The Best Men's Wading Boots

Wading Boots present some unique challenges to product designers. The ideal wading boot offers the support and comfort of a solid hiking boot, with the grip and traction of a sticky climbing shoe.

Designers focus on finding a good compromise between these ideals, with an added challenge of moderating weight. Fortunately, today’s wading boot designers draw on a lot of great materials and design elements so modern wading boots are almost always at least moderately comfortable, supportive, and grippy. But the best models will excel in all of those categories.

For this year’s test, our team took out the latest products from several different brands into a variety of environments and conditions. We hiking miles into wilderness river locations. We fished off the pebbly beaches of Puget Sound and the North Pacific coast. We waded into spring creeks in eastern Washington and southern Idaho, and fished off boats and off the banks on rivers in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, and Washington.

The use of rubber in place of felt soles has become more common with the increasing concern over the transfer of invasive aquatic species such as ‘rock snot’ (didymosphenia geminate) – a slimy growth that can restrict the populations of aquatic insects upon which trout feed – that can hide within the porous felt soles. But while some states and National Parks have banned the use of felt-soled boots, the fabric soles still provide the ultimate in traction on slimy river rocks.

This year, we asked manufacturers to provide the choice of best boot, and most chose to send rubber soled models – or models with interchangeable soles. That seems to be an increasingly popular choice, as anglers can match their soles to their fishing environments without having to carry multiple pairs of boots. Of the models we tested, half featured interchangeable soles.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Korkers Darkhorse Wading Boot
88
Best in Class
2018
Fit 8
Grip 9
Weight 6
Treadlife 7
Durability 8

Versatile

Very supportive

Good traction

Boa Lacing System

Heavy

Expensive

Durability of interchange system is questionable

MSRP
$180.00
BEST DEAL
Orvis Ultralight Wading Boot
87
Fit 8
Grip 7
Weight 9
Treadlife 6
Durability 7

Lightweight

Great fit

Good traction

Quick drying

Modest ankle support

Tread wears rapid

Tight fit when paired with heavy wader booties

MSRP
$169.00
BEST DEAL
Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boot
86
Grip 8
Comfort 8
Wet Weight 7
Durability 7
Treadlife 8
Value 8

Ultralight when dry

Best “hiking boot” feel

Best grip on slimy river rocks

Well padded to prevent stone bruises

Most weight-gain when wet

Durability may be an issue

MSRP
$149.00
BEST DEAL
Korkers Buckskin Wading Boot
84
Grip 7
Comfort 7
Wet Weight 8
Durability 7
Treadlife 7
Value 8

Soles can be tread-matched to conditions

One of the lightest boot when dry and wet

Effective interior drainage

Risk of failure of the interchangeable sole system

Fabrics on tongue, laces and uppers can snag fly

Traditional lacing rather than Boa system

MSRP
$149.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Redington Prowler Wading Boot
84
Fit 7
Grip 7
Weight 5
Treadlife 7
Durability 8

Good Fit

Low Price

Good foot and ankle support

Modest in-water traction

Heavy

Laces can slip loose easily

MSRP
$150.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Cabela’s Guidewater BOA Wading Boot
79
Grip 4
Comfort 7
Wet Weight 5
Durability 8
Treadlife 8
Value 7

BOA lace system

Secure, comfortable fit

Solid footing on uneven surfaces

Durable construction

Effective interior drainage

The boot feels heavy and clunky while walking

Heaviest boot out of the box and out of the drink

Slippery on slimy rocks if studs not applied

MSRP
$149.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Hodgman Aesis H-Lock Wading Boot
79
Fit 5
Grip 8
Weight 5
Treadlife 6
Durability 5

Highly versatile

Great ankle and foot support

Very Durable

Heavy

Somewhat difficult to change soles

Fit is overly wide in heel and forefoot

MSRP
$180.00
BEST DEAL
Simms Vapor Wading Boot
78
Grip 8
Comfort 7
Wet Weight 9
Durability 7
Treadlife 7
Value 0

