A felt-less sole on a wading boot? Are you kidding? Not if you’re Simms, which just released its new line of StreamTread wading boots that feature custom-designed rubber soles from industry leader Vibram.
The point of this is that felt soles can be cesspools of aquatic hitchhikers — didymo (also known as rock snot), New Zeland mud snails, Zebra mussels, whirling disease and others. You can fish in a waterway that’s carrying some of these invasive species and potentially transfer them — via your felt soles — to another, previously unaffected body of water.
You’ve got to hand it to Simms — as one of the trusted names in wading gear, they could sit back and not do anything to help the situation, but instead they’ve made the commitment to be completely felt-free by 2010. A big risk to be sure, but if it works, the rest of the industry will probably follow suit. Now, even if everyone’s wearing rubber soled wading boots, we’re probably not going to totally stop the spread of these destructive organisms, but it’s sure a step in the right direction.
Features & Specs
Last year, I reviewed the felt version of the Rivershed boot (see the review here) and the Cliff’s Notes version of the story is: they’re the most bad-ass, durable and comfortable wading boot I’ve ever worn. So, I’m not going to go too much into the boot itself, but rather take a look at the new StreamTread soles.
When I first took a look and feel of the Vibram soles, I figured they were too hard, but then again, I haven’t been making soles for 70 years, so I should probably leave that up to the experts. It just seemed that if you were going to go without felt, you’d want some super-soft, sticky rubber, but the StreamTreads are pretty hard.
Apparently, there was a method to the madness, however…
The key to the whole design is the Vibram 360 lugs, which provide traction in all directions (in addition to being easy to clean), which I have to admit is a pretty cool little piece of sole technology.
If you really want to get some extra grip, you can also add the Simms (removable) HardBite studs…
On the Water Test
Well, I opted to go without the studs for a couple reasons. First, I just wanted to see how the soles gripped without the extra help, figuring if they worked well by themselves, I could assume they’d even be better with studs. Secondly, I fish quite frequently out of boats — and studs and floors don’t mix.
So, to test the StreamTreads out, I picked the most heinous piece of wading water that I could think of — the upper American River, which is in a deep gorge with plenty of slick granite boulders and deadly slime rocks.
Just to get to the water, it’s a rigorous hike and then 100-foot vertical scramble over very unfriendly terrain. On the way in, I immediately appreciated the fact that these boots felt a lot lighter than their felt-soled cousins. On dry land, the soles provided outstanding traction, even on smooth rocks.
So, when we got down to the water, one of my felt-wearing compadres very nearly crashed and burned after stepping on these slick-as-snot rocks. While I wouldn’t want to walk too many miles on this kind of stuff, the StreamTreads gripped pretty well.
Once in the water, I walked on a combination of big boulders, ledges and gravel and felt very comfortable. The boot shined on small gravel and preformed better that I expected on the big slick stuff. In fact, I forgot I was not wearing felt several times throughout the day.
And I even caught the biggest trout of the day while wearing them, so the Rivershed StreamTreads have some good fish mojo, too, which is always important!
Then, it was time for a final test…rock-hopping on glass-smooth boulders with wet feet. I’ve nearly killed myself a thousand times scrambling up and down this type of rock with wet felt soles, which have all the traction of a block of ice in that situation. I’m pleased to report that these babies were far superior to felt in that area!
The Upper American is a hostile wading environment and the fact that I made it the entire day without incident has me feeling pretty good about the new StreamTread concept. In the water, I’d have to say that these soles were probably 90 percent as grippy as felt, and on small gravel even better.
Since then, I’ve also worm them in the boat, where I appreciated the traction on wet floors — the same floors that often feel like ice rinks when wearing damp felt. Additionally, these boots are going to be really handy come steelhead season when we’re walking around in the snow. If you’ve never tromped through the white stuff with felt soles on, here’s what happens…
Overall, I’m quite impressed. So maybe you loose a little traction — not a lot — with the rubber in the river, but you also gain in other areas. I think the future of wading boots just arrived…