Sep 6, 2016

Simms Headwaters Boot Review

A solid boot that should last for years to come

It has been about six months now since I got my new Simms Headwaters Wading Boots.  Six solid months of fishing is enough that I feel that I have a good idea how they will preform over the long-haul.  I have really been procrastinating on posting this because I really, really want to make sure that these boots are going to continue to perform; and they are still holding up as well today as they did on day one.

 I have been burned before by writing a review of a product without putting it through strenuous field testing first.  In some cases, like the Sling Pack Showdown, we just don't have the time or resources to extensively field test everything.  In the case of wading boots however, it is very important to actually put the miles on those soles.  I feel that I have put more than enough miles on these boots now to see how they have performed and how well they will hold up.

I absolutely loved my Simms G3 Guide Boots.  They were easily hands-down the best boots I have ever owned.  You can see my post on those here: Killing my G3 Boots.  So needless to say, the Headwaters Boots have a high standard to meet.

I chose felt soles. Why?  Well this could easily be an entirely different article, but a quick explanation is always welcome.  Felt soles are far more "grippy" on the slick basalt that is abundant in many of our local rivers than a Vibram or sticky rubber sole.  Even with Simms Hardbite Felt Studs, I still fall in the Deschutes on average of once every other day.  I fell into a run called Hot Rocks twice in one pass earlier this summer.  Had I been wearing Vibram soles, I doubt I would have even made it the 30 yards from shore to the rock where you start fishing before falling in.  I am sure that I would not be able to effectively fish the water I want to fish without studded felt.  Some rivers are not an issue, but two in particular have caused me to fall in and bang up my shins more than any other... the Deschutes and the Wilson.

I would only get Vibram soles if I legally was required to do so, and I always put studs in all soles.  I have a raft and was concerned for a couple of years about studs on the raft, but it has not been an issue.  I do have a hard floor in my raft that is definitely scratched up now, but there is no excess wear on the raft itself.

Because everyone like ratings!
My first and most important conclusion about the Headwaters Boots: They are built like a rock.  While the boots are solid and sturdy, there is no overkill on the materials or design.  The lace eyelets are riveted well, the stitching is smooth and well-placed, and the materials are heavy-duty, durable, but not too heavy to be comfortable.

The collar, or strap that you grab on the top rear of the boot when putting them on is not as beefy as with the G3 Guide Boot, but it is very functional, well designed, and has shown no signs of durability issues after month of abuse.  The padding around the top of the boot is similar in quality and comfort to the Guide Boot, although these boots are not quite as tall, which reduces the overall weight on the Headwaters.  While not as tall as the G3, they still provides good ankle support.  They are taller than the Vapor Boots, and about the same height as the Freestone Boots.

The biggest difference between the two boots that I noticed is that the Guide Boot has more of a flexible, form fit, while the Headwaters Boot has more of a solid, roomy construction.  The material has stayed rigid over several months, and that provides plenty of room for your feet (especially the toes).  Simms is known for having rock-solid boots that take quite some time to wear in and these boots are still almost as solid as the day I first tried them on.

The first handful of times I wore these boots I did have to work to get the laces cinched down as tight as I wanted.  The boots did feel a little bit loose, even after tightening the laces down as far as they would reasonably tighten.  Now that I am six months into these boots, they are quite a bit easier to get them sufficiently tight against my feet, but it is nowhere near "form fitting".  Although the boots are still roomy around the toes, the top of the foot and ankle are adequately tight and very comfortable.

One drawback about Simms Boots is that the laces that come with their boots are not the most heavy-duty laces out there.  I have already busted through a lace, and I would bet it has a lot to do with putting heavy pressure on the laces in the first two months in order to get them cinched down as the rigid material is not entirely easy to tighten up.  Good thing that I always keep a pair of Simms Replacement Laces in my pack.  Everyone should order a set when they get a new pair of boots.

I do have to loosen the laces up before I can get my feet into them, especially at the top eyelet. It is in that perfect spot to prevent your feet from sliding in with ease.  Once that one eyelet is loosened, it is easy to get in and out of because the boots are roomy.  Minor, very minor...
Six months old, still looking brand new
and just seconds before I broke a lace!

The toe guard at the end of the boot is not as large as with the Guide Boot, but again, still very adequate.  I have seen no sign of durability issues yet with the toe guard, which is one of the most likely spots to experience failure.  That is generally a long term issue, but I think that in six months of solid use I would have seen them starting to separate if they were going to do so.

Jeff's G3 Guide Boots failed at the toe guard fairly quickly, while my pair never showed any sign of trouble.  It is one of those spots that is prone to wearing out, yet that wear seems highly dependent on how you walk in them.

These boots are easy enough to hike in, but the Vapor Boot is a better choice if you hike 5 miles before ever casting a line.  The stiff  materials make it a solid boot, but not the most comfortable for hiking long distances because it does create resistance around your ankles, and resistance equals more energy spent over a long time period.  Short hikes are no problem.  I haven't hiked more than three miles at a time in them yet, but I can feel my feet dragging a little after hiking to the Helicopter Hole and back (1.5 miles each way).  

These boots are aesthetically pleasing, comfortable and well built, without being too heavy, clunky or expensive.  At $179.95, these boots are near the top end in both price and quality.  They are definitely not as heavy-duty as the G3 Guide Boots (nor as expensive), but I believe that the quality and durability should be more than sufficient for even the most hardcore anglers.

Andrew Perrault
Columbia Gorge Fishing Reports
Gorge Fly Shop | Product Specialist

"Fly Fish the World with Us"


  1. Can't wholly agree with your Felt vs Vibram bit.
    If the river requires studs or cleats, it's the metal bits not the felt/vibram. Simms Streamtread Vibram with Hardbite cleats grips well in the River and better climbing in/out of the river as well as the Hike along the river where Vibram out performs Felt.
    It's more than the legal issue, it's stewardship, Vibram protects the rivers and Trout we all love.

  2. Vibram doesn't "protect the river", inspecting, cleaning, and drying your gear helps protect the river. Have you read the NZ study about felt soled boots and the spread of invasive species? If you have you would quickly learn that there were 4 times the amount of invasive species found inside the boots than on the felt soles. Felt and the entire sole issue was misreported by media who did not present the facts to the public. Inspect, clean, and dry your gear (all of it) if you are concerned about helping to reduce he spread of invasive species. Boats, birds, and other things are far more likley to spread invasives than your gear, but it is still responsible to be careful.

  3. I'm using my first set of studded soles, and I can definitely say that studs are the solution. I won't ever fish without them. Felt soles are not needed, and potentially harmful to the streams we love.


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