DIY – Bar Boots

by | Feb 13, 2015 | 23 comments

I burn through boot soles fast. And cheap boots with poor foot support are a bad idea when you’re wading heavy runs and putting full days on the water with lots of hiking, so I was spending about $150 every ten months on a new pair of boots.

I used to resole my own felts, but they never held on for long. I then moved to rubber soles when they became popular, in large part because they’re better in the winter (no snow stilts while walking the banks), and if studs are used with the right rubber, they can be just as good as felts with studs — almost. My early attempts to resole my own rubber soles with Aquastealth were expensive failures, and to get it done right by a cobbler you’re looking at $55-$80 (that’s only if you can find a cobbler who carries one of the sticky rubber soles).

My point is, all of that sucked. I was fed up with scrapping boots with worn soles and solid uppers with a lot of life left. I was fed up with buying and replacing new studs every few months, and I was fed up with poor traction.  The answer? BAR BOOTS, BABY!  I’ve been wearing bars for many years now, and they’re a perfect solution to those problems. The bars protect the boot soles because — well — you aren’t walking on the soles. The bars take all the wear, and the traction is excellent.

In ninety percent of the waters I fish, the bars are unequaled. I must say that I have encountered a few rivers where felt or rubber with studs do get better traction — I think it’s a substrate issue. But for most of the waters I fish, the bars provide the best traction I’ve ever had, all while protecting the boot soles from sustaining much wear.

 

NARGRE

Patagonia’s original bar boots

 

Patagonia's new Foot Tractor bar boots

Patagonia’s new Foot Tractor bar boots. These are NOT the right bars for a DIY solution. You need the straight bars.

When I first saw the Patagonia bar boots I wanted them, but I already had three good pairs of Simms Freestones with worn soles sitting in the garage, so I decided to tackle the project myself. That was many years ago, and I’ve replaced the bars a bunch of times now.

 

— UPDATE (June 2017) —

I’ve learned that cheaper boots with a soft midsole don’t hold the inserts very well, and the bars can work loose. However, most good wading boots are built like a hiking boot, with a firm midsole and solid support. You can tell the difference by simply flexing the boot. 

 

Let me be very clear — if you don’t like to drill things, use screwdrivers, pliers, screw extractors and hammers, then just buy the Patagonia bar boots. But if you’re good with those tools and don’t mind putting out some effort, then buy the Patagonia Aluminum Bars replacement kit, and you can put bars on your own boots. If you like using hacksaws, drill presses and grinders, then buy some flat aluminum bar stock and make your own bars. I’ve made my own bars twice, and it’s a lot of work to save a little money. More recently, my uncle fabricated a bunch of bars for me, and I’ve been using those — thanks, buddy!

DIY

Let’s get to it. The replacement kit contains a set of pre-drilled replacement bars, screws and insert nuts.

81690_775

Patagonia Aluminum Bar Replacement Kit

I first went to a local cobbler and asked him to put on the flattest stiff rubber sole he had. After explaining what I was going to do, and showing him a few pictures, he resoled my boots while I watched for $30.  Good deal, Nice guy, and the rubber that he chose has held up very well (but again, the rubber really takes no wear).

 

— UPDATE (June 2017) —

Resoling the boots was unnecessary. I have since mounted the bars right on top of Vibram Streamtred soles and it works well.  The sole doesn’t have to be flat — the bars will hold if the midsole is firm.

 

On the first pair, I used the bars from the replacement kit. (I later used those as a template to fabricate more bars.) I drilled holes in the boot soles to line up with the bars, being careful to drill only deep enough for the insert nuts, and I used a slightly undersized drill bit.

 

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Then I screwed in the insert nuts with a #5 Allen wrench.

DQyUMLzWQCSoLDeXeLRHc4SGBvYW_vGNoybowdUENP6Y=w833-h625-no

My assistant diligently worked on his own wading boots.

Once the insert nuts are in place, it’s just a matter of laying the bars down and screwing them in. The instructions in the replacement kit mention the option of tipping the bottom of the screw with Loctite adhesive, but I haven’t found that necessary. In fact, it makes them harder to remove. Oh, the removal …

If you lead a happy life and fish a lot, then you’ll wear down these bars much quicker than you’d like. That’s the one thing nobody seems to mention — they wear pretty fast. It makes sense, because the harder rocks are constantly grabbing the softer aluminum and scratching/chipping away at the bars. They become rounded over time, and I usually replace them when they start to look like this:

REvRhF1b55vw0tYanCkZmRuzmU8A79jlSBcGLzD07QmB=w1111-h625-no

New and old

Again, a warning that the process of replacing your bars isn’t exactly easy. It would be if you could just unscrew the old bars and replace them with the new ones, but in my experience, the screw heads are often worn enough that you can’t get a screwdriver to bite in, and you’ll have to use a screw extractor. I’ve had the best success with a #2 Grabbit Screw Extractor.


820-grabit_proQuick tip: sometimes while removing the last screw the bar will start to turn, and the insert will back out with the bar. To avoid this, I just slide a drill bit or similar through the bar and into the insert on the opposite side, preventing it from turning.

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If you are going to try to fabricate your own bars it will help to know that the aluminum is 1/4″ by  1″, and the screws that fit the insert nuts provided in the kit are:

Machine Screw
Diameter – #10
Thread Size – 32
Finish – Zink
Head – Flat
Length – 5/8″
Material – Steel

41-PJ7nDSvL._SL500_AA300_

Good luck! The bars are a little extra work, but they are a game-changer. Let me know how it works out for you.

 

— UPDATE (June 2017) —

The Patagonia Bar Boot replacement kit for the original straight bars is getting hard to find (although the link to Patagonia still works and they do have them in stock). You should understand that the Foot Tractor replacement kit (with the zig-zag bars) will not work as a DIY solution because the kit does not contain the insert nuts.

