Picture this: You’re trekking along on your favorite trail and, splash, you’re up to your ankles in a puddle. Surely there’s no quicker way to ruin a day out. But what could have prevented this sad soaking? Gaiters. Designed to seal off any gaps between your shoes and pants or legs, gaiters are like an adventurer’s armor against snow, rain, mud, grit and other trail debris. Gaiters go a long way toward keeping your feet happy.
Of course, there are many different types of gaiters. Some are designed to block sand and grit while others fend off moisture. Some are knee-high and others just cover the tops of your shoes. So which are best for you? We sent our crew of REI Co-op member-testers hiking past rain-soaked ferns, trudging across sand dunes, jogging through mud, cycling in the rain and postholing up to their waists in wet snow to find out. These six pairs of gaiters are their picks for the year’s best at the co-op.
For quick recommendations, check out the results of our round-robin here, or scroll down for in-depth reviews.
- Best Gaiters for Hiking and Mountaineering & REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award Winner: Outdoor Research Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters
- Best Gaiters for Dry Hiking: REI Co-op Lightweight Hiker Gaiters
- Best Gaiters for Wet Hiking: Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters
- Best Gaiters for Trail Running: Altra Trail Gaiters
Other Top Performers
- Outdoor Research Helium Gaiters (Women’s, Men’s)
- Kahtoola CONNECT Gaiters - Mid
- PEARL iZUMi Gravel Gaiters
Best Gaiters for Hiking and Mountaineering & REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award Winner
- Height: Knee
- Lace hooks: Yes
- Material: Cordura nylon and nylon packcloth with 3-layer GORE-TEX®
- Weight (pair): 10.2 oz. (size L)
- Price: $89
Test Results: If it is maximum protection you seek, consider the Outdoor Research Crocodiles your prize. There is no tougher piece of gear in this lineup. Made of ridiculously strong Cordura nylon and backed with a GORE-TEX® membrane, these knee-high fortresses seal out everything from water and snow to brambles and thorns. Our testing samples have also withstood ski edges, crampon sharps, a territorial cattle dog and even a rattlesnake (don’t try at home).
To deploy the Crocodiles, you open the full-length hook-and-loop closure, step into the strap and close the gaiter like a book. Connect the lace hook to your boot and fasten the webbing with a cam buckle around your calf and you’re primed for whatever Ma’ Nature will throw your way.
“Off-trail hiking, rainforest romping, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ski-mountaineering, peakbagging—the Crocodiles can handle it all,” says one editor. “They are the four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles of any hiking kit.” Sure, the Crocodiles may be overkill for easy-breezy hiking, but for everything—and we mean everything—else, there may be no better option on the market. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Shield your legs and feet from the elements with the super-tough Outdoor Research Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters, the closest thing to armor in this test.
- Total distance hiked: 168 miles
- Testing states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii and Washington
- Best testing story: One tester regaled us with a story about taking a spill on a mountaineering route up California’s Mount Shasta. “The Crocodiles saved me from a puncture wound miles into the wilderness,” she says. When pressed for more details on the gaiters’ durability, she says she laid her Crocodiles down on her lawn and “danced on top of them” while wearing crampons to verify that they can indeed withstand sharps. (We’re still waiting for the TikTok clip to go viral.)
Test Results: “Everything you need, nothing you don’t,” declared one tester of these no-frills gaiters from REI Co-op. Ideal for someone who logs most of their miles in drier climes, the Lightweight Hiker gaiters are constructed from a stretchy nylon (like hiking tights) that seals out grit, nettles and seeds from your shoes. A lace hook snugs the gaiter to the top of your trail-running shoe or boot, and a pull string cinches the cuff 7 inches up your ankle. A doubled elastic cord secures the gaiter below your arch.
The nylon material of the Lightweight Hiker gaiters is dense enough to prevent fine dust from slipping through the stitching, but it isn’t waterproof. That design helps keep the gaiters lightweight and breathable, which, combined with maximum 50+ UPF sun protection rating, lends them to desert and chaparral hiking. But should you find yourself battling unexpected rain like one Colorado-based tester did, don’t fret. The Lightweight Hiker gaiters are water-resistant and—best part—dry super quickly after a good dousing.
The narrow ankle opening keeps you fleet of foot but note that you can’t slide the Lightweight Hiker gaiters on over shoes. You need to remove a boot or put the gaiters on first—an ever-so-slight inconvenience. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Nab pocket-size protection for your feet and ankles at an affordable price with the REI Co-op Lightweight Hiker Gaiters, our top choice for dry hiking.
- Total distance hiked: 74 miles
- Testing states: Colorado
- Best testing story: One tester enjoyed a classic Colorado fall day when a dry, dusty trail was quickly coated in snow by afternoon. Like a true Coloradoan, he finished his trail run despite the 20°F drop in temperature. “The REI Co-op Lightweight Hiker gaiters survived the transition from dust to mud to snowmelt with grace and poise,” he says.
Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters - Men's
Best Gaiters for Wet Hiking$49 from REI Co-op
- Score: 93
- Height: Knee
- Lace hooks: Yes
- Material: Nylon packcloth
- Weight (pair): 6.8 oz. (size L)
Test Results: Rain or snow in the forecast? The Rocky Mountain High gaiters from Outdoor Research are up to the task. A burlier nylon material sheds off droplets easily, and knee-high protection helps prevent moisture from climbing up your pant leg when you’re brushing past wet ferns and dewy brush. Still, all that protection comes in a featherweight package that makes these gaiters a great insurance policy against a wet day.
Outdoor Research slices ounces by omitting a waterproof membrane—these gaiters are not fully waterproof. But their extremely effective water-resistance makes them a great choice for most types of hiking (just don’t submerge them). Without a membrane, the Rocky Mountain High gaiters remain breathable around the calf: “I didn’t feel like I was wearing two layers,” said one tester after a fast-paced hike along the Taylor River Trail in Washington. (Note: The breathable material isn’t as durable as that in the Outdoor Research Crocodiles—it won’t stand up to crampons or ice axes.)
Our testers appreciated the step-in strap and full-length hook-and-loop closure, so you can deploy these gaiters without removing your shoes. “When I hit an overgrown section of the trail, I pulled out the Rocky Mountain High gaiters and slapped them on over my pants and boots, almost without breaking stride,” one tester says. Our testers also praised the webbing and cam-closure system at the top of the Rocky Mountain High gaiters, calling it “much more comfortable” than other cordage designs that can dig into your calves. Indeed: These gaiters earned perfect marks from our testers when it came to comfort. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Seal moisture and grit out with the surprisingly breathable knee-high Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters.
- Total distance hiked: 54 miles
- Testing states: Alaska, Colorado and Washington
- Best testing story: One tester went above and beyond the call. “It rained for the entire five days that we were on the Chilkoot Trail in Southeast Alaska,” he explains. “Sections of the trail turned into mini waterfalls that we had to clomp through. The day we finished, the National Park Service even shut down the trail due to flooding. If I hadn’t had the Rocky Mountain High gaiters, my feet would have been miserable.”
Test Results: You want to enjoy the trail, but don’t want to bring it with you for the rest of your run. If that sounds familiar, take a flyer on the Trail Gaiters from Altra, which are designed to keep unwanted rocks, grit and mud from sneaking inside your kicks as you log your miles.
The Trail Gaiters use a strapless design, so you won’t feel like you’re standing on a stick or otherwise off-kilter. Instead, a lace hook secures the gaiter to the top of your shoe and a hook-and-loop closure to the back. (These gaiters work seamlessly with Altra trail-running shoes, but they come with a hook-and-loop attachment system that you can affix to the back of your non-Altra running shoe for compatibility.) An elastic cinch keeps the Trail Gaiters above your ankle.
Because the Trail Gaiters lack a strap and hardware, they weigh next to nothing. That’s good news for ounce-counters and folks who may want to stuff them in a hydration vest or their waistband just in case. Our tester wore the Trail Gaiters for a series of early-season conditioning runs in Colorado’s Tenmile Range and noted the extreme difference compared to simply wearing mid-calf socks. “I never had to stop to empty my shoes,” she says. She said the gaiters sealed out slush and mud, but points out that they’re not waterproof, so don’t submerge them. Best part? You can put the Trail Gaiters on or take them off without removing your shoes, and you can change your socks without taking the gaiters off, as well. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Runners looking for lightweight protection will love the on-the-go Altra Trail Gaiters.
- Total distance ran: 42 miles
- Testing states: Colorado
- Best testing story: Dogs truly do make for the best running partners and partners in testing. “I took the dog out on a run one morning and came back completely splattered with mud from his flying paws—every part of me was covered, including my gaiters,” our testing hooman explains. “But my socks and the tops of my shoes were just as clean as when I put them on.”
Other Top Performers
Outdoor Research Helium Gaiters
Honorable MentionWomen's $69 Men's $69
- Score: 80
- Height: Knee
- Lace hooks: Yes
- Material: Ripstop nylon and nylon packcloth with Pertex® Shield
- Sustainability attributes: Material contains bluesign®-approved materials.
- Weight (pair): 4.4 oz. (women’s size M), 4.9 oz. (men’s size L)
Test Results: If you think Outdoor Research’s Rocky Mountain High gaiters aren’t enough and its Crocodile GORE-TEX gaiters are too much, then chances are you’ll think the Helium gaiters are just right. They split the difference between the two, serving up durable, waterproof protection without of all the armor (and thus: ounces). They weigh a hair more than over-the-ankle options on this list and can be rolled down tight enough to fit inside the hipbelt pocket of most overnight packs, making them a slam dunk for backpackers and thru-hikers in the market for barely-there protection. Buy here.
