Looking for the perfect gaiters for mountaineering, trekking or running? Well, so are we. We used our side-by-side comparison process to evaluate eight pairs from several different categories, including shorter hiking and scree models to full-length ones, to figure out which were the best.
Best Overall Gaiter: Rab Latok Alpine
A mix of great durability and water resistance in a light piece of gear makes this gaiter the best option in our list. With this gaiter, your feet will stay dry. The adjustment system is great, and this gaiter fits well with all the boot models.
Best Lightweight Gaiter: Rab Scree
Best Value: Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap
The Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap is our best value pick for its remarkable versatility, ease of use, and of course the all-important price point. We used it on long muddy runs, for going light and fast in the alpine, and they are light enough that we didn’t mind carrying them “just in case” on day hikes. The Wrap is a cinch to put on and stays put once in place.
They are designed to go over trail shoes and hiking boots but still fit well over the La Sportiva Nepal Evo. They withstood a lot of abuse during our testing and didn’t look any worse for the wear. The closure system is still working great after months of use, and the plasticized instep strap showed no signs of breaking or fraying.
If you are looking for one pair to buy that will work well for a variety of applications, or if you plan on putting them on and taking them off repeatedly each day, then the Overdrive Wrap are a great (and affordable) choice.
How We Chose
We expect them to keep snow, water, and debris out, protect us and our clothing, and maybe keep our feet a little warmer than they would be in boots alone. Pretty simple, and for the most part all gaiters, irrespective of who makes them, generally do just that.
Which definitely makes it harder to discern which ones are doing a really amazing job versus the ones that are merely getting it done. Consequently, we had to rely on an extremely reliable testing method that we frequently are forced to resort to: we took them out and totally thrashed them (and ourselves in the process). Aside from seeing which ones survived with the least damage, we were able to see which ones performed the best in any given terrain.
This side-by-side review also allowed us to really scrutinize which features and materials worked best among four major brands.
Selecting the Best Gaiter for Your Needs
Using professional climbers, mountain guides and other outdoor industry professionals as a barometer for changes in trends, we’d have to say that it looks like advances in materials and design for both climbing pants and boots have partially usurped the role of the humble gaiter. Yet, they certainly do still have their place.
Whether you’re scrambling over sun-drenched Sierra granite or slogging up a Pacific Northwest volcano, you’ll still see them being worn by a healthy portion of the climbers on the route, irrespective of weather, lack of snow cover, or the existence of perfectly groomed trails.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are being worn for the right reasons, or for any reason at all, but it does speak to the fact that many climbers still find them to be an essential part of their climbing equipment.
We go further into the pros and cons of them in our Buying Advice guide, should you need a little more helping deciding if they are for you or not.
That might mean that you end up with a few different pairs in your closet, but better that than suffering from a knee-high model on in 100F temps. See below for a breakdown of the different types available, and which ones work best for which applications.
Types of Gaiters
For a concept as fundamentally basic as a tube of fabric that you wrap around your leg to keep stuff from getting into your boots, they can be divided into a surprising number of categories and sub-categories. For our purposes we’ll stick to the types we reviewed and try to avoid using obfuscating words, like “puttees,” which if you use them will make people think you climb in a tweed suit and woolen underwear.
While we can generalize a few things about this type (full-length, heavy-duty materials, etc.), not all alpine and expeditions models are equal or even made for the same purpose. More importantly, they may not even work in a given application so it’s important to know what you’re looking for. The Rab Latok Alpine is a sleek, slim-fitting alpine model that fits comfortably over the La Sportiva Trango series snugly, but doesn’t have a chance of closing over the La Sportiva Spantik. For your big mountain adventures where you’ll be rocking double plastics or double synthetic boots, you’ll need something that is large enough and durable enough to stand up to an expedition that may span weeks.
Expedition models will typically be made of heavier materials and will come up to below the knee. Alpine models tend to be made of lighter materials and may come up to just above your boot top. If possible, bring your boots with you when purchasing a pair to ensure an appropriate fit. Though you want a trim, low profile fit, if it’s a battle to get them on in the store it will be a nightmare to get them on in the mountains. The Outdoor Research Crocodile and Mountain Hardwear Ascent are two other models that we tested from this category.
In terms of sheer cost to usefulness ratio, the lowly hiking model is probably the most valuable piece of kit you’ll have on the trail. Though they are made with lighter materials and are generally less expensive than an alpine or expedition model, they tend to do a lot more work as they are typically used in environments where there are a lot more things trying to get into your boots.
Whether you are trying to keep dirt out or protect your boots and pants from wet underbrush or rain, hiking models have a wide range of useful applications. They typically work over hiking boots or lightweight runners/approach shoes, and come up to just below your calf. Some hiking models that we reviewed include the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap and Outdoor Research Rocky Mt. Low.
In our meteoric trajectory towards accessory overload, running and scree models may actually serve a practical function amidst the watches, HR monitors, bottles, bladders, packs, goos, gels, bands, straps, and glasses that constitute the necessities of the urban running uniform. Nothing is a bigger drag than cruising along feeling great when suddenly it feels as though you have a tree branch protruding from the top of your shoe, or a cup of sand causing hot spots on your foot.
This type makes big off-road and trail runs a lot more pleasant, along with long approaches in the alpine or anywhere you are traveling on unconsolidated material. Running models tend to be made of stretchy material that pulls snugly over your shoes, with a tube-like design that only has openings at top and bottom.
They tend to reach just above the ankle and work best with running or approach shoes. Some of these models that we tested include the Rab Scree, Outdoor Research Ultra Trail and Mountain Hardwear Scree.
