Fly fishing gear breaks down. Waders leak, boots fall apart and pack zippers fail. The stitching at the seams of all this stuff takes a lot of abuse, so how long can it hold up? How well is it built?
The 100 Day Gear Review Series on Troutbitten takes a look at how gear is performing after the century benchmark. Should our fly fishing gear last longer than 100 days? You bet. And after many months of heavy use, we can have an excellent understanding of what we bought.
** Note ** Links for buying the Orvis Pro Wading Boots are at the end of this article.
(Your support is appreciated.)
What do I need in a wading boot? Durability, support, more durability, more support and even more durability. I don’t care about looks or laces. Instead, the way my feet feel after ten hours of wading and walking in a river is the deal breaker — along with durability.
A wading boot designed and built to support a foot that’s stuffed into the neoprene bootie of stocking foot waders is a blessing. But apparently, that’s not an easy undertaking, as I have more failures to share than success stories when it comes to buying wading boots.
The Orvis Pro Wading boots have outperformed my expectations. I’m wholeheartedly impressed with these boots.
The Orvis Pros are light, so I assumed they would lack support or durability over time. But after 115 hard days on the river — meaning I wade bouldered, rocky waters, hike long miles and fish longer days — the Orvis Pros are extra-solid, with only a few minor signs of inevitable breakdown.
Structure and Support
Just like the term “profile” for a fly, “structure” covers a lot of qualities in a wading boot. And for the Orvis Pro Wading boot, structure is a strong suit for both the uppers and the soles.
The support I require on a river comes from the boot’s structure. It’s about how the boot is put together, how it holds my foot and strengthens it throughout the day. Instead of all the weight and torque of every river-step going straight to my foot, a good wading boot takes some of that strain, disperses it through the sole and helps my muscles take the next step, as the shoe returns to its original shape. That is great support.
It’s a quality found especially in the midsole. And it’s found in the strength of a well-designed upper. Good structure comes from a boot purpose-built for the job of wading rocky rivers, day after day. And in this case, support and durability go hand-in-hand. Because, while many boots start out with substantial support, the integrity of the sole and upper quickly breaks down, until you’re left with the lousy support of a wet slipper. And while wading heavy pocket water, I need a lot more.
These Orvis Pro Boots have not dried out since the first day I wore them. I’m on the water about five days a week, and I don’t rotate my wading boots. I’ve been told boots that aren’t allowed to dry will wear and break down more quickly. But that hasn’t seemed to matter for the Orvis Pros.
Let’s consider why . . .
An industry-first cast PU upper eliminates seams while providing a zoned cage for added stability, grip, and extreme abrasion resistance without the added bulk.
That stability is a successful design that, once again, lends support. And it has held up over rough miles. Yes, it’s also abrasion resistant while being much lighter than most boots. Well done, Orvis.
The boot is higher cut for ankle support and lined with closed-cell foam.
Many high-top-style boot designs fail in the effort — they’re too stiff and uncomfortable. But the Orvis Pros offered comfort from the beginning, and after a hundred days, the ankle panels are still holding strong.
Scratch rubber at the toe cap and heel for abrasion resistance . . .
Long-term anglers know that the toe cap is a frequent point of failure. And once it wears and peels, breakdown for the rest of the boot follows. That’s not the case here, as the Orvis Pro toe cap and heel look about the same as they did on day one.
The two-layer midsole has a co-molded ESS plate that provides improved stud retention and torsional stability.
There’s that word, stability, again. For most anglers, when they talk about support in a hiking or wading boot, this is what they mean — the sole holds up and doesn’t flex too much.
Improved stud retention is an excellent feature that is most often ignored in boot design (apparently). I’ve had plenty of wading boots that rejected studs after the rubber wore down a bit. While we probably blame that mostly on the outer sole, the midsole is actually the part of the shoe that holds the stud in place. Again, well done, Orvis.
The shock-absorbing Phylon midsole improves “river feel” and compresses less than standard EVA midsoles.
There are two schools of thought on feeling the river bed. Some anglers want to feel the rocks underfoot because they are more in tune with where their foot should go next and how to balance on the rocks. But too much of this quality results in a mushy feel to the soles and tired feet.
I’m more in the other camp that doesn’t care to feel the actual rocks under my feet. But I do like to feel the sole flex, and I don’t want to be out of touch with the riverbed, as if I’m walking on wooden soles. The Orvis Pro Wading boots provide this kind of river feel perfectly.
** UPDATE ** Immediately after publishing this article, I received questions about the boot laces. Once the original laces wear out on my wading boots, I always replace them with these super-durable laces originally designed for hockey skates. You can buy them HERE.
You might be wondering why traction is not on my list of needs in a wading boot. Of course I need great traction — I’m actually obsessed with it. But, for me, providing good traction is the job of boot studs and not the soles themselves.
I choose rubber soles on all wading boots, and I add the studs myself. For these boots, Orvis teamed up with Michelin to offer “an industry-disrupting advance in wet rubber traction,” with a revolutionary design that offers significant improvements in river tread. I wore them twice with no studs. And for the rivers I fish, all rubber soles are useless — damn near dangerous — without metal studs.
I will, however, remark on the durability of the Micheline soles. As you can see from the photos, the Orvis Pro boots have held up to the beating of 115 days on the river. The lugs on most boots would have worn nearly flat by now.
What studs should you use?
I’m a longtime user and big proponent of Grip Studs. And the #3000A fit well in the Orvis Pro. However, the Orvis PosiGrip Boot Studs are also impressive. I’ve worn these in another brand of boots, and I now have them installed in my son’s boots. They never fall out. They provide exactly the kind of traction I want, and they hold their edge a long time. (There’s that durability again.)
Gear reviews written about new items are useless to me. For any angler, It takes seasons of use and abuse to understand what we might like or dislike about the design of wading boots or most other fishing gear.
Likewise, that most important quality of durability only shows up after many hard days on the water.
After 115 days on the river, you’ve seen what my Orvis Pros look like from the pictures above. Here is the only sign of failure . . .
I sincerely recommend the Orvis Pro Wading boots. They are lighter than most, super comfortable and have excellent support in all the right ways. They are also . . . durable.
Put a pair on your feet, and go fishing.
** Note ** The partnerships and the support of this industry are part of what keeps Troutbitten going. And I’m proud that Troutbitten is an Orvis affiliate. You can read my policy on gear reviews HERE. And if you decide to buy the Orvis Pro Wading boots, (or any other product at these links), Troutbitten receives a commission of the sale, at no additional cost to you. So thank you for your support.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N