After the discontinuation of the Patagonia Ultralight wading boot a few years ago, the lightweight wading/hiking boot market saw a vacuum implode the market due to such a loss of pivotal gear. Soon after, hucksters in Denver were slinging their rebranded Chinese junk boots that turned out to be rebranded Wal-Mart hiking boots with pseudo-felt soles to save on import taxes outside the Denver Fly Show. Every Billy, Bob, and Hal with $20 to spare in the parking lot of the Denver Merchandise Mart felt empowered to hike far into the backcountry in search of Greenbacks, only to find their boot soles melt off after 1.4 miles. Rumors began circulating that even CPW was planning on boosting the $0.25 search and rescue fee on fishing licenses to $0.30 to offset the cost of having to launch so many helicopters each day throughout the summer.
These were dark times.
However, order has been restored, and the wading/hiking boot market is finding the balance it has not seen in years.
Enter, the Patagonia Forra Wading Boots, Anakin of fishing footwear who will restore balance to the market.
Over-the-top intro for this Patagonia Forra Wading Boot review? Don’t mind if I do, but let me dial it back a little bit and just assure you that I don’t think CPW is going to raise the search and rescue price by $0.05 any time soon. At least I don’t think they will. There are still a lot of Texans moving to Colorado with their Jeeps.
The good news is that Jeep bros still have not figured out how to drive to EVERY creek and lake in the Colorado high country, and that is where the Patagonia Forra Wading Boots come in. I was blessed with the opportunity to get the Forra Wading Boots out on the water for the summer fishing/guide season and can say that this boot has a place in anyone’s arsenal…or even as their SOLE pair of wading boots (see what I did there).
The Good Stuff
Built to be a hiking/wading boot hybrid, the Forra Wading Boots struck me out of the box more as a MOUNTAIN boot/wading boot hybrid. These are very lightweight boots with an extremely stiff sole, hallmarks of a mountain, or even lightweight hunting boots, made to scramble up and down steep and rocky slopes. The Forra is purpose-built for the backcountry where going off-trail is a necessity to find hidden creeks or the highest country lakes. With a stiff sole made for mountains, they were still very comfortable to wear on a normal trail, wading in fast water and on slick rocks, and even just standing in place for extended periods of time (as happens on a guide trip when untangling many wind knots). Great wet and dry traction, in or out of the water.
The stiff sole coupled with the tread I found to be a solid combo. “Vibram® Mars sole with HexaBase lugs” as Patagonia puts it…whatever the technical words for things are…they gripped well. I find the Animas to be a pretty rough wade through the town of Durango, so naturally it’s a great place to test boots. The Forra Wading Boots made the “exceeds expectations” mark. Not felt, but gripped very well just the same and for me stood up to any rubber-soled wading boot on the market these days. They are even Compatible with the Patagonia® Forra Wading Boots – Grip Studs Traction Kit for more grip. I didn’t test these out, so I can’t comment, but the option is out there for you.
Another testament to the Patagonia quality is that I have had these boots out on the water for a fair amount of days on the water, and they don’t seem to have concerning signs of wear and tear that should cause problems outside the normal realm of use. Probably because they were made in Italy and that’s where quality cars, boots, sunglasses, and pizza comes from as everyone knows.
The Not as Good Stuff
As far as the fit goes, I wear a street shoe size 10 and wore a Forra boot size 10. These boots fit true to size with a 2.5mm neoprene sock and were great for running around the mountains. When worn with waders and a sock for normal fall/winter/spring fishing, they never felt too small but rather just about right. The Forra wading boots were comfortable in waders and I never felt the urge to take them off in the middle of the day. No “ski boot” type vibe which is nice for a stiff-soled wading boot.
The big caveat with my fit is that I am a normal dude with normal feet. The length of the boot is just fine with a wader, but the width is snug with my size 10s. If you are someone with wider than the average bear foot, sizing up is an option, but you will certainly want to test fit these boots with socks, neoprene socks, and waders before you drop the 3 bills to purchase. The lacing is fairly adjustable, so being a dude with normal feet, I cannot comment on how these will adjust for a wider footprint.
Also, the statement made by Patagonia that I only found to be partially true is that these “Boots are engineered to clear water quickly; the upper boot is free from unnecessary foams and backers for faster dry times”. Yes, that is true, the upper drains quickly. However, the midsole is a sealed piece of EVA and rubber with no drain ports. The lower half of the boot does have a more difficult time draining water and I did notice myself sloshing around a bit while wet wading with neoprene socks. I understand why this was done to protect the boot and your foot while scrambling rocks or wading in very rocky waters (such as the Animas). It’s not a huge issue with the overall package, but if you have a long hike back to the truck after a day of fishing, you will want to elevate your feet or take the boots off and dump the water out before the long walk. I did not notice the draining issue while wearing waders though.
The Ugly Stuff
There is actually nothing ugly about these boots in my mind, I just felt this review needed a “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” reference. The color is listed as Forge Grey, which is the color that makes up about 60% of Patagonia’s entire catalog of gear. BUT, it does have purple tongue and heel loop details which is a big plus because purple is my favorite color. Honestly, the fly fishing industry at large could probably do with a little more purple detailing overall.
The Patagonia Forra Wading Boots look great, fit great, and function fantastically for us Colorado mountain folk used to treading off the beaten path in search of overgrown creeks and hidden lakes not often frequented by the masses. Thankfully, comfort was not sacrificed in the process and these will make for solid winter boots for standing in one spot and nymphing for hours on end.
Patagonia was able to meld a rigid mountain boot with a comfortable wading boot almost flawlessly which makes for one pair of boots that will do it all year round.