Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Honest, Hardcore Boot Review

The hot topic has been aquatic nuisance species and the new felt alternative wading boots that have been hitting the market and how they perform blah blah blah. All of the reviews have come from people that have worn the boots for a weekend, or a fishing trip or two and then they try and tell you how the product is going to perform for you. Well the problem is most fishermen we talk to don't fish 2 days a year, we live in Montana and we demand a lot of our gear. So here's an honest, informed, opinion on the subject.

Korkers Predator Boot
I was asked in June of 2009 to field test a new boot that would be hitting the shelves shortly, the Korkers Predator Kling On. I was pretty excited to have some of the new AIS friendly rubber on my feet, after all I am a conservationist as well as a fisherman and I like to know that I’m not spreading stuff that’s killing off our pristine rivers. So I put them to the test on one of the scummiest sections of river I could think of, the Lower Madison below Greycliff. Below is my first few days of notes that I sent to Korkers on the boots and my notes:

Day 1 6/26 – Lower Madison – wore boots with regular fishing socks and waders and the fit was just right after tightening up the BOA lace system. Felt quite comfortable, much sturdier toe box and midsole/heel and arch support than the guide boot – less flex in the sidewalls of the boot than in the Guide boot. Overall liked the fit and feel and felt sturdy unlike a lot of boots in that weight range.
On Stream Observations – I’m skeptical about any non felt material so I fully expected a similar experience to the Simms Vibram soles (slippery and almost worthless on slimy rocks), much better – better stick and grip both on rocks and the mossy sandy bottom. Comparatively to felt it still isn’t quite as good on some of the bigger rocks, but much better on the gravel and sand combinations than felt. Good support for wading deep and rough, good grip right up to the toe and heel. Hopped out of the boat at full tilt to see how they do from dry to wet and was able to keep standing despite hopping out of a moving boat. In water time spent (1 ½ hours) in boat time spent (3 ½ hours) total test time 5 hours.
Day 2 6/27 – Rocky Creek – again wore boots with waders and fishing socks, didn’t notice any difference in the fit of boot or any new “play” or “give” in any of the materials.
On Stream Observations – This time I wade fished a smaller creek with rocks and lots of moss and the boots had a much different feel than felt. I slipped and slid around a lot more on the mossy bottom and didn’t feel as though I had as good of a grip as I usually do with felt soles. The middle of the boot slipped more and I found myself gripping more with my toes and wading much more deliberately than I usually do as I felt a bit unsteady on my feet. That being said it performed much better than previous rubbers that I’ve used. The toe grip on the boots was superior to the mid sole area due to the extra tread pattern on the toes I believe. Good ankle support and good durability as I beat around the rocks, boots still look like they’re brand new. The boots performed exceedingly better than felt on the mud banks, sticks, and gravel banks getting up and down and around the banks and through the brush – much more versatile than felt when going in and out of the water quickly (felt oftentimes seems to slip and slide when wet on non rock surfaces.) In water time spent (3 ½ hours) hiking through brush (30 min) total test time 4 hours.

Here's pics of the wear on the boots after a couple of weeks: notice that there was very little wear initially to the boot, the majority of the tread didn't wear until well into 60 days on the boots (and a few times on pavement...)
So to be honest with our readers, after a few more days on the river, I began to find that I was growing more accustomed to the slip and slide and was able to get a better grip on most rocks, and for those that I wasn’t able to get grips on I concluded that even with felt I would have had a hard time wading around in the slime.
High Points - Great grip getting in and out of the water and scrambling up and around rocks, way better than felt in that aspect. The rubber is sticky and soft enough to grip in most situations, after getting used to the new material (about a week in) I really enjoyed the ability to get in and out and around the edges of the water and grass without slipping all over the place as you often do with wet felt on grass. Another plus is that you can easily clean and quickly dry out the bottoms of these boots, making them very AIS friendly. The best thing going for rubber is for us winter anglers that can't stand the high heels that you get when walking around in felt, you don't get that at all with rubber bottom boots and the Kling On performed admirably in the dead of winter on snow and ice.
Low Points - As with any product, it's not perfect. Rubber doesn't grip as well on slimy rocks as felt does. The durability will be a factor because felt is cheaper, and lasts a lot longer and we all know that costs prohibit some technologies from ever hitting the market - we'll see what the future holds for rubber and other felt alternatives. My main complaint is that it takes a while to get used to the limitations and advantages of the new boot, having worn felt my entire life I was reticent to make the switch. Unstudded, these things will never perform as well in mossy rock situations, so make sure and get cleats for your spring wading excursions.
Fast forward to March 2010, almost a year and over 80 days on these things, here’s the good and the bad of it and the pictures to prove it.

As you can see the rubber on the toe and heel areas is pretty worn. The best thing I can say is that after the sheer hell of me on a pair of boots for a year, the boot itself is in incredibly good shape, the soles might need some replacing, but really if you can get 80 days or so on a pair of boots (and I’m talking about an average of 12+ miles on and off the stream) I’m quite happy.

I’m probably one of the hardest people in the world on gear – it goes from the river and oftentimes spends weeks in the back of my pickup under snow and ice piles, gets cleaned off and thrown back on and into the river. As a side note, I’ve had the opportunity to wear the Simms boot and I didn’t like it at all, heavy, clunky, proprietary stream cleats were marginal and were already wearing down after only a couple of months of wear and the wear on the rubber was immediate and noticeable… Verdict, Kling On.

I feel a post note is necessary here: For those of us who fish a lot, we're going to wear down gear no matter what we are wearing, and thus felt isn't the answer either even though it wears better because we also need to consider our effects on watersheds. The biggest point that seems to be lost in all of the talk about AIS and the spread of things is the actual CLEANING OF YOUR GEAR. Simply buying a felt alternative like Kling On or whatever it might be, you aren't solving any problems if you don't clean you gear. CLEAN YOUR GEAR, seriously, I'd like to see guides, outfitters, and the fishing public all come together on something for once and help save what we have left and not aid in the distribution of AIS around the watersheds of Montana.

For more information on AIS (Aquatic Invasive Species) and stopping the spread of them check out Trout Unlimited’s Website http://www.tu.org/science/aquatic-invasive-species-ais and be part of the solution, not the problem, Clean, Check and Dry your gear. Because nobody wants to damage our rivers, streams and lakes.

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