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The 7 Best Wading Boots for Fishing

Having the right footwear for the task can help prevent slips and falls.

best wading boots
Staff, Courtesy of Orvis

Once, while walking in a small stream in regular hiking shoes, I slipped so fast and violently that I fell and fractured my finger. The soles of those shoes weren’t meant for traversing slimy rocks, and I learned the value of dedicated footwear meant for riparian environments.

If you’ve ever tried walking and standing while fishing in a rocky-bottomed river with currents pushing at your legs, you understand the need for wading boots designed for the task. Falls, especially those that result in injury, are a real threat to a river angler, and wading boots are a key piece of equipment designed to reduce that risk.

But, like most specialized gear, the highest-end products usually come with a hefty price—or with features you may or may not need. So before you spend top dollar, first determine which features are important for the type of angler you are. To help you make an informed decision, and possibly save you some money, we’ve outlined the wading-boot basics below along with seven products we recommend.

What to Consider

Type of Sole

The most basic feature to consider in fishing wading boots is the sole, and the most classic option is felt. Felt soles provide excellent traction on slippery, algae-covered rocks, but they also wear out quickly. If you often hike long distances between your vehicle and the river, from fishing spot to fishing spot, or in any amount of snow, felt is the least ideal choice. Felt has also fallen out of favor for its potential (however slim) to transport species between bodies of water. Some state agencies and bodies of water don’t allow felt soles for this reason, so check local regulations first. And even if you fish in places where felt soles are allowed, always clean and dry the soles before moving to another body of water.

Rubber soles are now far more common, and some outsole companies, such as Michelin and Vibram, make grippy soles specifically for better traction on wet rock surfaces. And unlike felt soles, rubber soles won’t wear out easily, making them the better choice for anglers who wear their wading boots on city streets or while traveling.

Cleats or studs can be added to soles, as well. Tyson Stark, avid fly fisherman and assistant store manager at Breckenridge Outfitters in Colorado, says the studs-and-felt combo is the tackiest option available. “If you have studded felt,” says Stark, “you’re least likely to have a fall.” But studs and cleats are not ideal for anyone who fishes from an inflatable kayak or paddleboard, as they can cause punctures.

Boot Height

Like hiking boots, wading boots come in varying heights, though most are a mid-height hiking boot style. A lower-height, lighter boot like the Orvis PRO Approach, which is essentially a sneaker, makes sense if you cover a lot of ground between fishing spots. A higher, more supportive boot like the 9-inch tall Korkers Darkhorse is best if you are concerned about instability in the water or have ankle issues. For most people, the mid-height boot is a happy medium.

Sizing and Fit

Like any shoe, proper fit is essential. When sizing wading boots, it’s generally best to aim larger than you would for hiking boots to make sure you have room for thick socks or neoprene booties. Stark says most men who come into his shop go a full size larger, while women tend to go only a half-size up. “Even if you buy online, go into a store and try boots on in person,” he says. “We get lots of folks coming in who saved a few bucks online but ended up with boots that don’t fit.” Stark also recommends taking your waders with you when trying on boots. Because different waders have different thicknesses, they can affect the sizing of your wading boots.

How We Selected

My selections are based on my years of experience fishing across the U.S., conversations with fishing guides, and advice from avid fly fisherman and assistant store manager at Breckenridge Outfitters, Tyson Stark, who sells a lot of wading boots to locals and anglers traveling to fish the several Gold Medal waters in the area. While I prefer float fishing, I have used Orvis wading boots and favor a rubber sole because I like moving around to different spots along the river. Because wading boots are a niche product for the fly-fishing market, our selections mostly include the familiar fly-fishing brands who make them. We’ve provided selections in a range of categories and prices to help you narrow your search quickly.

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Best All-Around
Simms Freestone Wading Boots

Key Specs

  • Sole: Simms rubber
  • Upper: Synthetic leather
  • Height: Mid

For the price of a decent pair of hiking boots, you can get the Simms name and quality in a great all-around boot designed for wading rivers. The lugged rubber outsole grips on rock and algae in streambeds, while the rubberized toe and heel protect both the boots and your feet against bumps and abrasion.

EVA midsoles paired with a neoprene upper lining give these boots a familiar, contoured hiking boot feel but one that’s suited to life underwater. For more improved traction, spend an extra $22 on these screw-in studs.

