Best Gaiters: The Ultimate Guide to Lower Leg Protection

Best gaiters
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

From the advanced, outdoor enthusiast to the occasional trail hiker, one thing is certain:  Finding the best gaiters for your outdoor adventure is essential.  Shoes and pants alone are not sufficient at keeping out rocks, water, snow, and all the other elements that accompany outdoor recreation.

Ankle and calve protection are important to consider when planning any outdoor activity.  Gaiters are a durable and waterproof solution.  With so many products on the market with a variety of attributes tailored to specific activities, taking the time to find the right fit for your outdoor adventure will set you up for success.

Before you throw that first pair of gaiters into your shopping cart and head to the checkout stand, you’ll want to be sure what you’ve chosen is what you really need.  You wouldn’t opt for the gaiters will all the upgraded “bells and whistles” just for use during your routine dog walk.

Same is true for a high-level mountaineering expedition; you wouldn’t choose the single layered, lower calf option unless you want to settle for an unsavory experience.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Shopping for Your Gaiters

What’s My Desired Activity?

When picking the gaiter pair that is best for you, it’s important to first consider your desired activity and the conditions in which you’ll be trekking.  Will you be on a ski trip requiring protection from cold, wet conditions and thus requiring ultra-waterproof fabric?

Hiking gaiters Desired Activity

For these instances, triple-layer protection and seamless gaiters would keep you warm and dry all day.  Pay close attention to the difference in fabrics for the upper and lower portions of your gaiters.  Make sure that you are adequately covered at the ankle as well as the lower calf.

Will you be mountaineering through rough terrain, and thus needing something extra-durable? Gore-Tex® a commonly used, sturdy, synthetic fabric has been proven to hold up against the toughest of thorns and brush.  Fabrics that are noted for withstanding abrasion are best if you want a long-lasting product.

Such materials are advertised as breathable, but keep in mind that added layering lends to increased insulation and may, in turn, cause the calves to sweat.

Will you be working outdoors and in need of a breathable, lightweight fabric?  Most lightweight, nylon gaiters will allow your lower legs to breathe even in the warmest of outdoor working conditions.

While gaiters that are not produced with technologically advanced, triple-layer protection aren’t the best at remaining waterproof for an extended period of time, or lasting after extreme exposure to brush and thorns, they are the better choice for strenuous outdoor work beneath the sweltering sun.

What Type Of Climate Will I Encounter?

The next factor to consider is the likely weather conditions you’ll be facing during your excursion.  While many gaiters can be suitable in most climates and are designed with comfortability in mind, fabric types are important to take into account.

Gaiters for cold weather

There are so many different fabrics claiming to be technologically advanced and designed to be extremely waterproof and durable, but which is best for you?

For long distance hiking or intensely laborious outdoor work during those hot summer months, you’ll want to lean toward a lighter-weight coated nylon single-layer fabric that allows easy airflow to avoid those sweaty calves.  Choosing such gaiters may inadvertently mean sacrificing long-term durability, however.

For winter expeditions through snowy climates or heavy rainfall, a multi-layer fabric is the best option, as insolation will be important for keeping your lower legs and feet warm and dry throughout an entire days’ journey.  Gore-Tex and Cordura® nylon are well-known for keeping wetness and debris out of shoes and pants, while providing full insolation.

There are a number of other well-known technologically advanced products as well, all providing a high level of water proofing and resistance to abrasions.  The increased number of layers can cause the fit to be tighter than expected so be sure to take this into account when choosing your gaiters.

What’s My Fastening Preference?

When considering which gaiters purchase, it is also important to note that many of them differ in their fastening mechanisms.  The reasoning behind this consideration is that many expeditions require consistent use of your hands for carrying packs and for navigating rough terrain.

The last thing you want to worry about is a buckle snapping loose while negotiating and escarpment or crossing a steep incline.

Also, the type of fastening can affect the fit of the gaiter.  Hardened buckles make for a less customizable fit but provide added sturdiness while drawstring and Velcro® (or similar) fasteners can adjust more easily but may not fare as well over time due to stretching or loss of elasticity.