How We Chose the Best Gaiters for 2019
During our testing period, we climbed some of the biggest mountains in North America, some of the best alpine rock in Washington state, and spent some seriously cold days in the mountains of Antarctica. In between, we ran some beautiful trails, did some awesome scrambling, and even spent a couple of weeks exploring a wild and remote range in Patagonia.
After all the fun and games were over, we evaluated each model and rated it on its Water Resistance, Debris Protection, Comfort and Breathability, Durability, Ease of Attachment and Weight. You can find all the results of our testing below, including which ones were our favorites and which ones didn’t hold up (literally!).
Good luck trying to keep the most ubiquitous substance on the planet out of your boots. Seriously, if you become the first person in the history of humanity to accomplish this we’ll save you a spot to park your plane right next to Bill Gates’. Even if you don’t get wet from the outside, don’t worry, your sweaty feet have got you covered from the inside. Though the human race has made mighty strides in the pursuit of absolutely waterproof and completely breathable clothing materials, the reality is that we’ve only managed a very high standard of water resistance.
Staying dry in the mountains is critical, and it might mean either ditching the gaiters on a warm day or at a minimum going with a lighter and less durable one that will let your feet breathe.
When it came to the lighter hiking models, we were still impressed with the water shedding ability of the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap. Both these models will keep your boots dry during a wet bushwack, or add extra protection on a snowshoe hike. The small scree models were not really noted for their water resistance, though the Mountain Hardwear Scree fared the best out of all them.
The softshell-like material on the Rab Scree held water out for a time but eventually soaked through, and the jersey-knit Outdoor Research Ultra Trail wet through as fast as a paper towel. Apparently, that one was designed for an Abu Dhabi adventure race team, where the main culprits are sand and more sand, as opposed to even a drop of water.
If this isn’t happening because you bought the wrong product, or you’re wearing or using them wrong, then you might have purchased a lemon. As sad as this situation might be, it’s also pretty unlikely. The models that we reviewed here are all great choices that will do the job, though some will do it better than others. Despite being ultra low-tech and a seemingly hard concept to mess up, the wrong fit or wrong application can mean that they won’t do the job you’re expecting them to.
The fit on the Mountain Hardwear Ascent was somewhat baggier around our boots, leaving space for snow to build-up and then enter from the bottom. The upper closure buckle was also difficult to adjust and came undone easily, which meant we either had to stop repeatedly to close it or deal with chunks of snow falling down our legs.
The desire to have the things we buy last is just common sense – nothing is more demoralizing than watching a flashy new piece of gear unravel like a badly knit sweater.
The trade-off for durability is typically weight, and in our pursuit of lighter and lighter gear that lets us move faster and faster, most of us are willing to sacrifice a little durability to shave a few ounces. But, we don’t want something so light that it will shred after just a few uses either. It is more critical that they function correctly and won’t break down on us in key situations or on long expeditions to remote locations.
While most of the pairs that we tested held up fairly well during testing, unfortunately, we did have a durability issue with the Mountain Hardwear Ascent. The buckle on one side of the instep strap broke out of the box, and a perusal of other online reviews quickly told us that we were not the first person that this happened to. Another area to examine is the type of material itself. Smooth-faced fabric, like the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap, is less likely to snag on bushes or other vegetation than a jersey knit model like the Outdoor Research Ultra Trail.
Comfort and Breathability
Just like you don’t want to wear a pair of hiking boots that are uncomfortable or give you blisters, your gaiters are more likely to stay in your pack than on your feet if they are painful or make your feet too sweaty. While keeping sand out of your shoes and boots can prevent blisters, sweaty feet are just as likely to cause them, so their breathability is also an important criterion when selecting your next pair.
We often take it for granted that our gaiters are just going to be worn and be unremarkable. This is of course because we didn’t foresee the Velcro grinding against our skin, or the buckle at the top being in the perfectly wrong place or cutting off circulation to our feet.
Ease of Attachment
Little things matter and this is particularly true with gaiters because the fundamental design is essentially the same regardless of brand. (Honestly how many variations on ‘tube that goes around the lower leg’ can there be?)
Whether a manufacturer chooses to use buckles or Velcro, a re-threaded closure at the top or one that cams closed, or bungee cord over shoestring, matters. If you can put it on easily with gloves or cold hands, in the dark on an alpine start or when your hypoxic brain just needs things to be easy, this will always be preferable to one that requires coordination and effort to go on properly.
Our best value pick, the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap, also scored high in this category, thanks to it’s quick to adjust instep strap and step, wrap and go design. Its name is a clever take on the two things it does well – wrapping rapidly.
All in all, it was just a hassle to deal with, and really unnecessary considering there are simpler solutions that other manufacturers seem to have easily figured out (i.e. bungee cord).
You have to accept the fact that we live in an over weight-conscious world where ounces haunt us like the ghost of Christmas dinners past. However, in the quest for lighter and lighter gear, sometimes we sacrifice usefulness and durability for weight, which is not always the best trade-off. Take the aforementioned Mountain Hardwear Scree for instance. It weighs a scant half an ounce each, yet is so annoying to put on and take off that we much preferred the 1 ounce heavier Rab Scree.
On the other end of the spectrum, the heavy Mountain Hardwear Ascent takes 6 ounces to accomplish less than what the Outdoor Research Crocodile and Rab Latok Alpine provide at 5 and 4 ounces, respectively. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot, where new and lighter material technologies provide a well-made and durable product that won’t weigh you down, but you might have to pay a bit more for it.
We buy these products for protection, to keep things out of our boots, and to help our feet stay warm and dry. We hope that reading this review helped you to make a better decision on which gaiter is the best for your needs.