Gaiters cover the tops of your boots to keep snow, water, dirt, sand and other debris away from your feet. If you’re headed out for a hike or run on dusty trails with loose debris, a pair of low gaiters can make for a more comfortable experience. Conversely, you should buy knee-high gaiters that are waterproof if you’re planning a trip to the mountains and think you’ll encounter snow and rain, or if you’ll be bushwhacking.
To bring you the best gaiters of 2018, we first looked at REI customer reviews. Each of the below gaiters were top rated by verified purchasers, who wore the products in the wild and came back to report on how they performed. After reading hundreds of reviews, we spoke with several gaiter experts, then tested seven pairs of day-hiking, backpacking and mountaineering gaiters sold by REI. We took each pair of low gaiters on dusty day hikes around the Pacific Northwest. We tested the waterproofing of the knee-high gaiters by splashing around in puddles and soaking our feet up to our ankles. Then, we analyzed the materials, buckles and seams of each pair of gaiters.
We researched and tested gaiters from all of the major brands offered by REI, but our testing revealed that Outdoor Research makes the most comfortable, weatherproof, durable and price-savvy gaiters in every category. Thus, we recommend buying Outdoor Research gaiters in most circumstances; we found this advice to be consistent with reviews from other major gear sites like Outdoor Gear Lab and The Adventure Junkies, too.
The Best Gaiters for Dry Hiking
Height: Mid-calf, 9.5 inches
Materials: Nylon packcloth
Weight Per Pair: 4.8 ounces
The Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters are lightweight, breathable and mid-calf height. They are an option best suited to people backpacking or day hiking in dry climates because they act as a protective layer to keep debris, like dust, rocks, bugs and twigs, out of your hiking boots. These gaiters are also much loved by ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers.
The Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters are made from 420-denier nylon packcloth, which means they’re breathable but not waterproof; water soaked into these gaiters almost immediately during the wetter sections of our hikes. In addition, they aren’t meant to be taken on mountaineering trips, as they could be easily torn by sharp crampons.
To put on the Rocky Mountain Lows, you should step into them heel first. Then, seal the double-layered hook-and-loop section along the tops of the gaiters, cinching the gaiters close to your ankles. Secure the closures all the way down the front of your shins to the tops of your feet, and then hook the gaiters onto your shoelaces and secure the durable underfoot straps along the bottom of your boots. During testing, we found that these gaiters were quite durable and sturdy for their light weight: During a half-day of hiking, the hook-and-loop tabs held strong and the hooks on the front of the gaiters stayed attached to our hiking boots. Before buying, we recommend trying on a pair at the store with the shoes you plan to hike in.
One customer said, “I took these backpacking last weekend for the first time. I treated them with permethrin [insect repellent] and wore them as tick defense. In spite of it being a banner season for ticks around here, I didn't have a single one on me all weekend. They also did a good job of keeping dust, dirt and debris out of my hiking shoes.”
The Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters come in men’s sizes only, ranging from Small to XX-Large. Check the sizing chart before purchasing, as most women will want to go down 1.5 sizes. (For example, a women’s size 9 is a men’s size 7.5, or a Medium.) The Rocky Mountain gaiters also come in a taller version.
The Best Knee-High Gaiters for Wet Outdoor Adventures
Height: Knee-high; 15 inches (women’s), 17 inches (men’s)
Materials: Cordura nylon & ripstop nylon laminate
Weight Per Pair: 7.3 ounces
The Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters come in women’s and men’s models and are a good step up from the shorter Rocky Mountain gaiters. If you plan to take any backpacking trips where you might encounter snow and rain, or you think you might need to bushwhack, the Verglas gaiters are a good choice.
