Gaiters are an essential clothing and footwear item for hikers and backpackers that provide moisture protection, extra insulation, and protection for your ankles and lower legs. They’re available in a wide variety of heights and fabrics, with a multitude of different attachment options for use with hiking shoes, trail runners, and hiking boots.
Here’s an overview of the different types of hiking gaiters available, the best times to use them, and guidance on shoe compatibility, because gaiters attachment systems are NOT universally compatible with all shoe types. For instance, flat soles and arched soles require different gaiter attachment types.
Low Gaiters for Trail Runners
Low gaiters are primarily used to keep sticks and stones out of your shoes when hiking or trail running, so you don’t have to stop to take them out of your shoes. They typically cover your ankles and lower calves, covering the tops of your socks. Made from stretchy spandex or nylon, they provide some moisture protection from splashing in puddles or mud, but your feet will still get wet if you step in a deep puddle or slosh through a stream-bed during a water crossing. There are a couple of different ways to attach a low gaiter to trail shoes and trail runners, so you need to make sure that any gaiters you buy are going to work with the shoes you intend to use.
Many trail running shoes have flat soles that don’t have an arch (left, above). To attach a gaiter, you have to glue a velcro patch to the back of your shoes to keep the rear of the gaiter on (the front hooks to your shoelaces). While gaiter manufacturers include adhesive-backed velcro strips to attach to the back of your shoes (they hook to the inside hem of the gaiter), they don’t stick very well, and you’ll want to attach them with a stronger glue, like Shoo Goo or Seam Grip, if you want a long-lasting bond.
If your hiking shoes have an arch between the forefoot and heel (right, above), you can use a gaiter that’s held on by an instep strap or cord running through it. These are convenient because you can put them on and take them off without removing your shoe and it’s easy to switch them between different shoes quickly. But a bottom instep strap is still subject to considerable abrasion. My preference is to buy gaiters with replaceable straps or cords like the Outdoor Research Thru-Gaiter or the mid-size Black Diamond Cirque where I can quickly replace the stirrup with a simple elastic cord when one breaks. Look for gaiters with reinforced grommets on the bottom that you can lo
Some shoes already come with pre-installed velcro patches or gaiter traps like Altra Running Shoes which is one reason they’re so popular with long-distance hikers and trail runners. These are very convenient if you like Altra’s shoes.
High gaiters are usually used in combination with insulated hiking or mountaineering boots to prevent snow from drenching your socks, but they’re also used by some long distance hikers and bushwhackers for leg and insect protection. Most high gaiters are only made for boots that have an arch, not flat soled boots. If you intend to wear high gaiters with boots, make sure you don’t get boots with flat soles.
Most high gaiters have a thick plastic strap that runs under the sole’s instep to keep the gaiters from riding up your leg. Some of these straps are sewn to the gaiter and not replaceable, so you need to make them last.
If you have flat soled hiking boots, you need to find high gaiters that have replaceable cords or straps because you’re going to wear them out from abrasion pretty quickly. No one, to my knowledge, makes a low velcro-style gaiter for boots. While you could use a low gaiter with boots, you ‘re not going to get the same cold or moisture protection that a high gaiter will provide.
Altra Trail Gaiters
Check out the latest price on:
Salomon Trail Gaiters
Montbell Stretch Short Spats
Check out the latest price on:
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Check out the latest price on:
Dirty Girl Gaiters
I’ve got about a thousand miles, give or take, on my current set of Dirty Girl gaiters and they are excellent. I don’t bushwack too much, maybe 30-50 mile of that, so they don’t have an opportunity to get ripped up, but I do lots of desert and sandy trails, where they are truly a life/foot saver. The same gaiters have outlived three pairs of shoes, and I’ve still got enough of the velcro that came with them to outfit another four pairs of shoes (but they are admittedly a bit ragged now, with some holes appearing around the velcro on the back, so I’ll probably replace them at the next tire change).
The best “gaiter” for bushwhacking is long pants.
My legs surely agree with you there, but my so-called brain usually overrules them. :)
One other use for gaiters might be to permethrin (Insect Shield Tm) one pair of gaiters rather than 6 pairs of socks. The Insect Shielded long pants tucked into Insect Shielded socks works pretty well, I find dead ticks stuck to the socks, but unfortunately everything ELSE also sticks to the lightweight wool socks I like to wear. Wash day has me picking out various burrs and seeds (and dead ticks) from lots of sock ankles. Maybe I will throw a pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters into the next Insect-Shield-your-own-clothes shipment.
long pants are no match for bushwhacking the sonoran desert….rattlers, various cacti buried under overgrowth, shindaggers, brittle dry grasses…..legs will look like pincushions even with thick long pants and thick socks. I love my gaiters more than my boots.
see ya out there
Not mentioned, but important, are gaiters’ use in buggy areas to keep mosquitoes (etc) from biting you through your socks. The first trip I did after switching from boots to trail runners (and not wearing gaiters) left me trying not to scratch my ankles for weeks!
