Wading boots are the unsung heroes of the outside world. Any fisherman, or any outdoorsman who works in the water, needs a good pair of wading boots to get by. What if, one day, you forget your best wading boots and proceed to hook a big one out on the river? You could lose the catch of a lifetime.
Such is the importance of wading boots, but they’re essential for your safety, too. Rivers and rapids, where wading boots are most important, can be slippery, full of fast-moving currents, and peppered with uneven or invisible footholds. If you’re not wearing a pair of shoes that will provide you with a safe, stable grip, it’s best not to venture into the water at all.
Of course, as with any shoe, wading boots vary in terms of quality, style, and fit. In the sections below, we’ll go through several of the best wading boots, explain what’s important to look out for, what wading boots are made of, and more.
Our Top Picks
- Best Choice Overall: Orvis Men’s Ultralight Wading Boot
- Best Premium Product: Korkers Devil’s Canyon Wading Boot
- Best Value Product: Frogg Toggs Hellbender Wading Shoe
What Are Wading Boots?
Wading boots are boots that are designed to accomplish one thing: to keep your feet safe. Modern wading boots aren’t designed to keep water out. Instead, they’re permeable to water. This lets them submerge quickly, dry quickly, and pass safely through the water.
Of course, any boots that are meant to get wet regularly need to be sturdy and well-made, but wading boots add the need for stability and grip onto that. Swimming shoes, for example, are not designed to provide the same level of grip. They don’t typically support your ankles, and many can slide off your feet easily. Both scenarios are recipes for disaster while out fishing on a fast-moving river.
Often, anglers will choose to wear sock waders underneath their wading boots. These socks are hydrophobic, keeping the angler’s feet dry and warm while wading through the water. However, socks alone don’t provide enough traction out on a river.
Wading boots typically have one of several types of soles. These include:
- Rubber soles
- Felt soles
- Cleated soles
Rubber soles are more durable than felt soles, and they’re also suitable for hiking through the woods if you need to trek out to your fishing spot. Rubber soles are easier to clean, and they’re also superior for muddy and mucky conditions.
Felt-soled boots, on the other hand, are better for slippery, mossy rocks. While felt soles won’t last nearly as long as rubber soles, they provide better traction on slippery and unseen surfaces. However, please make note that felt soles are not legal in all areas; since felt tends to dry slowly, as most fabrics do, they can carry organisms between bodies of water, causing unforeseen harm to native ecosystems.
As such, before purchasing any felt-soled boots in this guide, make sure they’re legal to use where you live or where you intend to use them. Additionally, it’s always good to practice smart ecological habits if you’re crossing between multiple bodies of water. If you plan to fish at numerous places in succession, either pack an extra set of felt shoes or bring rubber ones. Rinse rubber-soled waders off before using them in a new body of water, too.
Wading boots with cleated soles aren’t technically a new type of sole on their own. Instead, these cleats are often added to existing rubber or felt soles to improve traction. Some can be screwed into the soles permanently, while others hug the outside of the shoe and can be removed when you’re finished with them. These cleats usually come in plastic, metal, rubber, or a mix.
Why Wading Boots?
Wading boots are very similar in construction and function to hiking boots. As such, you can technically use hiking boots as wading boots if you want to. Both footwear types are excellent for supporting the ankles, and they both grip surfaces very well. However, there are a few specific reasons why this is a bad idea.
The foremost reason is that hiking boots are not made to be submerged the way waders are. While waders are meant to be permeable, breathable, and quick-drying, hiking boots are not. While hiking boots would likely be okay for one evening out on the water, they would not dry off nearly as quickly as waders, and you might be stuck wearing or carrying back wet shoes.
That’s not even to mention how soaking your hiking boots would affect them! While some cloth hiking boots would likely survive the ideal (if maybe a bit smellier afterward), a pair of leather of suede hiking boots would be ruined.
