The Gear Bag – A person must have three sets of wading boots

gear bagNot really, but it’s helpful for forming opinions on three sets of wading boots

three-pairs-of-bootsSpring is here, and everyone will be out shopping for new gear. My purchase tendencies are usually on a desperately as-needed basis, which is why my lunch breaks are spent almost exclusively in fly shops. One of those recent excursions resulted in a new pair of wading boots – I’ve got three pairs of them now, which means it’s about time to state some opinions on said footwear.

korkers-streambornThe Newfangled

First up are the latest and greatest – Korkers Streamborns – so new they’ve only been wet twice. I took these babies in because my old boots were in a sad state – yes, I actually needed them. Discount Tackle hooked me up (I just happened to be in there…wink wink), and I’ll have to say that so far I’m pretty happy. The boots are quality built and quite comfortable. Notwithstanding the fancy removable sole inserts they come with, they seem to perform pretty well too – I’ve felt well balanced and firmly footed while standing in moderately heavy flows, and short hikes in them (with felt soles) were no sweat.

As far as fitting goes, I’m an 8 1/2 to 9 in most shoes and I picked up a 10 in these. There was room for a heavy sock and the wader neoprene, with space to spare for cranking down the laces if I so choosed. The swap-able sole bit still has to prove its usefulness – extended hikes up to some backcountry lakes this summer will take care of that, and I’ll report back thereafter. I’m giving them the thumbs up for now, noting they are a good buy (I think I paid around $130) and according to the shop might run a tad small (although I’m not sure about that so make sure you try them on “as you’d wade in them”).

simms-freestoneThe Old and Decrepit

My go-to daddies for the better part of a decade have been the Simms Freestone Studded. I’ve heard some folks call these “brogues” – to me that term means business dress shoe (a.k.a. wingtips) but I’m going to take their word for it. I’ve run the studded version long enough to break off some lace rings, go through a set of soles (felt and carbide), and have even seen them crack across the area which would otherwise be “the break.” A bit of duct tape (good for any repairs) covered the cracks for a while, and then I resorted to the fishing-specific standby, Aqua-Seal. In other words, they’ve served me well. The best thing about these boots is the rough and tumble build – they feel like they are steel toed, and rise high above the ankle. When you’re wading, you can kick rocks in the stream bed and you don’t feel a thing; and their height precludes the need for gravel guards (something I now need with the Korkers).

Originally I chose these for the price (which ranges between $80 and $100), and I only have one complaint about them – despite being a size 10 (like the Korkers) the sole is roughly an inch longer in comparison. They’ve always felt slightly clunky to me – I personally thought I was just a wading goof. Now I know why – they just run a bit large in the length department. The conclusion is they are great value, particularly for the novice as well as self-proclaimed wading lackeys that have a tendency to stub toes and/or fall in all the time (i.e. me). They are not going to the glue farm – despite their age they are still quite functional – now resting in the spares/loaners bin.

patagonia-riverwalkersThe Somewhere In Between

The Patagonia Riverwalker (now called the Canyonwalker) is pretty much my wet wading boot. Once daytime temperatures climb into the eighties, I’m very unlikely to be wearing anything but a pair of nylon pants and a t-shirt. Part of that mantra comes from a Florida childhood spent wading flats and lake edges for bonefish/largemouths (actually that would be lost mutton snapper and the occasional bluegill, but the time was spent unsupervised so I lied a lot), and part of it comes from the fact that when I first started fly fishing for trout the location was Maryland and the time was summer – it was just too sticky to wear anything but shorts.

Anyway, I’ve been running with these Paddies for closing on eighteen months, and generally wear them over nothing but a heavy woolen sock. An old friend once told me to wear ragwool gloves in the winter – when they get wet your hands will stay warm. He was right – but, while I don’t use that type of glove because it’s kind of like wearing fly drying patches on both hands (i.e. flies stick to them like they’re smeared in SuperGlue), I’ve found that wool on thy feet does trap the warmth in thy foot, especially when wet. So that’s how I roll in the summer.

The boots have held up decent – in fact there is still little sign of wear on the un-studded sole. The uppers show some scratches, but nothing that would make me think they aren’t going to hold up for another couple of years. Even the laces are still in decent condition. Much like my everyday shoes, I’m in a size 8 1/2 – the fit is perfect, but if the day was any colder and I decided to go the waders route I likely wouldn’t be able to get my feet into them. All told, I’ve been very happy with the Patagonia product for my purposes, and I see no reason why I won’t continue to be for many warm weather seasons to come.

Tight lines (or in my case, tailing loops)!

Note: I might make this “gear bag” bit a regular item around here, even if the term used as the headliner isn’t particularly original. God (and everyone else) knows I’ve got plenty of gear, spend plenty of time making decisions about gear, and even more time tweaking my usage of the stuff. At the least, I’ve got a cool little thumbnail of what else…a gear bag…that I can slap on the pages over and over and over again.

UPDATE: Review a product often succumbs to the same issues you get when your car warranty expires – everything starts breaking. This is the issue I had with the Padis – after canning a pair that got tore up from what I thought was user neglect, the wheels started falling off this pair too. They’re headed back to their creators this time around, and I’ll be using the Korkers (along with some neoprene Chota gravel guards) until new ones arrive.

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