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Hiking Gaiters 101

Hiking Gaiters 101 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.

Flat soles and arched soles require different gaiter attachment types

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.

Most high gaiters are designed to be worn with boots that have arches for the strap to pass through
Most high gaiters are designed to be worn with boots that have arches for the strap to pass through

High Gaiters

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.

Recommended Gaiters

Altra Trail Gaiters

Altra Trail Gaiters
Altra’s Trail Gaiters are low strapless gaiters made with stretchy nylon and spandex. While they are optimized for use with the Altra Gaiter Trap on the back of Altra’s running shoes, they’re still compatible with other shoes from other brands. A glue-on kit is included.

View at REI

REI Flash Gaiters

REI Flash Gaiters
REI’s Flash Gaiters are made with a quick-dry nylon/spandex blend fabric is the perfect blend of lightweight and durable, deflecting rain, snow, dirt, and debris. They have a hook-and-loop calf closure for easy on/off without removing your shoes; a snap and top drawcord secures the fit. They even come with an extra set of underfoot cords for easy replacement.

View at REI

Kahtoola INSTAgaiters

Kahtoola Low Insta Gaiter
Made with a breathable softshell fabric, Kahtoola’s INSTAgaiter Low Gaiters connect to shoes using a zipper that allows quick, easy on/off over your shoes. They’re best used with trail runners that have arches to protect the stirrup strap from ground abrasion. They’re also available in a taller MID size that is compatible with most mid-height hiking boots.

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Montbell Short Stretch Gaiters

MB Stretch Short Spats
Sized to fit over running shoes or light hikers these trail gaiters are very low profile. The durability of the adjustable shock cord stirrup is enhanced by the use of a polyurethane tube covering.

View at Montbell

Dirty Girl Gaiters

These low spandex gaiters are available in a wide array of wild colors and patterns making them a cult favorite with hikers and runners. They have a front hook that attaches to your laces and a rear velcro patch that glues to the outside of your heels.

View at Dirty Girl

Black Diamond Cirque Gaiters

BD Cirque Gaiter
The Black Diamond Cirque Gaiter is an all-purpose mid-height gaiter perfect for backpacking and mountaineering. A welded hardshell upper and lower abrasion patch protects against moisture, rocks, and dirt while the replaceable nylon cord instep strap secures the gaiter.

View at Backcountry

Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

OR Crocodiles
Outdoor Research’s Crocodile Gaiters keep snow out of your boots while snowshoeing or mountain climbing. Gore-Tex uppers are waterproof and breathable, while durable lower panels of coated Cordura nylon are lined with packcloth for added crampon protection. A two-inch wide instep strap under the bottom allows for an adjustable fit with different boots.

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  1. 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).

  2. Why don’t these gaiter manufactures have the boot strap buckle in on BOTH sides. That way when you wear out the strap you can easily replace it. I hate having to replace a perfectly good set of gaiter only because the under shoe strap is worn through.

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