My Wading Boot Blues - Global FlyFisher

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My Wading Boot Blues



None of the wading boots I owned fit my bill for a perfect pair of wading boots



By Martin Joergensen

  
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Color difference - Apart from the obvious bad state of these boots, the difference in color is also noticeable. This probably comes from the fact that they are from two different batches. Not that it matters much, but for the vain angler it may feel like wearing two different socks to a prom.
Color difference
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As a boot in water - Wading boots in their natural environment: the water. The constantly soaked boots will have to endure all kinds of hardships, and expecting them to last forever might be overly optimistic.
As a boot in water
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Rocky road - Most of the waters have a rocky bottom, and rocks are the second worst enemy to our wading boots - after the water itself.
Rocky road
 
To paraphrase a line that I have seen used many times in magazine's articles about wading boots: "These boots were (not) made for wading..."

For some reason I seem to slowly eat myself through wading gear: waders, jackets and boots. This part of my wading gear trilogy will take a look at wading boots. The first one looked at jackets and my last section of this epic will be on the centerpiece: the waders themselves.

But this is about boots.


Loose boots
I have since my very early fishing days been a strong advocate for stockingfoot waders and separate boots. At first this was no decision of mine. My first few waders were boot foot ones. Cheep plastic ones.
But it came to be that my first neoprene waders ever were a pair of Orvises that I bought in Stroud's Tackle in San Diego many, many years ago. The waders are long gone as are the cheap Chinese fabric boots I selected to go with them. The memory of the excellent shop and its great service still lingers... but that's a whole other story.

The first thing I realized while bargaining for the Orvises was that waders had suddenly became more expensive. Acquiring both waders and boots means coughing up more money. I tended to focus on the waders and forget the boots.

Loose boots cost
It suddenly dawned to me while sweating in the neoprenes in the small shop in Southern California: I had to select - and pay for - a pair of boots too!
Not surprisingly I opted for a cheap pair, and wound up with some Chinese canvas boots with velcro closing. The boots were quite nice, lightweight and compactable because of the soft upper fabric.

The combo worked very well for a couple of years and created my lasting taste for loose boots.
I have since then worn more than ten pairs of wading boots to pieces, which - considering the time span of about twenty years - might seem as many to some people and few to others.

Personally I think that an average of about two years is way too short a lifespan for a good pair of wading boots. I have hand sewn leather shoes that I bought before that, which still look almost as new... almost. I also own a pair of Scarpa leather trekking boots that are almost unmarked from about ten years of use, and the last pair of outdoors boots I trashed were inexpensive super market boots that had lasted me at least five years and had cost me about 40 US$ in a local mart.

Reasons why
There are obvious reasons why my leather shoes last longer than the wading boots. First of all I don't wear my leather shoes in water. Or at least I try not to. The odd shower may want it differently.
The boots are sometimes wet for days on end. They just don't have time to dry up, and no doubt that the moisture can kill them slowly.
Secondly I usually walk on even and smooth surfaces with my shoes while the boots go into any type of landscape including brushery, stones and rocks.
Last but not least, most of my wading is done in saltwater or at least brackish water. I do rinse the boots as well and often as I can, but the salt is an added factor.

But still, I do expect wading boots to last more than a single season, which is all that some of my wading boots have managed.

  
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On the edge of the grave - These Chinese boots are about to draw their last breath. Everything is just falling apart, and they will only endure a few trips more.
On the edge of the grave
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Oxidation, disintegration - This is what (salt) water does to fabric and metal: ruins it. All parts of this boot are dying.
Oxidation, disintegration
 
The first problems
Back to my canvas shoes from Stroud's. I was soon to discover that these boots were not perfect. First of all they were soft. An advantage when you pack them in a bag, but not good when you are walking or hiking - or wading rough, rocky bottoms.
I walk a lot when I fish - both in the water and of course on the shores and banks.

Of course they would not last forever. Velcro and canvas is not the perfect recipe for durable boots. And they contained metal. Metal and my salty home waters is a bad combination.
These cheap boots did have very little metal, but the metallic rims on the holes where the velcro straps passed through the fabric, were bound to rust. And they did.

