Guide to Purchasing Wading Boots: Considerations and Advice |
Fly Fishing

Guide to Purchasing Wading Boots: Considerations and Advice


Do you want to swim with the fishes or catch the fishes? Your choice of wading boots could make a difference between the former and the latter. Every year, too many fly anglers have their day ruined, ending up in an emergency room with a sprained ankle, broken wrist, or worse, because they fell into the river while stepping on slippery rocks.

Paired with your breathable, stockingfoot waders, wading boots allow you to walk on slippery rocks, cobblestone, and woody debris in the river with relative ease. Wading boots are a very important component for the fly angler. So much so that you should "bite the bullet" and purchase the best boots you can afford.

Allow me to give you some sincere advice about choosing wading boots, based upon years of experience.

Find wading boots that provide support.

The lower part of the boot should provide arch support. The closure system must permit you to tighten the upper boot, keeping your ankle from "rolling over." A solid, well-built boot will help you feel balanced and confident when walking on slippery rocks while being pushed by moving water.

Consider the type of closure for fit and support.

Durable, nylon laces that are part of a quick lacing system, like those on many hiking boots, will make sure you can tighten your uppers for a snug fit that provides stability and balance.

Korkers and Simms have wading boots with the BOA steel lacing system similar to lacing systems on snowboarding boots. Personally, I love my Devil's Canyon Korker boots. It is much easier to bend my old, paunchy body over to turn the dial on the BOA laces on my boots. Later, when boots get wet and loosen up, I can just turn the dial a few clicks to make the fit secure again.

Go one size up for a comfortable fit with stockingfoot waders.

Constricted toes can lead to numbness and cold feet in the wintertime, so you want to be sure you have enough room inside your boots to layer without getting too tight a fit.

When purchasing your first pair of wading boots, you should head to the fly shop or retailer. Try the boots on with a thin pair of polypro socks under a thick pair of polypro socks. These, along with the 3 mm neoprene booties that you will use to simulate your stockingfoot waders, will assure you get a good fit.

As a rule, you should bump up one size in your wading boots as compared to your street shoes. In other words, if you wear a size 9 tenny-runner, a size 10 wading boot will probably be perfect. Once you know your wading boot size, you should be able to order online with confidence in the future.

Look for lightweight construction and good drainage.

Heavy boots equal tired legs. Look for a pair of wading boots that weigh less than four pounds.

Manufacturers achieve lightweight wading boots by 1) building the upper with lightweight synthetic leather or microfiber that dries quickly, and 2) engineering good drainage of water from inside the boot. Nothing is more annoying than walking on the trail to another fishing spot with poorly-draining wading boots that have water slopping around inside them.

Consider where you'll be wading to help determine what type of soles you want.

Felt soles, popular in years past, are banned in many fishing areas, including Alaska, Yellowstone, and parts of Montana. Because "aquatic invasive species" such as milfoil and zebra mussels can embed themselves in felt, stay alive for days, and be moved to other waters, more and more states and parks will ban felt soles in the future.

Instead of going with felt, I recommend choosing wading boots with nubby Vibram soles. They are almost as good as felt when walking on snotty rocks in the river, but they don't have the invasive species transferring problem. Vibram soles will also accept carbide-steel spikes, which give them even more traction.

The best traction you can have on the bottom of your wading boots are Vibram soles with aluminum bars. Soft aluminum bars, which will last for many years, mold themselves to river rock and gravel for the most stable stance.

Again, Korker wading boots stand out in this regard. Omnitrax soles on Korker boots are interchangeable. In about two minutes, I can switch out the Vibram soles that I use in my drift boat, for soles with aluminum bars for when I decide to wade the river... and vice versa. Pretty slick.

For summer wading footwear, keep these same principles in mind.

When warm weather hits, don't just wet wade with flip-flops. No stability, no balance = a dunking in the river. Do yourself a favor and purchase a good set of wading sandals that cover your toes, give your ankles support, and provide traction. Alternatively, buy a pair of 3 mm booties to use with your wading boots sans waders.

Wading boots are an important component in a fly angler's arsenal. I hope I have given you some helpful insights for purchasing wading boots.

Jim Hissong lives with his wife, Susan, and Wrigley, the fishing dog, in Mountain View, WY. He is currently president of Upper Bear River Trout Unlimited in Southwest Wyoming and a certified guide who plans to be on the sticks more often when he retires soon. Jim is a part-time product description writer and blogger for and You can encourage his blogging by contacting him at

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