Out with the old…
The last pair of wading boots I actually purchased when I started fly fishing. I was in college and on a tight budget, there was a sale at the western wear store in town, and $30 seemed like a lot of money to me. But it was a major markdown, and I needed the boots to go with the waders I was buying. Honestly, those boots served me well, and I definitely got my $30 out of them.
Probably a lot more than my $30 worth! However, after years of fishing the Provo, hiking through the backcountry to small streams like the west fork of the Duchesne, and rafting down the tail of Gunnison Gorge, the boots were starting to definitely show their wear.
So, time to buy some new wading boots. There are a million options. I want to be one of the people on the stream wearing equipment that works, not equipment that says, “I’m paying through the nose so I can look like a ‘real’ fly fisherman.” You know who I’m talking about.
Enter Korkers. My last wading boots were rubber sole, and Ben (our Colorado reviewer) had been bragging about his felt soled wading boots for years. It probably didn’t help that with my old wading boots I was slipping on rocks all over the place. I’ve heard all about how good the felt soles are in rocky streams, but I’m used to rubber, and with the regulations in Alaska against felt soled wading boots, I needed both, but didn’t want two sets of wading boots to have to lug around everywhere.
Korkers Redside are the entry-level into their OmniTrax interchangeable soled wading boot line that includes Redside, Mudder, Metalhead, Chrome, and KGB.
I broke in my Redsides while fly fishing for sea run cutthroat in Puget Sound over the weekend. I also spent the short time teaching a friend to fly fish, so there was plenty of time standing in the water and walking back and forth for me to get a good feel for the boots.
My old boots were boots by definition, I guess. They were foot shaped. They had a sole, and they were made out of some tough canvas material. That’s where they stopped. The Korkers are boots. The sole base (not the OmniTrax part) are thick, heavy duty rubber that will last a very long time, and it’s triple-stitched to the upper. The upper is made of leather and mesh (here’s where the price savings comes in) and is double-stitched (and in some places triple-stitched) everywhere.
One of the reviews I read online complained that the Redsides didn’t seem very reliably constructed because the lace loops were loosely sewn to some webbing, and not the full boot. I’m not sure if that was just an earlier version or not, but the lace loops on these boots are very firmly sewn a full inch or more into the sides of the boot. They didn’t feel weak to me at all.
Okay, these things are pretty cool. Redsides come with both the standard rubber sole (Korkers calls it the Kling-on sole. Not sure about that wording. If they’re Star Trek fans, shouldn’t it just be Klingon? If they’re not, they need to use spell check…) and the Plain Felt Sole. I’ll tell you Ben’s comments about the felt sole–it’s amazing. I was at the beach, so there wasn’t much need for the felt sole and I haven’t tried it out yet.
The Kling-on sole is “high-friction rubber” according to the Korkers website. The rubber is quite clingy. Running your finger across the treads you can feel the grip, it’s almost as if they siped (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siping_(rubber)) the tread points to give it extra traction. Walking up and down the trail, over the slick rocky parts of the beach at low tide, wading through the sand, and slugging through the weeds in waste deep incoming tidewaters gave me no trouble keeping traction. Also, the tread pattern on the soles is very good for shedding mud. I didn’t have to knock the boots much to get the soles clean after I was out, a definite improvement over my old boots, which would cling to mud seemingly for years.
Pulling a sole off the boot is a very fast process. There’s a big black button-looking thing on the back, and the OmniTrax is attached to that by a rubber strap. Unbutton the rubber strap and pull away from the boot and the sole clicks out of the notches on the sides and the plastic tab on the front. One smooth motion to remove, no “pull this way then that way” maneuvering.
The video on the Korkers website shows someone changing midstream. While I would personally recommend you change on the bank so your soles don’t float down the river, I see how you could easily do that. Step one, stuff the tab at the toe-end of the sole into the gap in the boot. You have to push it in all the way, and I found myself wondering if I’d gotten it in all the way. I really wish it had a little more of a satisfying click when it was fully engaged. It felt more to me like I was just guessing. Once the front tab is in, you can push the side tabs in by hand, or just step down on the boot like in the video. Again I was hoping for more of an audible click but there wasn’t one. In fact, I had to go look at the other boot to make sure the sole looked the same to know that it was in all the way. There are holes through the outside of the sole so you can see the orange tabs when they are engaged, but even in the engaged position, they look almost a little out of place–like they might need to stick in further–but they don’t. Still, once they’re in, they’re in, and you can’t get them off by just yanking on the sides, you have to follow the correct procedure, so I’m not worried about them coming off mid-stream.