The Verglas gaiters reach up to just below the knees and are made with ripstop nylon, which breathes fairly well. The lower sections of the gaiters are made with Cordura nylon, which is meant to resist snow and rain. While these gaiters are not completely waterproof, they will resist a fair amount of moisture (like splashes, rain or a dusting of light snow) for at least 2 to 3 hours out in the wild. Just don’t go plunging into any pools! The nylon materials are also very durable, and the gaiters are fairly easy to put on and take off. These gaiters can be used for mountaineering (they won’t tear if you’re wearing crampons). However, if you plan to go on intense mountaineering trips often, we recommend taking a step up to the Crocodiles (see below).
The tops of the Verglas gaiters feature a buckle for cinching the material around your calves, and this attachment stayed surprisingly taut for several hours during our test hikes. There are lace hooks at the front of each of the gaiters for easy attachment to hiking boots. And, there are underfoot straps with loops to tuck the strap ends into, so they don’t flap around. The underfoot straps are easily replaceable, if need be. The Verglas gaiters cinch up the front with a hook-and-loop strip that’s quite thick, although a bit difficult to match up smoothly.
“They aren't the lightest gaiter on the market, but they are perhaps the most reliable,” one customer said. “The Verglas gaiters keep your feet and calves dry, even in the soggiest of conditions. I use them for wet-weather hiking and backpacking, and for alpine ascents and approaches...If you're looking for something tried and true, this is the gaiter to get.”
The Verglas gaiters come in women’s sizes Small, Medium and Large and men’s sizes Small, Medium, Large and X-Large.
The Best Knee-High Gaiters for Mountaineering
Height: Knee-high, 16 inches
Materials: Cordura nylon with a GORE-TEX® waterproof/breathable laminate
Weight Per Pair: 12.1 ounces
The well-loved Expedition Crocodile Gaiters are meant for mountaineering, backpacking, snowshoeing and any snow-based activities. They’re pricier than most of the other gaiters on the market, but that’s because they’re made with GORE-TEX. We think the extra cost is worth it for people who plan to be out in the elements, especially the snow, constantly: These are the most durable gaiters money can buy at REI.
The Expedition Crocodile Gaiters are waterproof and breathable, due to their 3-layer GORE-TEX makeup. When we tested them on a rainy hike, all splashes ran off without soaking through. The insides of the gaiters were 100 percent dry after several miles, too. They’re lined with Cordura nylon, which feels comfortable against the skin and keeps the gaiters safe when you’re wearing sharp crampons. These gaiters can fit over most boot models, but you should still try the gaiters on in the store with the shoes you plan to wear on your hike.
Although they’re durable, the Crocodiles are pretty easy to get on and off. Like the other Outdoor Research gaiters we tested, you step into these heel first, then cinch the tops of the gaiters around the calves with hook-and-loop straps and buckles. Finally, you seal the closure down the front of your legs and secure the double-seals at the tops of the feet, as well as the lace hooks. The straps on the tops of the gaiters keep them tight to your calves for hours, no matter what size you are. The underfoot buckles also seem durable, but you can replace them easily if they eventually wear through.
One satisfied customer said: “I'd pretty much gotten used to and accepted the fact that hiking anywhere off the well-beaten path just means that your feet will end up wrinkled ... if you're hiking through wet, waist-high foliage or stepping in water that goes over the top of the shoe, you're done for—and the shoe is going to become a foot-bath pretty quick. Pair it up with these gaiters, however, and voila! You've just solved your problem, and at the end of the day, when you've made camp at the top of a ridge in 100% humidity, and the rest of your party is fruitlessly trying to dry out their shoes and socks with their lower legs scratched and bleeding from hours of bushwhacking through brush and prickers—you can lay back, relax and day-dream about your future as a high-paid lower leg and foot model.”
As with the Rocky Mountain gaiters, these are unisex. Thus, women should size down 1.5 sizes (for example, a women’s 9 would be a men’s 7.5, and thus a size Medium gaiter). These gaiters have also been awarded top marks from gear reviewers at Outdoor Gear Lab and Backpacker Magazine.
