Nov 4, 2016

Felt vs Tread - Who Gives A Boot

Wading Boot Sole Options - What Grips

Now Hold On!

Before you go off and get your waders in a wad thinking that the title of this article defines how we feel about your wading safety and/or our responsibility to the health of our streams first give me a chance to explain that it was really just a catchy phrase designed to get you to click into this article. Did it work?

Next... Let me inform you that if you're just looking for pleasurable fly fishing reading, THIS IS NOT IT! Click out now! Nothing fun about wading boots. This is purely an informational article intended to educate about wading boot traction options from one man's opinion taken from many years of experiences with both boots and various wading environments.

And lastly I apologize now to the manufacturers. I'm not writing this to endorse or criticize any one brand or product but I'm not going to hold back the truth of what I have experienced with various types of wading boot soles. The view of this article is only intended to examine how to deal with concerns of stream health and angler safety.

The idea of discussion about this topic comes from some recent opinions posted to one of our blog post. I don't think the author of said post intended to take a stand on what is best for anglers or streams but instead he chose the sole type based on the geographical area he fishes and the difficult and hazardous nature of the rivers he wades. Traction after all can be a life or death reality.

The concerns regarding wader safety and clean streams are real and many opinions exist about which sole type is the right one. I've been fortunate enough to have fished a variety of waters all across America and with that knowledge it's easy for me to understand why so many different opinions exist with this subject. In addition to so many varied types of stream beds and terrain you also have an assortment of traction options that can work across a variety of conditions.
  • Felt
  • Studded Felt
  • Tread
  • Studded Tread
  • Aluminum Pucks
  • Aluminum Bars

So what is right for you (and me)

This is were we get very deep and opinionated. I'm not going to try to tell you what you should be using. That just opens the door for arguments. It's up to each and everyone of us to decide what is best for the streams we fish and best for our wading skills and conditions. I will tell you this, there is an answer for everyone with all the available options we have today. 

Felt

I don't know who came up with the idea of felt but it was brilliant. Seemed like the perfect answer, mostly! Felt provides a good level of traction in the stream. Felt is also very boat friendly. But aside from those attributes felt also comes with some messy baggage. It carries dirt including possible hitchhikers that could pose a threat to our streams. Now before you start writing your comments that felt is just a scapegoat to the problem let's all take a hard look at reality, Felt is Dirty! Go ahead, jump in your truck right after getting out of the stream with felt boots and watch what it does to your floorboards. This is why we all have weather tech mats after all right! Why do fly shops have posted on their doors "Please Remove Wading Boots!" I welcome your comments but please do not even try to defend felt. 

Another issue I've encountered with felt is winter snow and  icy conditions. Felt can freeze and create a boot that is as safe as a pair of ice skates. Not to mention they get heavy and freeze your feet. Felt is no good for icy winter anglers.

But does that mean you should forfeit felt forever? Consider your situation, maybe you are only fishing one stream in felt boots all season. That's not really going to pose a threat of invasive species transfer. Maybe you're lucky to fish once a month. Pretty sure any possible threats will have been dried up long before you hit the stream again. Maybe you're completely anal and wash your boots in a bleach/water solution after every use. But let's talk reality, how many of you are actually going do that after every use?!
Traction with felt is good but truth is you can equal or even get greater traction today in different ways. So if you are one of those that still thinks felt offers superior traction, think again!

Studded Felt

Admittedly studded felt is hard to beat. All the same problems as above but greater traction ability. Note that many drift boat guides do not like studded traction devices in their boats. Luckily most modern studs are screw in therefor also removable for those times when they are undesirable. 

Tread

I'll go ahead and own up that tread alone is pretty much completely useless and downright dangerous for most anglers. BUT! I have waded streams that are so friendly that one would be safe in a pair of converse tennis shoes. For those situations maybe tread soles are just fine. Since recent demand for tread soles has spiked companies have put lots of r&d into getting better traction from rubber and I can tell you from my experience rubber soles have improved. 