It took a while, but I tracked down the insert nut. So if you want to make your own straight bars and mount them, use these.

tWZ44coChrF9Satcw0_VuGLjpzAeJvzpBwLwBbzd-2pt=w833-h625-no

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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23 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this guide. Saw the replacement kit and was wondering about doing the same thing. Have you done it with the newer zig zag patterned bars? The kit doesn’t look like it comes with the insert nuts… http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/foot-tractor-aluminum-bar-replacement-kit?p=81680-0&pcc=1128

    What do you think about just using coarse thread non-machine screws and going directly into sole? Better to use the machine screws to avoid the pointy end? seems to me like regular screw might hold better… Either way I think it would be worth it even if it meant I could only extend the life of the boots once. And maybe I could just move the bars slightly and drill new holes for a second round of bars. I might try it and if they fall out I will loctite them in for a one time extension. If it all fails, my backup would probably be to pony up for the real boots and keep the replacements for when I need them.

    Reply
    • Hey Travis, shoot me an email. I have lots of ideas for that.

      Reply
  2. I switched from felt to a bar sole (Korker’s). The traction was different, but just as good. They are great everywhere except flat hard surfaces… like fast food restaurant floors.

    I needed more boot than my Metalheads, so I went with the Foot Tractors. They have served me well. My feet stay warm. I do miss the Boa laces. Just thinking about wet shoelaces and the noise/vibration as a knot is cinched makes my stomach churn. Nails on chalkboard * 10.

    Reply
    • LOL @ fast food restaurants.

      Also ice. Bad on ice.

      Mark, that’s a strange hang up about wet laces tightening. I have one like that — folding construction paper with my fingers. * shudder*

      Reply
  3. Been wearing the Patagonia boots for years and bought the replacement kit to refit my older pair.
    What are your thoughts on stealth with studs and/or bars vs plain felt. Have heard some suggest the noise produced subsurface may spook fish.
    I’ve certainly been able to get within a rod length of plenty of fish, but wondering…

    Reply
    • Great point. I’ve often wondered the same thing. The bars certainly must put out a lot more noise than studs, and of course way more than felt.

      I think it’s a good excuse for me to use when I’m not catching fish. 🙂 Seriously, though, I wonder this a lot, especially at night, when I’m fishing quiet flats and the trout should (theoretically) be more in tune with surrounding sounds.

      Tough thing to really have a definitive answer to.

      Reply
  4. What are the characteristics of the rivers on which you’d wear felt instead of the aluminum bar boots?

    I fish freestone rivers (very swift and slick) where I have to hike a few miles a day along railroad tracks with sharp-edged rocks as filler, and scramble down steep banks to the water.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Good question, Greg.

      First, I never have a problem on dry rocks. I walk to a lot of rivers on railroad beds too, and the traction is always good.

      Second, about the substrate: I’ve had great traction with the bars in all limestone streams I’ve fished. They work great on most freestone streams too, but in some freestone streams the traction is not as good. It seems to correlate with a hard algae on the rocks. It’s usually a dirty or dark cream or green color. That’s just my own experience.

      Let me know how it works out for you.

      Reply
  5. Love me a good project!

    Reply
    • Nice design. I built an alternative design a couple years ago, for what it’s worth: http://www.instructables.com/id/Fishing-Boot-Bar-Crampons/

      They work great…never slip in them. However, this year in CO, I broke two of the metal straps and one of the bars detached (rivets gave way). Trying to get my brother to weld up a set. Meanwhile, I may use your design approach. THANKS!

      Reply
    • Tim, yes I’ve used T-Nuts like that. Rock Treads is another great option with traction much like the bars. They provide T-Nuts for installation, and its necessary because of the single screw. But with two or points of contact like the bars, the T-Nuts aren’t necessary. Know what I mean?

      Reply
      • If YOU use stainless steel screws you won’t have to do the Grabit tool AND they will be reuseable. Ps. I think you misspelled Zinc. Not bring critical because at my age I screw up most of the things that I do. Due to typing errors IT took me 15 minutes to Type this.

        Reply
  6. Try some hex headed screws. My mountain bike cycling cleat screws take a beating but when I go to change them if I can’t get the key in, the next size down will fit.

    Reply
  7. FANTASTIC, THANKS FOR THE RESEARCH, was just over in your neck of the woods, beautiful place to be sure. You REALLY need some restaurants though. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks for posting all this information. Also thanks to the people that made the comments. They were all helpful (except for the suck it comment).

      Reply
  8. I have numerous pairs of Simms boots and have been doing this since they first released the aluminum bar boots years ago. Ive done this in both rubber soles and felt soles
    I simply use a wood screw and make sure its not too long to penetrate the sole of the boot.
    I have 4 pairs and have never had a bar or screw come loose.
    I have also installed the inserts and it honestly doesnt hold the bar any better then just a screw.
    It is a game changer for sure. You can use screws longer screws in the heel as the sole is thicker there.
    If youre concerned about penetrating too deep on the front of the boot, use inserts there and wood screws in the heel. I have boots with a combo of both and the bars hold equally as well in both.
    Much quicker to just screw them in with a wood screw!
    good luck!

    Reply
    • Oh my, I have to respectfully disagree with this. I too have tried using screws without inserts. The bars come loose quickly. Maybe we fish different kinds of rivers or walk differently. How long do your bars last? Will you send me a picture of what your bars look like before you change them?

      Thanks, Christian.

      Dom

      Reply
  9. Thanks for the info, any thoughts on selecting between 7075 and 6061 aluminum. I suppose the tradeoff would be grip verses durability. Do you know what you are or have used?

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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