  • Affordable

  • A bit heavy
Best Budget
The Allen Co Big Horn Wading Boot
The Allen Co

Key Specs

  • Sole: Felt
  • Upper: Synthetic leather, mesh
  • Height: Mid

It can be hard to stomach paying $150 or more for wading boots if you don’t fish that many times a year or if you’re on a tight budget. The Allen Big Horn boots have a classic wading boot style, and while they’re a bit clunky and not as lightweight as high-end models, they’ll get the job done. The felt soles are great for gripping greasy rocks; just be sure the waters you fish allow felt soles. Allen has a great reputation for quality budget outdoor gear, and these boots will get you in the water for the cost of renting a pair for a day.

  • Less than $50

  • Heavy
Best Splurge
Orvis PRO Boa Wading Boot

Key Specs

  • Sole: Michelin Outdoor Extreme
  • Upper: Clarino microfiber
  • Height: Mid

The Orvis PRO line is known for quality and cutting-edge features, and its PRO Boa Wading Boots are no exception. The most glaring difference between these and most other boots is the use of the titanium-laced Boa system, found more commonly in snowboard boots and cycling shoes, which lets you turn a dial to fine-tune fit, especially useful when your hands are cold.

The rest of the boot keeps pace as well, with a rubber sole from Michelin designed especially for traction when wading and 3D-molded OrthoLite insoles for maximum comfort and fit. The outsole is also stud-ready with preset holes and a midsole layer designed to accept and retain Orvis’s Posigrip Screw-In Studs.

  • Ultralight and supportive
  • Quick-drying

  • Very expensive
Best Felt-Soled
Korkers Darkhorse Wading Boots

Key Specs

  • Sole: Interchangeable rubber and felt
  • Upper: Synthetic leather, mesh
  • Height: High

Korkers specializes in traction for fishing, outdoor, and work-boot applications and also sells step-in ice cleats that work with regular boots, so it’s no surprise that it offers a product for anglers who want options. The brand’s OmniTrax Interchangeable Sole System, which includes nine sole options, lets you swap out soles depending on your fishing conditions. You get two soles with your purchase: Kling-On and Felt or Kling-On and Studded Kling-On.

LIke the Orvis PRO above, the Darkhorse utilizes the Boa lacing system, which lets you fine-tune fit to better distribute pressure across the front of your foot at the ankle. At 9 inches high, these boots are taller than most on this list, so they’re a bit heavy but also more supportive.

  • Customizable soles

  • Heavy
Best Wet-Wading Shoes
Orvis Men’s PRO Approach Shoes

Key Specs

  • Sole: Michelin Outdoor Extreme
  • Upper: Ariaprene
  • Height: Low

While they look like sneakers, the PRO Approach shoes are fishing-specific and packed with features for the wet-wading angler and anyone who prefers a low-top option. The Approach shoes feature the same wading-specific outsole from Michelin as its high-end PRO boots, so you can trust the traction in the water but navigate shores more nimbly.

The Ariaprene sock raises the height and keeps silt and stones out while keeping the shoes agile and light. These are a great option for anglers who transition from shore to water to floating, as they don’t have studs to puncture a raft and are capable hikers.

  • Versatile for hiking, wet wading, boating

  • Little support
Best for Flats Fishing
World Wide Sportsman Flats Boots
World Wide Sportsman

Key Specs

  • Sole: Threaded rubber
  • Upper: 5mm neoprene
  • Height: 8 in.

If your fishing pursuits take you to shorelines and intercoastal areas—think surf fishing and flats fishing—these booties are a simple, affordable solution for keeping you upright and sand out of your boots. While these zip-up neoprene boots won’t provide the stability of hiking-style wading boots, they help grip on rocks and protect your feet from shells and coral.

The side zipper makes for easy on and off while the hook and loop strap makes sure sand—which can seriously chafe your feet over time in the water—stays out. The reinforced toe and heel protect you from accidental bumps and kicks underwater.

  • Affordable

  • Not ideal for river fishing
Best for Women
Simms Flyweight Women’s Wading Boots

Key Specs

  • Sole: Vibram Idrogrip
  • Upper: Synthetic fabric
  • Height: Mid

This sneaker-like wading boot from Simms is a departure from the norm in that it isn’t a big clunky hiker and that it offers a women’s-specific fit with a higher arch for maximum comfort in the water. It also has all the features you’d expect from a high-end Simms boot, including a Vibram Idrogrip sole that’s specifically engineered to grip on wet rock.

Despite using lightweight fabric to keep the boots’ weight down, Simms has reinforced vulnerable areas with a TPU coating that helps prevent abrasion and provides a little extra protection for your feet. For extra traction, the Women’s Flyweights are compatible with the Simms Hardbite Wading Studs.

  • Women’s-specific fit
  • Quality Vibram sole

  • Pricey
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