Some kind of add-on traction is necessary for most conditions
Several positive attributes are associated with tread soles. Obvious of course is they are pretty clean. Also they do really good out of the stream such as hiking trails. They are very boat friendly except on boats that have diamond plate steel to walk on (slippery when wet). If your trip involves air travel you might appreciate a chance that tread soles will dry out the night before your flight. Never fun when you get home and open your luggage to find it full of musty clothes because your felt boots drowned everything.

Studded Tread

I doubt any tread sole users would argue that in most cases tread soles need the addition of some kind of traction device. Be it screw in studs, screw on aluminum pucks or similar devices. I've had good success with the Simms Hard Bite Studs in Simms Boots as well as using them in other boot brands. Are they the best traction you can get? No! But they work well in most average wading situations. Many anglers are content with this traction option for the water they wade. 

Aluminum Cleats

Left Simms Hardbite Star Cleats - Right Simms Alumibite Cleat

Another option from Simms for their tread soled boots are the Alumibite Cleats. I have used these with good success. Aluminum does a great job at cutting into the slime that makes rocks slick. There does seem to be one drawback, as the aluminum looses its sharp cutting edge they seem to lose efficiency. In the case of Simms Alumibite cleats you can remove and flip over to regain that sharp edge again for awhile. I found that using these in conjunction with the Simms Hardbite studs gets really good traction for Simms boots.
Note: Some anglers are reporting the loss of these screw in type of traction devices. I hear they get ripped out and even if you replace missing ones they no longer tighten into the original holes further increasing the problem of loss. I'd like to note here that all Simms boots have a hard retention plate designed to receive the screws. It's very important to be sure to drive the screws firmly into this plate for maximum retention.

Simms Traction Devices left to right - Hardbite Studs - Alumabite Cleat - Hardbite Star Cleat


Hardbite Star Cleats

Another option from Simms is the Star Cleats. Basically a star shaped piece of metal with jagged carbide chips welded to them. Initially they do a great job of cutting slime but I have seen many with the chips worn completely away leaving behind a smooth metal surface that doesn't do anything for traction. Ten Star Cleats for $29.95 to me just doesn't have as much value as the Alumibite Cleats at ten for $21.95.

Aluminum Bars

If you really want traction aluminum bars are it! Bars were the first traction device I used that I openly said "this is better than felt!" Not only do they grip in the stream but also provide good traction on the trail and to the best of my knowledge I have not heard any guides complaining about them in their boats. Like the puck style they can lose their sharp edge over time but with such a larger area of coverage they seem to hold onto it longer. If there was one downside of aluminum bars is they are not ice friendly.

Currently I am only aware of two boot brands that utilize aluminum bars. One of which is Korkers and the other is a brand Patagonia which we do not currently carry.

Boot Brands

Korkers Wading Boots

I'm not trying to do a sales pitch for Korkers here but they really do offer some great versatility. Korkers have the ability to adapt to varying environments and/or to meet specific territorial regulations. Gorge Fly Shop has sold Korkers boots for many years. We've watched them improve and perfect the interchangeable sole system. It's a system that works for most anglers and it gives you the best traction option when needed whether it be a decision made by choice or by regulation. All current Korkers wading boots are built on the Omnitrax v3.0 interchangeable sole system.

Now the bad...The standard Korkers tread sole called Kling-On in my opinion provides the least amount of traction of any tread sole I have ever used. My advice is don't use it. The Studded Kling-On version is only marginally better. If you are going to wade in Korkers boots you want to utilize Felt, Studded Felt, AlumaTrax or the original Studded Rubber Soles.
Left to Right - Alumatrax, Studded Felt, Studded KlingOn. Studded Rubber

You know felt and studded felt, no need to talk about them. Alumatrax Soles start out as the standard non-studded Kling-On sole with aluminum bars riveted to them. While the bars are non replaceable the complete sole is so renewing traction is easy...just buy new soles. The Korkers Alumatrax sole is our number one selling add on sole option for Korkers boots. They provide good clean traction in and out of the water.

The original Korkers Studded Rubber Sole is an extreme option mostly used by rock hopping jetty anglers. The rubber part of the sole has no tread to it at all and traction is completely provided by 7mm carbide tipped screw in replaceable studs. Probably not a sole you want to hike for miles in but when traction is a must these are the soles guys are reaching for. They are very popular among east coast striper anglers.