Only boot in the class to under 2 pounds when wet

One of most slip-resistant boots in the class

Durable synthetic leather and rubber upper

Lace hooks are solid and deep for easy tying

Neoprene padding in the ankle area is too thin

Doesn't drain well

Somewhat noisy while walking when wet

MSRP
$149.00
BEST DEAL
Korkers Darkhorse Wading Boot

The versatile Darkhorse Wading Boots from Korkers provides enough structure and support for all-day walking in the river, or trails leading to rivers. The Omnitrax interchangeable sole system allows anglers to swap outsoles to meet the needs of various fishing environments: Felt for ultimate grip on slime-slick rocks, studded rubber for good traction when repeatedly moving from shore to river and back again. And unstudded rubber for days spent on drift boats (where metal studs can be highly damaging). The Darkhorse boots provide great ankle and foot support for safe travel, and the boots withstood extensive use and abuse with less signs of wear.

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Orvis Ultralight Wading Boot

The Orvis Ultralight Wading Boot provides good performance in a very lightweight package. The Vibram EVA outsoles grip slick riverbeds as well as, if not better, than any other rubber soles we’ve tested, yet that rubber also wears down quickly during treks to and from the river. The Ultralights fit comfortably without excess volume, though they are a bit snug when used with the thickest neoprene wader booties. The mid-height uppers keep weight down, but also leave ankles a bit open to twists. In short, the Orvis Ultralights sought a delicate balance between weight and performance, and in other experience, the Orvis designers found a very good balance.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Backcountry.com

Hodgman Aesis H-Lock Wading Boot

The Hodgman Aesis H-Lock Wading Boots offers anglers good versatility in traction through an interchanging outsole system — the H-Lock system. The Aesis feature a stout upper that reaches well up the shin, providing exceptional ankle and lower leg protection. That protection comes at a price, however: Increased weight. These boots are heavy, topping the scales at nearly two pounds per boot (size 13). The interchangeable outsoles proved very useful, especially felt-loving anglers travel to areas were felt soles are banned. Simple twist, pivot and pull and the felt soles pop off. Reverse the process and rubber soles go on. Putting that process into play wasn’t always easy – sand and other river grime could gummy up the operation. But with a little patience and persistence, we got the soles changed repeatedly.

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Redington Prowler Wading Boot

The Redington Prowler Wading Boot with rubber soles earned solid grades across the board, proving itself to be a very good boot for wading anglers regardless of their needs, experience levels, or type of water fished. The Prowlers fit well, scored better than average on traction, and withstood plenty of abuse and hard use. The only serious knock on the Prowlers can from their weight: they are among the heaviest in the class. But even there, the Prowlers earn some credit by shedding water as fast as its picked up, meaning there is no added water-weight while in use in the river. All in all, the Redington Prowlers with rubber soles stand as a workhorse boot suitable for most fly fishing uses.

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Men's Wading Boots Review Results

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The use of rubber in place of felt soles has become more common with the increasing concern over the transfer of invasive aquatic species such as ‘rock snot’ (didymosphenia geminate) – a slimy growth that can restrict the populations of aquatic insects upon which trout feed – that can hide within the porous felt soles. But while some states and National Parks have banned the use of felt-soled boots, the fabric soles still provide the ultimate in traction on slimy river rocks.

This year, we asked manufacturers to provide the choice of best boot, and most chose to send rubber soled models – or models with interchangeable soles. That seems to be an increasingly popular choice, as anglers can match their soles to their fishing environments without having to carry multiple pairs of boots. Of the models we tested, half featured interchangeable soles.

Fit

The Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots offer the best hiking boot-style fit, with a narrow heel cup and a roomy toe box to ensure a locked-in fit while walking with toe compression. The Ultralights held firm on the foot even when climbing steep canyon walls or sliding down muddy embankments to a river. Korkers also provided a comfortable fit, with solid support of the ankle and lower leg. The boots fit comfortably over bulky wader boots without slop or slipping. A good part of the fit comes as a result of the Boa lacing system. This system uses a steel cable looped through a series of laces and wound on a knob-driven reel. Redington’s Prowlers sport a looser fit that’s not ideal for long hikes but is perfectly suited for use with heavy wader booties and thick, warm socks. The only really marginal fit we found was on the Hodgman Aesis H-Lock. This loose-fitting boot was able to accommodate bulky wader booties and extra socks for warmth, but the boots were a bit too loose when paired with summer-weight waders/booties and thin socks.