The fabric itself would eventually wear and rot, and in the end the boots fell apart.

Surprisingly enough the felt soles were the last things to give in. But in the end they also let go, and the boots were ready to trash.

Leather
My next wading boots were a pair of Grub Creek boots. Really, really nice boots. Leather and suede, perfect fit, stiff soles, nice design. Altogether a very nice pair of boots.
Their one immediate disadvantage was the curse of suede: stiffness. When suede dries after a day soaked in water, it stiffens quite dramatically. Next time you want to wear them it's somewhat a fight to squeeze your feet into the tight space.

I devised two solutions for this problem: either dry the boots with crumpled newspaper inside to block them out, which will leave the stiff but roomy, or soak the boots before leaving home. That will soften them sufficiently to let you slip into them with no effort.
The last and best advice is more radical: go fishing so often that the boots simply don't dry between your trips!

  
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Large selection - A good flyshop has a large selection of wading boots. Even though they do look much the same, there are huge differences in quality and price - and not always proportional, mind you!
Large selection
 
More serious
Over time other and more severe problems would appear with the Grub Creek boots. The worst was the inner heel, where the lining dissolved and was worn through, revealing the heel cup - a plastic contraption which within days ate their way through the outer fabric on the neoprene in the heels of my waders and eventually gnawed out chunks of the neoprene itself.

Not good for the waders, as you might have guessed. I wound up just pulling out the heel cups, thusly saving the waders before they were completely ruined.
The boots were also equipped with metal eyes and hooks for the laces, and of course they would also rust and dissolve.
But it was the leather that doomed the boots dead: one day it was so soft that big holes opened and the boots literally fell apart.

What kills my boots
Before I head on to the next few boots, let me pause and ponder a bit about what kills my boots.
I can't remember having a pair that looked like themselves after a year. The worst case has been severe problems within a few months. The average has been total collapse after a couple of years. The best case is a pair, which I have used on and off for almost four years now. They just had a change of felt and now have some hard-to-close zippers. More on those later.

I can see several reasons why the boots die:

  1. basically bad constructions, poor material choice and poor workmanship
  2. the wet-dry-wet-dry or soft-stiff cycle that the wading boots must go through
  3. rough use, wading and walking on rocks while the boots are wet
  4. poor maintenance, not thoroughly rinsing the boots after each trip
  5. drying natural materials (namely leather) too fast

  
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Rubber looses grip - These were my first Chotas\' The construction of the sole is quite well thought out: rubber on the edges and felt in the center. This gives good grip on both grass and wet rock. Unfortunately there is no grip between the sole and the boot! Within a few trips this started happening: the rubber lost its hold on the boot.
Rubber looses grip
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Changing felt - The felt often lasts significantly shorter than the boots and changing it is a job that many anglers have tried. Worn down felt is a thing you will have to expect. And good boots should last you at least one or two changes of felt - preferably more.
Changing felt
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Rusty Chotas - The Chota boots are amongst the most comfortable boots I have owned, but they were not constructed to endure my use. I have worn them in salt and fresh water, always rinsed them when I returned home and kept them as dry as possible. Still they slowly came apart, and as the inner soles and lining started coming off (right), I found the rusty remains of the \\\
Rusty Chotas
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Coming apart - These Chota boots are dead! As you can see the upper material has given in in the rim along the sole and the boot is slowly \
Coming apart
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Cracked, broken and rusty - This is a detail shot of the inner soles and the steel reinforcement that were in my Chotas. As it is obvious they didn\'t take the abuse that wading boots have to endure.
The inner soles were glued to the inside of the boot, but came loose during my first season.
Cracked, broken and rusty
 
I will return to the first items, but certainly take my part of the blame: I do misuse my wading boots and offer them few chances to survive with my combination of rough use and lack of maintenance.
But on the other hand I have had the aforementioned pair of leather hiking boots for more than ten years, and even though they haven't seen salt water, they have seen a lot of action, rain, snow, rocks, dust and long hikes - and still look very much like the day I bought them. And I never did much to maintain them.

