One of the biggest debates in technical fishing clothing in the last few years has been the argument over felt-soled waders. These old-school waders allow for some great grip when the waters are running quickly, but there is a big dark side to them as well. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly associated with felt-soled waders.
Out of all of the choices for wader soles out there, felt might offer the best traction on rocky river beds where rubber or studded soles can slip around. This is because a felt sole can mold itself to uneven surfaces that so many wader wearers find themselves traversing. Felt soles are also far more comfortable than hard rubber or studded soles which can cause pressure points on your feet after a long day of wading.
One relatively minor disadvantage to felt-soled waders is that they can be very difficult to clean. However, they can be cleaned very effectively using a detergent or salt solution and very hot water. The trick is to brush out the soles in order to shake out any microorganisms, dirt, and rocks that might be hiding in the fibers. This should be done at least every time you use your waders, and multiple times if you switch streams or lakes over the course of a day.
The worst part of felt-soled waders is their potential environmental impact. Over the past few years, everyone from local recreational fishermen to state organizations have been criticizing the use of felt-soled waders due to the fact that they can transport invasive species very easily. Invasive species and diseases often spread by careless wader wearers include rock snot, New Zealand mud snails, and whirling disease. Due to these potential implications, many states have banned the use of felt-soled waders altogether, which means that if you want to buy a pair, you're going to have to do some research and be very careful where you use them.
With the recent awareness about invasive species which has taken over the airwaves of fishing and outdoor media over the last few years, few issues have been as hotly debated as the felt-soled wader dispute. Whether you're for them or against them, three things remain true: they're useful on slippery rocks, they're difficult to clean, and they can contribute to an invasive species problem if you're not careful. With this knowledge, you can make a more informed decision whether you're buying neoprene waders with felt, studs, or rubber in the soles.