Felt Soles vs. Sticky Rubber

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Earlier this season I ordered two pairs of wading boots from Patagonia. One was felt and the other was sticky rubber. I’ll typically go through about two and sometimes even three pairs of wading boots in a season so I figured I could have my own little test without much extra cost.

Felt vs. Sticky Rubber Boots

Charity and I had bad experiences with sticky rubber in the past (mostly with customers using it) and have long been skeptics. Since most of the major manufacturers are now making sticky rubber soles with some even threatening to discontinue felt I thought I should see if they were any better.

I’ll admit that I was surprised when I first wore the boots in the Smokies. The boots did grip better than I thought they might, especially out of the water and on dry rock. The downside was worse than the upside, though. Virtually any smooth rock in the river was slick. So slick that I’m not sure the boots were much better than a pair of Converse sneakers.

Over on the Holston and the Clinch the boots did much better. Water currents are slower and there are fewer areas of with a complete bedrock bottom. I really didn’t have much problem wading in them on the tailwaters.

I’ve heard some positive comments about sticky rubber soles with studs, but I’m not even going to try that. Studs on the smooth rocks in the Smokies is a real recipe for disaster. I found that the cleats kept the felt from even gaining much contact. The combination of cleats and smooth rock was close to roller skates, so I don’t think sticky rubber would help.

Another thing that just bothers me about cleats is that I see claw marks on the boulders in the rivers and streams. This seems to prove they slip in critical situations, but I hate to see the “wader graffiti” on the rocks.

We were initially on board for the reasons given that sticky rubber soles would impede the spread of nasty things like Didymo, whirling disease, and New Zealand Mud Snails. But now I doubt that. There’s more than just felt that picks up stuff in the river.  Shoe laces, insoles, and gravel guards all pick stuff up and should be cleansed after fishing “contaminated” rivers.

I saw this article a few days ago on Midcurrent. I sure hope felt doesn’t go away.

Any experience with sticky rubber you’d like to share? We’d like to hear what you think.

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Comments

  1. The studs are as harmful as helpful. Just look to the local golf courses that have gone spikeless.

    Beforehand, everywhere there was wood that was knee level or below, the spike “termites” had found their way there.

    Felt is still the best.

  2. The problem I have with using rubber soles is I can’t stand up long enough to fish.

  3. Ian,

    I agree with you that the motivating reasons behind rubber soles are admirable but also agree that rubber won’t completely fix the issue by any stretch of the imagination. The only way to avoid spreading invasive species is to thoroughly clean and dry your gear between trips or have separate wading gear for each stream you fish.

    About the grip of the rubber, I tried some out and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were much better than I had anticipated (Chota Roc Locs). Still, I believe rubber has a ways to go to equal or surpass felt for grip on those slick rocks in the mountain streams. Until the rubber improves, I’ll still buy felt…

  4. I bought a pair with walnut shell in them, they work good on Clinch. I have not tried them in
    the Smoky yet. What I like the most was going up the steep bank of the clinch, I can’t count the time I fell with felt boots gong down the bank. They light for hike up the trails too. thanks hal

  5. Hi Ian,
    Check out this link on installing your own studs. I think this secret is not adding to many studs. I only put in 12 to 14 per boot. You don’t want so many as to reduce the rubber surface touching the rock. I have used this system for about a year and a half now, much of it in the Smokies and have found it quite acceptable.

    http://www.questoutdoors.net/gear/articles/diy_studs

    The main reason I find the studded rubber to the superior than felt is because rubber soles weigh much less than wet felt. This comes in handy when hiking in the backcountry. Also, when moving from spot to spot, the puddle of water in the floorboard of your vehicle is much smaller with rubber sole boots than wet felt boots.

    One downside that I have thought of rubber with cleats: cleats tapping on streambed rocks could possibly spook fish especially in the Smokies. But I don’t have an accurate way to judge this effect.

    I am not saying that rubber is superior to felt, but you might want to try adding a few small studs on your rubber soles.

    Caleb

    • Good stuff, Caleb. One thing I forgot to mention regarding studs is that drift boat ownership also biases me against them. A buddy wore studded boots in my first drift boat and I was horrified to see those tracks for years afterwards. I’ve also contemplated the noise from cleats and can imagine it would put you at a disadvantage in some spots but not be a problem in others.