How to choose the best hiking gaiters for your needs
Consider Where You Will Use Them
This is the first question you’ll want to consider when thinking about which gaiters to buy.
- Are you buying them for spring day trips where you might be in a lot of mud?
- Will they be used for long backpacking trips through snowfields, where you’ll need insulation and protection against ice and crampons?
- Do you like to trail run and need to keep your feet dry?Your hiking environment will determine the style and features that you’ll need in your gaiters. Unfortunately, no gaiter will perform perfectly in all conditions, meaning you’ll either need to buy multiple pairs for different times of year or make some compromises.
What Should Gaiters Be Made Out Of?
Most gaiters are made from nylon, but the thickness and weave of the fabric varies. The lightweight models used for trail running are very breathable and only provide minimal protection. However, the best mountaineering gaiters use a thick fabric that’s made to protect against the sharp points of a crampon.
How Tall is Too Tall?
Gaiters are primarily designed to protect your ankles and to prevent mud, snow, and debris from entering the top of your shoe. However, you’ll need taller ones for postholing through knee-deep snowdrifts than you would for walking through shallow puddles.
Gaiters come in three different sizes: over-the-ankle, mid-calf, and knee-length (full).
Over-the-ankles are a good choice for summer hikes, when you’ll want maximum ventilation and only need protection against mud and small rocks.
Mid-calf gaiters are good if you’ll be on very muddy trails or in light snow. They provide adequate protection for most people’s needs.
Finally, knee length gaiters are necessary for heavy snow and bushwhacking. They’re usually quite thick, and the styles designed for winter will be insulating. They can cut down on your mobility, though, so only choose these if the situation requires them.
Will You Need Waterproof Gaiters?
That depends on the conditions you’ll be in. If you will be using gaiters in the summer, it’s best to buy a pair that is breathable, which means they won’t be very waterproof.
Breathable fabrics are thinner and will only protect against light rain or some splashing from a puddle. If your legs will be in constant contact with moisture, either because you’re hiking through deep snow or because they’re brushing against wet bushes, you’ll need the best waterproof gaiters.
That means they won’t be as breathable, though, so you can safely assume you’ll be sweating a bit more.
Are Gaiters Hard to Use?
Yes and no. Putting on gaiters adds an extra step to the process of gearing up for the trail, but most models have been designed to go on fairly easily. The majority of hiking gaiters have a Velcro opening up one side, so it should only take a few seconds to seal it around your leg.
Gaiters also have some kind of closure system at the top to prevent mud and snow from getting down in them. The simplest models just use a drawstring like you’d find on the bottom hem of a ski parka, but some have more complicated cam buckles. They’re not as easy to use, but if gaiters have a closure system like that, it’s probably because they’re designed to be used in harsh terrain.
To prevent the gaiter from getting pushed up as you walk through deep snow, most of the thicker models also have an instep strap that goes around the arch of your foot. Depending on the mechanism, these can sometimes be difficult to operate with your gloves on.
Which is the Best Hiking Gaiter?
The best hiking or backpacking gaiters will be the ones that fit the conditions you’re using them in – trail runners will want something more minimalist than mountaineers will. Once you know what conditions you’ll need them in, you can look for the pair that performs the best within the environment it was designed for.
So many hikers forgo wearing gaiters, usually because they’re frustrating to attach and cumbersome to wear. The Rab Latok Alpines have neither of these problems and are some of the finest full-length gaiters you could ask for. They’re, easy to put on, light for their size, and durable enough for everything but crampon use.
No matter which gaiters you choose, you’re sure to see an improvement in the quality of your hikes; gaiters are an amazing way to keep a little bit less of the environment out of your shoes. Never again will you be sidelined by that pebble that’s worked it’s way down from the cuff of your boot to the sole of your foot, where it can stab you with impunity. Also, no more wet socks as your make your way through a dee snow field either. Find a pair you like, and you’ll be wearing them on every outing.