Gaiters - What You Need to Know
What are Gaiters?
A gaiter is a simple fabric sleeve or guard that covers the area between the top of your shoe and the end of your pant leg.
Why Wear Gaiters?
- Stop Debris from Getting in Your Shoes
- Shield Your Legs & Ankles
- Keep Your Shoes Dry
- Barrier Against Bugs
What are the types of Gaiters?
- Ankle (Low) Gaiters
- Mid-Calf Gaiters
- High (Knee) Gaiters
What are the Best Gaiters to Buy?
- Best Ultralight Gaiters: Altra Trail Gaiters
- Best Gaiters for Trail Running: Salomon Trail Gaiters High
- Best Gaiters for Hiking: Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters
- Best Waterproof Gaiters: Outdoor Research Crocodile Women's Gaiters / Men's
- Best Bug Repellent Gaiters: Outdoor Research Bugout Gaiters
- Best Mountaineering Gaiters: Outdoor Research X-Gaiters
Even as big fans of gaiters, we don’t wear them every time we head out to the trails. But, in the right conditions, they’re one of our favorite pieces of gear. If you’ve never used gaiters or aren’t even sure when or why you’d use gaiters, here’s a quick guide to the basics.
What are Gaiters?
Gaiters come in a few styles, but the main goal is to keep debris and the elements out of your boots or trail runners. They are designed as an additional layer of protection for your legs, ankles, and feet.
A gaiter is a simple fabric sleeve or guard that covers the area between the top of your shoe and the end of your pant leg. Gaiters for trail running and hiking are made of lightweight, breathable material.
They wrap around your upper ankle and attach to your shoes to prevent pebbles, sand, and other debris from getting between your socks and shoes. Many gaiters include a thin strap that hooks under the heel of your boot to keep them securely in place.
People who hike in marshy, muddy areas or snowy conditions often wear tall gaiters that cover to the knee. These are made from much thicker, waterproof materials. They’re overkill for most trail runners, but useful for hikers in the right conditions.
Why Wear Gaiters?
Stop Debris from Getting in Your Shoes
Hands down, this is the number 1 reason hikers and trail runners wear gaiters. Gaiters block pebbles, sand, mud, twigs, and so much more from getting down into your shoes. When hiking or trail running, you kick up a lot of tiny debris with your normal foot movement.
Shield Your Legs & Ankles
We’ve all had that hike where you were so busy looking at the amazing views that you didn’t even realize you got tiny cuts and scratches all over your legs from the brush until you get to camp and the sweat dries. Then the pain sets in like a thousand tiny paper cuts.
Give your skin a little protection with gaiters. Ankle gaiters like the Altra Trail Gaiter are perfect for shielding your ankles from the small abrasions caused by flying rocks and sticks as you run. Mid-calf or taller gaiters protect your pants from snags. And they protect your legs while remaining breathable and comfortable when wearing shorts.
Keep Your Shoes Dry (or drier at least)
The thin fabric gaiters that most trail runners wear won’t protect your shoes and socks from rain. But, the good news is that most running shoes are designed to dry quickly, so it’s not much of a problem.
If you wear boots or traditional hiking shoes, try Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters or REI Co-op Backpacker Low Gaiters. They’re water-resistant to keep out splashes and mud. Plus, they’ll help shed any rain away from running into the tops of your shoes as you hike.
Barrier Against Bugs
Ticks and mosquitos are often prevalent in forested areas. These little pests tend to get into places on your body you never thought possible.
Gaiters are designed to be worn over the bottom of your pants and extend over your shoes. So they help keep insects from latching on to your ankles or flying up your pants legs.
Outdoor Research Bugout Gaiters can be purchased pre-treated with an insect repellant. Or you can add your own for additional protection.
Mid-calf and tall gaiters are generally made of thicker material that helps add a layer of insulation for your legs in cold temperatures.
Some gaiters like the Outdoor Research X-Gaiters are designed for winter conditions and have extra insulation built into them.
Even thin trail running gaiters provide a little bit of extra warmth on cold mornings but remain breathable for hot conditions.
The Different Types of Gaiters
Gaiters come in 3 styles based on how high they are on your leg: ankle length, mid-calf, and below the knee.
Ankle (Low) Gaiters
These lightweight gaiters are a favorite among trail runners and hikers. They’re generally quite breathable and might be water-resistant enough to shed light rain.
Many ankle gaiters made for trail running are one piece of stretchy fabric that pulls on like a sleeve. They are designed to fit snugly, but not tightly around your upper ankle.
The bottom front generally attaches to your shoelaces with a hook. The back attaches to the heel of your shoe. Many trail running shoes have built-in heel hook-and-loop (VELCRO®) areas. Or you can attach your own VELCRO to any pair of shoes/boots.