I want my wading boots to be able to do the same.

My Chota era
I inherited a pair of already well-worn Simms boots as a replacement for the disintegrated Grub Creeks. They had been repaired a couple of times already, and were just a passing phase until I had to get some new boots.
The Simms' were also leather and as you know: leather will crack. In the end the rings and eyes for the laces could no longer be replaced when they rusted. There was no leather left to punch the replacements into.

In this period a new brand had emerged on the market: Chota. These new boots had some very pleasing specifications, and I got myself a pair that was specially designed for walking and wading. The prime characteristic of those boots was a combined rubber and felt sole. The felt was rimmed with a narrow rubber edge for better traction on non-rocky surfaces.
This very rim was the first thing to let go. It simply loosened from the boot and wound up as a free-floating ring of rubber. I returned the boots as was informed that there had been an error in the gluing in that batch.

The best it seemed
I traded them for a pair of unstudded full felt soled boots, which were amongst the best wading boots I ever had.
These boots had several things working for them: the leather was treated in a way that left it soft even after having dried after a trip. They were lightweight, yet sturdy enough for some medium hard trekking.
The boots had no metal parts that would rust - or so it seemed. And the laces were a brilliant system of elastic speed laces - a system that my fishing friends and I have adapted for many other boots since then.

But the trees don't grow into the sky it appears, because there were problems "under the hood" in these boots.

Deep rust
First of all they also had a construction problem for people like me, who glue new replacement soles on their boots. The felt soles were worn down after a year or so, and I removed the worn down soles and glued new ones on. Which only meant that more severe problems had a chance to emerge, the worst being that I had cut some pretty important stitching while changing the soles, meaning that the main sole and upper leather separated. The second worst being that the leather finally started to crack. The boots fell apart.
Coming apart, the boots revealed some fundamental problems: the metal parts placed inside the soles to stiffen the boots, were rusting. And not only rusting like in stained, but literally dissolving and breaking up into pieces.

It also seemed that not only the leather was weakened, but the rubbery parts in the boots were also cracking up and falling apart. The boots died a very dignified death, and were amongst the best I've tried.

Flats boots style
I have two pairs of wading boots, which a radically different: a pair of Bare neoprene flats boots, and a pair of Vision copies of the Teeny style wading shoe.
The first ones are really great for their purpose, which is wading tropical flats, but also have their limits. They will not work as boots for waders.

  
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Teeny style zipper - These boots are radically different from other wading boots I\\\'ve owned. They close in the back with a zipper and a Velcro strap - an excellent system even though the zipper does take a beating with a lot of contact with sand and rocks.
Teeny style zipper
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Lousy glue job on Vision boots - Vision has done a very bad job of copying these Teeny wading boots. The soles are stitched on and within a season I wore through the stitches. To make it even worse, the soles were hardly glued at all, and as soon as the stitches gave in, the soles started coming off. Notice how clean the felt soles are. As I have written elsewhere, the soles must be drenched in glue in order to hold. These barely ever touched glue.
Lousy glue job on Vision boots
 
The Vision's - which are very accurate copies of the Jim Teeny Wading Shoe - are strange creatures. They are not pretty. Made from some gray artificial leathery material combined with neoprene and with no laces, but a zipper in the back - much like the flats boots, actually.
They are very comfortable, although a bit difficult to get into and zip. The zipper gets a severe beating when you wade on rocks, and that has left them both a bit hard to close. Salt residues can be kept down with zipper oil and I have managed to maintain them in working condition.

I have had to resole the boots once, but my gluejob seems to have done it: the boots have now lasted me more than four years. It is not the boots I wear on every trip, but I use them at least once or twice a month.

The Visions are the wading boots which I have had the longest time. They are showing signs of wear, but seem to have many years left in them yet.

Scierra
My latest boots have been a pair of Danish Scierra boots, which are classical leather boots with laces and full felt soles with spikes. They are very comfortable, but a bit on the heavy side, which might bother some people.
They only have one big drawback: during the year or so I've had them, the soles have fallen off once on both boots and twice on one of them. In one year! That is just downright unacceptable.
I can blame myself for the second time of course, since I glued on the soles myself, but the first time was the result of another initially bad gluejob from the factory.

