My first fishing shoes were old sneakers I wore as a kid. From boat to wet wading in rivers, they served the purpose. But here’s the thing: They weren’t meant to be water shoes. Spend a day fishing in chilly weather while wearing soggy sneakers with minimal tread. The combined discomfort and inevitable fall due to poor traction will teach the importance of quality fishing shoes.
Thankfully, there are a plethora of excellent footwear options available today for fishing adventures. For this review, I’ve focused on shoes and not wading boots or other types of specialized fishing boots. Let’s take a look at some of the best fishing shoes on the market.
Things to Consider Before Buying Fishing Shoes
When purchasing fishing shoes, I think in terms of primary purpose and the seasons when I’m most likely to wear them. Are the shoes intended primarily for boat fishing or for walking a lake shoreline or beach? Will I use them most during the summer? Or in the fall and spring shoulder seasons? Once I’ve answered those questions, I look for comfort, foot protection, traction and whether the shoe is meant to be waterproof or water shedding.
I’ve sold shoes in a variety of retail contexts, from fly fishing shops to men’s and women’s fine clothing. Suffice it to say, I’ve given a lot of advice regarding footwear. The shoe should always feel comfortable the first time you put it on. If you’ve ever worn a less-than-ideal pair of shoes or boots for an entire day, then you already understand. A comfortable new shoe will become even more comfortable as the shoe is broken in, but a shoe that doesn’t feel great out of the box will not magically become wonderful the more it’s worn. In my experience, the opposite is true—the more you wear it, the more discomfort it causes.
A good fishing shoe should offer protection, especially for the toes and sole of the foot. Everything from stray hooks or lures lying in the bottom of the boat to sharp rocks and broken glass along a shoreline can dramatically alter a day of fishing. The best fishing footwear will protect your feet from these hazards.
Quality shoes designed for fishing have one thing in common: good traction. Whether it be materials such as Vibram or other rubber/synthetic blends combined with a well-thought-out traction design, the sole of the shoe should keep you upright when walking on wet and slippery surfaces.
How They Respond to Water
The best fishing shoes react to water in one of two ways: Either they’re waterproof (as long as you don’t walk into water deeper than the shoe or boot is tall), or they rapidly shed water and dry quickly. For colder weather conditions, I prefer the former. From late spring until early or mid-fall, I opt for the latter. In both cases, I want the uppers of the shoes to be made from synthetic materials designed to withstand the effects of water over the long haul.
Why It Made the Cut:
A true wet-wading shoe designed for covering miles, with an aggressive sole that provides outstanding traction.
- Sizes: 7 – 14 (Whole sizes only; Half-sizes should round up)
- Upper: Lightweight low-profile synthetic upper
- Sole: Vibram Idrogrip rubber sole
- Rugged design
- Comfortable cushioned midsole
- Web lacing system
- Wading stud compatibility
- Sizing seems to vary for some – best if you can try them on before buying
If you do a lot of wet wading when you fish, this shoe deserves serious consideration. Simms is known for high-quality waders and boots, and this wet wading shoe is true to that form. I like the rugged design, as it provides excellent foot and ankle support for a low-profile shoe.
The Flyweight Wet Wading Shoe has improved dramatically on an earlier iteration of Simms’s wet wading shoe, which had large open spaces on the sides. On the older model, this allowed larger cobble and pebbles into the shoe, where they would painfully lodge between foot and insole. The synthetic mesh upper of the Flyweight eliminates that problem, protects and supports the foot, and is rugged enough to provide significant durability. Simms’s web lacing system provides a snug fit. These shoes can be worn next to the skin or with a wading sock. Because of the miles I cover while wet wading, I prefer to wear a thin synthetic sock, like the Simms Guide Wet Wading Socks , to further reduce any chance of chafing.
Simms Vibram Idrogrip soles provide exceptional traction and a rock-solid platform for fishing wherever you plant your feet. If the river bottoms are particularly slick, the shoe’s tread is designed to accept wading studs.