Gaiters Buying Advice
Why do I need gaiters?
Gaiters are meant to cover the place where your boots, socks and legs meet one another, to keep debris and water off your feet. How do you know whether to get a tall or a short pair? REI video producer, former REI sales associate and gaiter expert Cameron Preston said it all starts with a few questions:
“The first question is: What are you going to be doing?” he said. “Are you going to go through the mountains? Will you be pushing through snow? Or do you just need to keep brush out?”
Low gaiters usually cover your ankles and are meant to keep debris and bugs out of your boots. Usually, these gaiters are breathable rather than waterproof, and they are most often used by day hikers, backpackers and thru-hikers.
High gaiters have one purpose, according to Preston: They keep water out of your boots. They generally reach up to your knees and are waterproof or at least water resistant. Some high gaiters are made with thick materials to help you adapt to rugged terrain, as well as to protect against crampon scrapes. If you’re mountaineering or you expect to encounter very wet or snowy weather, waterproof GORE-TEX gaiters are the best choice.
How do you know when to buy a pair of GORE-TEX gaiters?
“Usually, I tell people to start with durable fabric gaiters [like the Outdoor Research Verglas gaiters] rather than GORE-TEX options [like the Outdoor Research Crocodiles],” Preston said. “These will keep most of the snow and all of the brush out. They are also cheaper so it’s a good way to get started. GORE-TEX gaiters are for people who are going to be putting on these gaiters all day and spending lots of time in them. If this is the only pair you’ll buy, and it’s part of your wardrobe, it’s worth the extra cost.”
How should my gaiters fit?
According to Preston, low gaiters generally reach to the top of your ankles. In terms of fit, a good pair of low gaiters should wrap tight around your ankles or calves to make a good seal. High gaiters should wrap around the top of your calf muscles in such a way that they don’t fall down.
REI Senior Gear Designer Graeme Wagoner suggests bringing the shoes you plan to hike in to the store when you try on gaiters, before making a purchase. “A gaiter should fit snugly over the footwear and leg. It’s important to have the correct footwear with you when you try on gaiters,” he said, “as a size that fits over a hardshell boot will not work on a low-top hiker.”
How do I put on a pair of gaiters?
Preston and Wagoner recommend putting on your gaiters like this, to adjust for correct fit:
- Step into the first gaiter heel-first.
- Then, wrap the gaiter around your calf and secure the hook-and-loop closure at the front of your shin.
- Seal the hook-and-loop closure down the front of your leg, then loop your shoelaces through the lace hook.
- Cinch the top buckle tight enough to keep the gaiter on your leg but not too tight.
- Then sit down, cross your legs, and cinch up the underfoot strap along your instep, where your boot has a natural divot. The gaiter should fit tightly around your shoe or boot at the base to keep dirt, snow and mud from being pushed up.
- Repeat with the second gaiter.
How to wear gaiters with shorts or hiking pants:
Gaiters can be worn inside or outside of your pants. If you’re dealing with snow, put your gaiters on the outside of your rain pants. If you’re dealing with lots of rain, put your rain pants over the top of the gaiters—this acts like a roofline, said Preston, allowing the water to fall off your pants, then gaiters, then boots.
If you’re wearing shorts, know that something might get into your boots if it can reach over the tops of the gaiters. “Typically, I encounter this situation when there’s soft snow and I’m warm, so I’m in shorts, but I’m moving through sloppy snow all day,” said Preston. “If I know my feet are going to get blistery because of the moisture, I’ll wear gaiters. Snow might get in the top occasionally, but it’s better than not having anything.”
How to care for your gaiters:
“Most gaiters can simply be rinsed off after use, but if you have a waterproof-breathable fabric like GORE-TEX, washing them [every 5th or 6th wear] with an outerwear-specific product will help revive their technical properties,” said Wagoner. “Otherwise, dirt, sweat and oils from skin will reduce the effectiveness of these materials.”