Customers report lace rivets popping off

The Redington Willow River answers the call for value on money spent. Coming in at a mid-range price, the Willow River blends value with performance well.

Read More - Best Waterproof Work Boots 

Mesh panel uppers expunge excess water well; a padded collar adds support; a hardy rubber toe-cap fends off most rock encounters; a sticky rubber sole grip sufficiently, more so when studs are added. This relatively light boot rates faster than average in drying.

Best Wading Boots for Salt Water

Consider Simms Intruder Boots. They are ideal for surf fishing or exploring saltwater flats. They are made to be worn barefoot, but if you need more warmth, you can combine them with Neoprene Wading or Guard Socks.

How to Choose the Best Wading Boots? Buyer’s Guide 2019

Too often, wading boots garner only a second thought from most anglers as they painstakingly pore through store shelves, websites, and catalogs for everything from fly lines to waders, to filet knives.

Boots warrant only an add-on status—that is until an angler, after instinctively pivoting 60 degrees for a rising fish— ends up on his or her derriere in a current threatening to tumble him or her downstream.

Like a basketball shoe, you need a wading boot that can support your ankle for optimal agility, whether pivoting or doing a quick step. You will be moving your feet forward, backward, sideways and places in between.

Why you need Fly-Fishing Wading Boots

Because of the aforementioned angler’s reflex, your feet may not engage as fast as Stephen Curry’s when he slides and back-steps for a bucket from downtown or cuts a move through a clearing to the hoop. But your feet will try. For this reason, ankle and upper support, along with a sturdy outsole, reign supreme on an angler’s court.

If your feet owned eyes they could tell you a jagged stone or moss-covered rock lay in waiting for your instinctive misstep. Since they don’t have eyes, the best they can do is to be clad in wading shoes with solid grip and support—enough for an angler to recover from an overly reflexive move.

The best waders in the world will not bring you to the most fish-filled drift without the stability and grip that wading boots provide. Stability depends as much on the support and flexibility of your boots as their traction. Keeping this in mind, as well as the quality of construction will help you find the boot just right for the type of fishing you most enjoy.

What to look for when buying a Wading Boot – The ATE Standard

It’s all about agility, traction, and endurance (ATE) once your feet meet the streambed. Boot designs try to achieve each of these in various ways. Therefore, you need to understand how particular elements in a boot either work or don’t work toward fulfilling the ATE standard.

When shopping for a wading boot, examine it one ATE element at a time.

 Agility: Ankle and Heel Support, Lacing & Drainage

Agility in a boot centers on its support system, which includes the lacing, midsole, ankle construction, and collar. The comfort of the boot weighs on the agility to the extent of free movement. This is where minimal water retention comes into play; you need to step quickly and deftly on particularly tricky river bottoms.

Therefore, pay attention to the weight of a boot, its rigidity vs. flexibility, its ability to drain or channel water away from its interior, and the strength of its footbed. It’s almost like trying to find the best trail running shoe, except this footwear, will spend most of its time in the water.

Neoprene liners, padded collars, the length and tightness of a lacing system, EVA molded midsoles and similar features can add to the comfort of a boot as long as they cumulatively don’t affect the fit of the boot on your feet. Some features intended to provide comfort, for instance, end up making a boot too tight or even too loose.

The best way to determine a boot’s comfort and support aptitude is to try it on at the shop and see how variable the lacing is, how rigid or flexing the upper is, and how supportive the heel, midsole, and toe feel. Finally, gauge their weight on your foot. Will they lend to deft movements over complicated surfaces, such as uneven rocks under water or jagged basalt on jackrabbit trails as you traverse over land?

 Traction – Felt vs. Rubber Soles

First know that seven states ban felt soles in their angling waters. Alaska, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Maryland cite the potential for harboring invasive organisms from distant waters that find felt a comfy habitat for traveling from one zone to another without swimming. Some of these aliens threaten native fish.

When considering stability and safety, as in grip, on slick stream bottoms and the like, felt beats rubber hands—er, feet—down. However, evolving technology in rubber and synthetic soles is noticeably closing the gap. Inserted studs, sticky rubber, pre-installed studs, and innovative cleats give today’s rubber-outsole boots much more traction than those back in the time when lead shot was still legal for duck hunting.

Many rubber-soled models offer a felt-bottomed option and vice versa.

