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Best Wading Boots for Fly Fishing Reviewed

Last Updated: November 21st, 2020
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Walking across slime-covered pebbles can feel like balancing on marbles, and good wading boots quickly prove their value. Rather than slipping and sliding your way across the stream, when you’re able to actually creep and cast, you know you’ve made the right choice!

Offering excellent grip, plenty of foot protection, and all-day comfort, a good pair of wading boots can make all the difference when the pressure’s on.

If you’re in the market for a new pair of fly fishing boots, but you’re unsure which is the best option for you, we’d like to help.

Below, you’ll find a buying guide, as well as reviews of some of our favorite wading boots.

Quick glance at the best wading boots for fly fishing:

Related: Best Fly Fishing Vest, Best Fly Fishing Waders

Best Wading Boots Reviewed

Simms Freestone - Best Wading Boot

Simms Men's Freestone Wading Boots, Waterproof Rubber Sole, Dark Olive, 8

Amazon 

Sole material: Rubber and Vibram

Cleats: No, but cleat and stud compatible

Sizing: (Men) order one size larger than your street shoe size; (women) order one size smaller than your street shoe size

Simms knows what hardcore anglers need, and their Freestone wading boots are a testament to that. 

Well aware that felt soles are on their way out, Simms built these boots with grip options that really work. The basic sole of the Freestone is a combination of soft rubber and grippy Vibram, offering what amounts to goat-footed hiking boots. For some anglers, that may be enough to give them the sure-footedness they’re after.

For others, though, Vibram and rubber aren’t enough, and Simms recommends aftermarket studs or cleats. The Freestone is designed to accommodate these, offering attachment points that are strategically located across the sole. The results are spectacular, providing remarkable traction on slimy rocks.

Simms’s aftermarket studs offer added traction.

These boots feature the usual over-the-ankle uppers, and they can be laced to offer plenty of ankle support when you need it. I’d prefer flat laces--they don’t undo themselves like round ones--but a quick double knot solves that problem for the Freestone.

Comfort is excellent, and these boots are at home on the trail to and from the stream. In fact, the sole material is excellent for rocky hikes. And they provide a bit of neoprene lining for extra warmth in icy water, a touch I really appreciate as my local streams are some of the coldest you’ll find anywhere!

Foot protection is excellent, and you can kick rocks all day without worrying about your toes or ankles.

Finally, these boots dry surprisingly fast.

Overall, for men and women, Simms’s Freestone wading boots are a tough act to follow.

Pros:

  • Excellent grip that’s cleat and stud compatible
  • Excellent ankle support
  • Warm!
  • Great comfort
  • Reliable dry traction
  • Dry quickly

Cons:

  • Wet grip without aftermarket cleats or studs can be dicey

Simms Tributary - Best Budget Wading Boot

Simms Tributary Rubber Sole Wading Boots Adult, Waterproof Fishing Boots, Carbon, 9

Amazon 

Sole material: Rubber

Cleats: No, but cleat and stud compatible

Sizing: (Men) order one size larger than your street shoe size; (women) order one size smaller than your street shoe size

Simms knows that fly fishing can get expensive fast. Their Tributary wading boot is a nod to that reality, offering many of the things that make the Freestone awesome while hitting a much lower price point. To my mind, and for my money, the Tributary just destroys similarly-priced rivals like Frogg Toggs’s Pilot II (and the now-discontinued Hellbender).

The Tributary wears an all-rubber sole that’s really, really grippy. Without the hard Vibram, the Tributary may actually work better than the Freestone on dry rock and trails, but the soles won’t take as much abuse. 

On wet rock, they grip pretty well, but for slime and algae, I’d attach studs or cleats, and Simms recommends this step for all its rubber-soled boots. Grip with studs or cleats is excellent, and I really don’t think the Tributary gives up any ground to the Freestone here.

Simms’s aftermarket cleats work really well, but they only fit their boots!

As you’d expect, these boots cover your ankles, and when properly laced, they provide awesome ankle support. Like the Freestone, expect round laces, so double knot!

The Tributary is a warm boot, a feature you’ll come to appreciate as your buddies complain about losing feeling in their feet! But they don’t dry quite as quickly as the Freestone, so be aware of that. They’re also a bit “clunkier” than their more expensive kin.

There’s no question that these boots will protect your feet from sharp rocks and hard knocks, and here I might even give them the edge over the Freestone. They just feel a bit more solid--albeit heavier.