Hiking gaiters Fastening

Some gaiters you’ll find use zippers alone to secure the front (or back) portion, while others add in a layer of Velcro® flaps over the zipper for increased protection from debris and water.  These mechanisms will suffice under most circumstances involving low creek treks and mountaineering.  Seamless gaiters are an option as well, and will be of benefit to those navigating wetter conditions.

The fewer the seams, the lesser the potential exposure of your extremities.  Though rare, some older models of gaiters feature a rear entry with either a sturdy zipper or Velcro® (or similar) opening.  This design is not recommended, as they make for a difficult time putting on and taking off, especially in extreme weather conditions.

Most all gaiters come complete with bottom lace hooks or straps made for securing the front of your gaiters to your shoes or boots.  This is an essential piece of your gaiters that is not to be foregone.

Lastly, most gaiters are equipped with an instep strap, designed to hold the sides of your gaiters down and tight to your boots.  The durability of these straps is important, as they are what preserve the bottom seal of your gaiters in conjunction with the lace hooks.

The more inexpensive designs utilize mere lace straps, but for essential protection against wear, sturdy leather or synthetic straps are a must.

What Size Fits My Gear Combo?

When picking out the ideal gaiters for you, remember that size matters.  Some gaiters are designed to fit both over or under your pants.  Some are designed specifically to fit over your boots and pants.  Make sure you know which is which for the most comfortable fit.

If you plan to fix your gaiters over wide and high hiking boots, you may need to opt for a size larger than normal.  If you plan to wear additional layers including under layers, pants and thick socks, again it may be best to choose one size up from your typical show or pant size.

If you are looking for lower calf gaiters meant for covering everyday hiking boots or shoes, selecting your traditional size will work perfectly.

Hiking gaiters size

Gaiters are designed to fit snuggly around the calf so do not be surprised if they take a little getting used to.

Ultimately, you want to aim for a tight seal from the bottom enclosure to the top enclosure to ensure no penetration of debris or water.  Testing out the variety of different fastenings to acquire this tight seal is a good idea.

What’s My Budget?

Lastly, it’s important to find the best product for you that fits your budget.  Price points for gaiters vary depending on their quality of fabrics and their various dimensions.  For well-known, brand-name fabrics, prices can increase considerably, but you’ll know you’re getting reliable protection from the elements.

REI Elements fabric is a comparable substitute to Gore-Tex and is also less expensive.  Both are considered to be durable, viable options for gaiter fabrics.  Overall, if the gaiters you are considering are made of a trademarked, reputable fabric, you’ll fare just fine.

Top Products for 2017

Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Weight: 10.2 ounces

Dimensions: 16 in. height (mid-calf)

Specific Features: Waterproof, Gore-Tex® nylon uppers and lower panels of coated Cordura® nylon, adjustable wide nylon webbing strap and low-profile cam buckles for easy top closing, Rugged BioThane® webbing instep straps with buckles for a secure fit, double riveted boot lace hooks.

Best Use: Mountaineering

Description: The Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters are ideal for those looking to traverse uneven and unpredictable terrain. Whether you’re hiking, bushwhacking or snowshoeing, these gaiters are proven to withstand the elements.

They come in handy when crossing small streams or trekking through thorns, heavy brush and even mud.

Their design includes three-layer Gore-tex®, which effectively keeps out all matter of water, mud and cold temperatures.  However, for expeditions during warmer climates, this insulation can cause the calves to sweat, making for an unpleasant, wet interior.

Also, the clamp design lends to their occasional unbuckling.  For those partaking in activities that require the use of both hands, an alternative gaiter with a more secure buckle would be optimal.  Overall, The Crocodile gaiters are a supreme choice for long expeditions and those wanting a product that lasts for years to come.

Rab Latok Alpine Gaiter

Rab Latok Alpine Gaiter

Weight: 9.4 oz.

Dimensions: 19 x 10 x 3 inches

Specific Features: eVent® waterproof fabric and outer Stretch Watergate fabric with Robic nylon ankle area.  Velcro® front closure with a flexible polymer strip on rear to keep gaiter in position.  Draw cord for top enclosure and reflective print on rear for safety.

