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Published Feb 3, 2022 9:00 AM

Gaiters are an important piece of gear for hikers, campers, and hunters. They provide protective coverings around your footwear and your lower leg. They come in hand when crossing creeks or walking through wet grass. Gaiters also provide another layer of protection against ticks and other insects that might their way into your shoes or clothes. Either way, gaiters are a critical piece of outdoor equipment for many people.

While it may seem like a simple concept, the outdoor gear industry has created a diverse range of products based on your activity, season of use, and length desired. Gaiters are used by trail runners, hunters, hikers, snowshoers, mountaineers, and even gardeners. Whether you’re keeping out bugs, snake venom, dirt, or snow—there’s a best gaiter for you. 

Things to Consider Before Buying Gaiters

Have you ever returned home from a day in the woods to find your boots filled with dirt, debris, and moisture? What about muddy or scraped calves and shins? Wearing gaiters can prevent these from happening. But it can be difficult to select the right model, as they vary in size, material, and price. Here are things to consider before buying gaiters.

Gaiter Length

Gaiters come in three main sizes. Before you make your purchase, pick a length that works best for your needs.

  • Ankle: Ankle gaiters attach to a shoe or boot and then secure right above the ankles. They are usually lightweight and used to prevent small debris from entering the shoe in dry/fair weather. They are usually less than eight inches in length.
  • Mid-length: Mid-length gaiters are about eight to 12 inches long. They are a good choice for preventing mud, dirt, and rain from entering your boot. These often come in waterproof options.
  • Full-length: Full-length gaiters measure 15 to 18 inches long. They are a best bet for rugged conditions, snow, and intense mountaineering.

Activity

Gaiters are used for many activities from desert trail running to summiting the highest peaks in snow. Here’s how you separate gaiters by activity.

  • Trail Gaiters: If you are going for a trail run, casual day hike, or spending time in the field, trail gaiters are the best choice. These tend to be lightweight and breathable. Some of the best brands of trail gaiters are Dirty Girl, Altra, Solomon, Outdoor Research, and Kahtoola.
  • Mountaineering Gaiters: If you are using gaiters to protect from ice, snow, deep mud, or harsh underbrush, mountaineering gaiters are the best choice. These are tough, waterproof, and usually full length. They can be attached to mountaineering, ski, pac, and hiking boots. Some of the best brands of mountaineering gaiters are Outdoor Research, Black Diamond, REI, and Berghaus.
  • Specialty Gaiters: Some gaiters are sold to protect the wearer from a specific threat or discomfort. There are specialty gaiters that block snake venom, prevent tick bites, and protect equestrians. Those shopping for these specialty gaiters should have one question in mind—does it do what it’s intended? 

Best Knee-High Rain and Snow Gaiters: Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Best Knee-High Rain and Snow Gaiters

Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters Outdoor Research

Why It Made the Cut

An absolute favorite of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, Outdoor Research’s Crocodiles are the best knee-high rain and snow gaiters.

Key Features

  • Length: Full-length, around 18 inches for large
  • Type: Mountaineering
  • Water Resistance: Waterproof with Gore-tex

Pros:

  • Waterproof
  • Durable
  • Easy to put on/take off

Cons:

  • Bulky and Stiff

The Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiter is perhaps the most popular backcountry gaiter in the industry, and for good reason. Made with abrasion-resistant Cordura, the “Crocs” are extremely durable, letting you traverse heavy underbrush without trashing them. They are also made of Gore-tex and waterproof to protect against rain, wet mud, and snow.

These gaiters attach to hiking boots and most mountaineering boots. To assemble, step into the adjustable instep strap, then Velcro the gaiter into place. The adjustable top buckle can be tightened just below the knees. A hook attaches to the shoelaces to prevent the gaiter from riding up the shoe. This is an effective attachment system if you have the right size.

Most of my testing took place in winter and shoulder seasons in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. These are the best gaiters for snow as well as best gaiters for mud. Mountaineers, hikers, and hunters will all appreciate the bomb-proof construction and top-notch protection.

Overall, the Outdoor Research Crocodiles are my choice for best knee-high gaiters for mountaineering as well as best knee-high snow gaiters. Their lack of breathability and stiff material makes them uncomfortable during warm weather hiking.

Best Gaiter for Summer: Dirty Girl Gaiters

Best Gaiter for Summer

Dirty Girl Gaiters Dirty Girl Gaiters

Why It Made the Cut

Lightweight, breathable, and reliable, the Dirty Girl gaiter is the best choice for warm weather hiking, trail running, and desert hiking.

Key Features

  • Length: Ankle, around 7 inches
  • Type: Trail
  • Water Resistance: Little to none

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to put on/take off
  • Comfortable

Cons:

  • Not water resistant

To be clear, Dirty Girl gaiters are not just for the girls. This small business has made a big name for itself in the hiking, trail-running, and thru-hiking communities. The simple, comfy, and easy to use gaiter is perfect for keeping small debris out of low top hiking and running shoes.

