The best wading boots for the money need to fit your budget, but they also need to fit your desired fishing conditions and fishing style. In this gear guide to the 7 best fly fishing wading boots, we’ll cover the best entry, midrange, and high-end wading boots for fly fishing — and any kind of wade fishing, of course.
Along the way, we’ll share the key features you need in a fly fishing wading boot. Plus, we’ll show you how to decide between felt soles or rubber soles on your wading boots.
Before we dive in, it’s important to realize that the best wading boots are designed to be used with stockingfoot waders, which have thick neoprene booties that will take up space inside your wading boot. Consequently, what size wading boot should you get? Most wading boots are sized to match your regular shoe size. If you’re a size 12 in running shoes, for example, get a size 12 wading boot. However, some manufacturers, notably Korkers and Simms, ask you to size up from your regular size.
But what if you don’t want to wear waders at all and you just want wade around in shorts on hot summer days in cool streams? Great question. We love hot summer fly fishing in just our wading boots. Here’s how you do it: You could size down, but the best way is to get a pair of neoprene socks, which will take up the extra space in your boot.
Best Wading Boots: Felt vs Rubber Soles
You’re first consideration is deciding between traditional felt-soled wading boots and rubber-soled wading boots. If you primarily fish in rivers and lakes in a state that has banned felt soles, you’re answer is simple: Choose rubber-soled wading boots.
Which states have banned felt soles? Alaska, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
So why have these states banned felt soles?
The suspicion is that invasive species can get lodged in the felt sole of your wading boot and hitch a ride from one waterway to another. While possible, the risk is low for most fly fishers, partially because most people don’t get to fish multiple areas in quick succession. Still, if you plan to fish in waters with invasive species problems — even if your state or country doesn’t have a ban — just choose rubber-soled boots. Of course, bad critters can hitch rides on most any gear. If you’re going to fish problem water, be sure to thoroughly dry your gear in the sun and/or disinfect it between trips.
Why Choose Wading Boots with Felt Soles
The bottom line is that felt soles offer the best grip on wet, slippery rocks. If you’re wading in gravel or small rocks with gentle shores, the felt advantage is not that big of a deal. On a mix of big round and flat rocks covered with slick slime, though, felt usually wins out when it comes to traction in the water.
Aside from being banned in some states and countries, the disadvantages of felt is that the felt can wear thin if you spend a lot of time walking on shore or trails to get to the water.
Why Choose Wading Boots with Rubber Soles
Rubber-soled wading boots have come a long way over the last few years. While they aren’t as good as felt in most streams, the gap has closed considerably as rubber technologies and tread designs get grippier. In addition, the best rubber-soled wading boots come with metal studs or the ability to screw in studs for extra grip on slimy rocks.
The core benefit of rubber-soled wading boots is that they are much more grippy on the banks and trails around rivers and streams. In fact, when I’m wearing felt-soled boots, I’m far more likely to slip and fall on a sandy bank trail than I am when I’m wearing rubber-soled boots. So why choose rubber beyond the bans?
Choose rubber if you’re a very active fly fisher who covers a lot of varied types of ground and water environments.
7 Best Wading Boots for the Money 2016
Many wading boot manufacturers design their wading boots with both felt or rubber sole options, so if a link below takes you to a felt wading boot instead of the rubber wading boot — or vice-versa — look for a rubber or felt selection option.
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Wading Boots
White River Fly Shop Rubber Sole Wading Boots — Typically available around $60 or so from Bass Pro Shops, these no-frills wading boots are one of the best buys available in 2016 for new fly fishers trying to get outfitted on a tight budget. They have a solid and stable sole design in either rubber or felt. The entire upper is made from 900 denier polyester in a simple construction that resists points of failure.
Cabela’s Ultralight Wading Boots with Felt Soles — These affordable wading boots punch well above their weight, and come with 28 hardened-steel cleats that can be added for extra traction. They have side mesh panels for drainage, steel shanks for stability, scuff-resistant toes and heels. Plus, they come in a rubber lug sole option, also with screw-in cleats. The total combination of features and price make these boots easy to recommend.
Best Midrange Fly Fishing Wading Boots
Korkers BuckSkin Wading Boot with Felt and Kling-On Outsoles — The Korkers claim to wading boot fame is its OmniTrax 3.0 Interchangeable Sole System, which lets you switch out a rubber sole for a felt sole — and vice-versa depending on where you’re fishing. The uppers are made from hydrophobic materials to help shed water, and the base includes large drainage ports. Special Note: Size up one U.S. size in Korkers boots for men (or one size down for women) to find the right fit for your stockingfoot waders, i.e. if your men’s regular shoe size is 12, buy a 13 Korkers wading boot.
Redington Skagit River Wading Boot — These lightweight wading boots come with a solid sticky rubber sole that is stud compatible, and the mesh panels allow for easy drainage and faster drying.
Orvis Clearwater Wading Boot — The Orvis Clearwater series is a line of gear that incorporates higher-end design elements but delivers it at a midrange price point, making these boots a best-buy contender. The Clearwater Wading Boot includes a molded rubber toe cap, and the soles accept optional screw-in studs. Also available with felt soles.
Best Overall Fly Fishing Wading Boots
Simms G3 Guide Boot — Simms consistently produces high-quality gear, and pretty much any Simms wading boot could arguably be one of our best wading boots; however, if you want a tough boot that will last, the G3 Guide Boot will get the job done all day long. These wading boots are built with neoprene internals for added warmth and comfort, and the soles accept optional cleats and studs from Simms. Plus, they’re made in America. Special Note: Size up one U.S. size in Simms boots for men (or one size down for women) to find the right fit for your stockingfoot waders, i.e. if your men’s regular shoe size is 12, buy a 13 Simms wading boot.
Orvis Boa Pivot Wading Boot — These bad boys were designed and built with all-day comfort and durability in mind. Orvis moved all the seams out of high-wear areas, added a high-sidewall rubber sole, a molded rubber toe cap, and used aircraft-grade stainless steel laces in the sweet Boa lace system. Accepts optional screw-in studs, too. If you plan to spend long days in and out of the water, these boots are easy to recommend.
Bonus: Saltwater Wading Boots
Simms VaporTread Saltwater Wading Boots — These boots are built with anti-corrosive hardware, making them great for surf fishing.
Concerned About Balance or Falling Down?
If you have trouble with balance or ankle stability, your most important piece of gear might not be the best wading boots — invest in a good wading staff to help you navigate tricky water and trails. In addition, consider an automatic or instantly inflatable life jacket vest for optimum safety in fast or deeper water.
Need Waders, Too?
Check out our guide, The 10 Best Fly Fishing Waders for the Money.