There is a considerable amount of diversity in the world of wading boots. Simms alone has 10 different boot models for men, with other manufacturers also offering a mixed bag of options. And, although it might not seem like it at first glance, most of this diversity is meaningful. Rather than these models being differentiated by little more than purposeless bells and whistles or aesthetic differences, most of these boots have substantive differences in design that tailor them best to decidedly different purposes. As a result, most of these boots are tailored best to different anglers as well, dependent on what each angler seeks to accomplish with said boots.
None of this is to suggest that there aren't boots that can do it all. There most certainly are. In fact, most can. But some boots do some things better than others, as a result of how they've been designed. Some boots scream winter steelheading, with roomy foot boxes that will generously accept thick neoprene booties underlaid by a couple pairs of wool hiking socks. Others are built with guides in mind, where the durability demanded by what can sometimes be hundreds of days per year on the water trumps other design concerns such as shedding weight. Still others are built for the flats, where studdability, slip-protection and ankle support take a back seat to things like puncture resistance against shells and other hazards of the salt.
But it has long seemed that few, if any, boots were built with the wet wader or the hiker in mind. Such anglers are in the market for lightweight, nimble boots that are more worried about fit and agility than they are with other wading boot concerns. Earlier this year I published a short piece lamenting the lack of wading boots designed specifically and solely for wet wading. A few months later, and after most manufacturers have unveiled their 2015 product lineup, that gap in the market sadly still exists.
So, us wet wading devotees and hikers must continue to look to the existing offerings which are designed for wader compatibility, those designed to be worn with waders or neoprene guard socks and not hiking socks. And for the time being, Simms -- with its hiker-inspired Vapor Boot -- seems to be paying the most attention.
Introduced last year, the Vapor Boot has been a success for Simms, so much so that Simms recently announced it is expanding the Vapor Boot lineup by adding a women's offering. In its marketing, Simms says the Vapor is designed for everything "from high-elevation rivulets to coring into no-man’s land with nothing but bear mace and Ramen noodle rations" and stresses its dual goals of superior on-the-trail and wading performance.
Hiking Fit & Performance
Even before hitting the trail with the Vapor Boot, it is evident that Simms has toned down the wading boot character of this wading boot. The Vapor is lighter than Simms' other offerings and its design -- which Simms appropriately calls "minimalist" -- while still designed to accept waders and/or neoprene socks, wears considerably more snug and tidy, offering a better, more anatomical fit. The result is a boot that is much more athletic and agile, and considerably more bearable for long hike-ins.
The Vapor Boot's successes on the trail are derived more from its fit that any other aspect of its design. I've worn lighter boots that don't fare as well due to their more oversized interiors. This same fit is what leads the boot to wet wading success as well.
I've owned -- in fact, own -- many pairs of boots that simply can't be considered wet waders. They're simply too roomy. Sure, you can wear them as wet waders, but doing so is miserable. Most boots don't fall this far short of wet wading success, but still offer too big a foot box to allow for comfortable wet wading with a neoprene sock. The Vapor, for its part, gets as close to wet wading comfort as any other boot I've recently donned. The minimalist fit and flexible upper allows for cinched down wear that minimizes the sloshing and sliding around inside the boot that wet waders curse.
Though unrelated to the fit of the boot, the Vapor Boots offer excellent stud retention, thanks to the foot tread design that Simms moved to in recent years that features recessed stud-points. The result is a more low-profile stud that not only grips better via closer integration with the tread, but is decidedly less likely to get ripped out. In fact, I've yet to lose a single stud with the Vapors.
Is the Vapor Boot a hiker first and a wading boot second? Certainly not. Along these same lines, the Vapor isn't designed with wet wading comfort as its primary goal. So it is important to keep in mind that whatever successes the Vapor achieves in these arenas are tempered by the fact that it cares first and foremost about being a wading boot.
Regardless of the fact that the Vapor still wants to hang with the wader-wearing crowd, its prioritization of on-the-trail prowess is as close to 50/50 as I've any boot I've encountered in recent memory and it is certainly the most energetic boot I've had on the trail in some time. And, as goes its hiking prowess, so goes its performance as a wet wader.
After a recent stint of 10 consecutive days of wet-wading the Vapor Boots -- days which were characterized by long river treks, frequent crossings and lengthy hike-ins -- my feet emerged practically unscathed, without the blisters, scrapes and other battle scars that would have likely resulted from trying to turn any of the other boots on my shelf into dedicated wet-wading hikers.
If you're an angler that spends as much time hiking to the streams they fish as they do wading through, or are in the market for a boot that can perform well as both a wading and wet-wading boot, the Simms Vapor Boot should unquestionably be in your crosshairs.