Comfort is excellent, as you’d expect from Simms, and whether you're in the water or on the trail, you’ll be glad you’ve laced these boots on.

Pros:

  • Excellent grip that’s cleat and stud compatible
  • Excellent ankle support
  • Warm!
  • Great comfort
  • Awesome dry traction

Cons:

  • Wet grip without aftermarket cleats or studs can be dicey

Orvis Ultralight (Mens and Womens) - Best Wading Boot for Long Hikes

Orvis Men's Ultralight Wading Boot, 11

Amazon 

Sole material: Vibram

Cleats: No, but can accept aftermarket options

Sizing: Order one size up for both men and women

Orvis understands that not everyone needs or wants a heavy, protective wading boot, and for anglers with really long hikes to and from the water, an ultralight boot can make a lot of sense. And if there’s a better design than the Orvis Ultralight, please let me know!

Available in women’s sizes, these boots are identical in either option.

The Ultralight looks and performs like a light hiking boot, offering suppleness and comfort that’s a step above its competitors. Dry traction is good, though perhaps a touch behind Simms’s Tributary, a simple result of Orvis’s choice to run a more durable Vibram sole that can take season after season of hiking abuse.

Wet traction is pretty good, too, but for rocks that feel more like Vaseline-coated bowling balls, I’d recommend some aftermarket studs from Orvis. They definitely increase slimy traction.

Aftermarket Orvis studs are a great option to increase grip.

The Ultralight is strong on comfort, but that comes at a price. Neither as tall nor as supportive as traditional wading boots, if you need strong ankle support, look elsewhere. Gravel guards may be necessary, too, as the low collar on the Ultralight isn’t very good at keeping debris out of your boots.

That said, they provide adequate foot protection against bumps and knocks. They also dry in a flash, but they’re not particularly warm. That can be a plus: not every good trout stream is near freezing, and warm boots on long hikes can be torture in the summer.

For fly anglers who walk long distances or face challenging terrain to and from their streams, the Orvis Ultralight will feel like a godsend. And if you just can’t stand the standard wading boot feel, take a long look at these excellent boots.

Pros:

  • Excellent grip that’s cleat and stud compatible
  • Unbeatable comfort
  • Awesome dry traction

Cons:

  • Ankle support is just OK
  • Gravel guards may be necessary to keep debris out

Orvis Encounter

Orvis Encounter Boot Vibram Size 13

Amazon 

Sole material: Vibram

Cleats: No, but can accept aftermarket options

Sizing: (Men and women) order one size larger than your street shoe size

The Encounter is a traditional wading boot from Orvis that demonstrates its expertise in the world of fly fishing. Priced to reflect a growing concern with the expense of the sport, the Encounter is a rival for the Simm’s excellent Tributary boot.

Soled in tough Vibram, the Encounter can take a licking without a sweat. It surrenders some traction for long-term durability, however--a factor you should weigh when comparing them to the Tributary. But there’s no question which boot’s sole will last longer, and if you like traditional wading boots and face rough trails to reach the water, the Encounter might be the better option for you.

Equipped with aftermarket studs from Orvis, this boot offers excellent traction on slick rocks.

Foot protection and ankle support are excellent, and these tall boots go a long way toward keeping gravel and silt on the riverbed where they belong. Round laces are the norm, so expect them to untie themselves.

Drying times are on par with the Tributary, as is warmth.

If you’re on the fence about the Tributary and want a more durable sole, the Orvis Encounter might be the best pick for you.

Pros:

  • Excellent grip that’s cleat and stud compatible
  • Excellent ankle support
  • Warm!
  • Great comfort
  • Good dry traction
  • Very durable sole

Cons:

  • Wet grip without aftermarket cleats or studs can be dicey

Redington Women's Willow River

Redington Women's Willow River Sticky Rubber Boot - 10, Sand

Amazon 

Sole material: Rubber

Cleats: No, but stud and cleat compatible

Sizing: Order the same size as your street shoe (though some customers advise ordering a size up)

Redington’s Willow River boot is a fantastic wading option that’s built tough and grippy. A worthy challenger to Orvis and Simms rivals that’s sized right for women’s feet, there’s no reason to settle for a men’s boot with products like this on the market.

The Willow River sports a soft rubber sole that provides excellent dry traction. For many anglers, that’s enough for wet rock, too. But algae-covered stone can be a nightmare, and if that’s what you’re facing, some aftermarket studs like those from Orvis will make a world of difference.