Best Boat Shoes
Columbia Men’s PFG Bahama Vent Shoe Columbia
Why It Made the Cut:
Easy on, easy off, great traction and all-day comfort make these a great warm weather boat fishing shoe.
- Sizes: 7 – 17 (Whole and Half Sizes); also available in kids sizes
- Upper: Combination canvas and leather upper
- Sole: Omni-Grip non-marking wet grip outsole with razor siping
- Blood ‘n Guts water and stain resistant treatment
- Vent midsole ports
- Techlite midsole provides superior cushion and support
- Slip-on design
- Weight: 8.1 oz.
- Sizing runs large—may need to downsize for proper fit
When a shoe has a protective coating described as ‘Blood ‘n Guts’ resistant, it has a way of getting a fisherman’s attention. As part of Columbia’s PFG (Performance Fishing Gear) line, these shoes are a winner for the boating fisherman. If the deck is slick from a combination of water and fish slime, the Omni-Grip outsole will keep you on your feet and in the game. These soles have “razor siping,” wherein thin slits are cut across the sole’s surface to improve overall traction. And it really works.
Another wonderful aspect of this classically styled boat shoe is the easy on and off capability. There are times, especially during the summer months, when I want to go barefoot. Having the ability to quickly shift back and forth makes these shoes particularly suitable for the ebb and flow of a fishing day.
Though the PFG Bahama Vent Shoe has a relaxed look, it hides the cushioned midsole which provides great comfort throughout a long day on the water. And, after extended periods of exposure to the elements, including blood and guts, Columbia’s Omni-Shield treatment does indeed improve their staying power.
HUK Rogue Wave Bass Pro Shop
Why It Made the Cut:
A true waterproof deck boot with the comfort of a shoe, these ankle-high boots are a saltwater fisherman’s dream come true.
- Sizes: 7 – 14 (Whole sizes only)
- Upper: Waterproof rubber and neoprene upper
- Sole: GripX Wet Traction non-marking outsole
- Heavy-duty reinforced pull tabs front and rear of opening
- 8mm molded EVA footbed
- Reinforced seams
- Only available in whole sizes
This deck boot is hands-down one of the best boat shoes made. It’s a beautiful thing when performance meets simplicity and that’s what HUK has created with the Rogue Wave. The neoprene and rubber upper is comfortable, supportive and simple in its design. Thanks to the heavy-duty pull-tabs on the front and rear of the foot entrance, these boots slip on and off easily. The molded footbed is comfortable and makes hours of fishing pass without serious discomfort. These deck boots are truly waterproof; coupled with a quality pair of fishing bibs, you’ll shed water and stay dry.
The GripX outsole offers exceptional traction and a surety of footing that anglers will appreciate. From slippery boat ramps to decks coated in water and fish slime, these boots pass the traction test with flying colors. Boat owners with white decks will also appreciate their non-marking nature as well.
These boots are also reasonably warm in the cold weather of early spring and late fall. Still, for the harshest cold of winter, I’d opt for a boot designed more specifically for those conditions.
Why It Made the Cut:
This hybrid sandal protects kids’ feet while providing a superior platform to keep them standing solid on any angling adventure.
- Sizes: Available in both big kids (1 – 7) and little kids (8 – 13) sizes
- Upper: washable polyester webbing
- Sole: Non-marking rubber outsole
- Rubber toe bumper and heel pad for superior foot protection
- Quick-dry lining
- Easy on/off
- Lace-lock bungee system with adjustable hook-and-loop strap
- Machine washable
- Long-term repetitive machine washing will wear out the Velcro closure more quickly
The scaled-down kids’ version of Keen’s flagship product is a true winner for young anglers. Having a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, I’ve learned that fishing is almost always about adventure and flexibility. Whether wading wet to catch crayfish or scrambling along shorelines looking for buried treasure, these shoes keep the kids in action.
