How Do I Pick a Pair of Wading Boots?

A close-up of the sole of a wading boot as the owner walks through muddy water.

In many ways, selecting a wading boot is like selecting any other pair of footwear: The ideal pair of wading boots is comfortable, supportive, and durable. Above all, you need a wading boot that’s going to give you superior ankle support to help you navigate the underwater world.

Wading boots come in two types: felt-soled and rubber-soled. Both can come with metal studs either pre-attached or added after purchase.

Your Wading Boots Should Offer Comfort and Support

Wading is tough work, and your boots are what hold your precious connection to the river. A good pair of boots will help make you a safe and confident wader.

Consider these tips for choosing comfortable and supportive wading boots:

  • Try on wading boots while wearing socks and the stockingfoot waders you plan to wear with the boots. Your wading boots are worn over the wader’s stocking feet, so you’ll want to make sure they’re comfortable. Wading boots are made to get wet. It’s the stocking foot of the waders that keeps your feet dry, so it’s common to wear socks inside of your waders. Be sure you have enough room to wiggle your toes and keep blood circulating. Your wading boots should fit just right and shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. If the boots are too tight, your feet may numb and get cold. 
  • Wading boots are sized to accommodate stockingfoot waders, so you should not need to size up in your wading boots.
  • If you plan to mostly wet-wade without waders in your wading boots, try on your wading boots with the neoprene socks you wear with them.
  • Lace the boots all the way up. Then walk around and go through a range of motions.
  • Make sure there’s ample ankle support. When wading, you may be wedging your feet between rocks. If the boots fit right, they’ll strengthen your ankle and reduce the risk of a sprain or twist.
  • Make sure the boots you select are made of a rigid, strong material. When wet, your wading boots should remain solid and strong. If the boot limps to the sides when wet or becomes extremely pliable, then it’s unlikely it will give you the support you need.

Felt-Soled Wading Boots

Go with felt-soled wading boots if you plan to fish close to your car on slick-bottomed rivers, as long as you don’t plan to fish in below-freezing temperatures.

  • These are the most traditional wading boots. When wet, the felt grabs rocks and helps you keep a connection to slick river bottoms.
  • Felt soles are completely flat and have no tread, so they’re not ideal if you plan to be hiking or scrambling up and down steep inclines.
  • Felt soles are tough in winter conditions because they hold water, freeze, and collect snow and ice. This makes it even more difficult for you to walk safely once you leave the river.

Rubber-Soled Wading Boots

You’ll want rubber-soled wading boots if you fish a wide range of conditions when grip isn’t the only requirement and you may encounter longer walks or hikes to the river.

  • Most rubber-soled wading boots have a design on the bottom that’s optimized for wading and hiking. The pattern of the tread assists in navigating the river.
  • Even though they’re a little slicker than felt-soled boots when wading, they’re the best compromise when it comes to hiking and fishing. The fact of the matter is, fly fishers spend a lot of time hiking to and from fishing spots. Realistically, rubber-soled boots are the best way to go for all these fishing situations.

Get Your Studs On

Metal studs added to the bottom of your wading boots can provide extra gripping power when wading fast, slippery river bottoms. You can add them to either rubber-soled or felt-soled wading boots. Some boots come with them already installed on the sole.

  • If you’ve ever been wading and have had a tough time getting around, slipping every single step, studs on your wading boot may help you stay safe and dry while traversing dangerous river bottoms.
  • Thick algae, certain types of rocks or moss, and even a plethora of river-bottom insects can create dangerous and slippery wading conditions. You’ll still want to take as much care when wading in studded boots as you would without them, but you’ll notice a difference in your ability to stay in contact with bare rock.
  • Studs will allow you to drive through thick algae or slippery seaweed and get down to firm ground so you can feel confident about every step.

With the ease of a screwdriver, you can adjust the placement of the studs on your boots to better suit where you tend to put the most pressure when wading. Placing studs around pressure points in your foot can help you remain sure-footed and in control, a very important feeling when wading.

The only real downside of studs on wading boots is they can damage floors and other equipment. And it’s not a great idea to wear studded wading boots in an inflatable raft, drift boat, or any boat for that matter. They can mar the surface and even cause air leaks. On finished flooring, they’ll indent the surface and damage the finish. If you spend a lot of time in a boat, skip the studs. Or keep a spare pair of boots in the boat instead.

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