Temperatures are rising across the country… Summer is almost here… so that means it’s time for wet wading! One of the more common questions I see asked, particularly in tenkara Facebook groups and other online forums is…
“What Sort of Shoes Are the Best for Wet Wading?”
The requirements on the footwear of a wet wader can be rather difficult to meet. Particularly for those that enjoy fishing “tenkara-perfect” water, characterized by being a somewhat off the grid, rock & boulder strewn mountain stream. In most cases, said angler is looking for something lightweight enough to allow for a comfortable hike-in to the distant stream. Yet also something with solid ankle and foot support once in the water. The shoe must also drain quickly. Oh, and of most important of all, stick to slippery rocks like VELCRO®.
The Holy Grail may be easier to find than such foowear.
While I don’t claim to be Indiana Jones, perhaps this article may be able to help you down the road of sorting through some popular options currently available in wet wading footwear. Below, I’ll attempt to outline five different paths (and one bonus) to help you find your perfect fit. And look, I know people like “cheap” things. Most of these wet wading shoe options noted are in excess of $100, so there’s no bargain basement shopping here. I’m trying to make good suggestions, not inexpensive ones.
Look to Japan for Guidance
We look to Japan often for guidance in regard to tenkara information. After all, the Japanese invented the modern sport we enjoy today. Many Japanese tenkara anglers wear “shower climbing shoes”, or shoes specifically designed for the task of navigating up slick rocky waterways. While specialized gear, there are several brands of shower shoes available in Japan, with several options available from Montbell Japan’s English language website being some of the most easily obtainable in the West.
The drawback to Japanese footwear? The sizing. Since they are made for the Japanese market, most of the choices tend to be smaller and narrower than the typical “fit” in the United States. As such, ordering the wrong size can be a rather expensive mistake. Factoring elevated shipping costs not only incoming, but outgoing, should you choose to return them.
Orvis Pro Approach Wet Wading Shoe
Ok, these have been getting a lot of press over the last six or so months. When Orvis goes all in with a new product, they tend to put a lot of marketing dollars behind it. You may have even seen the next option highlighted by them quite a bit recently.
There are a lot of bells and whistles on the Orvis Pro Approach Shoe. At first glance, many seem to be borrowed from the Montbell models noted above. Touches like an integrated neoprene sock for ankle support and protection from debris, a lace hood to prevent wear and tear, and an extremely lightweight & durable outer. The shoe only weighs 23 ounces! Add in a Michelin “Outdoor Extreme” rubber outsole which Orvis claims provides “43% better wet rubber traction and 25% higher abrasion resistance than the competition” and you’ve got a lot of specs that should make a for great wet wading option.
Full disclaimer: I’ve been fishing these shoes for the better part of the last 2 fishing seasons. Those Michelin outsoles seem to handle the slippery rocks and vertical climbs of the Appalachian and Rocky mountain ranges fairly well with the addition of aftermarket studs. (I went with #1100 GripStuds). The toe box is still a bit narrow for my tastes, so while Orvis does not suggest it, you’ll probably want to size up one size, as the shoe unfortunately doesn’t come in halves. I personally think this is the best option out there today, but I am also looking into the Simms & Astrals listed below.
Simms Flyweight Wet Wading Shoes
Simms is quite well known for their “Rip Rap” wet wading sandals. Unfortunately, many anglers report that the quality of those sandals has been on the decline with each subsequent re-offering. (In fact, Simms recently launched a higher end replacement, the Confluence). However, rather than focus on Simms’ sandal options, I’m going to highlight a pair of wet wading shoes instead.
Believe it or not, Simms actually came out with a wet wading shoe much like the Orvis Pro Approach called the Intruder a few years ago. For whatever the reason the Intruder never really caught on and has seemingly been replaced by the Flyweight wet wading shoe. The Flyweight shoe actually borrows much of its construction from the Simms Flyweight boot, and is simply downsized to a low top version specifically adapted for wet wading.
If the upper is executed correctly, one of the main draws to this shoe is outsole. The proven Vibram Idogrip rubber sole works well in many situations and is easy to clean and dry for those with concern of transmission of invasive species.
Astral Water Shoes
I absolutely cannot write an article about wet wading shoes if I don’t mention Astral. Even though none of these models are specifically designed to be wet wading shoes for fishing. That said, these Astral water shoes seem to have a serious cult following online. Perhaps it’s because they are a North Carolina company. After all, Western North Carolina is a hotbed for tenkara angling on the East Coast.
In most circumstances, when people recommend Astrals, they’re typically talking about the Brewer, Rassler, or the Hiyak. While very different shoes, each feature Astral’s superior grippy (and proprietary) rubber outsoles. If you’re more of a low top sneaker fan, the Brewer will probably be your wet wading shoe of choice. (The Rassler being it’s high-top cousin, and has been reviewed extensively over at Kitchi-Gami). I’ve also read many people rave over the Hiyak model. The Hiyak was designed as a water shoe for kayakers. It definitely knows its way around the type of water that trout like to hang out in.
Keen Newport H2 (Closed Toe) Water Sandals
If ankle support is not your primary concern, water sandals such as those produced by Chaco or Keen have also become very popular wet wading options. In fact, many people live in their outdoor sandals while on the trail or in the water. They’re so minimal, allowing your feet to breathe, particularly during the warmer months of the year.
The reason I focused on Keen as opposed to Chaco is because Keen is the brand that most typically can be found with a closed toe cap. Don’t think that’s important? Try sliding off a slick rock and stubbing your toe. Talk about a major buzzkill. The Newport H2 is one of the more popular models of Keen sandals built specifcially for use in the water.
Five Ten (Honorable Mention)
If you can still find them, the Five Ten Water Tennies are a very popular option among tenkara anglers. These “approach shoes” are super grippy, provide superior “feel”, and are probably the closest thing to Japanese shower shoes you’ll find in the U.S. market.
The conundrum? Five Ten was purchased by adidas in 2011. The new parent company discontinued production of most of Five Ten’s water shoes shortly thereafter. You can sometimes find a pair that pops up on Amazon or eBay, but they are few and far between. (Note, they also tend to run narrow, so should you find a pair, size up at least one size if not more. )
Let’s Not Ignore the Obvious…
In the end, the option that I really shouldn’t neglect mentioning is the fact that you don’t even really need shoes specific for wet wading.
Many anglers wear the same wading boots they typically use with their stocking-foot waders for wet wading. Particularly if they are lightweight in nature such as the Orvis Ultralight Wading Boot. Others just don a pair of old sneakers or aqua socks and get after ’em; an especially popular option if dealing with streams with more of a gravel than slick rock bottom.
In either case, it should be noted that it’s probably best to wear a neoprene wading sock with gravel guard. These socks keep debris out of the bottom of whatever ends up being your footwear of choice.
So Which Will You Choose?
Well that’s ultimately your call. But, if you feel like you needed a nudge in the right direction, I hope this post was of some assistance.
Do you have a great suggestion for wet wading shoes? We’d would love to see and discuss them further in the comments section at the end of this post!
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