The upper is brilliantly designed with quick dry polyester that stands up to endless water play; the Velcro straps make it easy for young anglers to manage their own shoes. Rubber outsoles have a grippy rubber construction and excellent siping to enhance traction. One of the highpoints of the Keen sole is how the rubber extends into a formidable toe bumper to protect kids toes. Additionally, the rubber wraps around the heel creating added protection there as well.
Bottom line with kids: keep them safe and comfortable and they’ll outlast grownups most days. They may or may not be fishing but the outdoor adventures never stop. The Keen Newport H2 was created for just that scenario.
How I Made My Picks
In one capacity or another, I’ve spent more than a decade working professionally to help people choose footwear; more than half of that experience was with fishing shoes, boots and waders. During that time, I had great mentors and always tried to learn from our customers’ experiences, which augmented and informed my own decisions and choices over time. Countless conversations with vendor representatives, guides, industry professionals and guiding clients have rounded out my continuing education in outdoors footwear. For this review, I considered the following characteristics:
- Materials: Are the uppers and soles made from materials meant for frequent interaction with water?
- Design: are the shoes constructed in a way that will hold up over the long haul?
- Lacing System: How are the shoes secured and are they reasonably easy to slip on and off?
- Foot Protection: Do the shoes protect an angler’s feet?
- Traction: Is the sole designed to provide maximum traction in challenging angling environments?
Q: Do I need to wear socks with fishing shoes?
Whether to wear socks with fishing shoes depends on two factors: the design of the shoes themselves and each angler’s personal preference related to comfort. Shoes such as Columbia’s PFG Bahama Vent Shoe and the Keen Newport H2 are both designed for next-to-skin wear. However, some people may have feet prone to blistering and prefer the added layer of a thin sock. Both of these shoes will accommodate this comfortably. When wearing wet wading shoes like Simms Flyweight, I prefer a synthetic wading sock for comfort and a slightly more snug fit. The Rogue Wave’s are particularly versatile and I choose sock or no sock based on weather. For cooler weather, I prefer a sock, but in warmer weather, I go without.
Q: Are hiking shoes good for fishing?
Hiking shoes can be good for fishing but dependent on where you’re fishing and whether you actually need hiking style footwear. If your fishing destination requires a trek and does not require substantial wet wading, then a good pair of hiking shoes will get the job done. If, however, you were fishing a backcountry freestone stream requiring frequent wading, a shoe like the Simms Flyweight Wet Wading Shoe would be my choice. This shoe was designed for just these sorts of adventures and will provide a better experience for the angler.
Boat fishing is the other scenario to consider. In cooler weather, a good hiking boot may serve you well. However, during summer, a cooler alternative or one that provides an easier on and off option will serve you better.
Q: Are fishing shoes supposed to be tight or loose?
Fishing shoes should be neither tight nor loose. Either extreme can cause problems. Tight shoes can pinch toes or create unpleasant pressure on the sides of the foot; what begins as mild discomfort can and often does increase as the day passes. On the other extreme, loose shoes can rub, especially at the heel, often causing blisters to form. A reasonably snug fit, with a bit of wiggle room for your toes is the ideal middle ground I look for.
Q: Do I need shoes on a boat?
I always want to have some type of shoe when boating. There are too many scenarios where bare feet can lead to injuries. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy being barefoot while on the water. But have some sort of footwear available when needed; even a good pair of flip-flops or sandals is preferable to nothing. All of the shoes reviewed provide the best of both worlds: excellent foot protection while also being easy to slip on or off.
When preparing to go fishing, we often spend a great deal of time focused on rods, reels, lines, flies and lures. After that, we attend to boats, trailers, waders and packing the cooler with our favorite foods and beverages. However, our footwear should also receive serious consideration. To choose the best fishing shoes for any particular outing, consider the season and weather along with where and how you’re fishing. Doing so will get any fishing adventure off on the right foot.