As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
In the world of hiking, gaiters seem to be a bit of a Marmite kind of thing. Many people seem to absolutely detest these lower leg coverings, preferring to let their walking trousers get wet and muddy from the kneed down. With the water and oozy mud eventually finding its way right down into their hiking boots.
Me? I’m not one of those people. I love gaiters. If you’re with me on the whole gaiter love thing, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve got a rundown of the key things to look out for when you’re choosing a great pair of hiking gaiters and I’ve also got some recommendations for top-notch gaiters I’ve found in my travels.
Full disclosure, though. I wasn’t always such a big fan of them. My first introduction to gaiters was back in my days as a cub scout. The first big day hike we went on, I set off proudly in my collection of secondhand gear that was sourced from friends, family and lost property bins. The only item, in fact, that wasn’t pre-loved was a pair of bright red gaiters. Brand new. Fresh out of the packet. And ready to be worn by yours truly. I was delighted to have them in my external frame rucksack (which probably weighed more than I did) and looked forward to showing them off at the first opportunity.
Unfortunately though, back in the day, gaiters had the zip at the back going from your Achilles up to the top of your calf. With my secondhand boots on, my less-than-perfect hiking socks, my frankly oversized walking trousers, and freezing fingers…they were completely impossible to put on properly. With tears of frustration, they were scrunched into a ball and rammed back into the top of my rucksack. I arrived home with muddy trousers, soggy socks, blisters and a telling off from my parents. Sigh…
Thankfully today’s gaiters are a doddle to put on and take off. They open at the front along your shin. They either have chunky easy-to-hold zips or Velcro fastenings. And many of them have a range of other useful features that make my younger cub self green with envy. Let’s take a look.
How to choose great gaiters for hiking
The saying goes that, “All publicity is good publicity” but, like any D-list celeb who’s just got caught by the paparazzi doing something they shouldn’t have been doing with someone they shouldn’t have been doing it with…that’s not strictly true in all situations.
The same goes for hiking gaiters. This is probably the only thing that D-list celebs have in common with gaiters, but let’s roll with it. There’s lots of pairs of gaiters out there. Unfortunately, they’re not all good. The bad ones will get you into trouble, probably not with a tabloid media scandal, but definitely with soggy socks and damp toes. Which is arguably worse.
So, how do we pick great gaiters for our hiking? Well, there’s a number of different factors to consider. The paparazzi are looking the other way right now, so let’s dive in quick and take a look.
The fabric that your gaiters is made from needs to be waterproof, obviously. Beyond that though they also need to be made of an abrasion-proof material. Gaiters get a lot of wear-and-tear and need to be rugged so that they can fend off thorns and rocks.
Ankle-height gaiters (which I’ll mention more about in a moment) tend to be made from lighter materials as they’re normally used in warmer summer months, whereas gaiters intended for winter mountaineering use will generally be a thicker material and may have additional insulation.
Gaiter stirrups and boot fastenings
It’s important to have a solid method of attaching the bottom edge of your gaiters to your boots. Without this the gaiters will end up riding up as you walk, eventually creating a gap at the top of your boot and allowing water and debris in.
There are a number of different options that manufacturers use, with my favourites being a combination of an under-boot strap or stirrup and a hook to attach to your boot laces. This gives a firm hold and is easy to adjust to the correct size for your boots and, at the same time, being easy to fit and remove with cold hands or gloved hands.
When I was in the cubs, gaiters only came in one length (we were sooo hard done by in those days), stretching up to just below the knee. This was a one-size-fits-not-many-people approach and definitely didn’t work if you were a short cub.
These days, there are a number of different lengths to pick from depending on what you’re doing.
You’ll generally find three categories of gaiter. The standard is just below the knee. These are great in the poorest hiking conditions, particularly in deep snow or when you’re moving through lots of dense low thorny bushes. They’re typically the warmest height to wear, which is great in chilly conditions, but worth considering when you plan to wear them in the summer.
The lowest gaiter goes to just over the ankle. These are often used for trail running but I also find them good for summer hikes when there are lots of stones, sand or sharp jaggy things which can otherwise try and find their way into your boots.
In between, there are gaiters which go up to mid-calf. These are great for conditions where you’re trying to keep socks dry but don’t want the thermal insulation that comes with the tallest gaiters.
How to put on hiking gaiters
Thinking back to my cub scout days, it would have been great if someone had actually shown me how to put those tricky rear-opening gaiters on. That way I might have been saved the damp socks and telling-off from my mum and dad. Have a watch of this excellent video below from REI and you’ll be able to learn how to do this in the privacy of your own home before having to put them on for real when you’re on the trails. It’s 3 and a half minutes of your time that you won’t regret.
Maybe you’ve never used gaiters, or maybe you’ve been scarred for life by a similar childhood gaiter experience like I had in the cub scouts. Don’t be afraid of the gaiter though – the gaiter is your friend in the mud, deep snow, and cold, wet puddles. Your walking trousers stay dry, your socks keep warm and fluffy, and your boots stay nice and cosy inside.
Gaiters are great, but you have to get the right pair. Hopefully this rundown of the factors to consider when you’re choosing a new pair of gaiters is helpful. Remember to watch the YouTube video so you know how to put them on before you hit the hiking trails.
Have fun! Stay dry!