New Life For Old Waders

     When Vermont banned felt-soled wading boots in 2011, I was left in a bit of a bind. I had a perfectly good pair of boot-foot waders that was only two years old, and really didn’t want to remove the felt, especially since I could still use them in New York. I realize that the whole point of the ban was to curb the spread of water-born diseases and invasive species, but it is rare that I fish multiple bodies of water in the same day, and I take precautions after fishing to keep my boot soles clean. Adding to my dilemma was the lack of alternatives once I got the felt off. There didn’t seem to be anything commercially available to put on the boot soles for traction.
     Ultimately, I ended up using an old pair of stocking-foot neoprenes that leaked like a sieve, in combination with a pair of wading boots from which the felt was already dangling off. It was a simple mater of cutting off the remaining felt and hitting the streams with only the flat, tread-less soles. Traction was better than I expected, but still demanded extra caution and some fancy footwork from time to time. This arrangement saw me through one season, and in following years I did end up cutting the felt off my boot-foots. I thought it would be fairly easy, but it took nearly an hour of slicing and several visits to the whet stone before I was done. But I was Vermont-legal (New York-legal too, by that time) and ready to fish. It didn’t take long to realize that the remaining rubber was too thin to be comfortable. I could feel every rock and stick nearly as well as if I were going barefoot. I needed to get something more robust on the bottoms of my boots.

Old tires make a cheap and reasonably effective material for resoling wading boots. The result isn’t necessarily pretty, but it works.

     As I mentioned before, I had not had any luck finding any sort of pre-made soles. After giving it some thought it occurred to me that a car tire would work. I wasn’t exactly sure how to best go about cutting a tire and I didn’t have anything fancy, like a reciprocating saw or angle grinder, so I started cutting through the side wall with a sturdy, sharp knife. If you’re wondering, tire rubber will dull a knife very fast. Once I got to the steel cords, I switched to a hack saw. It took a lot of elbow grease (a dull blade didn’t help), but I got a large section cut out. Next, I traced the outline of the sole on the inside of the tire. When I cut out my initial tire section, I didn’t cut out a large enough piece. I definitely did not want to redo the process, so I traced out two smaller pieces for each foot, one for the toe and one for the heel. Next came the cutting, and this is the phase where a power saw would have been really nice. I clamped the tire section down to a wooden porch step, further held it down by standing on it, positioned the tire with one hand and sawed for all I was worth with the other. I was using a brand-new blade for this part, which was almost a divine experience compared to my prior, dull-bladed endeavor. I’m not certain how long it took; I did not do the whole thing in one sitting. Suffice it to say, it took a while.
     Once I had my pieces cut out, I scrubbed and dried the soles of the boots and the contact portion of the tire, as per the directions of my adhesive, Amazing Goop Marine ( After a generous application of Goop to both surfaces, I stuck them together and used some C-clamps to hold them in place until dry. Once dried, the edges of the tire needed to be dealt with. The severed cord ends were jagged, pointy and stiff. This is a bad combination for handling, but it can be disastrous for waders. If casually tossed in a heap, those sharp ends could put an instant hole in the upper section of the waders. A line of Goop across each sole edge pretty well took care of this, at least in the short term. A couple of trips to the stream caused the exposed portions of steel to rust out.

A close-up of the final result. Cord ends are visible, with rusting helping to take care of the jagged pieces.

     Overall, an old tire makes a pretty good fix for waders with soles in need of replacement. If given a choice, I’d pick a tire with some serious tread, maybe a snow tire or something with studs. Tire rubber does well on dirt, sand and gravel, although it can be a bit slick on larger rocks. But it sure beats a quarter-inch of rubber on the bottoms of your boots.

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