I’ve been wearing Korkers boots for a while now — long enough that I’m not sure when I bought my first pair. Wading boots, for all their importance, lack the sex appeal of rods, waders, or reels. But since that first set of boots, I’ve watched Korkers engage in a consistent effort to bring new, innovative, interesting products to market. To Korkers’ credit, throughout the years they’ve managed to generate serious buzz around their offerings, and the best example of that may be their newest — the Korkers River Ops wading boots.
Loaded with new design features, the River Ops boots could be a gamechanger for Korkers. They’re supportive throughout the ankle and heel, but don’t have the clunky ski boot feel others do. This is also the first boot Korkers has made that doesn’t have any exposed stitching. Theoretically, this should increase the lifespan of the boot, since the various rocks, trees, bramble, and other debris we anglers tromp through won’t be rubbing directly against stitched seams.
At $259.99, the River Ops boots are the priciest we’ve seen yet from Korkers, but I reckon they just might be the best the company has ever made.
About a year ago, I spoke with Korkers CEO Brian Chaney about these new boots. He let one detail slip that really caught my attention. The new boots, Chaney told me, would have zero exposed stitching.
I wore both my beloved Devil’s Canyon and Darkhorse boots until they failed which, in fairness, was after multiple years of serious abuse. Both eventually broke down at the same place: where the heel cup meets and is sewn into the flexible upper material. In theory, thanks to the new design which protects the stitching in this area, the River Ops would have soldiered on.
The River Ops boots feature a design that encases every seam in a new “Exo-Tec” skeleton. Between that new material, and Korkers’ standard, rock-solid toe caps and heel cups, there’s almost no area on the River Ops threatened by the continual abrasion that’s part of wading. It’s a fascinating take on boot design, one that I think hunting and hiking would do well to borrow.
Korkers upgraded their midsole material with the River Ops boots. By doing so, they’ve increased stability, support, and comfort.
I’ll be honest — I don’t know what a midsole does. But I do know these boots are very comfortable. They feel the least like ski boots than any other wading boots I’ve owned. I’d put their comfort right on par with the Orvis PRO Wading Boots.
The fit is a bit tight along the top of the foot, but the toe box is roomy. That fit lends itself well to use on long backcountry treks. Your foot has enough room to flex and help keep you steady on both river rocks and the hiking trail.
While I prefer the heel lock system in the Terror Ridge boots for longer hikes, the River Ops boots proved themselves more than comfortable enough when I spent four days hiking through the Idaho panhandle. Whether it was wading slick rivers in chase of cutthroat or walking the road a few miles back to my parked car, my feet felt as good as they could after a day of long, hard miles.
The final comfort feature to note is the inclusion of extra foam padding around the ankle. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time finding wading boots that don’t rub my ankles a bit raw. The foam in the River Ops boots makes a noticeable difference in how comfortable you are while wading.
Of course, all the comfort in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the boots aren’t stable in a variety of situations.
I’ve used the River Ops boots for a few months now, on everything from my local freestone to the Big Hole in Montana. The boots are just firm enough that I have stability on slick river rocks, but they’re not so unforgiving that I hate hiking in them.
Most importantly, my ankles don’t feel like they’re in danger of rolling. I have notoriously terrible ankles – just ask my wife how many times she’s seen me trip over nothing while out for a walk in the neighborhood. That I haven’t come close to rolling them at all in the River Ops boots is a testament to their excellent stability.
Overall Build Quality
Korkers hasn’t ever really skimped out on build quality, but the River Ops boots show a renewed dedication to making a functional, rock-solid, good-looking product. The River Ops look the best of all the boots Korkers has made, with the exception of the Devil’s Canyon.
But that’s just one part of the build quality. Whether it’s the aluminum eyelets, the new Exo-Tec outer skeleton material, or the high shafts, everything on these boots is assembled with quality in mind.
I hesitate to get into the durability discussion yet, as I’ve only had the River Ops boots for a few months now. After three months of good, solid use, they do look better than I’d expect. All the seams are still tight, none of the eyelets are loose, and even though the shafts are broken in, they’re not wobbly. I’ve spoken with other folks who field tested the River Ops for Korkers, and they’ve had the boots for almost a year now, and haven’t had issues with the boots holding up to long-term use.
Like all Korkers wading boots these days, the River Ops features Korkers’ OmniTrax interchangeable sole system. Whatever your preferred sole — rubber, felt, carbide studs, aluminum, etc — Korkers has you covered, and offers you the versatility of changing out soles for the differing needs of individual fisheries. The River Ops comes with two sets of soles (Vibram rubber + felt or Vibram rubber + studded Vibram rubber), and you can pick up additional soles (like the unbeatable traction of aluminum) for roughly $40-70, depending on which option you choose.
What Doesn’t Work
No BOA Option
I praised Korkers for opting to use laces instead of the BOA system on their Terror Ridge boots. That boot is built to hike in, and the laces really provide a better heel lock than the BOA system can.
With the River Ops boots, I’m surprised Korkers didn’t offer a BOA version right out of the gate. There are certainly areas where laces are preferable, but laces can also be cumbersome, and for those of us who fish year-round, laces are an absolute pain in cold weather. Few things frustrate me as much as trying to lace up my boots when the laces are frozen. BOA cables eliminate that worry.
The lace system on the River Ops works well. The fit is still nice and tight, and the aluminum eyelets make sure the laces stay locked into place. And while some anglers prefer laces, others prefer the BOA system. And so, it would be great if anglers interested in the River Ops were able to choose a BOA option.
At $259, the Korkers River Ops wading boots may be the most expensive boot I’ve seen Korkers produce, but that price tag is not without justification. The new exterior skeleton material, unique design that doesn’t expose any seams, and the overall build quality alone all make the River Ops a solid investment. Add in Korkers’ outstanding customer service, and this is a product I’d highly recommend to new and veteran anglers alike.