The purpose of using gaiters in winter is to keep your socks dry by preventing contact with deep snow. They can also serve secondary functions such as blunting self-inflicted crampon strikes, which tend to occur when you get tired and lose your aim, or by adding another warming layer to your lower legs.
Despite these benefits, my calves have always sweated buckets when I wear high gaiters in winter, resulting in socks soaked by my own sweat instead of snow. I’d given up ever finding a solution to the issue and just devised strategies to dealing with it.
So it was a happy accident that I came across these Mountain Hardware Ascent Stretch Air Permeable Gaiters at my local REI. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the breathable rear fabric on these gaiters that caught my eye first, but the way the stirrup strap is sewn to the gaiter with the attachment point sandwiched inside the gaiter fabric itself.
This is important because it vastly improves the durability of the stirrup anchor and reduces the likelihood that external friction will rip it off. For example, the top photo above shows the stirrup attachment point on a pair of Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters, probably the most popular winter gaiter sold in the United States. The stirrup on the Crocodiles is sewn onto a canvas patch, which is in turn sewn to the external surface of the gaiter, worn facing your boot instep. This location makes it very prone to getting stressed or eventually ripped off as the inside of your boots, snowshoes, or crampons come into contact with one another. As shown here (top), I’ve repaired this attachment point repeatedly over the years, resewing it to the point where the fabric under the patch has degraded so badly that there is nothing left to attach the stirrup anchor too anymore.
I was literally reaching for another pair of Crocodile Gaiters at my REI, when I spied the Mountain Hardware gaiters on the shelf below it and noticed the difference in how the stirrup is attached. The external patch is sewn into the gaiter (you can even see the outline), eliminating the chance of it getting torn off in the normal wear and tear of walking, climbing, or snowshoeing. A MUCH better design, I thought.
Equally impressive, are the breathable panels on the back of the calves for venting the sweat which is generated when hiking, snowshoeing or climbing while wearing heavy insulated boots and pants in winter. I bought them on the spot, eager to see how well they breathed in winter conditions.
Having now tested the Mountain Hardware Ascent Stretch Air Permeable Gaiters (who comes up with these product names) on snowy hikes in my mountaineering boots, I am very impressed. They vent far more moisture (not just vapor) than my Gore-tex Crocodile Gaiters ever did and the fabric is wet with sweat when I hike. My socks get noticeably less damp which means fewer blister issues, warmer feet, and less chance of my boots freezing solid on overnight trips.
When fitting a gaiter, it’s important to make sure that bottom of the gaiter is large enough to wrap around your boot first, before you worry about the thickness of your calves. You’d be surprised how big mountaineering boots can be so bring them along to the store when trying different gaiters on. In addition, don’t necessarily believe the manufacturer’s recommended sizing: I wear a size medium gaiter for instance, although Mountain Hardware’s sizing charts recommends that I use a size large.
Another nice things about the MH Ascent Stretch Air Permeable Gaiter is that they secure along the front of your boot with a velcro strip the runs the height of the gaiter. This makes them easier to fit across a wider range of boots and means that you can adjust the fit slightly tighter at top, versus at the bottom over the front of your boot. There’s also a top cuff that cinches tight around the top of your calf with plenty of extra webbing to keep them from sliding down.
While Mountain Hardware Ascent Stretch Air Permeable Gaiters are more breathable and have a better stirrup anchor they’re not as heavy or bombproof as Outdoor Research Crocodiles. This distinction is particularly important if you’re just learning how to use full crampons, because self-inflicted crampon strikes are a common occurrence with people who have never used them or are less well conditioned for winter hiking. In this case, you really do want to get a gaiter with heavy reinforced fabric around the ankles and lower calves to protect yourself from gashes or from ripping up your winter pants.
If you’re a bit more experienced using crampons, enough so you don’t spear yourself any more, or you don’t use them at all, I’d definitely recommend that you purchase the Mountain Hardware Ascent Stretch Air Permeable Gaiters. They’re comparably inexpensive as full gaiters go, lightweight, and far more breathable than heavier gaiters. Mountain Hardware also offers a tougher gaiter called the Pinnacle Stretch XT Gaiter that is more comparable to the Crocodiles but still comes with the soft shell rear fabric available on the lighter weight Ascent Stretch gaiters reviewed here.
Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) purchased this product with his own funds.
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