Wading boots are also designed to fit your feet well. When fully laced and put on, wading boots are meant to stay tight to your feet. If they were to fit loosely, it would dramatically increase your chances of rolling your ankles or otherwise injuring yourself.
Additionally, wading boots go a step further by tailoring to the water conditions you’ll encounter. While the hiking-boot-style is the most secure, you can also purchase boots that are lighter and give less protection for calm waters.
Wading boots are specifically made of materials that either repel or resist water. They’ll be naturally lightweight and quick-drying when you do get out of the water at the end of the day. A pair of boots that aren’t intended for wading will be waterlogged and heavy at the end of the day instead.
Sizing Wading Boots
While wading boots are supposed to fit snugly, resist the temptation to go a size down. It’s more common to size up your waders instead. This is because the wading socks that you’ll be wearing underneath are bulky, too. Additionally, if you’re wading in cold conditions, you’ll need even more space for thermal socks underneath.
As such, it’s best to size your wading boots at least half a size up from other similar boots that you wear. One full size up is even better. If you can, bring your wading socks with you while trying on shoes so you can get a good idea of what fit is best for you.
All in all, there are several things you should keep in mind when considering the best wading boots for you. They are as follows:
- Level of ankle support (proportional to the roughness of the river and likelihood of slipping)
- Water retention
- Sole material (and whether it is legal wherever you plan to wear them)
Our Favorite Wading Boots
There are many different varieties, qualities, and looks of wading boots on the market, so we’ve made sure to present a good range of them here. In the following sections, we’ll go over the very best wading boots that we could find. With any luck, you’ll be able to find something that suits you as well.
Orvis is a quality outerwear company that manufactures several of the waders that we’ll feature in this guide. The first of these is the Orvis Boa Pivot boot. The upper of this boot is synthetic microfiber, which sheds and repels water well, while the outsole is rubber. The boot also features several areas of mesh that allow water to flow in and out of the shoe easily.
This shoe has extra rubber shields along the outside of the upper to protect from scratching, puncturing, and other hazards. This protective rubber coating extends up and past the rubber midsole and onto the microfiber upper itself. The layer is located around the toe and heel area, in places where damage is more likely to happen to the shoe. This results in a longer-lived product.
The goal of the company creating this boot was to make a shoe that was comfortable, safe, and durable. This shoe features a unique lacing system, too. This Boa Closure System is operated by a dial and features stainless steel laces for durability and longevity. While these are some of the more expensive shoes in our lineup, they’re so packed full of functional and convenient features that the price seems fair.
These boots also come pre-prepared with holes for cleats, too. While this means you’ll need to use the cleats designed to go with this shoe, it makes it easy and safe to add cleats without compromising the integrity of the shoe’s sole.
Unfortunately, the Boa system on this shoe does need to be treated with care. The laces are loosened and tightened by a mechanical dial. As such, if sand or debris gets into the dial mechanism, it may no longer be operational. While you should be able to prevent this from happening with proper care and protection, it’s an important note to keep in mind.
All in all, this wading boot is an excellent option for the hardcore river angler and the beginner alike. The lacing system is high-tech yet easy to use, and the matching cleats make cleating these shoes easy and quick to put on. This is an extremely well-rounded shoe with good support, excellent convenience features, and good flow.
- Sturdy with good support
- Extra leather shielding
- Matching, easy-install cleats
- Dial-based lace system
- Dial system requires extra care
This wading boot from Korkers is the first felt-soled boot in our lineup. Instead of microfiber, these shoes use a fabric and leather construction that allows water to flow in and out of the boots. These shoes don’t use a fancy lace-dial system as the Orvis Boa shoes do, but the laces they do come with are sturdy and robust.
The best part of Korkers’ shoes is the swappable soles that they use. Their wading boots use a proprietary OmniTrax 3.0 Interchangeable Sole System that allows the wearer to choose what kind of sole they want to use at any given time. While this system can become expensive if you need to buy new inserts all the time, it gives you the flexibility to choose a felt or rubber shoe bottom at the drop of a hat.
