Snow, water, dirt and pebbles have a way of sneaking into even the most waterproof of boots. To prevent this, put on some gaiters. Gaiters cover the vulnerable tops of your footwear to fully protect your feet from the elements.

Gaiter shopping is not complicated. This article gives you the basics.

low gaiter

Types of Gaiters

What's Your Activity?

The right pair of gaiters depends on the kinds of trips you have planned and the conditions you expect. The main types:

  • Trail gaiters: These lightweight, breathable gaiters offer basic protection against rocks, grit and light rain while on mild-weather excursions.
  • Alpine gaiters: These are designed for all-around hiking, snowshoeing, mountaineering and cross-country skiing. They offer added protection against rock abrasion and water.
  • Expedition gaiters: These provide heavy-duty protection and add insulation for extended mountaineering trips in harsh conditions. Most feature a waterproof, breathable fabric for superior comfort and protection.
  • Women's gaiters: While these can fall in any of the above categories, women's styles are typically shorter in height and have a bit more top girth to specifically accommodate a woman's calf.

Shop REI's selection of gaiters.

Low Versus High

Gaiter height depends on how much protection you need.

  • Low gaiters are ankle high, about 8" to 12" tall. These are best for less-than-extreme conditions when you just need to keep trail debris and rain out of your boots.
  • Regular gaiters are calf high, around 15" to 18" tall. These are designed for rugged conditions such as hiking through deep snow, wet brush or in bad weather.

Gaiter Features

Entry system: Gaiters are usually opened and secured by front rip-and-stick fasteners (VELCRO® brand or similar), although a few models feature a sturdy zippered entry. Older models tended to be rear entry, which offered less convenient on/off access.

Top closures: Basic gaiters are typically cinched with toggles and elasticized drawcords; some models are a bit fancier and feature a dedicated top strap with cam buckle.

Instep straps: These secure the lower edge of your gaiters around your boots' insteps. Basic gaiters come with simple lace straps. Premium gaiters feature beefier leather/synthetic straps for extra durability.

Lace hooks: Offered on some styles, these let you attach your boot laces to your gaiters for added security.

Gaiter Materials

Much like with outerwear, fabrics help define the level of gaiter performance you're going to get. Most gaiters feature a lower section that is abrasion-resistant to fend off scrapes and an upper section that is waterproof or highly water-resistant. Here's a breakdown of the most common fabric players:

  • Gore-Tex®: This well-known laminate provides superior waterproof, windproof protection and breathability. It's ideal for tromping through wet or snowy conditions.
  • REI Elements®: Similar to Gore-Tex, REI's family of waterproof, breathable fabrics is completely seam-sealed for complete weather protection.
  • Cordura® nylon: This super-rugged fabric is designed to withstand the abrasion of ice, rocks and the occasional nick of crampon points.
  • Coated nylon: Basic gaiters are very light and are usually made with polyurethane-coated nylon. If a short day hike or fast-packing through talus, sand and wet brush is on your agenda, this type of fabric will work just fine.
  • Schoeller® fabrics: This family of soft-shell fabrics offers flexibility and stretch as well as excellent weather protection

Gaiter Tips

Get a snug fit: Most gaiter styles come in sizes, which are aligned with a range of boot sizes. When you try on gaiters, adjust the straps to make sure the fit is snug. Your goal is to achieve the best possible seal around your boots.

Wear low gaiters under your rain pants: This creates the most waterproof seal.

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