Fit and Feel
Remember those old wading boots? The ones where you would audibly sigh as you yanked them off your sore feet after standing in the river all day? The ones that would make you greatful the water was cold because it helped ice your feet in those stupid, hard, uncomfortable boots? Do me a favor, throw those boots away and buy these. Some of the most comfortable boots I’ve ever worn. Now granted, in waders you’ve got at least 2 mil of neoprene between you and the boot for added cushion, but these boots do nothing but help the situation. I had these on for two hours and didn’t even notice they were there.
I also loved the solid footprint these boots give. The old boots had a bit too much of a heel, and without and reinforcement in the upper I would often as not end up stepping down and rolling the heel of the boot out from under my foot. This led to slipping on rocks, hurting my feet, and wearing through the sides of the boot. The Korkers are so well reinforced in the sides that you get a solid foot plant even when stepping on small boulders getting in the water. Walking up a trail they felt as solid as any climbing boot I’ve owned.
I’ll mention sizing here. I had heard they were sized true, but I wanted to verify for myself. I wear a 10.5 US shoe and I bought the 10-10.5 Korker Redside. With my 2mil summer waders they fit very comfortably, and I’m sure they’ll fit even with my thicker winter neoprenes. I would have to put on a few thick wool socks to wear these without waders, so when you go to buy, do not go up a size.
So far I’m very pleased with the Redsides. They’re the entry level for Korkers, but a huge step up from the low end army-style wading boot. The interchangeable soles make for quick adaptability to any river situation. There is a lot of variety in soles you can buy as well. Rubber soles, studded rubber, felt, and studded felt for anglers, and you can even buy some snow and ice soles and double-use your boots in the winter if you want (although the Redsides aren’t waterproof, so you probably won’t last long in snow with them). The boots are very comfortable, so a full day of fishing with them on is no problem. Korkers uses TrueFit sizing, so if you wear a size 10 normal shoe, buy a size 10 wading boot to use with waders. If you want to wear the boots without waders, you’ll want to go at least a half-size smaller than normal shoe size. The boots have a sturdy construction and long lasting feel to them. Lacing is quick with the elastic pull system, and the excess laces tuck away on the attached tongue strap. I really liked how easily these things came on and off while wearing my waders, no tugging required, but they still felt snug while on my feet.
In conclusion, goodbye old, nasty, uncomfortable boots. Hello standing in a stream for 8-12 hours without sore feet, hiking down trails without rolling my ankle, and enjoying felt and rubber wading shoes without carrying two sets of heavy boots around!
- Super comfortable. I didn’t even notice I have them on. They were very comfortable both in the water and hiking on the trail. I would say you could use them as hiking boots too, but they’re sized so well for use with waders they were much to big for walking around without waders. Maybe I need to buy myself some wading socks…
- Good support. With other boots, my heel couldn’t seem to stay level making it easy to roll my ankle. These are 100% solid regardless of the terrain. (Unlike when I wore my old boots and looked like a newly born giraffe in the middle of the river).
- Very customizeable. Get all of your boot needs without having to break in a new pair of boots and without pulling your boots off your waders. They’ve got a studded rubber version, maybe I should use them as my golf shoes….
- Small details.
- Double- or Triple-stitching in the places that need it
- Large opening for wader-clad feet
- Quick-tight lacing system
- Nice elastic strap to hold the excess pull laces
- Hook for your gravel guards.
- You can tell these were made by people that actually fish.
- Wet. These boots take forever to dry out. I wore them Saturday morning, Sunday evening the uppers are still damp. But I do live in Western Washington, so nothing is ever really dry here, is it?
- Baggage. It’s easy to end up carrying around a lot of junk in between the OmniTrax sole and the boot. I was on the beach, and I didn’t notice any difference while I was walking with the boot on, but when I took off the Kling-on sole I ended up with a lap full of sand from the beach that had stowed away in between. So make sure you clean them well before moving to new waters, or you might take a lot of friends with you.