Korkers offers Vibram Idrogrip Soles in both studded and non-studded versions. I don't have much feedback for these soles as they are a bit pricey and so few anglers opt for them.

Simms Wading Boots


Simms G3 Guide Boots equipped with Alumibite Cleats

Simms builds great boots period. Durability, sizing and comfort are all positive attributes for Simms. If I could name one missing feature from Simms is the lack of a full on clean traction device similar to the aluminum bar option other manufactures provide. But even so that shouldn't deter anyone from finding great traction from Simms boots if the user is willing to outfit them properly with the available traction devices.

Simms Vapor with Combination Alumabite
Cleats and Hardbit Studs
Simms Wading Boots are currently utilizing two tread sole types developed by Vibram. Idrogrip and Megagrip. Both are designed to accept all Simms traction devices.

Vibram Idrogrip is found on the G4 BOA, G3 Guide, Rivertec 2 BOA, Headwaters and Freestone wading boots.
It claims to be ideal on wet surfaces, improved grip on slippery terrain and inspired by free climbing rubber,

Vibram Megagrip is found on Vaportread, Vaportread Salt, Intruder, Intruder Felt, Riprap Shoe and Streamtread Sandel. It claims to provide unparalleled wet and dry surface traction, superior grip with rugged longevity and optimal balance of stability and flexibility for ground adaptation

For wading environments with average difficulty many are doing just fine with the Simms screw in Hard Bite Studs. My go to for maximum traction from Simms boots is a mix of Alumibite Cleats and Hard Bite Studs. The combination of the two together is tough to beat. I know some guys have seen a problem of rip outs but I'll note again, make sure they seat in tight to the internal retention plate. Personally I myself have not had this problem.

Simms also offers several models available with felt soles. Currently they include the G3 Guide, Rivertec 2 BOA, Headwaters, Freestone, Rock Creek, Intruder, Vapor and Women's Vapor Boots. Add the Simms Hard Bite screw in studs for felt soles and you'll be in good shape to handle life threatening wading conditions such as found on our local steelhead fishery known as The Deschutes River.

Redington Wading Boots

Redington Palix Shown with Goat Head Spikes - Click Picture for a larger view

Redington Wading Boots don't get much attention but there is a sneaky feature they just don't get credit for. By utilizing a combination of soft rubber compounds and adding into the mix ground walnut shells, an old technology taken from tire manufacturing way back when, they have developed arguably the stickiest sole we know of. I still wouldn't recommend going out in tough wading environments without some degree of added traction devices but for easy wades they perform well. Redington also offers screw in studs provided by Goat Head Gear. I have used these studs in the Redington Palix River Boots and have experienced a comfortable level of traction.

Goat Head Sole Spikes offered from Redington
Redington wading boots don't score high on the durability scale but they also don't cost as much as most other wading boots. One key note when considering a pair of the Redington Wading boots is you buy them to match your foot size. DO NOT buy them one size over your foot size like all other wading boot brands. Redington manufactures these boots with the needed room built into them to allow for your stockingfoot wader to fit. I appreciate this idea but unfortunately most anglers are already accustomed to buying one size over creating for us a high degree of boot returns for improper sizing.

Summary

Let me emphasize there are two areas of concern for wading boot technology, keep our streams clean and keep our anglers safe. The goal here is to share my experiences hoping that it will help you make the best decision possible for your needs. There is no one right answer for everyone but there are many options that can solve the problems we face. The good news to come out of awareness's and all out anti-felt regulations is that is has forced our industry to evaluate and improve technologies that has not only provided cleaner options but in my opinion technologies that can exceed felt performance.

I hope you found this information helpful. Please share your sole experience in our comments that we may all benefit from others experiences...

More Boot Post...


Simms G4 Boa Boots vs Simms G3 Guide Boots

Simms Vapor Wading Boot Review

Wading Boots - Finding the Right Size

Simms Headwaters Boot Review

Killing My Simms G3 Guide Boots

Pay Less For Redington Palix

Korkers Devils Canyon Wading Boot Review

Korkers Defined - All About Sole

BassProGreg




Gorge Fly Shop Internet Sales Manager | Product Specialist


"Fly Fish the World with Us"


Read more of Greg's Post

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