For any angler that does a lot of walking in their fishing, a good pair of boots is an important bit of kit and often one that is overlooked. Lure anglers by their very nature adopt a totally roving approach and unless they have got the right boots, long walks or uneven ground can cause fatigue, pain, blisters, hotspots, and even severe injury or death. No matter what type of fishing you do, walking boots are often your best option.
Most boots made by fishing tackle manufacturers are a poor substitute for proper walking or hiking boots. Although there are no doubt a few exceptions, they generally lack the knowledge, technology and manufacturing prowess to compete with proprietary boots.
My last pair of Brasher boots died on me recently so I went through the usual process of choosing suitable replacements. After previously trying to get one boot that suited all four seasons, it seems that it is a compromise too far (for the fishing I do) so I have decided that the best solution is to get two pairs of boots. This will give me a lighter 3 Season, more breathable, pair for warmer periods and a heavier duty pair of 4 season boots for winter use, and hopefully double the life expectancy of both.
So, which boots?
Walking boots generally fall into a few general types.
Mountain Boots - usually too stiff in both ankle support and sole unit for fishing or walking any distance on flat ground.
Hiking Boots – varied types of boot in this section. They generally offer very good ankle support and built to be used whilst carrying a load. Best suited to the more mobile or adventurous angler, or those wanting a tough boot. Generally a stiffer boot than a walking boot, but slightly at the expense of comfort on easy walks.
Walking Boots – just a lighter version of hiking boot. Good support as usually mid height and flexible enough to prevent fatigue when walking a good distance. Sole units are often too soft to use on rocks. Best suited to anglers who walk to their swim and fish statically due to good grip and comfort, or mobile anglers on easier terrain with a lightweight pack.
Walking Shoes & Sandals; as the name suggests, just a shoe version of a walking boot. They offer little or no ankle protection or support but are very comfortable on easy terrain. Best suited to summer fishing on flat ground. Very breathable.
NB. Hiking boots and walking boots are often stated as being the same thing in shops… the tougher and stiffer they are, the more they lean towards being a hiking boot.
First off, you need to consider what type of fishing you do and what you need the boots for.
In my case, I wanted a fairly lightweight boot that was breathable, waterproof and with a very grippy sole suitable for mostly mud but also, occasionally, sharp and boulder type rocks.
Type: I needed more ankle support than a shoe gives but not as much as a full height boot. To maximise breathability I chose a fabric/leather boot rather than a full leather boot.
Waterproofing: Goretex (GTX) remains as the market leader (just my interpretation of internet based reviews).
Sole: For mud I needed a deep, aggressive lug pattern that digs in, on both the front and back of the boot. A fairly flexible sole is good on mud and causes less fatigue when walking but a slightly stiffer sole can help when scrambling up muddy banks. Vibram is accepted as the best but some manufacturers make their own proprietary alternatives, some good, some not so good.
For rocks I needed a very grippy sole material for boulders but also a lug pattern with enough places to wedge the edges of sharp rocks into, to stop slipping. Soles for rocks need to be fairly stiff to help movement over rough ground and to stop feeling the sharp edges through the soles into your feet.
Weight & Size: tiredness is often a factor on long, mobile days so lighter/smaller = less fatigue.
I chose a hiking boot as I fish quite a lot in rough terrain, and a Goretex lining was a must, but the sole unit had to be right. Short of getting boots specifically for rocks or specifically for mud the soles had to be a compromise.
As usual, I used an Excel spreadsheet and listed details of the boots that might fit my requirements. A few stood out and made it to the final list.
Everyone has different shaped feet and some manufacturer’s boots are more suitable than others. It is critical when choosing a boot to make sure they fit your feet, otherwise you will suffer, and the only way to do that is to try them on.
Unfortunately this is where it usually gets tricky as you’d be very lucky to have all of your final choices in the right sizes available locally.
First stop was Cotswold Outdoors; it’s a great shop for anglers and the staff are very knowledgeable. The sales girl suggested I had my feet properly measured. Turns out I’ve got wide, size 10's… but I knew that already! J Seriously though, it’s a great service and helps to select a boot shape that fits, rather than size.
To cut a long story short, I couldn’t find the boots I was after in the right size locally but after trying on the other boots on the list, and a similar boot by the same manufacturer, I took a chance and ordered online. I’d much rather have bought them from Cotswold but their delivery period was too long for a planned trip They also offer price-matching if you ask them. ;-)
In the end I bought my first choice; a pair of Salomon Conquest GTX boots.
They were comfortable straight out of the box but I did feel a few hotspots at first... changing the lacing soon sorted that out. So far they’ve been waterproof and the sole is good on different terrains. I may do a longer term review of the boots at some point but so far I’m very happy with them.
If you're in the market for new fishing footwear then I'd strongly suggest you consider a pair of walking or hiking boots. The comfort they offer is unparalleled and can revolutionise your fishing, allowing you to fish longer and harder if you want to. It’s also good to know you have a good, grippy sole unit that you can count on to keep you upright and/or dry. On a few occasions I've gone a cropper and a broken wrist on your casting arm puts a real dent in your fishing time.
Part 2 will be about Winter Boots, when I buy them.