 

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Another one bites the dust - This Scierra boot has now lost the felt sole twice: once shortly after I acquired the boots and once again recently - after I personally glued the old soles back on. Two bad glue jobs! The soles are far from worn down yet, and will be glued back on again in order to try to save these in many other ways fine boots.
Another one bites the dust
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Unchangeable spikes in the sole - These spikes cannot be removed or changed without removing the felt sole from the boot. The wide disc on the back side of each spike prevents it from being unscrewed or pulled through the felt.
Unchangeable spikes in the sole
 
 
Back to square one
My problems with the Scierra's - one currently without a felt sole - has made me return to "the scene of the crime". A few of years ago I bought my third, cheap pair of Chinese canvas boots at The Danish Fly Festival. The model is exactly like the first ones I bought in California way back. These new ones were even cheaper and only set me back 200 Danish Kroners or about USD 40.-. My kind of bargain!

I will wear them and the Vision's while I'm waiting for some manufacturer to produce my perfect wading boots.

 

 

 

  
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A shower - All boots should be rinsed under fresh tap water or in a clean stream no matter whether they are used for fresh or salt water. The rinsing followed by a slow drying will prolong their lives significantly.
A shower
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Gravel gueards - If your waders don\'t have built-in gravel guards, consider acquireing a separate pair like these from Simms. They keep sand and small stones from entering the boots and damaging them and the waders.
Gravel gueards
 

Falling apart

As you can see from the stories and pictures on this page, I have had several types of breakdowns with my boots. I can categorize them in some rough groups.

Small failures:

  • laces braking
  • rust stains on metal parts
  • studs wearing down
These problems can largely be ignored, and will be

Medium failures:

  • rings and hooks rusting severely
  • felt soles partly detaching in corners and on edges
  • felt heels loosing their grips and falling off
These are minor things that can be left alone with no mentionable effect, but also can be repaired.

Larger failures:

  • rings and hooks breaking or falling off
  • upper "leather" cracking
  • inner fabric or leather/suede lining wearing through
  • middle sole cracking
  • stiching breaking
  • whole soles loosing the grip or falling off
These are failures that in most cases cannot be ignored and have to be repaired in order to have the boots still working.

Critical failures:

  • upper "leather" breaking and falling apart - epecially where the boots bend and between sole and upper boot
  • middle soles loosing connection with upper boot
  • large sections of stitching giving up
  • internal structures breaking: heel cups, steel inserts in soles etc.
These are errors beyond repair and things that in most cases will leave the shoes useless.

 

What would I want from my boots?

Click your way through my wishlist

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Comfortable feet - Good wading boots are an important part of being comfortable by the water, but can be hard to find. They seem to wear down a lot faster than I find reasonable.
Comfortable feet
 
 
Materials that last
The wading boots do not have to breathe. The material does not have to feel comfortable against my skin. It just has to have the right combination of softness and stiffness to support my feet and yet feel comfortable.
And it has to be able to endure the dry-wet-dry-cycle that inevitably will be the fate of all wading boots.
There must be such a material out there somewhere. There must be... phuleeezze!

A good, classical shape
Now, shoemakers have been making great hiking and mountaineering shoes and boots for hundreds of years, and you should think that wading boot makers were able to draw on the experience from these traditions to make similarly comfortable and stable wading boots.
Let's see boots, which can support our ankles, be comfortable to wear and have stitching where it's needed and nowhere else. Another modest wish if you ask me...

A thought-through construction
Soles have been changed on good boots for ages. The upper part of high quality footwear will outlast several generations of soles. And felt soles will be worn down really fast - sometimes within a season.
So manufactor the boots in a way that makes changing the soles easy. Realize that this is a part of the life cycle of a wading boot, and do not sew the felt onto the boot, or make the stitching go through several layers including the felt.
And offer ample supplies of precut felt and plenty good glue for replacement - or even a factory resoling service.

