Hiking boots are an almost perfect piece of gear. They’re great at keeping out water, dust, and rocks. But they have one glaring flaw… there's a big hole where your foot goes in. That’s why you need a good pair of gaiters; to keep the rain, snow, dust, and rocks out of your mountaineering boots.
Here, I’ll outline everything you need to know about buying a pair of gaiters for mountaineering or hiking. What to look for, what to avoid, and some of the best models to consider while shopping.
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I’ve been hiking, climbing, and mountaineering across the West for decades. Whether I’m kicking steps up a glacier in the spring or boot skiing down a scree slope, I’m always glad I’ve got my gaiters.
My hobbies have made me obsessive about researching and comparing gear. I put that obsession to good use and produced this guide to help you find the perfect pair of gaiters.
This article compares the best gaiters on the market by their utility, value, and quality. It also includes some tips on what to look for when you’re shopping for a pair of gaiters.
Mountaineering exposes you to the elements more than any other sport. If you spend enough time in snowy conditions without gaiters, your feet are bound to get wet. The Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiter is the top candidate for heavy-duty use in the deep snow.
The Crocodile is a knee-high gaiter made of a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane under a Cordura nylon shell. This construction makes for a very durable and waterproof gaiter. It features a sturdy lower and upper closure with quick-release buckles to help you dial the fit.
But, like most high-performance gear, it’s very expensive. It’s also not very breathable, as it’s intended for use in snowy conditions.
However, the versatility these Crocodile Gaiters offer more than makes up for that. Their adjustable heavy-duty strap means you can wear them with heavy mountaineering boots or lighter hiking boots.
The Rab Muztag is a great companion for any trek into the unknown. It uses a Gore-Tex fabric like the Outdoor Research Crocodile for superior water resistance. But it’s made of thinner nylon material, making it less bulky and more breathable than the Crocodile.
This gives the Muztag better marks as a do-it-all gaiter. It would be right at home on a backpacking trip, or for spring mountaineering on wet snow. Its cuff comes to the knee, giving you ample coverage from debris.
The main downside is, again, cost. Having thinner material also makes it less durable than the OR Crocodile. For multi-day mountaineering, you may want something sturdier. But if you want gaiters that are so light you forget you're wearing them - these are perfect!
The Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiter finds a good balance between cost and quality. They’re similar to the REI Backpacker Low, but with knee-high cuffs.
The Rocky Mountain High gaiters are made of a durable 420 denier nylon, which is waterproof enough for snowshoeing. Nylon breathes more than a waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex, so you won’t be sweating bullets under them after a few miles.
But, being both somewhat waterproof and breathable means the Rocky Mountain High gaiters don't excel at being either. They’re also bulkier than other knee-high gaiters. However, for the low price point, these are a solid deal.
When you’re in snake country, it’s a good idea to give yourself an extra layer of protection. Gaiters can help reduce the likelihood of snakebites and their severity by adding an extra loose layer over your leg.
But snake gaiters take this principle a step further by using thick, high denier nylon material. The Razer Snake Gaiter is made of 1000d Cordura nylon.
Cordura will stop not only thorns and cactus spines, but has been lab tested to stop a needle under 25 pounds of force. Razer also tests their gaiters with live rattlesnakes. If that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.
But, snake gaiters don’t do as good of a job at keeping out debris, and they’re definitely not waterproof. They’re thick, which means extra hot. But if you want the extra peace of mind, it might be worth it.
If your main concern is dirt and debris, go with the Altra Trail Gaiter. These gaiters are incredibly light, breathable, very comfortable, and easy to move in. They’re designed for runners and ultralight fiends.
The Trail Gaiters feature easy-to-use velcro attachments and form a tight seal around your trail shoes. They provide enough protection to keep rocks and dirt out of your hiking shoes while you cruise up the trail.
But, they’re not very water resistant. These gaiters are primarily for dry use in the summer. They’re not technical gear and won’t stand up to lots of water or abrasion. For the price though, they're hard to beat.
If you’re a trail runner or a speed freak in the mountains, you want an ultralight hiking gaiter that won’t get in your way. At 100 grams per pair, the Black Diamond Talus is just that.
The Talus uses a minimalist design that focuses on providing protection where you need it most: your ankles. If you’re all about going fast and far, this is the right amount of protection to keep you from digging rocks out of your shoes every ten minutes.
What it lacks is pretty much everything else. It doesn’t have a strap that goes under your boot. It’s made of standard nylon - no reinforcement or membrane. The Talus is for the swift, but it won’t do much against a whole day on a glacier.
That said, you'll struggle to find an ultralight gaiter on the market better than the Black Diamond Talus.
