Wading Boot Gear Test: Top Rubber-Soled Wading Boots For 2012

As of the first of the year, Alaska has joined a growing list of states, including Vermont and Maryland, that have banned the use of felt-bottom wading shoes in an effort to control the spread of invasive species in its waters. Missouri joined those ranks on March 1, and more states are expected to do so by 2013. With the new regulations in place in many states and rapidly being adopted across the country, wading boot manufacturers are racing to design rubber soles that can compete with the proven performance of felt. While that may be a tall order, it's a demand that will eventually have to be met as the battle against invasive species in America's waterways wages on. We rounded up seven of the top rubber-soled wading boots currently on the market to see which has the most to offer anglers who either fish in states that now ban felt, or those who just want to do their part in preventing the spread of invasives.
L.L. Bean River Treads L.L. Bean's updated River Treads boot offered excellent support, was plenty sticky, and was super easy to get on and off. More important, these boots are specifically designed to not pick up hitchhikers like rock snot (didymo) and whirling disease. The lack of exposed threads, the slickness of the synthetic exterior, and even the unique pattern of the sole all contribute to making it more difficult for waterborne parasites to attach themselves to the shoe. The BOA twist knob is a joy to crank (and especially welcome in cold weather) and tightens the boot for a custom fit. You can add studs or spend $20 more on the studded version. Overall: ★★★★
Construction and Fit: A+
Stickiness: A-
Durability: A
Innovation: A
Price/Value: A
Weight (per pair): 3 lb. 8 oz.
Height: 6.5 in.
Price: $179
Final Word: The best all-around rubber-soled wading boot on the market.
Simms Guide Boot This boot provides ample support and comes with an aggressive cleat-stud kit. Its Vibram IdroGrip sole was the stickiest bottom in the test. The Guide Boot will hold up over several seasons of aggressive use, and the brass speed lace system allows for a snug fit. Quality materials--neoprene, nubuck leather, and rubber heel and toe guards--deliver comfort and protection. The heaviest boot in the test at just over 2 pounds, it will require a day or so to break in, but it is generously sized. Overall: ★★★★
Construction and Fit: A
Stickiness: A-
Durability: A
Innovation: B+
Price/Value: A
Weight (per pair): 4 lb. 1.8 oz.
Height: 8.25 in.
Price: $200
Final Word: Features the stickiest sole of all boots in the test.
Patagonia Rock Grip Delivered with a screw-stud kit, these boots are built like rock-climbing shoes. Although the proprietary sole was not as sticky as the Vibram soles in the test, these boots were easy to get on, laced up tightly, stayed in place, and offered the most protection. The Rock Grip's materials are non-absorbent and the boot is quick to drain water, so it's lightweight even when wet. Supportive and stoutly constructed, these boots will withstand plenty of abuse. Overall: ★★★★
Construction and Fit: A+
Stickiness: B
Durability: A
Innovation: A-
Price/Value: A-
Weight (per pair): 2 lb. 14.2 oz.
Height: 7.5 in.
Price: $179
Final Word: Offers the most foot protection; remarkably lightweight.
Redington Skagit Featuring one of the grippier non-Vibram soles, the Skagit was quick to slip on and had large pull straps that fit two fingers. The non-absorbent materials are lightweight, well stitched, and wrapped in a rubber rand for toe and heel protection. The metal lacing hardware is stout, and the tongue is generously padded and wide. Studs are not included, but they can be added. All things considered, these boots are a heck of a value at a single Benjamin. Overall: ★★★½
Construction and Fit: A
Stickiness: B+
Durability: A-
Innovation: B
Price/Value: A+
Weight (per pair): 3 lb. 3.2 oz.
Height: 7.5 in.
Price: $100
Final Word: Rugged materials and construction; best value in the test.
Cabela's Guidewear Pro Vibram A supportive boot even when traversing large, slippery rocks, Cabela's Guidewear employs a decently sticky Vibram sole (which does not accept studs, by the way). The boot's construction features a good amount of triple stitching, and a great footbed makes long days of standing, stalking, and walking a breeze. Easy to slip on, they were immediately comfortable, and the lace locks did an admirable job of holding the lacing in place. Overall: ★★★½
Construction and Fit: B+
Stickiness: A-
Durability: B
Innovation: B+
Price/Value: A-
Weight (per pair): 3 lb. 4.8 oz.
Height: 5 in.
Price: $100
Final Word: Comfort right out of the box, but we wish the sole took studs.
Korkers Redside As the only boot to use an impressively practical, interchangeable clip-on outsole, the Korkers easily earned the highest score for innovation. Unfortunately, their non-metal rubber sole was not very sticky when it came to sucking up to slick rocks. However, for a few more dollars, you can get an extra sole with metal studs. The boots did not require break-in time, were comfy, and had convenient pull-and-lock laces, but they were not very easy to slip into. Overall: ★★★½
Construction and Fit: B
Stickiness: B
Durability: B-
Innovation: A+
Price/Value: B+
Weight (per pair): 2 lb. 9 oz.
Height: 7.5 in.
Price: $110
Final Word: Love the swap-out soles, but spring for the studded option.
Frogg Toggs Anura When it comes to moss-covered stone, the Anura's rubber outsole just does not connect. On bare rock the grip was good, and if most of your wading is done over muddy and gravel-covered bottoms, this boot will do a great job at a very attractive price. The shoe's construction is sound, and the fit is better than expected. Structural highlights include a thick, comfortable tongue and a stitched sole that should prove quite durable over time. Overall: ★★½
Construction and Fit: B
Stickiness: C-
Durability: B-
Innovation: C+
Price/Value: B
Weight (per pair): 3 lb. 9.6 oz.
Height: 7.5 in.
Price: $80
Final Word: Good value for anglers who wade in non-stick environs.
How We Test: OL's Protocol Explained Trialed in Alaska during below-freezing temperatures, all boots were used to cross fast-moving streams, walk across logs, and navigate slippery, moss-covered rocks. Each boot was worn as a pair and then paired with the other boots in the test for simultaneous brand-to-brand comparisons. Other scoring criteria included how easy it was to pull the boots on and off, the ease of lacing, and the ability of the boots to tighten evenly across the foot. Support, comfort, and sizing were all factors. Special attention was also given to how much water the boots absorbed and how well and quickly they drained. About half the boots we tested came with the option to install studs or screws, but for consistency across the board, all boots were tested free of metal.