This swappable system also eliminates the need to bring extra pairs of wading boots on your fishing trip. If you need access to both rubber and felt bottoms, for example, you would typically need to bring two pairs of shoes. With a Korkers’ shoe, however, you no longer need to do so. We feature several more models of Korkers’ shoes in this guide that feature the same system.
These Korkers shoes are made with “hydrophobic materials” that repel water and assist in fast drying. These shoes also have protective rubber shields, like the previous boot, but they only exist around the toe and heel areas for support and shielding.
In theory, the Korkers’ swappable system sounds excellent. However, it all depends on how reliable and secure the system is in practice. If your swappable soles end up falling out all the time, the shoe immediately becomes less valuable, of course. However, if it works well, it ends up providing two shoes in one, making it an excellent value.
The faux-leather-and-cloth outer portions of these shoes are what differentiate them from the other Korkers shoes in our lineup. While this particular set comes with both rubber and felt soles included, you can buy the boots with only one included sole type for cheaper, or you can purchase additional sole types, such as studded, after the fact.
- Swappable sole system is like two shoes in one
- Sturdy footwear with good drainage
- Very comfortable
- Repels water
- Mid-weight option
- Sole-replacement system may be gimmicky rather than helpful
This wading boot from Frogg Toggs sits at an excellent midpoint between shoes and boots. Rather than being a tall, constrictive boot, these are a bit lower in the back while retaining a tall shield in front of the ankle for protection. The result is a shoe that’s still incredibly supportive while also feeling a bit closer to a shoe than a boot.
While these shoes have laces, not a Boa system, they have something called “speed laces.” These laces and hooks are made to be faster to lace up and more natural to tighten than regular laces and eyelets. As such, you can still get a good, quick fit without needing the Boa system.
The exterior of these shoes is made of PVC and a breathable, water-permeable mesh. As with the other waders in this lineup, this makes them excellent for allowing water to pass through quickly. The midsole of this shoe is made with polyurethane.
This specific boot is has a felt outsole, but Frogg Toggs carries rubber and studded shoes, too, of course. While these have no interchangeable soles, this means that the felt sole is more secure. However, when the felt sole wears out, the shoe isn’t done, either – simply replace it with a new felt sole and keep going.
Like other wading shoes in this lineup, the Hellbender has toe and heel caps for protection and stability. These shoes have a decent spec list behind them, but they don’t stand out in any particular way, either. If there’s anything that makes them stand out, it’s their price, which is on the lower end of what we feature in this lineup.
Besides the excellent cost-to-value ratio, this shoe really shines based on its smaller size. While some fishermen and women will prefer waders with a higher ankle, these tend to be more comfortable and easier to move around in. They make both a great starter shoe for the beginner and a great value shoe for the experts out there. However, as with any lower-priced shoe, watch out for gaps in manufacturing quality.
- Good price to value ratio
- PVC uppers
- Good midpoint between shoes and boots
- Replaceable felt outsole
- Lower price may indicate lower quality
This waterproof wading boot from Simms has a rubber sole. However, the difference between these shoes and the other rubber-soled wading boots we’ve featured in this lineup so far is that these shoes don’t feature any mesh areas for water flow. Instead, these feature an all-synthetic-leather-upper with rubber support patches.
The reason for this is because these shoes are made to handle icy, cold conditions more than the other shoes we’ve looked at so far. However, despite that, they’re also made to be comfortable and suitable for wearing all day. The neoprene lining in these shoes is made to be comfortable and friendly to the sensitive areas of your feet and ankles that may rub and chafe.
With such high ankles, these boots have excellent ankle support, which many users will appreciate. However, these rubber boots are not particularly useful in slippery conditions. It’s best to use cleats with them if you plan to use them on wet rock beds. Alternatively, you can purchase the same boot model with felt outsoles instead.
