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Tyler Legg
Charlotte, NC, United States
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Friday, March 25, 2011

The short answer is yes. From an environmental standpoint, felt has a much greater chance of devastating an entire watershed by introducing non-native species. Most folks would agree that felt possesses more gripping capabilities than any other sole. The difference between the two in terms of gripping power and stability does not differ as much as one would think.

On Sept. 14, 2008, Simms announced that they would phase out felt soles on all of its wading boots, sandals and shoes by 2010. Now, Simms has ousted their felt soled boots and replaced them with Vibram Technology. Simms teamed up with Vibram, a company headquartered in Albizzate, (in the province of Varese), Italy to produce Simms StreamTread soles. Vibram is well versed in developing some of the best soles for fisherman, hikers, rock climbers, watersports enthusiasts, and the such.

I quickly discovered the difference between the two when I took the first step into a frigid and ice-laden South Toe River in late December. The amount of grip the Vibram soles offered was perfect. Treading over slippery rocks was a breeze. I have been wearing felt soles for as far as I can remember, so Vibram soles and I were just acquaintances.  We're now best friends. Frankly, I was just awaiting the day my old Simms Freestones were worn out enough to make the switch to Vibram.

On my most recent trip, I had the opportunity to really put the Vibram soles to the test. A short hike, and plenty of boulder hopping and climbing tested their capabilities. Walking up and down steep rocks was a snap. Felt soles are like Sea Lions. They're excellent in the water, but on land they have some issues. Felt will stick to the slipperiest of underwater rocks like glue, but when walking on land (especially on hills) you better be ready to catch your fall. If you're a big hiker who likes to hike into backcountry streams, Vibram soles are perfect. I'll push them to the limit when bluelining in the warmer months.


So what's the big deal with felt?

Invasive species. Didymo (Rock Snot), Whirling Disease, and New Zealand mud snails (just to name a few) are all capable of being transported from watershed to watershed through felt soles. They also can be moved to other watersheds via boats, waders, and other equipment that has come in contact with the river, stream, or lake. The soles on your boots come in contact with the river bottom much more frequently than any of your other gear. That means they have a far better chance of coming into contact with species such as Didymo, which thrives on the rocks you wade upon. To make things worse, felt is absorbent. Water will be absorbed deep into the felt, making it much harder to clean them. Within that water, harmful invasive species could be present.

A stream bed covered in Didymo, or "rock snot."


Cleaning Soles

Albeit they're much easier to clean and maintain, always remember to clean your Vibrams and check for any hitchhikers. While felt transports invasive species more effectively, you're still not guaranteed to be hitchhiker-free when wearing Vibram soles.

For non absorbent soles (such as Vibram soles) clean them by either:

A) Detergent- soak or spray all surfaces for at least one minute in 5% dishwashing detergent or (2 cups (16 oz.) or 500mls with water added to make 2.5 gal. or 10 litres); OR
B) Bleach- soak or spray all surfaces for at least one minute in 2% household bleach (1 cup (8 oz.) or 200mls with water added to make 3 gal. or 10 litres); OR
C) Hot water- soak for at least one minute in very hot water kept above 140° F (60° C) (hotter than most tap water) or for at least 20 minutes in hot water kept above 113° F (45° C) (uncomfortable to touch).
D) Freeze the boots solid.

Next time you upgrade to a new pair of wading boots, go with Vibram soles. I'm definitely sold soled. Who else has used Vibram soles? What do you think?

6 comments:

Frank Marston said...

I would agree that the Vibram soles are a great first step, but we also tote these unwanted critters around in the neopreme and cuffs of our waders. If they can attach to the hulls of boats they can hang on your waders as well. The only real answer is dilligent cleaning, or in my case I actually have three sets of boots and waders. I change gear if I cross watersheds and when they get home they all go in the chest freezer for 24 hours. Then they get sun dried.
Again I love my Vibram soles, but they will not cure the problem...

Tyler Legg said...

Frank,

You're absolutely right. Vibram soles, while they make things easier and help towards preventing the transfer of invasive species, are not a sure fire way of eliminating the issue.

Carrying several sets of waders/boots is smart. It might take a bit longer to switch pairs in between rivers, but it sure helps towards protecting watersheds.

Mark said...

That's a great article. I have a pair of Frogg Toggs boots with rubber soles, not vibram however, and they do pretty well. I have face planted with both felt and rubber, so I have made the change as well, but carry the felt as a backup if I move to another watershed. Once it gets a little warmer I will switch to the vibram five fingers "shoes".

Tyler Legg said...

I've uses rubber soles. They work fairly well. They can be iffy in faster water, but overall they're not too shabby.

Those Vibram FiveFingers are great!

Owl said...

I'll be anxious to hear your review after a summer using them. One local fly shop owner praised them in winter, only to curse them when a little (native)slime covered the rocks in late spring...be careful and don't be too confident in those rubber soles.

Tyler Legg said...

Looking forward to reviewing them during the summer months.

You're absolutely right about not getting too confident when wading in them. Takes some getting used to and some experience. Wading as if you're wearing felt could be disastrous!

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