If keeping water out of your boots is a must, double up on Gore-Tex. The Black Diamond Apex GTX uses three layers of Gore-Tex, the best waterproofing on this list. The construction is burly, intended for extended technical use in the backcountry.
The Apex GTX features full calf coverage and an adjustable instep strap for great coverage and performance in rugged terrain. They win out over the OR Crocodile in comfort, with a slightly thinner lightweight material.
But lighter material means a shorter lifespan on average. For water resistance, the Apex is the winner, but for rocks and abrasion, it falls behind the Outdoor Research Crocodile.
Hiking gets a lot more complicated in wet weather. Especially if you’re bushwacking off trail. Having a short hiking gaiter to keep mud and rain out of your boots is a solid move.
The REI Backpacker Low gaiter is perfect for hikers that like to go out no matter what the weather is like. As the name suggests, it’s a good lightweight option to bring backpacking, too.
The Backpacker Low provides just enough extra protection to keep the rain and mud off, without being too uncomfortable. It also has good airflow, which is a plus for long trail days.
However, the Backpacker’s ankle-high cuff reduces its appeal for technical use. The membrane isn’t spectacularly waterproof, either.
How to Shop for Gaiters
Gaiters have lots of designs, strengths, and weaknesses. Here are some things to look for while shopping to separate the best from the rest.
Shoe Size and Length
Gaiters come in three main heights: over-the-ankle, mid - calf, and knee-high. These range from six to 18 inches tall. If you’re picking knee-high gaiters, you want them to stop below your knees.
Gaiters are also sized by shoe size. Most brands lump them into small, medium, and large, according to your shoe size.
Waterproofing is one of the most important jobs a gaiter does. If you’ve ever post-holed your way up a snowy slope, only to top out with puddles of snowmelt in your boots, you’ll know why.
Nylon fabric alone provides some waterproofing, but not a ton. The most high-end gaiters use waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex to keep you dry. Gore-Tex fabric is a proprietary material used in outdoor gear, and is the gold standard for waterproofing.
Breathability usually stands in contrast to waterproofing. By definition, a waterproof piece of material is going to be harder for air to pass through.
Though brands will say their material does both jobs, it usually does more of one or the other. So as a rule, get a gaiter that’s only as waterproof as you need it to be.
There are other ways around this though. Lower gaiters, particularly over-the-ankle fits, allow more airflow to your calf. Having adjustable cuffs lets you adjust them to let more air in as well.
Hiking and mountaineering can really do a number on your gear. The constant abrasion of rocks, dirt, and vegetation adds up quickly, so you want a gaiter that’s tough.
The durability of fabrics is sometimes simplified by the “denier” of the material. Denier is a measure of how thick the individual strands in the cloth are. So a higher denier typically means a thicker, more abrasion-resistant material.
On the high end of this spectrum are materials like 1000d (denier) Cordura nylon, like in the Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiter. 40-80d nylon is a much cheaper material, but won’t provide as much long-term durability.
The way your gaiters fit onto your foot and shin has a lot to do with how good they are at keeping debris out. Gaiters for technical climbing have a cinch at the top, a velcro closure, a bootlace hook, and an instep strap.
Having this many straps and closures lets you tailor the fit so they stay snug and in place. It also lets you adjust the fit as need be. Cheaper gaiters have fewer closures, but for less technical uses you won’t need them as much.
The main way to figure out the intended use of a pair of gaiters is to figure out whether they’re more waterproof or breathable. Breathable gaiters are for light hiking and running in the summer.
Waterproof gaiters are for use on snow. They add extra warmth when you need it - in the winter. Breathable gaiters won’t repel water when you’re mountaineering. Waterproof gaiters will be way too hot in the heat of the summer.
Gaiters range from $20 to $90 or so. Cheaper models are commonly shorter, more elastic, have fewer closures, and are breathable. Expensive models are usually waterproof, knee-high, and have lots of closures.
We find the best all-around gaiters to be the Rab Muztag. For mountaineering, the Outdoor Research Crocodile is the top performer. For general use while hiking, the REI Co-op Backpacker Low gaiter is best.
If you’re hiking off-trail, on scree slopes, or on snow, gaiters are well worth the money.
Pick a gaiter that fits your shoe size and is as waterproof or breathable as you need for your chosen activity.
Hiking gaiters provide some protection against snakes. Snake gaiters are more effective at stopping snakebites.
Gaiters range from fully breathable to fully waterproof, depending on the materials they’re made of.
Yes, you can wash your gaiters. A good tip is to put them in a pillowcase and spray them with DWR treatment after drying.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.