No metal
Water and metal is a bad combination. Even fresh water will eventually make metal draw rust or oxidize and unless the boots are extremely well maintained and thoroughly rinsed and dried after each trip, most metal parts will stain, some will then rust and a few will disintegrate completely.
Replace them with plastic, carbon or some neat space age material, which will outlast even the longest living angler.

Anatomy of a boot

 

 

What I want

Click on the picture to the left or the items below to see what I want from the different parts of a boot.

 

Wading boots story all over

 
Sources

My Wading Jacket Blues - the first epos in this series
Changing felt soles on your wading boots - a DIY on felt

Chota: An excellent page with some really nice products and an online store with direct purchasing. Their wading boots are amongst the best I have tried. More on them here.
Vision: Unfortunately Vision does not produce the copy of the Teeny type wading boots any more, but they have four other models.
Jim Teeny: Of course carries the original Jim Teeny Wading Shoe.
Scierra: The boots can be seen directly here
Simms: Has some of the most acclaimed wading gear, which includes a host of wading boots.
Patagonia: Has a large selection of outdoors gear including waders and wading boots.
Cabela's: Of course this big supplier has plenty wading boots. And they do carry the original Jim Teeny Wading Shoe .

 

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User comments
From: gm oconnell · goconnell347·at·hotmail.com  Link
Submitted July 19th 2009

patagonia's river walkers are horrible. I fish mostly freestone streams and hike in w boots quite often. after approx 40 days, the boots fell apart, an eyelet detached, the uppers literally disintegrated, and a felt sole fell off. So, I don't know what you are smoking, but it's either really good or you wade around in sand at night.

As for aqua stealth soles, tried them as well on a bean boot, and they are downright dangerous. Like sneakers on ice.


From: Tracy Apuli · crazyhorse178466·at·aol.com  Link
Submitted January 9th 2009

I have a question for you guys out there, my husband and I love to hunt duck and goose, well he has a pair of waders that the boots are terrible on, but the waders themselves are awesome, there ribbed so they don't rip and are super thick. The thing is he wants to replace the whole entire boot on them. How do you think he should go about this, were asking for suggestions, if you have any?


From: Gabe · slipangle2·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted March 11th 2008

Brian,
I've been contemplating the same customization; apply a set of Aquastealth rubber soles to my old Weinbrenners. Still looking for a place that will sell me a pair of replacement Aquastealth soles so I can try it. That just MIGHT be the ultimate boot!
Gabe


From: brian morrison · pbmorrison·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted May 2nd 2007

I have a pair of Weinbrenner's and was thinking about replacing the worn out felt with an aquastealth sole. Has anyone done this?


From: Adam D. Miller · amiller·at·missionequityproperties.com  Link
Submitted October 26th 2006

I have found the best wading boot to be made by Patagonia, and the model name is the Riverwalker. I had the old version for 2 years and the felt just started to seperate so I brought them into the Patagonia store and they replaced them immediately, no questions asked. I have had the new, improved version for 2 more years and I think there about as close to perfect as you can get. They don't shrink, they are very lightweight and durable (I hike alot to get away from the crowds in Colorado), they contain no metal and they can usually be tightened up with one pull of the laces. Reading your article it sounds like you're looking for this boot. I would give the Patagonia Riverwalker (mine has felt soles w/ studs) my highest endorsement. I really have no complaints about them whatsoever.


From: Gabe · slipangle2·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted October 26th 2006

Blues is right. It is amazing no one has come up with a bullet-proof, long lasting wading boot. I've tried a lot of them and none of them seem to compare with the 35 year old Weinbrenner "factory seconds" my dad bought me back in the late 70s. I still have those boots and have re-felted them at least 5 times! The uppers are still intact and the brass eyelets still in place. I grew up fishing out west but recently my needs changed. I moved to Cape Cod where we do a lot of walking on sand. I decided I needed to go to a composite rubber sole, felt wasn't needed here.