While these shoes don’t have much in the way of visible drainage holes, they do still have surprisingly fast drying time. This may be because the synthetic leather outside keeps most water out in the first place. While other wearers might prefer mesh boots because of their breathability and fast-drying, these shoes undoubtedly hold up to abuse better. They should last longer than a cloth shoe would, too.
All in all, these wading boots make a strong, protective addition to anyone’s collection, especially in conditions that might tear or puncture a cloth or mesh boot. However, you must add cleats to them if you plan to wear them in slippery areas. Alternatively, you can purchase the felt version instead for a slip-proof grip.
- Excellent scratch and impact protection
- Good ankle support
- Felt or rubber option
- Rubber sole has grip issues without cleats
- Drainage is slower than mesh boots
These Encounter wading boots are yet another option from Orvis, though this time without the Boa system included. These shoes don’t have speed laces included, either, but that shouldn’t bother most wearers. Conspicuously, these shoes are missing a rubber heel cap for protection, though the toe area has an extra-large one.
These shoes are felt-bottomed, but they also come in a rubber-bottomed version for those who prefer rubber. These shoes also come in both men’s and women’s versions for the female angler, too. Like the other Orvis wading boots we looked at before, these feature the same optional screw-in cleats that are proprietary to Orvis. They work quite well, too, though they’re a tad expensive.
This is another fully-synthetic shoe, just like the Simms boot above. While this shoe doesn’t have any mesh areas, the synthetic material it’s made of allows water in quickly. While nothing can compare to the drying speed of a mesh shoe, these have the advantage of extra warmth and protection instead.
Interestingly, Orvis markets these as an entry-level shoe. While the cost of this shoe isn’t really entry-level, it may be worth it for the Orvis name. Their wader boot quality is long-lasting and strong, so it may be worth paying a bit extra for a longer-lasting shoe.
These shoes have a tall, padded ankle collar, just like several of the other options in our lineup. This addition means these shoes support the ankles well, too.
Do keep in mind that Orvis has designed these shoes to support sock waders already. As such, you may not need to size up with these boots. However, this all depends on your feet, how many layers of socks you wear, and whether you add your own insoles, of course.
- Comfortable and versatile
- Excellent grip with optional cleats
- Quality, long-lasting shoes
- “Entry-level” shoe
- Expensive for an entry-level shoe
- No speed-lacing options
While the previous entry may have been a somewhat questionable answer to entry-level boots, this wading shoe from Chota is a much more middle-of-the-pack option. While these lack the ankle support that the above boots have, these wading boots are still sturdy enough to get the job done.
If you’re looking for bells and whistles, these shoes from Chota are not the place to look. They’re durable, supportive, and reliable, but they don’t have any extra features that might drive their price up unnecessarily. For example, these shoes are laced with elastic instead of true laces. While it’s easy enough to replace the elastic with something more durable, this cost-cutting mentality might bother some people.
That being said, it’s this very same cost-conscious view that makes these a durable option both for entry-level fishermen, women, and experts alike. While these shoes are still made with genuine leather uppers, they also feature mesh ports for air and water to flow through easily.
You might be wondering why there’s a pair of wading boots made of leather, which is notoriously weak to water. While the water will wear out the finish and weaken the leather on these shoes over time, leather is still an incredibly sturdy material. While it doesn’t dry out as quickly as synthetics (and it tends to shrink a bit, too), it still makes for an excellent wading shoe if you know its limitations.
Like the best shoes in our lineup, this budget shoe has both an ankle and a toe protector, though one is leather and one is not. Additionally, these shoes come with studs already installed, though these wading boots tend to last so long that the studs wear out. It may be better to purchase studs that don’t wear out as quickly instead of buying the same replacement ones, however.
If you’d prefer not to have felt-bottom wading boots, these come in a rubber-bottomed variety, too. That choice makes this shoe an excellent all-around pick for anyone looking for an entry-level wading shoe.