To assemble, the gaiter comes with a strip of Velcro that glues to the back of the shoe. From then on, it is easy to put this trail gaiter on and take it off. Just put it on over your socks, put on your boots, then pull it down and attach.

Dirty Girl gaiters are super breathable and lightweight. This makes them perfect for summer but not great for shoulder seasons and winter. Although it is not water resistant, the Dirty Girl gaiters are quick to dry. This is the best gaiter for summer.

Best Gaiter for Hunting: Kenetrek Hunting Gaiter

Best Gaiter for Hunting

Kenetrek Hunting Gaiter Kenetrek

Why It Made the Cut

Kenetrek’s full-length gaiters were made with the hunter in mind: quiet, warm, breathable, and waterproof.

Key Features

  • Length: Full-length, around 17 inches for large
  • Type: Hunting/mountaineering
  • Water Resistance: Waterproof

Pros:

  • Breathable
  • Quiet material
  • Multiple pattern options

Cons:

  • Not for the most extreme conditions

These Kenetrek gaiters were built specifically with hunting in mind. The camo-patterned versions are cut from brushed tricot micro fleece which is breathable and extremely quiet. The loden green and black options are made with a 100% nylon fabric which is a little noisier yet arguably more water resistant. To keep them completely waterproof, all models feature a waterproof/breathable membrane.

The Kenetrek hunting gaiter can accommodate heavily insulated pac boots but can work with lightweight hikers as well, thanks to a wide hook and loop closure on the front. This also makes getting in and out easy. An adjustable strap secures in the instep to keep them from riding up and there’s an adjustable nylon strap right below the knee, like the OR Crocodiles.

While these are a great choice for any wet, cold, and snowy adventure, they don’t offer as much protection as the OR Crocodiles. However, the Crocs are very stiff and loud compared to these gaiters, making the Kenetreks the best gaiters for hunting.

Best Gaiter for Snake Protection: Crackshot Snake Bite Proof Guardz Gaiters

Best Gaiter for Snake Protection

Crackshot Snake Bite Proof Guardz Gaiters Brand Crack Shot

Why It Made the Cut

If you are exploring wild places in venomous snake country, the lightweight and durable Crackshot Snake Bite Proof Guardz full-length gaiters will give you peace of mind.

Key Features

  • Length: Full-length, 17 inches
  • Type: Snake bite prevention
  • Water Resistance: Water resistant

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Water resistant
  • Multiple pattern options

Cons:

  • Some have trouble with straps slipping on buckles

Whether hiking, hunting, or just doing yard work, there’s perhaps nothing more terrifying as a snake bite. Snake protection gaiters provide a barrier to bites between the ankle and knee. While not as reliable or effective as a hard plastic model like Tuff Shins, the Crackshot Snake Bite Proof Guardz gaiters are breathable, comfortable, adjustable, and a more functional choice for someone needing mobility and flexibility while wearing protection.

The Crackshot gaiters are made of 1,000 denier nylon and get their protection from polycarbonate inserts. The gaiter attaches around the calf with two large nylon straps and plastic buckles. My only complaint about these was that the straps sometimes slip and need readjustment.

These gaiters are impressively breathable compared to some of their competitors while remaining affordable. The similarly designed TurtleSkin SnakeArmor gaiters are more than twice the price of Crackshots. While it is possible that a viper could pierce this gaiter, the effective design and waterproof venom barrier make this my choice for best gaiter for snake protection.

Best Gaiter for Hiking in Rain: Kahtoola LEVAgaiter Mid GTX

Best Gaiter for Hiking in Rain

Kahtoola LEVAgaiter Mid GTX Kahtoola

Why It Made the Cut

The zipper closure, comfortable fit, and three-layer Gore-tex of the Kahtoola LEVAgaiter Mid GTX will keep you dry on rainy hikes.

Key Features

  • Length: Mid-length, 13 inches
  • Type: Trail
  • Water Resistance: Waterproof

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • Breathable

Cons:

  • Zipper prone to breaking

If you’re looking for a three-season hiking gaiter that will keep the mud off and the rain out, the Kahtoola LEVAgaiter Mid GTX is a great choice. The triple layer breathable Gore-tex is an intense moisture barrier that keeps the inside of your footwear dry. The mid-length design is a great compromise for those who want to have waterproof protection without the stiff (and hot) full length gaiter.

While most gaiters on the market rely on hook and loop fasteners and buckles to attach, the Kahtoola relies on zippers. While I find these to be more user friendly then the long strips of Velcro, a zipper is more prone to break or fail—especially in harsh conditions. However, another benefit of the zipper is that it doesn’t collect debris like the Velcro often does. The stiff instep strap is a narrow plastic strip that is both durable and replaceable.