Grip

With the option of three different soles, which can be changed on the fly, the Korker Darkhorses dominated the traction category. The Darkhorse proved to be the most efficient in grip and traction, regardless of the environmental conditions being encountered. The felt soles provide exceptional grip in rock-lined rivers. The felt cuts through rock slime better than any other sole material, giving firm traction in greasy conditions. When having to spend more time hiking to fishable water, and scrambling around dry riverbanks and trails, the steel-studded rubber outsoles give a firm bite for solid footing in and out of the water. And when fishing from rafts or drift boats, the unstudded rubber soles provide the best option — good grip on boats without the risk of damage from metal studs. Like the Korkers, Hodgman’s Aesis H-Lock boots provide solid traction in a variety of conditions, thanks to their version of an interchangeable sole. Orvis’ Ultralight Wading Boot, using a sticky Vibram rubber outsole, proved remarkably grippy on slick river rocks, and provided exceptional traction on trails and steep river banks. Redington’s sticky rubber outsoles did not perform as well as the Orvis Ultralight when it came to river traction, but the grip was good enough to earn grudging respect from one felt-loving tester who deemed them nearly as secure as felt on most wet rocks and much better than felt out of the water.

Weight

When considering weight, we looked at both the dry out-of-box measured weight, and the effective weight in the field. That is, we checked the ability of the boots to shed water rather than carrying it as added weight after leaving a river. In both cases, the Orvis Ultralight excelled. At just over a pound and a half per boot (size 13!), the Ultralights are heavier than similarly sized hiking boots but are much lighter than any other wading boot in the class. The polyester mesh and polyurethane-coated nylon fabric in the upper shed water rapidly, thus helping keep weight down during use by drying quickly. The Hodgman Aesis, with its roomy interior and lack of adequate drainage holes, held the most water weight, and they weighed more than any other boot in the class out of the box. Korker’s Darkhorse and Redington’s Prowler both shed water well, though the Prowlers were a bit more efficient than the Darkhorse. On the other hand, the Prowlers weigh more out of the box than the Darkhorse, so at the end of the day, their weight ratings were very similar.

Treadlife

Considered practically, the boots with interchangeable soles offer the greatest tread life, such use can be distributed between two or three separate soles. That theory proved true in this test, with the Korker Darkhouse providing the best wear in the class. The Hodgman Aesis felt short of the Korker’s performance, due to thinner, less-dense felt and softer rubber. Orvis’ use of soft, sticky Vibram Rubber proved very grippy but also was quick to wear down, giving them the shortest Treadlife in the class. Redington’s rubber soles are a bit stiffer and therefore have a longer life.

Durability

The Hodgman Aesis H-Lock boots offered good general durability in all but the base of the boot. The H-Lock interchange system worked well when clean and dry, but once the boots had been worn through mud, sand, and gravel, some issues developed. Grit infiltrated the system and made removal and replacement difficult and raised questions about the long-term durability of that system. Korkers had fewer issues with clogging of their system, and the Korkers Uppers proved incredibly stout and durable. The clean design of the Redington Prowlers minimized snagging and abrasion even when scrambling through tightly jumbled rocks. The material of the uppers proved tough and the construction held up well to rough use. The Prowlers held up better than any other boot in this class. Aside from the limited life of the soles, the Orvis Ultralights sport a tough durability belied by their lightweight nature.

Review Conclusion

By consensus opinion, the Korkers Darkhorse earned the Best in Class Honors for 2018 in Men’s Wading Boots. The Darkhorse’s interchangeable soles, comfortable fit, and solid support and durability made them ideal for just about any angling adventure. The Orvis Ultralights earned high praise, too, and were deemed the ideal wading boot for travel and road trips. Their weight and size making packing them on planes easy, and their non-felt soles are suitable for use anywhere, even in regions with tight restrictions designed to reduce the risk of transporting invasion species.

Methods

For this year’s test, our team took out the latest products from several different brands into a variety of environments and conditions. We hiked miles into wilderness river locations. We fished off the pebbly beaches of Puget Sound and the North Pacific coast. We waded into spring creeks in eastern Washington and southern Idaho, and fished off boats and off the banks on rivers in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, and Washington.