Written by: Tim Daughton
Fishing wader come in two basic styles, but neither stockingfoot nor bootfoot waders are necessarily better than the other. They do, however, offer certain benefits that must be considered before deciding which is right for you and the type of fishing you do.
Stockingfoot waders require the angler to purchase a separate wading boot from a wide selection of styles and features. Try on several different boots to find the one that offers the best fit, support, and function for your needs, which is paramount to providing all-day comfort while fishing. If your feet are comfortable, you will be more likely to stay out and fish longer.
Stockingfoot waders also pack down relatively small, which—when coupled with a lightweight wading boot—makes them an ideal choice for the traveling angler. Given that the airlines are not only charging for checked bags but will ding you for more money if your bag is over 50 pounds, too, keeping the weight of your gear to a minimum is important. If walking or hiking moderate to long distances is part of your fishing routine, then stockingfoot waders are the ideal choice given the weight factor and the fit of the independent wading boot. There is a much larger selection of stockingfoot waders, which allows you to find a pair that offers the best fit possible. Bootfoot waders usually come in standard athletic sizing—M, L, XL, etc.—and often don’t offer the short and tall sizes which many people need for a proper fit.
Stockingfoot waders are also very easy to clean. (Yes, you should periodically clean your waders.) Most are designed so that you can throw them in the washing machine on gentle cycle and then in the dryer on low heat. Periodic cleaning not only helps the wader to breathe better, but it restores the durable water repellent (DWR) coating that causes water to bead up and run off the outside of the wader. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning your particular brand of wader.
Bootfoot waders offer the convenience of an attached boot. There are no laces to tie or adjust; you just slip them on and go. They are definitely the fastest and easiest to get on and off. When you’re trying to beat your buddies to your favorite fishing spot, bootfoot waders will give you a bit of a head start.
Bootfoot waders are also inherently warmer than stockingfoot waders. For early- or late-season fishing or whenever you encounter very cold water, they are a great choice for keeping your feet and you warmer longer. Also, untying frozen laces with numb fingers at the end of the day is always a challenge. The newer styles of bootfoot waders offer much better fit and support than the ones from just a few years back, but fit and support will never be quite as good as with a separate wading boot.
For those anglers who fish salt water from the beach, a bootfoot wader is ideal. There is no place to collect sand, and there’s no hardware on the boot that will corrode after prolonged exposure to the salt. The newer lug-sole bootfoot waders offer great traction in the sand, and when coupled with screw-in tungsten-carbide or aluminum studs, they can even be used on notoriously slippery jetties and rock outcroppings along the shore.
Finally, for those of us who are a bit older and perhaps a little heavier than we want to be, bootfoot waders eliminate the need to bend down to adjust the boot. It may not sound like a big deal to some, but it can make all the difference in the world.
Bootfoot waders can and should be cleaned periodically. Unlike stockingfoot waders, though, they can not be machine-washed or dried; instead, they have to be hand-washed and hung to air dry. While this requires a little more time and effort on your part, it will help enhance the performance and longevity of your waders.
I am sure there are other opinions as to which type of wader is ideal for your specific application, but I hope this brief explanation will get you started in the right direction. Your local fly shop is a tremendous source of additional information and would be more than willing to share their experiences with each type of wader to further aid you in making the right decision. Regardless of what style of wader you chose, be sure to wear a wading belt at all times and wade safely.
Tim Daughton is the former Orvis Product Developer for waders and boots. He now serves as Director of Merchandizing for Fishing and Hunting here at Orvis.