Sunday, 7 October 2012

Patagonia Riverwalker Review

Wading boots with felt soles, especially studded felt, give the wading angler the best grip in rocky rivers. But that's pretty much the only advantage of felt soles. Out of water they are virtually useless and in fact quite dangerous on grass. In winter they suffer from a build up of snow and ice in such weather, becoming heavy, uncomfortable and again dangerous. Currently felt soles are being given bad press for their potential to carry organisms from one river to another, and, therefore, have been banned in some places, e.g. New Zealand. I don't necessarily follow this: clearly they could carry organisms in the felt, but there are plenty of other nooks and crannies that could do the same, e.g. laces, gravel guards, inside the tongue, soft padding and materials used, etc.

That aside, this year I have taken so many tumbles in my felt soles whilst walking on grass I decided to buy a pair of rubber soled wading boots. Not to replace my felt soled boots, but to use on those days when there is more hiking than fishing involved. Such as fishing upland streams and tributaries; exploring new streams when a mobile approach is required; when there are long walks between pools, etc. Rivers where you spend most of your time wading, fishing almost constantly, will still me wearing felt soles.

Patagonia Riverwalker Boots with sticky rubber soles
There are a few options on the market but the aggressive tread and 'grippy' rubber offerings from Snowbee, Simms and Patagonia were on my shortlist. Eventually I plumped for the Patagonia Riverwalker Boots with sticky rubber soles from Sportfish, currently priced at £135. When they were delivered, the first thing that hit me about these boots from Patagonia was the weight; or to be more precise, lack of it. They are the lightest wading boots I have ever owned and this is very noticeable in use too. Not only are they extremely light, they are also very comfortable on your feet. You could happily walk miles in them without any discomfort. A word of caution here though: Jonathan at Sportfish Reading advised me to go a size up on my normal size, this despite the fact that Patagonia say to buy your normal size. He was right with his advice. I'd normally wear a size 10, but ordered 11's and the fit is perfect.

I gave them their first outing on some rivers in the Yorkshire Dales that I'd never fished before. Small, isolated streams, where the trout are only found in the deeper pools and not in the shallow fast water that links them. This involves much walking between the fishy bits and is just the sort of fishing I had in mind when I decided to buy a second pair of wading boots. They could not be faulted in anyway. Out of water, on grass, mud, rock, etc, they were as surefooted as a good pair of walking boots, only lighter. They are so light and comfortable to walk in you just don't notice you are wearing them. Felt soles always feel bulky and clumsy, these are agile and as much like wearing normal shoes as is possible in waders. In the river they didn't give me quite as much grip as felt and as a consequence I didn't quite have the same confidence. I just had to think a bit more about my wading, take my time and not take the risks I might in felt soles.
Better than felt? It depends on the riverbed.
After the first couple of fishing trips I was converted, I wished I'd found sticky rubber years earlier, they were the perfect compromise between grip in and out of the river. However, these first two outings were to similar rivers, with plenty of walking across grass and moorland, wading river beds with compacted gravel, small stones and few large rocks. More recent outings have taken me to larger rivers such as the Wharfe and Ribble and the grip provided by the sticky rubber soles has been way below that of felt.

These rivers are far more rocky in nature than the small streams where I first wetted my new boots and that's were the difference is most noticeable. In fact on the Ribble I spent the day slipping and sliding all over the place and actually fell over at one point. The Ribble's river bed is comprised mostly of smooth, rounded, rocks, and it was this that caused the problem.

So in conclusion, after a few weeks use I'm back to what I intended, in that I'll use the Patagonia Riverwalkers for any fishing on rivers (and lakes) where there is plenty of walking involved and where the wading isn't over rocks and bedrock. When I'm fishing larger rivers and rivers with predominantly stoney bottoms I'll use felt soled wading boots. If you stick to this advice I would highly recommend the Patagonia Riverwalkers - very light, very comfortable and give good grip out of the water, but consider where you'll be using them before buying.