- Leather or fleece option
- Comes with pre-installed cleats
- Leather can shrink and fade over time
- Cheap laces
Next up is another swap-friendly wading boot from Korkers. These boots have an ultra-high ankle guard that contrasts against the other options in our lineup. While this high collar might irritate some people, it does provide a significant amount of support.
This Devil’s Canyon shoe is also our second wading boot with the Boa system built-in. As we explained, the Boa system allows you to lace and unlace your waders with the twist of a dial rather than by tying them. This system is not only superior in terms of longevity and tightness; it’s quicker and more convenient, too.
However, as we also mentioned, the Boa system is prone to mechanical issues, such as from sand and particulate clogging the dial. While the stainless steel laces themselves will stand the test of time, the mechanical parts are undeniably a weak point. However, this is the price you pay for a more convenient lacing system.
While these shoes don’t have any visible mesh areas to let water flow through, the synthetic upper material repels water. Any water that enters the shoe can exit via channels in the midsole, just like with the other Korkers shoes in our lineup. Whether this is a superior drainage system is entirely up to your opinion, however.
These shoes feature rubberized toe and ankle protectors for support and guarding. However, the main difference between these boots and the other Korkers options in our lineup is the soles it comes with. Instead of a fleece option, this boot comes with a plain rubber option and a studded rubber option. However, if you want to use felt with this boot, you can purchase it separately, and it will also work.
Something to note about these shoes is that they’re likely the sturdiest option in our lineup. As such, they’re excellent options for saltwater wading where thinner mesh shoes may not hold up.
- High-quality, sturdy material
- Suitable for saltwater
- Comfortable and lightweight
- Swappable outsoles
- Height may bother some people
The last Korkers option in our lineup is the Buckskin wading boot. The difference between this model and the two before it is that this is a medium-weight model – a type in between the Devil’s Canyon and the Greenback. Also, unlike the other two models, this shoe has rubber side panels, just like our first wading boot. These extra side panels help protect the wading boot from punctures, slashes, and other wear and tear.
While this model does not have a Boa lacing system equipped, it does feature the iconic swappable insole that Korkers shoes are known for. These Buckskin boots also have a unique design compared to the other Korkers boots in this lineup, since they feature synthetic leather, rubber, and textile material, too.
As such, these shoes are made with the same hydrophobic materials as other Korkers shoes. Water is made to flow down through the boot and out the midsole channels built into the sole. Included with this shoe are felt outsoles and rubber outsoles, so you can swap them out as you see fit. Alternatively, you can purchase any other outsole from Korkers to use in this shoe instead, such as the studded rubber version.
Unfortunately, while the interchangeable sole idea is excellent in theory, it’s a bit lacking in practice. The soles tend to come off when they get stuck in mud or on sharp objects. This can be remedied by gluing or taping the soles in place, but that may also make them more difficult to remove when you need to change them, too.
All in all, while the swappable soles feature is a bit on the gimmicky side, it’s an excellent idea in theory. If you can find a method to keep the soles firmly in place until you need to change them, these are genuinely excellent wading shoes (all three models we featured on this list). However, until either Korkers fixes the issue or a consumer finds a better solution, they may be more annoying than convenient.
- Interchangeable soles
- Strong construction
- Good ankle support
- Full rubber side shields
- Interchangeable sole system could use some improvement
These wading boots from Simms are a shorter, pared-down version of the ones we looked at earlier. The Tributary shoe doesn’t reach as high on the ankle, and it’s a more affordable shoe, too. In fact, it’s much closer to a wading “shoe” than a wading “boot.”
If you’re looking for a lighter, less expensive version of the Simms boot we looked at before, that’s mostly what you’ll get with this shoe. This version is smaller (and thus, more lightweight) and very comfortable.
However, it’s worth noting that, without a good deal of ankle support, this shoe tends to be floppy and clunky. As such, it’s not ideal for navigating rocky bottoms with slippery footholds. As with all of Simms’ footwear, this is available in a felt version as well, but that doesn’t change the clunkiness of the shoe, unfortunately.
