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 REI Flash Gaiters 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
REI Flash Gaiters
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Montbell Short Stretch Gaiters
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Black Diamond Cirque Gaiters
Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters
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