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 10 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.
And the question of your budget? Casual weekend summertime fishers can usually get excellent results from entry-level and midrange boots, but if you fish more than 20 times each year, a more expensive wading boot will be your best-buy wading boot . . . because it will simply last more than twice as long as budget-focused beginner wading boots.
Before we dive in to our wading boot picks, you should know 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 so you would order a size 13.
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.
10 Best Wading Boots
Here are our favorite 10 Best Wading Boots, ranked based on durability, features and price-to-value — but we still break the description section out into the best beginner, midrange and high-end options. Of course, fit and usage plans are key, so any of these boots might turn out to be your own personal best wading boot:
What about the best wading boots for women? In years past, most women had to choose smaller sizes of mens boots, but now some manufacturers are specifically making wading boots for women that are sized appropriately — skip to our Best Wading Boots for Women section below for the top wading boots for women in 2018.
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 wading boots usually win 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.
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 — and they aren’t affected by the aforementioned felt bans.
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.
Typically available around $60 or so from Bass Pro Shops, these no-frills wading boots are one of the best buys available in 2018 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.
The Redington Skagit River Wading Boots come with a solid sticky rubber sole that is stud compatible, and the mesh panels allow for easy drainage and faster drying. At around $119, it’s usually on the high end of the entry-level price range, but you get a big rubber, triple-stitched toe cap, good eyelets, and an overall fit that seems to be comfortable for a wide range of feet and fishing styles. The felt sole option is best for beginning fly fishers (if your state allows felt). Last of all, the outsole has a rubber bumper and a wide tread pattern for durability and stability. Every now and then we’ve seen this boot dip down below $100, and when it does, you’re hitting a true sweet-spot for value that’s hard to beat.
The Redington Prowler is Redington’s best wading boot. They’re surprisingly light and nimble, which makes then a great choice for active anglers. They run very slightly large yet boast out-of-the-box comfort. The toe box is generous and the simple eyelet lacing system lets you easily tighten the entire boot with just a couple of pulls. The entire boot is made from quick-drying synthetics, and the Redington design choices for color and materials looks even better in person. The sticky walnut rubber is pretty good when wet and is stud-compatable for extra traction. We recommend that you go with the rubber if you walk on a lot of trails and boulder-strewn riverbanks . . . but choose the felt option if you wade deep on slick rocks.
The newly redesigned Freestone Boot is one tough wading boot. It has a classic style that minimizes unnecessary stitching, and the new for 2018 version even does away with the triple-stitched vertical side seam (shown in the photo of the pair we tested last year, which are still going strong). The scratch rubber upper provides plenty of toe-kicking protection, and the interior is smooth and ready for your stockingfoot waders. They’re a bit stiff at first, but you can ease the break in period by not using the topmost lacing point. See the StreamTread rubber sole option here. 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.
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.
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. The Korkers BUCKSKIN Wading Boots offer a great price-to-value ratio, particularly because you get two soles. They have more seams than the WRAPTRs (below) but they should last years for summertime fly fishers. 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.
Simms consistently produces high-quality gear, and pretty much any Simms wading boot could arguably be one of our best wading boots because they tend to last a very long time; however, the newly updated G3 Guide Wading Boot with Vibram Soles is tough to beat. These extremely stable wading boots are built with neoprene internals for added warmth and comfort, and the soles accept optional cleats and studs from Simms. Of course, Simms offers a felt sole version. 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.
Even the very best wading boots eventually fail, and when they do it’s usually along a stitch or seam. The new for 2018 Korkers WRAPTR Wading Boots promise to end seam and stitch failure by using a new super-light, abrasion-resistant shell without stitches at the front of the boot. It’s too soon to tell for sure if the WRAPTR will outlast the competition, but our fishing with the new WRAPTR wading boots has been promising: The boots are surprisingly comfortable, offer massive ankle support, and the fit-and-finish seems pretty darn tough. In addition, the Korkers WRAPTR boots include the Korkers OmniTrax Interchangeable Sole System, which not only lets you switch from felt to rubber or even to studded rubber, but it lets you easily replace your felt soles as you wear them down.
The Patagonia Foot Tractor Wading Boots are big and burly, partially due to the gnarly aluminum bars spread across their soles. With the aluminum bars, the rubber sole isn’t exactly making a lot of contact with the ground, but they work very well both in and out of the water. They seem to bite through underwater slime pretty well and grab rocks reasonably well, too. Are they as good as felt in the water? They’re pretty darn close. On the down side, they take some getting used to, particularly when you’re scrambling over rip-rap and boulders along the banks of a river. Ankle support is fantastic, the toe box is roomy, the heel cup helps keep your foot in place, and the overall fit is better than your first glance might suggest.
These Boa laced wading boots 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. The rubber sole accepts optional screw-in studs. If you plan to spend long days in and out of the water — and you want a boot that’s comfortable out of the box — these wading boots are easy to recommend. The only downside is that Orvis doesn’t make a felt-sole version, but on the other hand, the middle portion of the sole is soft sticky rubber and accepts the aforementioned studs, while the outer edges of the sole are formed from a harder, more durable rubber. You get soft grippy rubber and tougher rubber for grabbing the edges of sloping rocks. As for the Boa lace system, pull the knob to instantly release it and just turn to tighten.
Best Ultralight Wading Boots
Ultralight, packable fishing waders and lightweight wading boots have gotten a twin boost this year from Orvis and Patagonia — both companies are offering a new line of lightweight waders (Orvis here and Patagonia here) along with lighter wading boots. They’re primarily aimed at traveling anglers, but they’re great for anyone who likes lightweight gear.
Orvis says the quick-drying Clarino microfiber in these lightweight wading boots provide a better strength-to-weight ratio than leather. They’re super light — the size 10 weighs in at about 1.25 pounds (40 ounces for the pair). If you have bad ankles, note the lower ankle height than what you get with most wading boots — but we actually like the extra nimble feeling that comes with shorter wading boots. The overall fit is a bit small and definitely snug with standard stocking foot waders, so size up if you prefer more room. Any downsides? The Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots only come with a rubber sole, but they do accepts Orvis’s PosiGrip Screw-In Studs for extra traction.
The Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots offer great stability with a fairly standard — but proven — overall design. The sticky rubber sole option accepts studs for better traction, but Patagonia also offers a felt version.