Traditional wading boots are heavy and somewhat cumbersome to walk long distances in. Their primary design is to maximize stability and traction while wading. For the most part, they succeed at doing exactly that.
Trout fishing seems to be surging in popularity. It has gotten so popular that I have heard of anglers struggling to find Carparks on some popular rivers in Colorado. The result is, to find quality fishing and solitude, we fishermen need to walk further into the backcountry. This means, our footwear not only needs to be comfortable and supportive to wade in. They also need to be comfortable hike in.
The answer to this dilemma are ultralight wading boots. These boots are made lighter, and are designed to be designed as a sort of hybrid boots. A boot that excels not only while wading, but is comfortable and durable enough to walk for many miles over forest trails to a pristine stream.
Comfort on the trail?
My initial impressions. Is that the Simms flyweight feels like a shoe, while the Orvis Ultralights are a lightweight boot.
The Orvis Ultralights feel more supportive and comfortable. They have more internal padding which simply makes them more comfortable to wear. They also have a much more defined heel, which makes foot placement more secure. If I was carrying in quite a heavy pack. I certainly will consider the more supportive Orvis to be a better choice.
The Simms flyweight, are more of a wading shoe, a sort of fusion between trail runners and a wading boot. Firstly, they are very lightweight, and lighter footwear is simply less tiring to walk in. I am used to hiking and fly-fishing while wearing trail running shoes, and the Simms Flyweight are a good alternative.
The flyweights are light enough, that I will even consider carrying a pair of felt sole flyweights in my pack for use at rivers while wearing a traditional trail shoe on the walk in. That way I get the safety and grip of felt on the river, while not having to wear felt while hiking.
The Simms flyweights also dry much faster than the Orvis boots. Not only do they contain less fabric and padding, the material also seems to be more porous which allows for rapid drying. Now, the Orvis boots still dry much faster than most hiking boots, they are not slow drying, the Simms are just faster.
Performance in the river?
On water performance is a bit hard to judge, and it largely comes down to sole choice. In most wading situations, having a felt sole will provide for more grip than having a Vibram or rubber sole… But felt soles are pretty terrible to hike in, so anyone who wants to use them for hiking probably will go for the Vibram soles.
Okay, soles aside. The Orvis boots seem to be more supportive. Less likely to roll an ankle while wearing them. While the Simms boots are much more flexible. The sole sorts of contorts to the rocks increase the surface extra and improve the grip.
It is really hard to judge a clear winner because sometimes I feel the more supportive Orvis boots allow for more defined and stable foot placements. But the softer, more flexible Simms seems to grip even better in some situations.
I have not noticed this myself with the Simms, but a friend of mine who wears them complains that they absorb a lot of fine sand particles while wading. I have had this happen while wearing running shoes, the sand particles somehow wiggle themselves through the pores in the fabric and end up inside the sole. If enough sand builds up it can be a bit uncomfortable.
Durability – Which will last the longest?
The Simms are basically trail running shoes, probably even made from similar materials. I am lucky to get more than a year out of such shoes without wear becoming an issue.
The Orvis, is built slightly stronger with a thicker sole. I will expect it to last longer, but again it will have a shorter life expectancy than traditional wading boots. Durability is one price that has to be paid for weight saving.
At the time of writing the Orvis Ultralight was retailing for $189, while the Simms Flyweight wading boots were $199.
Orvis and Simms went in quite different directions with their ultralight wading boots. Orvis designed a lightweight version of a wading boot, while the Simms Flyweight boots more resemble a hiking or trail running shoes but with a little extra height in the ankle.
They are both good options, which serve slightly different needs.
If you are interested in other wading boots, you can check our reviews here.
If you are interested in waders, we have compared the Simms G4 with the Patagonia Swiftcurrents here.