However, that being said, these wading boots work as they should: they pass water relatively easily, dry quickly, and they protect your feet from slippage, sharp objects, and other underwater hazards. As a bonus, these shoes are actually rather sharp-looking, as well. Out of all of the options in our lineup, these shoes are the most attractive street shoe to wear.
Additionally, wearers may find a shorter shoe such as this one more comfortable to wear while navigating trails and such. Since tall heel collars tend to restrict the movement of your ankle, they can chafe, make climbing difficult, or both.
One solution that might make this a better shoe would be to increase the flexibility of the sole. As it is, it’s rather rigid, making it challenging to grip rocks and other surfaces. A more flexible shoe would go a long way towards banishing clunkiness and improving grip strength.
- Smaller profile wading “shoe”
- Works as a street shoe, too
- Less ankle support
- A bit on the clunky side
Our last entry is another from Orvis, and another lightweight, low-profile wading “shoe.” This shoe advertises the function and durability of a wading boot without the bulk and the weight, and we believe that in this case. Unlike the Simms Tributary boot from the last section, this boot is grippy and flexible, too.
With this shoe, we’re back to mesh shoes. This means that while this shoe isn’t as good in freezing conditions – you would probably want a taller wading boot for cold conditions anyway – it’s excellent for allowing water and air to pass through. As such, this shoe moves through the water easily, and it dries quickly afterward, too.
As a low-profile boot, these tend to run a bit small, so it’s a good idea to go at least one size up when choosing these. Some wearers may need to go two sizes up, especially if they intend to wear thick socks (or multiple pairs).
Because these are a low-profile wading boot, they don’t have the same level of ankle support as taller options. As such, if you have weak ankles, tend to trip and fall often, or are just worried about your stability, these may not be the shoes for you. However, support notwithstanding, these boots have excellent grip, even without cleats.
As with the other Orvis shoes in our lineup, these shoes come with a proprietary cleat system that’s very easy to install and use.
Despite their lightweight construction, these “wading shoes” are surprisingly durable. They can handle the wear and tear just as well as a heavier boot can. While the thinner material may not protect your feet as much, they’ll still be plenty for the majority of anglers.
All in all, as long as you keep in mind what this shoe is meant to do, it’s an excellent option. If you have your heart set on a low-profile shoe, this one deserves another look.
- Smaller profile
- Mesh areas for breathability
- Good grip and stability
- Less ankle support
- Less foot protection
In the end, all of the shoe options are this list are excellent choices for wading boots, but some stand out more than others. While each shoe has its niches, its strengths, and its weaknesses, some have more strengths or deficiencies than others.
The best all-around shoe on this list, we believe, is our last entry, the Orvis Men’s Ultralight Wading Boot. Because these boots are so lightweight and wearable, they’re easy for the beginner to get used to wearing, and expert anglers will appreciate the lightweight feel, too. While some might prefer a taller boot for more ankle support, this shoe is infinitely more wearable and accessible because of its shortened size.
Our favorite premium pick on this list is the Korkers Devil’s Canyon Wading Boot. This boot offers the ultimate in protection from both fresh and saltwater, and it comes with all the bells and whistles, too. While it may be too tall for some people, others will appreciate the extra support and protection it offers. The swappable outsole system, on the other hand, can be a bit frustrating in practice, but if you figure out the secret to it, it’s an innovative system.
Our budget pick from this list is, unsurprisingly, the Frogg Toggs Hellbender Wading Shoe. These shoes are easily the least expensive in our lineup, but they’re still a respectable, sturdy wading shoe. While they don’t have much in the way of bells and whistles, they make an attractive shoe that’s just the right size for budget-minded beginners and masters alike.
While these are our three favorites, don’t forget that all the entries on this list are excellent shoes that deserve recognition. You can’t go wrong with any of these options! If nothing on this list spoke to you, though, don’t be afraid to do some research into what might be the best wading boot for you. After all, we didn’t even touch on women’s wading boots, though several such styles exist on the market.