Gaiters are an essential element of your gear for winter and spring backpacking. Many backpackers and hikers also use them year round.
In the winter and spring, gaiters provide extra insulation for your lower legs, particularly if you are snowshoeing. During mud season, they are also essential for keeping your socks dry. If you do a lot of bushwacking, they also provide a lot of extra leg protection. Many people will also use them in drier seasons to keep rocks and sand from getting into their boots or trail shoes.
Gaiters come in different lengths called high and low gaiters. High gaiters are used for snowshoeing and mountaineering and extend to just below your knees. There are also special gaiters that are compatible for crampon use. Short gaiters generally cover part of your shin and are used in warmer weather.
Gaiters attach to your boots in two locations: a front hook attaches to your boot or shoe laces at the bottom of the tongue and an adjustable strap made out of string, elastic or plastic extends under your boots where your heels meet the last of your boot. On trail or running shoes gaiters will sometimes attach to a velcro strip on the back of your shoe. When you put them on, they wrap around your lower leg, usually back to front, and seal with a velcro strip that runs from the top of the gaiter to the bottom.
Gaiters are made from many different fabrics including Goretex, nylon and pack cloth. You should think about fabric durability and weight when you select a pair. For example, I recently saw a pair of gaiters manufactured by Outdoor Research made from Paclite, which is a very lightweight but fragile Goretex derivative, and will not stand up to any bushwacking applications without tearing.
I own 2 pairs of gaiters, a high and a low pair. Mine were manufactured by EMS (Goretex) and Outdoor Research (nylon), but these models are no longer available. While my old EMS gaiters are great, I’d stay away from their newer models. EMS gear is not what it used to be. If you are looking for a new pair, I’d recommend Outdoor Research for high and low gaiters, and 40 below overboots for mountaineering applications. If you are looking for gaiters that will fit trail or running shoes, check out DirtyGirlGaiters.com. These are funny, excellent quality and support a charitable cause.
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