We use these ankle gaiters, especially when running on desert trails, where we kick up a lot of tiny pebbles and sand. No doubt, you’ve had one of those runs where you feel like you’re stopping every quarter mile to dump tiny rocks out of your shoes.
It’s annoying, and running in sandy shoes is a great way to develop painful blisters. Gaiters make a HUGE difference!
Gaiters cover the space where those irritating rocks, leaves, and tiny prickly things get down between your socks and the tops of your shoes so that you can keep on trekking.
Mid-calf gaiters are usually about 8-12 inches tall. They cover a few more inches of leg for added protection. They are great for trails that may be more overgrown with tall grass or prickly plants.
These are also typically water-resistant. They’ll keep your legs and shoes dry when hiking through morning dew or light rain. But they can become hot or irritating in warm conditions.
These fasten with a thin strap under the bottom of your shoe or boot under your instep. Use the elastic, hook-and-loop (VELCRO®) or drawcord to cinch them snug on your leg at the top.
High (Knee) Gaiters
These are a classic style of gaiter you may see when you picture arctic mountaineering expeditions. But they’re actually quite helpful for a variety of less extreme situations. They are designed for hiking through rugged conditions such as heavy snow, muddy swamps, dense brush, and bad weather.
High gaiters provide an extra layer of protection to your legs, pants, and shoes. They are generally quite water-resistant and help shed rain down and away from your shoes, keeping your feet warmer and drier.
These attach much like the mid-calf gaiters. They may include extra tighteners or storm flaps over the closures to keep out rain and mud.
Buyer's Guide: Best Hiking & Trail Running Gaiters of 2020
Best Ultralight Gaiter - Altra Trail Gaiter
Altra’s ultralight, breathable material is super durable and abrasion-resistant. These gaiters are comfortably stretchy but fit securely around your shoes to shield your feet from dust, debris, and moisture.
All Altra trail shoes have a metal loop at the front of the laces and built-in velcro on the heel for attaching trail gaiters. But, these will work with any shoe. Stick the adhesive velcro patch to the back of your favorite trail runners and slip the hook under your front lace. Available for $20 in several colors and sizes.
Best Gaiters for Trail Running - Salomon Trail Gaiters High
Salomon’s high trail gaiters are made with comfort and safety in mind. These gaiters feature extra padding on your ankle bones to protect you when you slip on wet tree roots or rocks.
They have a sole strap under your insole and convenient velcro closure to attach around your ankle. The best part? You can put them on in seconds without taking your shoes off. Available for $45.
Best Gaiters for Hiking - Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters
The snug-fitting elastic at the top and bottom of these gaiters helps keep sand, snow, and debris out of your boots. The breathable nylon packcloth material keeps you dry in mud and puddles.
They are not entirely waterproof but will keep water from pouring directly into the tops of your boots when crossing streams. They come up to mid-calf and feature an easy-on design with full-length velcro closure up the front. Available for $35.
Best Waterproof Gaiters - Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters
Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters are rugged and ready for adventure. They provide full leg coverage while snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or winter hiking.
Their Gore-Tex® nylon uppers are waterproof, and the coated nylon lower panels are lined with packcloth for durability. Instep straps hook under your boots to keep everything secure. They are replaceable should you ever wear them out. Available for $85.
Honorable Mention - Dirty Girl Gaiters
Dirty Girl Gaiters are extremely popular among thru-hikers. They come in dozens of bright, bold patterns and colors. They're a fun way to protect your feet and show off your personality!
Dirty Girl Gaiters stretch in all the right places for comfort and weigh less than two ounces. They attach under the front shoe lace with a small metal hook. They secure to the back of the shoe with a self-adhesive velcro strip. Available for $20-$23.
Don't forget to check out our other buying guides:
Gaiter Comparison Table
Ankle / Low
Ankle / Low
Ankle / Low
Knee / High
Trust us, we were pretty skeptical when we started wearing gaiters too. Would they be comfortable? How well would they stay on our shoes? Would they even work?
After years of pebbles in our shoes, we bought our first pair of thin running gaiters and never looked back. Gaiters have changed the way we look at trails and they might for you as well.
Trail too muddy? Pull-on the mid-calf gaiters and trudge on through.
Signed up for a trail race through the sand? Yep, Altra Trail Gaiters might save you from stopping to dump out your shoes every 6 minutes.
If you’re not sure if gaiters are right for you, stop by your local outdoor retailer and try them on. Ask your friends who hike what they’ve used and if it worked for them. Give gaiters a try and see if they make a difference in your next trail adventure!
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