By Vagabond Fly
Who should read this article?
Any fly fisher looking for a medium-priced pair of wading boots that is light, versatile, comes with intrinsic good looks and offers notable grip.
The purpose built wading boot has come a long way since the days of the gum-boot and more recent designs see features and elements incorporated into these that are seemingly more at home on mountaineering and motocross footwear. There is certainly a balance to be struck between the functional and practical whilst avoiding over-engineering or inferior performance. At the one end of the scale you have those fly fishers that are entirely content with a pair of old trainers and at the other those who go for the ‘straight out of the catalogue’ look, but one thing is certain, both of these base their final decision on certain levers.
This might not be an article on Wading Boot selection but during the review of the HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS we were enthralled in a debate on what are the essential features a pair of wading boots should have and what benefits can you expect to transpire from these. What sparked this? The price tag of these boots. It made us reevaluate our own necessity checklist as all the boots we own cost almost three times as much.
Below is our abbreviated list of what we regard as the review and purchasing levers for Wading Boots:
Are you able to spend an entire day and trip fishing in them without blisters and pressure points developing?
Nothing worse than boots that come apart after the first session because the manufacturer was more focused on aesthetics when deciding on construction.
The list of features that boots come with these days is seemingly endless. Be honest with yourself when you select a pair of boots. The requirements of a guide that lives in his/her boots vs. those of the weekend-warrior that occasionally takes a stroll in them are vastly different. The more honest you are with yourself the happier your wallet will be.
Ability to perform in the intended environment
Buy your boots based on the conditions you will be fishing in 90% of the time, during the other 10% you will have to make due.
Your budget will dictate many of your decisions based on the other aforementioned considerations. Never underestimate how hard a pair of Wading Boots has to work – buy the absolute best that you can afford at the time. Your fly fishing comfort and pleasure will depend on it.
THE BOOTS FOR THE REVIEW
We tested the HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS in both the felt and rubber sole versions. Both these are built around the exact same upper with the only distinguishable difference being the soles. Both pairs were a UK 11 and tested by individuals that tip the scale at close to and over 100kg (220lb).
THE REVIEW LAB
Because we had both the rubber and felt sole versions of the HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS at our disposal we had the luxury of testing the performance of each sole in similar conditions and in those applications they perform best in respectively.
First we took the rubber sole HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS for two consecutive weekends of grueling backcountry small stream fishing. Measured on the GPS we covered just over 27 km (17 miles) of hiking, boulder hopping and navigating a small stream as it winds through a deep valley. During this test we specifically focused on their wet-and dry-weight as well as their overall comfort and the durability of the construction.
After this we gave several of our audience members the opportunity to spend 3-months in the respective boots. Their review lab was the Vaal River, South Africa, known for its unforgiving terrain, slimy and super slippery rocks and still rated in our books as the harshest wading conditions you can put any boot through. We have personally taken several well-traveled overseas guests onto this river and each and every one of them confirmed it was the most taxing wading they have ever done
…one guy even left his old pair of wading boots behind after just one day on the Vaal.
THE DESIGN & AESTHETICS
The HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS adopts a modern yet not overly space-aged look with its olive/black construction. It does not come with fancy lacing systems but retains support and a wrap-around feel when wearing them with either socks and gravel guards or over the neoprene booty of waders. Despite the noticeable padding of both the collar and tongue that provides additional support they dry relatively quickly aided even further by the simple yet very effective mesh drainage ports. The reinforced toe is an absolute godsend and something we regard as essential to our comfort – solid without being heavy and not one reviewer complained about smashed toes. In the correct size the upper does seem to have a bit of play/room but we found this to add to their versatility – equally comfortable over a pair of neoprene wading socks and with a pair of waders.
Where the HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS Shines
The HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS are super light straight out of the box and it was the first thing each reviewer commented on. Even on the longest of hikes back home, soaked, they were as comfortable and light as your favourite pair of trusted trainers. Almost all gravel guards (even those on waders) now come standard with hooks to keep them in place. Though some boots now come equipped with D-Rings these are often too big and do not hold these gravel guard hooks in place requiring constant intervention throughout a day on the water. The D-rings of the HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS however are, simply stated, perfect! Not even once did our gravel guards unhook, in fact it was actually difficult to unhook them once in place.
Tip of the hat to you HODGMAN®.
Used in the right setting both the felt and rubber soles offered trustworthy and reliable grip. Felt was never designed to do long hikes and days on grassy banks with and those who attempted to do so spent most of the day tending to bruises on their backsides. The sticky rubber sole with its very aggressive cleating was golden for those long hikes and freestone conditions but for the slippery Vaal the felts sole still reigns supreme.
We have mentioned it, but the reinforced toecap made the world of difference. You only have to do one hard-wading trip in a pair of boots without this and you will know why it is so vital to your overall comfort.
The HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS are also not as rigid as most other mid-priced boots adding to their overall comfort and wrap-around feel without sacrificing support. Their wide base also means better overall weight distribution and a lack of pressure points. One reviewer even slipped his fins over them and used them on his float-tube – not the most practical option but certainly possible.
The padded midsole feels almost ‘spongy’ and this once again translates back to all day comfort – many mid-priced boots get this horribly wrong and feel like wooden boards strapped to your feet.
The overall construction is solid and the stitching held up during the review – longer term usage will be the true test but we are very happy with their performance over the review period. We love the visible double stitching where the rubber toecap meets the upper, it simply illustrates that HODGMAN® took particular care to ensure longevity.
Additional comments on our HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS experience
We kept on reminding ourselves that HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS have a retail price tag of ZAR1999 (US$99) & with that comes certain compromises. Certainly we can all agree that a synthetic full-grain leather upper will be much more durable but any reliable boot with this construction will cost close on double (if not more) and weigh anything from 1.9 kg (66 oz.) and up. One reviewer found that applying too much force when lacing up the boots damages the eyelets and actually pulled one out of the upper – user error possibly but something to be mindful of.
The aggressive tread or cleats on the rubber sole love to hold onto a fly-line so if you are going to spend most of your time in close quarters these are not for you – our one reviewer predominantly used them on a drift boat and nearly went insane! Solution? Stripping basket!
The HODGMAN® H3 WADING BOOTS are exceptionally well-priced, super light, comfortable (shall we mention the reinforced toecap again?) and offers versatility for those who cannot afford multiple pairs of boots or simply deem it unnecessary.
RRP ZAR 1999.00 (US$ 99.00)