Keep in mind that soft rubber can’t take season after season of hiking abrasion as well as Vibram can, and if long hikes are routine for you, the Orvis Women’s Ultralight might be the better option.

The Willow River is a tall, supportive boot with a thick, padded collar that works well to keep debris out. Laced properly, it provides excellent ankle support, with the usual caveats about round laces.

These are warm boots with plenty of padding, and they offer serious protection against hard rocks. Redington recommends that ladies order the same size as their street shoes, but some women find that yields an uncomfortably tight fit with stocking-footed waders. 

I’d say these boots dry about as fast as the Tributary and, in many respects, are roughly equal in performance.

Pros:

  • Excellent grip that’s cleat and stud compatible
  • Excellent ankle support
  • Warm!
  • Great comfort
  • Awesome dry traction

Cons:

  • Wet grip without aftermarket cleats or studs can be dicey
  • Sizing can be challenging

What We Consider When Selecting an Excellent Wading Boot

Sizing

A good pair of waders are essential for cold water fly fishing, and we’ve written about this issue before. Keep in mind that if you choose a stocking-footed wader or use thick wading socks to keep your feet warm, this will dramatically impact your shoe size!

Expect to increase one to two shoe sizes--though it’s a bit more complicated than that!

Some companies size their wading boots with this in mind, meaning that if you wear a size 10 street shoe, you wear their size 10 wading boot, even in your wader or wading sock. But other companies use street shoe sizing for their wading boots, and which are which can be mystifying.

We’ve noted this critical sizing information for each boot we reviewed, letting you know whether (and how much) to size-up.

Ditch the felt soles

For years, felt has been the premium wading boot sole material, offering unrivaled grip on slick rock. 

So why don’t we recommend it?

The answer is simple: environmental protection. Felt soles work really well, but they take forever to dry, and until they do, they harbor invasive species and pathogens like Whirling Disease, Rock Snot, and Proliferative Kidney Disease (PKD).

Rock Snot kills trout, so skip the felt soles!

If you value the future of the sport, you’ll do your part and ditch the felt soles.

In fact, a few states (and one national park) have already banned felt-soled boots:

  • Alaska
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Yellowstone National Park

Many more are considering this idea as well.

Stability, grip, and protection

There’s no question that felt provides better traction on slippery rock than rubber. If you forgo felt, you’ll need to consider traction carefully.

Wet, slimy rocks threaten twisted ankles and harrowing spills. A fall into a trout stream may not seem like a big deal--that is, until you realize that you’re just one misplaced hand away from a broken wrist or arm.

Goof wading boots provide excellent wet grip and plenty of ankle support. They also offer foot protection from bumps against rocks.

Quick-drying

Wading boots aren’t waterproof--for a reason. Often completely submerged in the stream, water will overtop them, filling them more or less instantly.

Instead, they’re made to dry quickly, both to kill invasive species and to prevent mold and mildew.

Good wading boots are made from quick-drying materials.

Durability

Tough gear is a prerequisite for fishing trout streams, and your wading boots are going to take a beating!

Look for durable materials that can shrug off abrasion, resist tears, and stand the test of time.

Rubber vs. Vibram

Vibram offers good traction and fantastic durability; rubber offers fantastic traction and god durability.

Which is right for you?

If you make long, hard hikes to your stream, Vibram might be the better option. It’ll hold up well to abrasion, and it’s the sole of choice for hiking boots. The downside is that you’ll almost certainly need studs or cleats to get decent wet grip.

By contrast, rubber soles may hold well enough on wet rocks that you don’t need aftermarket studs. But you can’t expect rubber to take a beating season after season on long hikes.

Comfort

If you’re lucky, you don’t face a long hike to and from your trout stream, but many anglers do.

You need rugged wading boots that can transition from trail to stream and back again, essentially doing double-duty as hiking boots.

In that sense, comfort isn’t just about the hours you’ll spend in the water on slippery rocks; it’s also about the steep inclines, dry rocks, and steep ascents and descents common to mountain trails.

Good wading boots will provide great dry traction as well as the ankle support you need for long hikes. They’ll also dry quickly so that the walk back isn’t a chore.

Final Thoughts

Good wading boots are essential fly gear, and from foot protection to slip prevention, a good choice is critical.

We hope that this article has helped you pick the right option for you, and as always, we’d love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
John B
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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