At only four ounces, this is an easy accessory for hikers to throw into their pack just in case a muddy and rainy day arises. If you are looking for a great pack to pair with your gaiters, check out our round up of the best hiking backpacks so you can carry your gear comfortably as you rack up the miles.

Methodology

My experience with gaiters comes from many years of working in wilderness education and recreation. As a hiking guide in the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and northern New England, I’ve had to choose and use gaiters in snowy mountains, dusty deserts, and wet trails.

For this piece, I relied on my own experience as well as first-hand accounts from over 50 experienced hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. When choosing the best gaiters for this article, I based my choices on the following criteria:

  • Protection: Gaiters vary in their intended protection. While the Dirty Girl gaiters will keep a pebble from slipping into your trail runners, the Crackshot gaiters can save your life from a venomous bite. I chose models that would provide the best possible protection in their category so you can have the confidence that your gaiter is functional and protecting you from the elements.
  • Fit and Comfort: Gaiters are supposed to block out unwanted debris or moisture from your boot, shoe, and leg. If the fit is poor, it will let these elements in. I selected models that have been proven to work well with a variety of footwear. Before settling on a pair, research the brand’s sizing tables to ensure they will work for you.
  • Value: There are plenty of affordable gaiters out there, but many miss the mark. While I didn’t include pricing as a main factor, I selected gaiters I can confidently say are the best in the biz while still offering excellent bang for your buck. For instance, the Outdoor Research Crocodiles are on the high end for pricing for this category at just under $90. But they are tough as nails and should provide a lifetime of adventuring.

Other factors to consider when shopping for a pair of gaiters include weight and life expectancy. Many brands including Outdoor Research, Kahtoola, Black Diamond, sell replaceable instep straps and buckles so your gaiters can last a lifetime.

FAQs

Q: Are gaiters worth it?

Gaiters are worth it in certain environments. If your main form of outdoor recreation is a dry, summer nature trail, then they are probably not necessary. If you snowshoe or mountaineer in snow, gaiters are needed to protect your boot and keep you dry. Ask an outdoor enthusiast who’s survived a snake bite, and I bet they will say the snake protection provided by those gaiters are worth it too. Lastly, trail running sneakers have low tops, which makes them prone to getting debris in the shoe. The last thing a racer wants to do is stop to dump out sand or rocks. The Dirty Girls or the (not featured) Altra Trail gaiters will keep you running without discomfort.

Q: Do gaiters prevent ticks?

Gaiters help to prevent ticks and tick bites. While most long gaiters would provide a barrier of entry to most insects, there are some gaiters created with the intention of tick and chigger protection. For example, the Outdoor Research Bugout Gaiters are made of nylon treated with chemical deterrents.

Q: Are there different sizes of gaiters?

There are different sizes of gaiters. Standard hiking and mountaineering gaiters come in both men’s and women’s sizes. These are then separated into small, medium, large, and extra-large. Before you buy a pair, it’s important to check with the manufacturer’s sizing chart. Grab a tape measure when fitting. And remember, if you are purchasing full length/knee high gaiters, they need to fit over the calf. In addition, you should account for the larger diameter if you plan to use them with pac boots. These heavily insulted boots are larger than a typical hiking shoe.

Q: Do gaiters keep boots dry?

Gaiters keep boots dry if they are built with that intention and have the right fit. The gaiters I featured by Outdoor Research, Kenetrek, and Kahtoola are all made with waterproof materials that are meant to keep your boots dry. Of course, if the toe or sole of your boot isn’t also waterproof, water will come in. Match your waterproof gaiter with a waterproof boot for the best possible protection.

Q: How do I choose a good gaiter?

Choose a good gaiter by first identifying the activity you want to use them for, followed by the season of use. Here are some suggestions:
●  Hiking and Mountaineering in all Seasons: Full length waterproof gaiter like Outdoor Research Crocodile or Black Diamond Apex.
●  Hiking in Spring, Summer, and Fall: Mid length waterproof gaiter like Kahtoola LEVAgaiter mid or Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low
●  Trail running and Summer hiking: Low length breathable ankle gaiter like Dirty Girl, Solomon Trail Low, or Altra Trail gaiters.
Of course, if you have a special need like tick repellent or snake proof gaiters, these will take precedence in choosing a good gaiter. Before hitting the trail, check for a comfortable fit on leg and over boot.

Final Thoughts

Gaiters protect your legs and feet against the elements and provide comfort in the outdoors. Depending on your chosen outdoor activities and terrain, you might need to have a few pairs of gaiters: a full-length set for winter expeditions, a mid-length waterproof set for muddy spring hiking, and a pair of ankle gaiters for sandy, dry trails. Whether you’re trail running, backpacking, hunting, or day hiking—there’s a perfect set of gaiters for every adventure.