So I looked for boots with Aquastealth soles, having read good things about them. I order a pair of Simms L2s and was sorely disappointed. Simms makes the best waders on earth, right there in Bozeman, but their boots are made in China. TOO tight in the toebox. Why they used that narrow toe last to build these on is beyond me. Then, I thought I'd discovered the ultimate boot for saltwater applications. I ordered a pair of L.L. Bean River Treads with Aquastealth soles. Great fit, comfortable, wide toe box, synthetic leather construction, rubber toe bumper, light , etc. I was happy. The Aquastealth soles have good stick on rocks and walk well over miles of sandy flats. I was contented for about five months, which is when I sent them back.

If Beans had spec-ed these boots with solid brass or bronze lacing hardware, I'm sure I'd still be happily wearing them. But they used cast pot metal lacing eyelets, plated to look like bronze, and they very quickly were eaten away by the corrosive salt environment, and I am ANAL about washing all my gear down in fresh water after each outing. When I saw the corrosion process begin I even started brushing off the eyelets with a weak acid solution, vinegar in water, to try to counteract the degradation. No help. Four months into a new pair of boots one of the eyelets rotted completely away, and most others were on their way out too.

So, I recently purchased a NEW pair of Weinbrenners, but elected to go with the felt as I wanted the old Borger boot and not the newer, nylon Propex boot with the rubber sole. I made the mistake of ordering the "Professional" model Borger, however, thinking two layers of felt was better than one! RIGHT!...until you get them wet. These boots, when wet, weigh a TON, as all that extra felt soaks up lots of water! Also, Weinbrenner couldn't seem to leave well enough alone and replaced the standard synthetic leather tongue with that new nylon material and it is a poor design, leaving lumps and folds in the material when laced. They also added that "shark skin" toe cap which I find doesn't flex at all during walking. They still use SOLID brass lacing hardware though, (I think) which SHOULD hold up in the salt. Knock on wood.

Still looking. Anybody out there find the great saltwater wading boot?


From: Rob Kolakowski  Link
Submitted June 15th 2006

Martin will probably be waiting a long time for someone to make what he wants. He needs to be aggresive in his persute of good gear and talk to the people that can make it for him. It may not be practical for him to start his own business, but he may be able to connect with an existing one. He has thought a lot about gear design and may consider working in the field. Like I have stated before, Martin's ideas are good.


From: Bob · buonaccorsi·at·astound.net  Link
Submitted January 20th 2006

Your boot article amazed me. I have had the same Borger wading boots for more than 20 yrs. They look worn but the only thing that has ever worn out is the felt which can be resoled. They stay soft and the plastic-leather will never wear out in my lifetime. Only drawback is that they don't come with arch supports. If they were lost I would replace them with their exact replica without a second thought.


From: jk · klesch3·at·earthlink.net  Link
Submitted September 8th 2005

The best boots ever were the old Danner's. I go out 35-40 times per year on freestone streams that include very rough steelheard water and have found a way to still get Danner's.
Buy a pair of Danner hunting boots and have the sole ground down. Put felt on the sole, a good shop shop can do this for you, and you are set up. My current pair is going on six years. Cabela's has the Danner hunting boot.
The boot is solidly made of cordura and leather and lasts and lasts. Because they are a hunting boot, they are great for all the hiking that occurs when getting from one steelhead to another.
This is an expensive solution but they last.


From: Anonymous  Link
Submitted September 4th 2005

You haven't tried L. L. Bean aquastealth studded?


From: Scott W. Nelson · swn·at·hotmail.com  Link
Submitted September 4th 2005

I am a Yank who lives and fly-fishes the western U.S almost for thirty years now. The rivers and streams are rough, tough, and brawling. Sometimes I even have to use chains, and always I use a wading staff and do not take chances while wading. My wading boot? Weinbrenner's original Borger Boot - made by a commercial work boot manufacturer. They are heavy, felt soled with studs and a protected box toe! Not made for dainty spring creeks. But, they last for years without any bruised ankles!


From: Stephen Asher · sasher1·at·mindspring.com  Link
Submitted August 31st 2005

I have travelled the same road. Perhaps 20 pairs later, I have found the answer: Loop all leather wading boots. SWA



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