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The Backstage Pass

The Ultimate Guide to Wading Boots

May 09, 24

Whether fishing locally or around the globe, a good pair of wading boots are a crucial component of fly fishing effectively, comfortably, and safely. But with so many options on the market, choosing the right pair can feel like a tall order. For that reason, we're going to dive into the nuances of each type, their pros and cons, and provide some real-world examples of where we are using each type. 

Key Considerations

First and foremost, one thing to consider when buying boots is the size. If you are purchasing boots to pair with your waders, its a good idea to increase your standard shoe size by one. This is not always true, but it is often the case. The added density of a traditional stockingfoot wader bootie with potentially multiple pairs of socks underneath it, and suddenly a bit of extra room makes all the sense in the world. Although some boots that are advertised as a "true fit," we have found to air on the side of a half or full size increase. For saltwater boots or booties, you can realistically stick to your standard shoe size. 

Once you have your size nailed down, you need to consider where you going to be fishing, what you need out of your boot, and how long you might be wearing them before making a decision. Some considerations:

  • Are¬†you traveling with these boots? Consider the weight and size of your boot, and any sort of luggage limitations. Furthermore, numerous countries have strict laws preventing the use of certain types of boots, which we will dig into later.

  • Are you someone who requires added ankle support, or perhaps you're going to be hiking, climbing over structure, or frequently on uneven ground? In this case, a taller boot with plenty of ankle support is highly recommended. Furthermore, consider the weight of the boot -- If you are going to be covering a lot ground, a lighter boot will minimize fatigue.¬†

  • Will you be¬†fishing from¬†a drift boat or using a plane to access a watershed? Studs are a big no-no in a guide's boat as they will dent or puncture the vessel, depending on the type. Additionally, many pilots frown at the use of studs in their plane.¬†

  • Are you saltwater flats fishing, but will only occasionally be using your boots? Its common to periodically get out of the boat and do some wading. In these instances, a boot you can quickly slip on and off is helpful. If you are going to be wading extensively for multiple days,¬†a sturdier, more supportive boot is a good idea.

  • Are you someone who has trouble leaning down or possibly not as limber as you once were? A BOA style boot might be a better¬†option than a traditional boot with laces. A BOA system uses stainless steel wires and a knob system to easily loosen or tighten your boot as you need. This allows you to avoid having to tie and retie your shoes to get the desired fit. When¬†its time to take your boots off,¬†simply release the knob mechanism and the boot releases tension everywhere for easy removal. The BOA system has gained in popularity amongst all walks of anglers for its ease of use.¬†

  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is the environment you will be fishing in? Will you be fishing over gravel and sand, or will there be large, algae-covered rocks?

This final question leads us to the various types of boot soles on the market, and when and why you might opt for each one.

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Felt Wading Boots

Felt-soled boots were the industry standard for many years as rubber simply could not compete with the traction felt offers. Rubber has come a long way since then, but felt still comes out on top when it comes to overall traction. 

Despite what you might think, felt offers the best in traction when navigating wet river rocks, especially when covered with algae or moss. On the flip side, felt offers less traction when hiking or traversing difficult dry terrain such as a steep river bank. 

One minor attribute to consider is that felt soles are easier to clean than rubber as there aren't pockets or treads for mud and debris to find. However, while they might be easier to clean, felt soles are less durable than well-made rubber boots. If and when the glue fails between the felt sole and the bottom of the boot, it often does so suddenly. This isn't really a problem with newer, well-made boots, but can occur after plenty of wear and tear, especially if you are someone doing a lot of hiking.

Another thing to keep in mind -- if you are going to be fishing in snow, don't even bother with felt. It acts like a magnet for snow and you'll soon be wearing a pair of platform shoes.

Finally, and perhaps the biggest caveat, is that felt boots are outlawed in numerous states in the US and international destinations. The reason for this is that felt can contribute to the spread of aquatic invasive species from one watershed to another. New Zealand was the first to make the ban after they discovered an invasive organism, didymo or "rock snot," in their rivers. Some destinations where felt soled boots are currently banned include (as of May, 2024):

  • Alaska, Maryland, Rhode Island, Missouri, Vermont, South Dakota, & Nebraska
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • New Zealand

Banning felt is currently a legislative topic in places like Montana and Idaho, so more states may adopt it in the future. Furthermore, in destinations like Patagonia, felt boots are discouraged everywhere and banned in certain national parks and fisheries. To avoid issues, anglers should opt for a rubber boot, with some lodges actually requesting guests don't bring any boots or waders to eliminate the possibility of introducing invasive species to their fisheries. 

Rubber Wading Boots

In the early days, rubber-soled wading boots were a recipe for disaster, but not anymore. With improved technology and design, as well as the introduction of Vibram into the fishing world, many rubber boots offer great traction and are far "stickier" when traversing wet rocks or slippery banks than their predecessors.

Where rubber really excels is versatility. If you are going to be hiking or encountering various types of ground, rubber outscores felt every time. While felt will offer better traction on an algae-covered stone, rubber is better when stepping on a dry one. Additionally, rubber boots feature treads that provide more traction over variable terrain. 

While durability will always depend on production quality, rubber soles are generally more durable than felt. On the flipside, this can also mean they are heavier. This is not a hard and fast rule as it depends on the manufacturer and each individual boot, but is a loose rule of thumb.

If you're looking for the very best in rubber soles, you should be opting for Vibram. Vibram has long been an industry name in the outdoor world, but hasn't always been used in fly fishing boots. Since its introduction, it has rapidly become a mainstay amongst many of the industry's leading wading boot producers.