Though not a crippling concern, keep in mind that felt can absorb moisture and therefore add some heft to your boot.

Also, realize that felt is not necessarily a hardy hiker. It can wear out within a year or two if you commonly walk long distances to your fishing hole or along rivers. If you simply tap three or four favorite waters each year that require a hop and skip from your rig, felt might be just fine, while more adventurous destinations demand the durability of rubber soles.

Moreover, if you fish in one of the aforementioned seven states, you may not be allowed to wear felt soles. If your ethic leads you to believe all states should ban felt for their potential to harbor invasive organisms, then your conscience might deter you from using a felt sole, even in a state that allows them.

Essentially, it’s your judgment call, but make sure your default is always safety.

 Endurance: Quality Durable Materials

Endurance weighs in substantially because no one likes opening the pocketbook every year or two for a wading boot. Chalk up one demerit for boots with permanent felt soles, especially for anglers who often find themselves walking distances from hole to hole or along deer trails to reach their favorite spots.

Depending on how often you don waders and wading boots throughout the fishing year, you want to find a boot that will not need replacing in a year or two.

First, examine how many sections of a boot are seamed. Are those sections just double-seamed or triple-seamed? Read the manufacturer’s specs on the particular boot.

Also, examine the toe and heel. Do they include an added layer of rubber as scratch or abrasion guards?

Keep in mind that interchangeable soles will not be as enduring and strong as soles permanently attached to the footbed in most cases.

Leather, synthetic leather, GoreTex, neoprene, and various mesh blends all possess varying life spans. Continuously soaking and then drying out any material will compromise its integrity over time. Some of these materials, however, are lighter than others or drain water more quickly for easier walking on land. So durability and functionality must be assessed in equal quotients to reach the wisest decision.

In all, you want a boot that exhibits strength enough to prevent tears and punctures from stream bottoms, one that is light and agile enough to appease the Stephen Curry or angler pivot reflex inside each of us, and one that gives us enough comfort to simply keep wading or walking in support of our fishing habits.

Wader Boots FAQs – All Your Questions Answered

If you have any other questions than the ones mentioned below, please leave a comment below.

What are the best brands to consider when choosing wading boots?

There are a number of brands that are known for great quality wading boots. Not all of them made it on our list, but in general, we can recommend the following brands: Patagonia, Redington, Simms, Orvis, Korkers, Hodgman, and Cabelas.

Wading Boot Sizing: Should I go a size up with wader boots?

In most cases, yes, go up one size from your normal street shoe. You need room enough to accommodate your wader stocking or booty. However, check the manufacturer’s website specs on the boot model of interest to confirm whether you must go up one size.

Also consider how often you fish in hot weather, demanding shorts only with your wader boots worn sans waders. You may need thick socks to compensate for a one-size bigger boot when Huck Finning it.

Also note that some boot makers, particularly Simms in the case of one model, do not go higher than a size 12 or thereabouts.

Do I need two pairs, one with felt and one with rubber outsoles?

Because numerous brands offer interchangeable soles or models with two options (felt or rubber), you don’t need to go to the expense of buying two pairs of wading boots. Also, cleats or studs can be added to some rubber soles for traction that nearly performs as well as felt underwater.

What should I look out for when buying a pair of wading boots?

If your waders require a gravel guard hook to attach to the wading boots, make sure your boots include a such a hook. Also, uppers that easily scrunch from collar to ankle will make walking awkward, if not uncomfortable, in or out of water. Buy boots with fairly rigid ankles and uppers.

Should I get insulated wading boots for winter fishing?

First, determine how thick or insulated your wader stockings are before limiting our wading boot search to only those that offer linings in the foot box or upward to the collar of the boot. If you own fair-weather waders, you might look at wading boots with extra neoprene lining.

Conclusion

Remember that like all fishing gear in general, you can fairly engage the old axiom, “you get what you pay for,” when looking for wading boots.

All footwear requires a degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail in order to endure and perform.

If you want a pair of wading boots that will last up to a dozen fishing seasons, expect to pay from $120 to $250 for a pair.

If you fish a few times a year with waders or only fish in waders when float tubing, a boot for around $60 will probably do the trick. You may have to replace them in a few years.

Just make sure that whatever pair you choose, they won’t end up putting you in peril. Live to fish another day.

Best Wading Boots for Fly Fishing – Expert’s Top Picks for Men & Women

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