In science fiction movies, we often see a spaceship equipped with a tractor beam being able to stop another spaceship dead in its tracks, sometimes pulling it in closer to be captured. Let's apply this analogy to the ideal traction for wading in a river. Traction like this would be more than ideal, it would be amazing. While we can't say if there is a wading boot, which can hold you on any and every surface with such force we set out to find one.
This year the old wading boots gave out and it was time for some new boots. The last pair was chosen for their packability. This pair saw me seeking some different characteristics. I wanted a pair that offered excellent traction, non-felt soles and extreme durability. Before diving into a purchase I reached out our readers and online followers for their suggestions. Plenty of suggestions came my way and lots of good ones at that.
After all of the suggestions and extensive research on our part I settled on the Patagonia Foot Tractor wading boots. I liked the design of these boots and were really intrigued by the aluminum traction bars. These boots are designed for extreme durability, comfort and unbelievable traction on the toughest of river bottoms. However, they are not without a few detractors. These boots weigh in at 4 pounds, which is a lot. The aluminum bars are far from quiet in the water also. They create a clicking noise when coming in contact with rocks, which could scare some wary river dwellers you are looking to catch. That being said I still like them.
I field tested them in a variety of conditions. This fall I had an opportunity to take them out west to Colorado, Oregon and California. I carried them through a number of airports in the carry-on and they didn’t tire the arms/shoulders out too much. They even got packed in on a 4 mile hike in the mountains of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. While they are heavy and definitely weighed the most of all the gear carried out there they were still manageable.
Next up was the most thorough test of all; the mighty Deschutes River of Oregon. I met a friend and we accessed the river with a long hike (~5 miles) in the darkness of night to claim our stretch of river to fish. This again meant carrying these boots in the gear bag for quite a few miles. We made it to our spot and got ready to catch a few winks of sleep before the morning could spring itself on us and we would be fishing. We actually suited up in our waders and slept the night out under the stars. The boots were comfy enough to sleep in and kept my feet warm. A little before sunrise we arose to observe the stretch we would fish that day and I saw it for the first time as it was quite dark the night before. It was a big river, much bigger than anything I had ever had the opportunity to fish. The flow was also quite high. My friend warned me to be careful wading as the rocks are quite slick and it would’t take long to make it to the heavy rapids below if one lost their footing. After some other pointers for fishing this water and presenting to steelhead we began our first pass through the stretch. The Foot Tractor boots clung to the rocks in a way I hadn’t expected. I was used to felt soles, but these really held on well and I never once felt out of control or without a sure foothold. I was really impressed. After a whole day of making many different passes through a few stretches of the water around us we had to call it a day and head back to the car. (I will be sure to include the actually fishing details in one of the podcast episodes so do not fret too much.)
We began our hike out and I actually decided to hike out in my waders. The hike out consisted of climbing the steep hill up to the rail tracks that traced the river’s path back to where we had begun. Right near the tracks there was mainly a stretch of loose gravel/shale that had to be traversed to actually reach the tracks. This too went pretty well. While the Foot Tractor boots are not climbing or even hiking boots, they managed to pass this test. We hiked along the tracks for quite a long while. The tracks were on both concrete and wooden ties. The aluminum bars clicked along as did the miles, but they were very comfortable and despite the weight combined with the long day of fishing didn’t tire me out too much. The aluminum bars were punished by this long hike over gravel and concrete, but they only showed a bit of wear despite their new hammered look. They had performed well and I was very pleased. This test would verify I had made the right purchase, but the testing wasn’t over.
Upon returning home to the east coast, I commenced more testing. My home waters have quite a slick bottom with many round and smooth rocks. It is the perfect water bottom for felt soles (minus the detractors of felt). The river has easy access via short trails and pullouts along the road. Over the many trips I made to different stretches of the river the boots performed as expected, very well. The only detractor in these boots here again was the noise of the aluminum bars. The weight isn’t an issue in the water which is a pleasant surprise. Even wading through shallow sections where walking can be treacherous at times, not a fall was to be had. The other good trout river in our area is notorious for its jagged rocks and unpredictable bottom. It too can be slick, but it is more the sudden changes in depth due to the jagged rocks makes it an extreme challenge to wade. Here too the Foot Tractor wading boots met and even surpassed the challenges. I felt comfortable wading in the fast water at the end of some pools and even had the confidence to walk backwards while helping an older client wade into position.
After testing the Patagonia Foot Tractor wading boots in many different conditions and environs I would happily recommend them. They aren’t without their flaws but what boot is perfect. The pros: superior traction in the water; good traction on rocky slopes and trails; superior construction and durability; excellent ankle support; comfort; aluminum bars can be replaced easily and though you shouldn’t need them extra screws are included. The cons: weight; cost (higher end of boots); noise on rocks (underwater and on dry land). Let me address the cost issue briefly. At $279 suggested retail they cost more than most boots on the market, but compared to buying a set of Korkers K5 Bombers (the brand which came in most recommended by our followers) at $199 and outfitting with the interchangeable soles (felt and studded) the price is only a few dollars more. Patagonia also goes to great lengths to ensure its materials are responsibly sourced, it workers (including subcontractors) are well compensated and fully committed to protecting the environment (1% for the Planet member) makes the cost worth it.
The final verdict: if you’re in the market for a new pair of wading boots give these boots a serious look and know you can be confident on and off the water. Get yourself a pair of “tractor beams” for your feet!