Most wading boots today are available with either felt or sticky rubber soles. Sticky rubber versions are sometimes slightly more expensive but well worth the cost as they are far more durable. Gone are the days when you have a perfectly good pair of boots, but the felt soles are shot. Rubber soles last the life of the boots (usually) and because they don't hold water they are cleaner in your car, at the riverside convenience store, or when you're getting in/out of a boat all day. They are also easier to clean to remove invasive aquatic nuisances. Rubber soles also have far better traction on snow, ice, mud, and wet grassy banks. If you have to hike anywhere, rubber soles are better. On round, moss-covered rocks in a river, felt offers better traction than rubber alone. However, rubber soles with metal studs, or rubber with Patagonia's aluminum bars, offer better traction than plain felt.
Hit the Road
The "best" boot for you depends on what kind of fishing you're likely to be engaged in. The best new boots on the market for (1) salt water, (2) women, (3) difficult wading conditions, and (4) lots of hiking, boating, or for easier wading.
Orvis Clearwater II $160
Orvis's newest wading boot has EcoTraX sticky rubber soles with a lug pattern highlighted with sharp edges intended to cut through mud, moss, and slime and provide better grip. And here's another great idea: The boots come with 20 pre-installed PosiGrip Screw-In Studs for added security. It's like buying chocolate chip cookies with the chocolate chips already in there. Why doesn't everyone do this? (Orvis also sells Shoe In Over Boot Stud Covers, which are like giant sandals you wear over your boots to protect the fiberglass hull against studs while inside a drift boat.) The boots are constructed from durable polyurethane and high-density nylon mesh so they are easy to clean and dry quickly.
Patagonia Ultralight $160
For long hikes with easy wading, driftboat fishing where you're in/out of the boat all day (or mostly in), and for long-range trips where weight limits on baggage are a concern, heavy boots can be a burden. There's a reason your favorite sneakers are so comfortable — they are incredibly light. Patagonia used this principle to create its Ultralight wading boots, and at just 38 ounces (size 10), you'll have less fatigue at the end of the day. The boots are made from quick-drying synthetic leather with screened mesh panels that drain water fast, and keep out sand and grit. The boots have the same outsoles as Patagonia's beefier Rock Grip wading boots, with a stiff polypropylene insole for a safe and sturdy base.
Redington Willow River $100
Redington's Willow River wading boots come in women's sizes 5 through 10. Our tester said the narrower footbed made them 'comfortable and light ' but with neoprene-padded ankle support and deep-draw lacing they are still 'work boots ' that can take you into rugged waters. The all-synthetic construction means the boots are quick-drying, and with a rubber rand and rubberized toe cap, both your feet and the boots will survive. The boots are available with a sticky rubber sole impregnated with crushed walnuts, or with a synthetic felt sole ($90). The rubber sole is stud-compatible and Redington recommends tungsten carbide Grip Studs (gripstuds.com), but other brands fit as well.
Simms OceanTek $200
Why should only freshwater anglers get good boots? The jetty at New Jersey's Barnegat Lighthouse is just as slick, wet, and mossy as the rocks along the Deschutes. And the coral heads and outcrops dotting the flats at Turneffe Atoll can tear through wimpy neoprene booties and leave you seriously injured. For situations like these, Simms OceanTek boots offer the ankle support and foot protection you need to tackle any saltwater wading situation. The boot has a full outside perimeter rubber rand, and a boat-friendly, nonmarking outsole with the same StreamTread pattern as on other Simms premium boots so you can add any Simms studs for extra traction. The boots have new extra-strong nylon laces for toughness against coral and breakwalls, and plastic, noncorrosive lacing hardware to endure the rigors of saltwater.