Best Use: Alpine, hiking

Description: These are a very versatile style of gaiter that can be used for winter hiking and snowshoeing, are extremely rugged and are capable of withstanding rough terrain. Rab Latok Alpine Gaiter are among the most waterproof of their kind.

Their softshell outer material makes for a breathable and flexible fit while still offering increased protection.  Some would argue that the eVent® technology offers a more breathable experience than Gore-Tex® nylon fabric in this instance.

Outdoor Research Men’s Wrapid Gaiters

Outdoor Research Men’s Wrapid Gaiters

Weight: 4.8 oz.

Dimensions: 16 x 8 x 2 inches

Specific Features: Blended with nylon, polyester and spandex.  Double pivoting boot hooks and silicone anti slip prints at the heel.  Hook loop front closure and adjustable, removable Bio Thane instep strap.

Best Use: Trail hiking

Description: These Outdoor Research Men’s Wrapid Gaiters are perfect for laborious tasks outdoors.  They are extremely effective at keeping out brush and all manner of debris.  The added benefit of these lightweight gaiters come in handy for trail runners who prefer the unobtrusive instep strap.

The Velcro® seal makes them easy to put on and take off, however utilizing Velcro® versus a sturdier enclosure such as a zipper or buckle may lead to wearing over a shorter amount of time.

REI Alpine Light Gaiters

REI Alpine Light Gaiters

Weight: 5 ounces

Dimensions: 12 in. height

Specific Features: Waterproof, breathable laminate with lower Cordura® nylon and nylon upper.  Hook-and-loop front closures and shock cord hooks at bottom.  Hypalon® instep straps.

Best Use: Trail hiking

Description: The just over-the-ankle fit of these gaiters lends to a comfortable and breathable fit without the issue of sweaty calves.  The instep strap is heavy-duty and built to withstand wear and tear.

They protect effectively against all mud and rain water, providing a tight seal around the upper and lower boot.  The materials used make for a very quiet and hunter-friendly pair.

Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiter

Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiter

Weight: 4.8 oz.

Dimensions: 9.5 in. height

Specific Features: Upper and lower made with nylon packcloth.  Hook-and-loop closures for secure closure and reinforced bootlace hook complete with a Hypalon® instep strap.

Best Use: Hiking, cross country skiing

Description: These are a good choice for trail hiking with their durable nylon upper and lower. Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiter are effective at keeping out debris and brush and are extremely waterproof.  One thing to consider is that this instep strap is sewn on.

While there are benefits to permanently securing this strap to the lower part of the gaiter, this piece is not replaceable, so wear and tear on this strap will eventually cause your pair to be less effective.

Mountain Hardwear Unisex Ascent Gaiter

Mountain Hardwear Unisex Ascent Gaiter

Weight: 10.7 oz.

Dimensions: 18 in. height

Specific Features: Inner 420 Pack Cloth and nylon knit with Reinforced HardWear™ Tarp 25 outer.  4-way stretch breathable back panels and pinless bootstrap buckle.

Best Use: Mountaineering, backpacking

Description: This heavy-duty Mountain Hardwear Unisex Ascent Gaiter offers a high level protection against debris, wet climates and even scrapes from hooks and crampons.

There is no sacrificing comfort with this product as well, being that they are extremely flexible and breathable with the stretch back panel.  In addition, the instep foot straps can be adjusted from either side, adding ease of utility, and are replaceable if broken.

Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters

Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters

Weight: 2.7 oz.

Dimensions: 8.5 in. height

Specific Features: Jersey knit main body consisting of Cordura® nylon fabric.  120D stretch woven side panels with a reflective pattern for added safety.  Double Pivoting boot lace hooks and anti-slip silicone pads.  Optional instep strap and hook-and-loop patches at heel.  Draw cord top enclosure.

Best Use: Fast backpacking, trail running

Description: These Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters are ideal for those who plan to be on the move quickly.  Their stretch fabric allows for increased mobility and breathability.  These are suitable for any extreme outdoor activity involving agility and speed.

While not ideal for hunting, the reflective material allows for increased visibility for outdoor sporting events.  The instep strap is a lace tie, that may cause some inconvenience versus a buckle or shock cord.

Mountain Hardware Scree

Mountain Hardware Scree

Weight: 3 oz.

