Forgoing grandiose statements about the future of technology and the outdoor industry, it's safe to say that outdoorsmen and women will always be pushing the limits of weight in their gear. Fly fishermen are no exception, and the demands of an increasingly adventurous sport will continue to drive the industry towards lightweight yet durable solutions.
Wading boots, in particular, have benefited from the ultralight trend, with nearly every major player in the industry bringing a version to market. Orvis' Ultralight Wading Boots hit the market in 2017 as part of their popular Ultralight Wading System that also includes a rain shell, waders, vest and more.
Considering how painfully unsuited my main wading boots were for the amount of hiking I expected to do this summer, the lightweight, low profile design of the Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots—with an IFTD Best of Show Award for men's Wading Boots and rating of Best New Lightweight Wading Boot by Fly Fisherman Magazine—piqued my interest and I was eager to see what the fuss was all about.
When the boots arrived at my door after the drudgery of a long day of work, I figured I might as well blow off some steam and wet a line. I ran—no, sprinted—in full regalia, past the parked cars and trailering guides coming off the water in order to catch the last moments before darkness and a chance at even one fish. Once out of the parking lot, it was a good 300 yards of bushwhacking and high jumps to get to some fishable water where my buddy was waiting. Catching him off guard as I burst through the Japanese knotweed, I immediately remarked through the huffing and puffing — “dude, these boots are awesome.”
I’ve since been putting them through their paces on a variety of hiking terrain and wading situations. They shrug off miles and topography like nothing and have performed great on the various stream bottoms and water levels I’ve tried them on. Only more time and abuse will tell, but so far my opinion has persisted.
I weighed my size 10 Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots at a skeletal 2 lbs 14 oz for the pair, compared to the same size in competing lightweight wading boots, which weighed in around 3.5 lbs - give or take a few ounces. The Clarino microfiber synthetic material used in the Orvis Ultralights (also used in the Patagonia Ultralights) provides a better strength-to-weight ratio than a traditional leather exterior. The mini ripstop inserts/eyelets allow for a comfortable fit and secure grave guard without the weight of metal.
The weight savings was apparent on long hikes and steep terrain. They also don’t seem to saturate and hold on to heavy water as much as a traditional style wading boot due to several drainage holes, a feature lacking in the Patagonia Ultralights. Beyond the obvious strain reduction and stamina savings, they are also a fantastic option for the traveling angler who must be conscious of airline weight restrictions and packability.
The design of the Ultralight Wading Boot is stylish without being garish, but most of all, they are functional. They sport the same cobblestone/citron color scheme as the rest of the ultralight line, and are available for both men and woman. They look and feel more like your Salomon hiking boots than the telemark-ski-like design of more traditional wading boots, but they depart from their ultralight competition, however, with a low-top design that says more sneaker than boot. As such, they have a lot of versatility as both a functional wading boot as well as a wet-wader. I wouldn’t hesitate to rock them barefoot or with a bootie in the heat of the summer, nor would I feel undergunned in my winter neoprenes.
Between the generous padding, lightweight design, roomy toe box, and Vibram inner and outer soles, these babies are comfy. They are more like wearing a pair of low top trail runners than burly wading boots. The foam collar and inner padding doesn’t provide a ton of support, but just enough to be comfortable without unnecessary bulk. They are actually pretty accurate in terms of sizing, so it may not be necessary to upsize.
The high arch of the Orvis boot is a lifesaver for hiking compared to other wading boot options.
The Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots feature a Vibram outsole and proprietary Orvis lug pattern. The combination of the deep outer lugs and circular inner lugs grip surprisingly well in a variety of wading conditions, so much so that mine have remained studless for the majority of my use. Unlike a typical aggressively lugged hiking boot, they don’t hold on to mud and dirt and make walking laborious. For the slipperiest of wading, the boots provide an internal TPU plate for improved stud retention, so you won’t have to worry about losing studs or your footing. Orvis recommends their PosiGrip tungsten-carbide tipped studs, but any screw-in studs should do the trick.
Sporting an abrasion-resistant exterior rubber spray in high-wear areas and upgraded woven laces, the Orvis Ultralights are pretty solid for such lightweight boots. The Orvis midsole is significantly harder and more durable than other lightweight boots I've worn, although I prefer the larger rand on competing models. That being said, the Orvis boots show virtually no wear after several months of almost daily use. They wash off easily and dry quickly, which I’m sure will help extend their lifespan.
Limitations of Ultralight Gear
Any specialized piece of gear will do some things better than others, with versatility being more of a bonus than a given. Due to the low-top design, a gravel guard may be necessary to keep out sand and silt in certain environments, and you can’t expect the same ankle support in a stiff current as you would get with a more traditional design. However, in the balancing act between weight and durability, Orvis seems to have prevailed. While ultralight gear in generally is inherently limited, these Orvis boots make it tough to explain exactly how.
The Ultralight Wading Boots are everything they are advertised to be—a low profile hiking style wading boot in a lightweight and comfortable package. They look good, feel good, and excel at their stated purpose—getting you to the fishing, whether that be a short jaunt or a serious hike. They are a perfect piece of gear for the angler on the move.
That being said, you don’t need to be a continent-hopping rockstar to benefit from lightening your system, and with these wading boots, you can do so without compromise and at a price that suits most budgets. If you are a continent-hopping rockstar, the Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots are probably already on your radar, or maybe even your feet.