Test Results: If it’s slick enough to warrant traction devices, then you can bet your last toe warmer it’s cold and wet enough to necessitate gaiters. That’s where the nifty CONNECT gaiters from Kahtoola come in. They clip onto your spikes’ harness to seamlessly close the gap between your boot or running shoe and ankle without bunching or getting in the way of the underfoot sharps. They aren’t waterproof (so don’t stomp through puddles of unknown depths), but they go a long way toward sealing out drafts, spindrift and splashes. Note: The CONNECT gaiters were designed to work in conjunction with the venerable Kahtoola MICROspikes and NANOspikes; creative users can rig them to interface with other slip-on traction devices, but don’t expect an A+ seal. Buy here.
Test Results: Spinning tires tend to kick up debris and redirect it into your shoe—unless you’re equipped with a line of defense like the Gravel Gaiters from PEARL iZUMi. A snug, socklike fit seals out spatter and grit without any flapping or loose ends to catch in a chain, so you can ride comfortably no matter the trail conditions. Our Colorado-based tester had a field day with these gaiters, calling them “the perfect bar-bag accessory.” A zipper along the back of the gaiter flays it open so you can step into it while wearing cycling shoes for on-the-go protection. Buy here.
All gaiters have the same basic purpose: to keep stuff out of your shoes. But the best type for you depends on the types of trips you have planned and the weather and trail conditions you expect to face. Consider gaiter height, features and weight when choosing.
The appropriate gaiter height depends mostly on how much protection you need. Generally, for use in snow or when you’re heading off trail, you’ll want a taller gaiter for more coverage. Shorter gaiters are good for trail running and light hiking. It’s worth noting that taller gaiters are generally hotter than shorter ones because they restrict airflow more.
Here are the three primary options for gaiter heights:
- Over the ankle: These low gaiters are primarily designed for trail-running or summertime hiking where the goal is to keep pebbles and other debris out of your boots and lower-cut shoes. In this guide, the REI Co-op Lightweight Hiker Gaiters, Altra Trail Gaiters and PEARL iZUMi Gravel Gaiters are typical over-the-ankle gaiters. The Kahtoola CONNECT Gaiters are also over the ankle, but their purpose is a bit nuanced; they’re designed to close the gap between your pant leg and boot without interfering with your spikes.
- Mid-calf: These gaiters are usually 8 to 12 inches tall. They are best for less-than-extreme conditions when you just need to keep trail debris and rain out of your boots. There are no mid-calf gaiters on this list.
- Knee: These gaiters are typically 15 to 18 inches tall, cinching at the top of your calf, below your knee. They’re designed for more rugged conditions like hiking through wet brush or deep snow or in bad weather. The Outdoor Research Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters, Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters and Outdoor Research Helium Gaiters are all knee-high.
The main feature to consider when buying a pair of gaiters is waterproofness. Gaiters with a waterproof membrane—like the Outdoor Research Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters and Outdoor Research Helium Gaiters—offer the utmost protection, but there are drawbacks. They tend to be more cumbersome, less breathable—and more expensive.
For most outdoor pursuits (even wet ones!), you can get away with a water-resistant pair of gaiters. So long as you don’t submerge them, you’ll be well shielded from moisture.
You’ll also want to evaluate the entry and egress of your gaiters. Some gaiters flay open so you don’t have to remove your shoes or stuff your pant legs inside like a sleeping bag, which makes them more convenient for on-the-go transitioning.
Finally, consider the strap system of your gaiters. Most gaiters have an instep strap that goes outside your boot or shoe, under the outsole. This can get in the way of a pedal or if you’re running but is barely noticeable with a hiking boot.
Gaiters will always be one of the lighter items in your pack, but thicker and burlier materials can add up. And, as thru-hikers say, “ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain.” If you can get away with lighter-weight, lower-profile gaiters, you should.
For more buying advice about gaiters, read our article How to Choose and Use Gaiters.
We set out to test every pair of gaiters sold at REI Co-op. So sent pairs across the country, from Alaska to Maine, and asked our member-testers to get rowdy. They ventured into rain forests, across sand dunes, up mountains, atop glaciers and more. Most of the time, they emerged with dry ankles and their boots free of grit—but not always.
At the end of our testing period—spring through fall of 2021—we asked our co-op member-testers to rate each pair of gaiters on its protection, comfort and ease of use. The seven pairs here are the top overall performers; the scores listed here are the averages.
We believe the Outdoor Research Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters are the best money can buy and have given them an REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award. The REI Co-op Lightweight Hiker Gaiters, Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters and Altra Trail Gaiters are top performers for specific activities. Lastly, the Outdoor Research Helium Gaiters, Kahtoola CONNECT Gaiters and PEARL iZUMi Gravel Gaiters are effective for very specific uses.
Article by Josette Deschambeault. Josette is a dog mom and self-proclaimed water woman who contributes to REI’s Uncommon Path and Expert Advice. She’s freelanced for publications like Backpacker magazine while guiding in Alaska, Colorado and Maine, and is currently based out of Skagway, Alaska. When she’s not on the water, she’s road-tripping to camp in new places. REI member since 2019.