Low gaiters are also useful to keep ticks from crawling up your legs under your pants.
In summer and light snow I wear OR low gators that are insect shield treated for tic season. They keep most of the mud off my pants and out of my boots.
For years, i’ve worn a few different iterations of REI’s low, summer-weight gaiters to keep stuff out of my boots. I think the originals were called Desert Gaiters, and more recently Trail Light Gaiters. They’re a light tan color and look similar to the OR Bugout gaiters, which i think are what’s pictured in the upper right of the first set of photos in this blog post. For how light they were, they held up well. The thing that limited their longevity was the elastic around the top would eventually fatigue and would leave a gap and/or the gaiter would no longer stay up.
I went to get another pair recently, and, sadly, it looks like REI has discontinued them. Another reminder to buy multiple back-up/future replacements for things you like before they are no longer available or “improved.”
@ NancyP: Good thoughts there. Unrelated to gaiters, but things sticking to socks reminds me that the hook part of hook-and-loop closures— which have become way overused in clothing, me thinks — need to be kept away from socks (and other clothing). A couple of socks had attached themselves to a strip of this stuff on a pair of pants in the wash. Peeling them apart tore off about half the sock fabric at the point of attachment. Fabrics seem to vary in their affinity to being hooked, but socks seem to be among the more vulnerable.
Nick in Mass—-funny you should mention this. I just had a tangled mess in the laundry just as you described… ruining a wool-hybrid beanie of mine! I did find that extra liquid softener in the wash—-and an extra dryer sheet in the dryer, seemed to alleviate the problem somewhat.
9/16” tubular webbing hot cut in the open position makes a great protective tube over gaiter instep cords; make sure the ‘tube’ covers the corner on trad Vibram boot soles. On arch soled trail runners one set of covered strings will last much longer than the shoe they’re on.
I’ve been using my ancient Goretex gaiters with insulated boots in the aftermaths of the Nor’easters, but my first pair of Dirty Girls arrived in the mail today, so I’m looking forward to gentler weather to try them with trail runners. I got them specifically to spray with permethrin against ticks, to avoid putting the toxin on my socks which touch my skin. I warned my wife not to be surprised when a package marked “Dirty Girls” arrives for me.
What gaiter are you using these days for winter to keep snow out?
I’m new to gaiters. I’m thinking of buying the Rab Latok Alpine Gaiter:
I was wondering if a gaiter such as this that is designed to keep snow out of boots, could be used to keep snow out of a low top hiking shoe, such as the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX, when the weather is warm enough not to need an insulated boot, but there is still deep snow? Or do you really need a high top boot to pair with the gaiter to keep snow out?
I’m also considering pairing a high gaiter with the Salomon Kaipo ClimaShield Waterproof Snow Boots, which are cut so low that they almost look like a hiking shoe, but with some heavy duty insulation:
I’m wondering if a gaiter such as the Rab mentioned earlier could be used to keep snow out of these boots, or if again, these would be too low cut. Any thoughts?
Thanks in advance for your advice!
No, the strap has no where to go with a flat boot sole.
Thanks for your reply! Is there any type of gaiter that would work with a flat-soled boot or shoe?
Also, another possibility for me would be to use a gaiter on the La Sportiva Spire GTX. The Spire has a slight arch on the bottom of the shoe. Here’s a link to a photo:
If a gaiter were paired with this Spire shoe (a low cut hiking shoe), would it keep snow out, or do you need the extra height of a boot for a gaiter to work effectively at keeping snow out?
Thanks for your help!
depends on how deep the snow is.
if your footwear doesn’t have an arch, you need to attach the gaiter with a hook and rear velcro. But velcro doesn’t work too well in winter when it gets iced up.
Paul, to me the arch in the photo would be high enough to handle a regular pair of gaiters with the strap under the sole.
My opinion is 100% guaranteed… to be an opinion!
Maybe it’s the relatively gently Midwestern deciduous forests I’m in, but I’ve never encountered the issues described by merely letting my pants hang over my low rise boots or high top shoes, or in the snow – tall boots. Or is the idea that you wear gaiters in hot weather with shorts? What am I missing? (Point taken from the gal in the Sonora Desert.)
Philip, What’s your high gaiter recommendation for a do everything year round (except summer) gaiter? Will use with Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX boots (which I think you’re familiar with). Thanks!
I only wear gaiters with boots in winter.
I am working in vineyards all day. What are the best gaiters to keep stickers, dirt and ticks out of your shoes, socks and shoelaces?
I’d go with these.