Vibram is a patented rubber compound that is softer and "springier" than a traditional rubber. The result is a boot with improved traction and grip that is nearly as durable as a traditional hard rubber sole. Vibram's ability to mold around whatever surface you are traversing means increased surface area and grip, and though its softness means it is generally less durable than a traditional hard rubber.

Studded Wading Boots

A studded boot is simply a felt or rubber boot with the addition of studs or metal cleats. It is a small adjustment that can really make a big difference when wading over slippery surfaces. 

Many rubber boots on the market come with systems in place for easily screwing in a stud or cleat. This is not the case for felt, but installation is relatively straightforward and should only take ten minutes or so with a few common tools. 

The biggest caveat to studs is you shouldn't wear them in certain situations. They will absolutely dent a wooden boat, or worse, put a hole in an inflatable raft. This is a surefire way for your buddy or guide to send you to voicemail next time you call. Furthermore, most pilots don't want studs in their plane if you're fishing with a lodge in remote areas such as Alaska.

Furthermore, while offering incredible traction on slippery rocks, they do the opposite on traditional flooring -- so don't wear them into your favorite gas station between fishing spots. Also consider the clink of the studs on river rocks, and if this may impact your ability to approach fish stealthily. 


This is where we should mention the innovative sole system by Korker's, where you can quickly and easily switch out your sole based on the environment you are fishing in or potential restrictions. Going on a float? Switch over to felt. Wading Visiting Yellowstone National Park? Switch out the felt for rubber. Korker's OmniTrax system eliminates the issue of needing multiple pairs of boots and replacement soles are easy to purchase and install.

+ Shop Studs and Wading Accessories

Saltwater Wading Boots

If you're going to be doing some wading on the flats, you will need some boots. 

Saltwater boots are exclusively rubber soles, as you are most often wading over sand, grass, corral bottom, small stones, or mud. Rubber is going to provide you with the durability these harsh environments demand, and offers the best in traction. 

The type of saltwater wading boot you opt for should be largely determined by how much you are going to be wading, the environment, and how much support you require. 

If you're somewhere like Mexico's Yucatan peninsula or Belize, it is common to get off the boat to wade to schools of bonefish or permit for short periods before returning to the boat. In this situation, a slip-on bootie allows you to quickly put on or take off the boots as needed. If you really want to maximize your efficiency, bring along a pair of crocs or another slip-on style wading boot to get you in the water as fast as possible -- Every second counts when a school of permit are heading your way!

If you are heading somewhere like Christmas Island or the Seychelles where you will be doing a lot of wading, support is going to be super important over a week of aggressive fishing. A bootie can work for some folks in this situation, though a taller boot with plenty of ankle support can aid in limiting fatigue or injury. You will also want to make sure you have a neoprene wading sock or gravel guard to prevent sand and debris from getting into your boot! Given that your feet will be wet for extended periods of time, we recommend you expose your feet to air as much as possible after each fishing day. 

There are destinations such as portions of The Bahamas where you will be tempted to wade barefoot, but we would encourage you to reconsider. Yes, you will most likely be just fine, but an encounter with a conch shell, piece of coral, or urchin can quickly put a damper on your trip.

Examples From the Yellow Dog Team

"The State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game did ban all felt soled wading boots in 2012 to try and stop the spread of invasive species, so all anglers will want to be sure their soles are non-felt bottoms. Alaska is a fishing destination where anglers are on their feet a lot, hiking into streams, wade fishing, getting in and out of boats and planes, so you will want to be sure you have the most comfortable, supportive boots possible. Some anglers do prefer to have boots with studded/aluminum bar bottoms, but you will want to be sure to check with Yellow Dog first to make sure the lodge is ok with you having studded boots first as they can damage the inside of float planes, boats etc. Most of the time they are not absolutely necessary, so be sure to check with Yellow Dog beforehand!" 

- Executive Program Director Tom Melvin

"Whenever I fish in Mexico, I prefer to use a flats bootie. The seafloor in Mexico is sandy, so you do not need a heavy-duty wading boot. Booties work well because you can quickly slip them on if you need to get out of the boat to sneak up on a school of fish. They are lightweight, and provide the perfect amount of protection for what you would encounter in Mexico. Both Simms, and Orvis, have great options for a reliable bootie." 

- Mexico Program Director Sam Mebane

"I particularly favor Patagonia Forra wading boots due to their lightweight design, which offers exceptional comfort during long walks along while wading in remote locations. Additionally, their rugged grip provides stability on slippery rocks and uneven terrain, ensuring safety and confidence while wading. These boots are not only durable but also excel in providing traction and support, making them ideal for extended fishing trips. With their combination of lightweight construction, rugged grip, and suitability for long walks, Patagonia's Forra wading boots are a reliable choice for anglers seeking both performance and comfort in their gear."

- New Zealand, Greenland, Iceland, & Mongolia Program Director Josh Mills

"Felt boots are a must in Bolivia because the terrain is variable and the rocks are coated in a slick film due to the warm temperature of the water. Many of the river rocks are round which makes for difficult footing, but the felt handles it well. I have seen anglers attempt to use rubber or Vibram soles on this trip, and it ends in a complete failure which impacts that angler’s ability to hike and fish effectively. The jungle is a demanding environment, and this is a physical trip, so having the right footwear is absolutely critical to help with comfort and safety while moving around these river systems. Another benefit of the felt is that it is quieter when moving on rocks, and stealth is important when stalking and sight fishing for golden dorado in the skinny and clear headwaters of these fisheries."

- South America Program Director Jack Porter

If you have questions regarding what boots will work best for your travels or local waters, please Contact the Yellow Dog Fly Shop to answer all your gear questions and needs!

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