It sounds pretty easy. A great wading boot should provide solid ankle support, fit comfortably, and ensures a firm grip on slick rocks in moving water. Only the best bring all those aspects to together in one boot. And even fewer have the kind of primo in extras that get serious fisherman to take notice—stuff like fast dry times, season-to-season durability, lightweight construction, and adjustable traction for different surfaces and approaches.
It’s the rarest of boots that bring all that together. In my opinion, the Korkers Darkhorse is that boot.
I have been testing the new Darkhorse for a number of weeks now and can vouch for the other reviews online. This boot delivers top marks in all those feature categories: support, comfort, traction, durability, fast-drying, lightweight, and versatile.
The Darkhorse formula starts with its last – the foot-shaped molds around which footwear is formed – which in Korkers’ case is made specifically for anglers. How so? Because anglers wear waders that generally feature bulky neoprene booties, wading boots must be sized to accommodate that extra bulk. Many wading boot makers simply use larger versions of stock hiking boot lasts for their wading boots. The lasts of Korkers’ wading boot were created to match both the size and the altered shape of neoprene-encased feet.
Korkers also invested in women’s specific wading boot lasts to ensure female anglers enjoy a fit that’s as comfortable and secure as the guys. Donna Meshke, an advanced fly fisher and outdoor photographer and one of my testers, said “The Darkhorse is the best fitting wading boot I’ve ever worn. It has the fit and comfort of well-broken-in day-hiking boot.”
Korkers employs a hydrophobic nylon fabric in the upper to help keep weight down. Not only is the material lightweight, but the water-shedding nature of the uppers prevents the boots from becoming saturated, so anglers aren’t carrying heavy, waterlogging boots while walking between fishing holes. Further water-shedding is accomplished through the use of internal channels engineered in the boot soles, drawing from the insole all the way through the rand just above the outsole.
The uppers extend well up the lower leg to provide firm support of the ankle, even when wading through large, basketball-sized rocks in fast-flowing rivers.
While the quality of the fit starts with the last and construction of the uppers, it is aided by the BOA M2 lace system. Unlike traditional laces, the BOA cable won’t stretch or soak up water and the 2:1 gearing in the M2 reel allows easy, secure tightening for a secure, comfortable fit.
The cable consistently snugs the upper around the well-padded tongue to lock the boot onto your foot without hotspots or pressure points. The quick-release reel makes it easy to get the boots off at the end of the day, too. Pop-up the BOA dial and the reel freewheels to spread the upper wide open for easy access. The BOA system can be operated easily, even with fingers numb from long immersions in icy cold rivers. Donna, who suffers from Raynaud’s disease (constricted blood flow into the extremities) said she usually struggles to loosen her wading boot laces at the end of the day, yet she was able to get out of the Darkhorses quickly with no effort.
Though fit and stability are integral features of the Darkhorse boots, the true hallmark any Korker boot is the ability to easily change outsoles. The Korker OmniTrax Sole System is unique in the angling world. Interchangeable felt, lugged and studded soles easily switch in and out depending on the type of wading and walking involved.
The system developed by Korker engineers is elegant in its simple functionality. Each outsole sports a stiff ‘tongue’ at the toe-end, a series of tabs running down each edge, and a tough rubber strap on the heel. To attach a sole, simply slide the tongue into the notch on the boot’s toe and press the tabs into the ridged slots along the boot’s sides. Those tabs ‘click’ onto the ridges and lock the sole in place. To secure the heel, simply stretch the rubber strap up and attach it to the keeper peg on the back of the boot.
The Darkhorse is available with two sole packages: 1) Kling-On sticky rubber outsoles and Felt outsoles, or 2) Kling-On sticky rubber outsoles and Kling-On rubber outsoles with carbide studs.
This OmniTrax Sole System proved its worth as we moved through a variety of testing locales. For use on the slim-slick rocks of Washington’s Yakima River, the felt soles were ideal. Thick pads of felt smear securely through that slim and provide solid footing even in fast water. When we moved west and waded out on the pebble-covered beaches of Puget Sound, the sticky rubber soles provided a better grip both in and out of the water. The rubber soles with carbide-tipped studs work well in rivers for anglers who want to (or need to) avoid the use of felt because of fear of invasive species transport, but who want a bit more traction than simple rubber outsoles.
This interchangeable sole system also provides a benefit to traveling anglers. While traditional felt remains a popular, and proven, traction device for general river wading, some states have prohibited its use due to concerns about transport of invasive species. Instead of buying two separate pairs of boots to meet the legal requirements of states that have banned felt, fly fishers who wear Korkers can keep using their favorite boots and just swap out their outsoles.
Similarly, the OmniTrax system is a blessing for anglers who don’t want to (or legally can’t) use felt on their home rivers, but who also wade fish as well as fish from boats. When wading fishing the studded soles provide significantly more traction on slime-coated rocks. But get into a raft or a hard-sided drift-boats and those carbide-tipped studs can wreak havoc. Studs can scratch or gouge wood and fiberglass floors in drift-boats, but they can tear holes in raft tube. With the Darkhorse boots, anglers can swap out their studded wading soles for the sticky rubber soles in mere just a minute or two.
Korkers engineers designed the Darkhorse to be used daily for years. The tough hydrophobic nylon uppers, with synthetic leather support sections, resists wear. Because it sheds water quickly, the Darkhorse dries rapidly and therefore resists mildew.
The Darkhorse sports molded Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) toecap and sidewall rand to cut down on wear and abrasion. The TPU material boasts the durability of rigid plastic and the wear-resistance and flexibility of rubber.
The BOA lace system’s stainless-steel cable is nearly indestructible – after weeks of emersion in salt water (with light rinsing under a garden hose at the end of the day), the cables look as bright and clean as the day they arrived. But should something happen to the cable, it is easily replaced at minimal cost ($13 for replacement kit).
Underfoot, the outsoles of the OmniTrax Sole System are individually durable, but since easy replacement is a built-in feature of the system, the ‘outsole’ can last forever. When one sole wears out, just clip in a new one. The individual soles themselves will last for years. The thick felt soles are tripled stitched to the mounting plate, and thick enough that even anglers who walk consider distance to their fishing holes will find the felt still functional after a year of hard use – I have an older pair of Korkers that still have the original felt soles after two years of heavy fishing. Likewise, the Kling-On rubber soles wear well despite featuring a spongy rubber tread that smears well onto slick river rocks. That soft rubber wears down more quickly than hard hiking boot soles, but we’ve found them tough enough to wear for a season or more of strenuous hiking and wading remote rivers.
The Korkers Darkhorse, available in Men’s sizes 6-15, and Women’s sizes 5-11. The Men’s Darkhorse (size 13) weighs just 3 lbs, 14 ounces (felt soles) while the Women’s (size 7) runs 3 pounds, 5 ounces (felt). Both men’s and women’s sell for $180. Buy Now.