Dimensions: 10.25 in. height

Specific Features: Instep strap attached with grommet holes for under arch boot attachment.  Abrasion resistant, stretch fabric and highly-visible reflective print.

Best Use: Trail running

Description: These light-weight Mountain Hardware Scree offer lower ankle protection from debris, while providing extreme comfort and breathability.

You’ll barely notice you’re wearing them. They are very waterproof, but their low height will not protect against high creek bed trekking, so pairing with a waterproof pant will be a necessity.

These come with a highly-visible reflective print on the back, which is ideal for night running, but not as suitable for hunting.

Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiter

Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiter

Weight: 13.6 oz.

Dimensions: 14.2 in. height

Specific Features: Waterproof to 20,000mm with YKK zipper and DWR coating.  Outer consists of Flexia three-layer lightweight fabric.  Lower consists of 1000 denier, high-density nylon.

Best Use: Backcountry hiking

Description: These work well for keep out any debris or wet conditions. Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiter are intensely waterproof and highly durable against the toughest of terrain with their slash-resistant technology.  Their sleek design makes them aesthetically appealing as well.

They are relatively light weight for their height and durability, making for an increasingly comfortable long distance excursion.  In comparison to other products, they are relatively more affordable.

Rab Scree Gaiter

Rab Scree Gaiter

Weight: 2.25 oz.

Dimensions: 7.5 in. height

Specific Features: Silicon gripper elastic around the lower ankle, with elasticated instep bungee cord with quick-release toggle.

Best Use: Mountain marathons

Description: This is the ideal product for long distance trail runners, as they are among the lightest weight gaiter options. Rab Scree Gaiter are a stretch, softshell gaiter that is extremely comfortable in most all weather conditions.

The silicon gripper makes for a highly secure fit that is long-lasting.  The instep strap will have to be cut to fit your size, but once cut, the quick release toggle is a nice feature.   Their size is compact for easy packing.

Final Words

Overall, there are a number of great gaiters on the market with unique features for each.  As you can see, all gaiters are not created equal!

Choosing the right product for you ultimately depends on what your outdoor adventure will entail, what kind of weather you’ll be experiencing and how much you’re willing to spend for ankle and calf protection during your expeditions.

Choose your Hiking gaiters

Be sure to take into careful consideration the different materials used, the level of comfortability you require and the utility of your gaiters.  Decide whether you have need of Velcro® (or similar), zipper and/or buckles fasteners.  Determine whether you’re fine with seams or are not, and which height of gaiter makes sense for your activity.

Choose the product that best fits your ideal combination of all these attributes, and you’re sure to find the most worthwhile gaiters for your outdoor adventure.

Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Luke Carver

    True, the Rab Latok are at the pricier end of the gaiter spectrum, however, I definitely think they are worth the money. I’ve had my pair for just under a year now and they are still as good as new (even with extensive use!). I can vouch for their waterproofness too. There are cheaper pairs of gaiters but in my experience, it’s either buy a cheaper gaiter for twice the price but buy them twice over once they inevitably fail, or spend a little bit extra in the first instance and get a pair that last. That’s my opinion anyway!

  • Mark Foster

    I always buy for the long haul Luke. Quality may be pricier but when your safety depends on it, investing in products that are top-notch is still wise. When you get down to its longevity, you’ll find that it’s cost effective in the long run.

  • Lee Williamson

    Bought the Outdoor Research gaiters. Not had the chance to use them too extensively just yet but I like them so far. No chafing – as has been the problem in the past – as the material used is nice and soft. A lot of thought seems to have been taken as to how best to get the gaiter to stay in place without riding up/slipping down. The shock cord at the top – which can be loosened or tightened – and the rubber at the back of the gaiter, both ensure that the gaiter has a good grip on my shoes.

  • Mark Foster

    Thanks for the great review Lee and I’m pleased that you’re happy with the Outdoor Research gaiters. They offer one of the best leg protection that you can count on. I also love the innovative way they made use of the shock cord to quickly seal off the feet for protection. Great product, indeed!

  • Mark Foster

    The Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters are a good choice for a tight budget. They are lightweight, water-resistant and convenient. You can depend on these gaiters.