Gaiters: What are they, and what are different types for?

Planning on tromping through frosted peaks after the Polar Vortex, heading out for a hike during this spring’s colossal snow melt or lacing up for an ultra-long trail run? The extra layer of protection from gaiters will help keep your outing a challenging adventure rather than a painful sufferfest.

While waterproof hiking boots or ski boots will provide a huge amount of protection, gaiters work in tandem with your boots to protect the little nooks and crannies that are vulnerable to being encroached by abrasive environments or sneaky drops of rain or snow – like the top of the boot.

Whether snow, rain or overgrown trails are the terrain du jour, there are different types of gaiters that excel for different activities, each with different features. But which kind of gaiter you need largely depends on what you’ll be doing. So how do you choose?

It all depends on your outing. But first, let’s dissect the construction of the gaiter. Gaiters typically run from the bottom of your foot to mid-calf and are made with sturdy weather-resistant materials. This design and fabrication works well to protect your foot and lower leg from deep snow, wet underbrush or debris that you can pick up while hiking, skiing or mountaineering. Low gaiters are about ankle high and are designed for less extreme conditions.

In addition to the fabrication and design, most gaiter are also equipped with: a strap that fits over the instep of your boot or shoe or lace hook that holds the gaiter in place; a top closure that cinches or clips tight to seal the upper half of the gaiter; and some sort of entry system. Often the entry system is a closure like Velcro, but can also be a zipper. In the case of ultra minimalist gaiters, a tighter, stretchy design serves this purpose. Typically, our gaiters have a front entry – where the closure system runs down the length of your shin – which makes getting in and out of the gaiter on the trail or in the hills a hassle-free task.

At Outdoor Research, we have three different types of gaiters: expedition, alpine and trail. They range from the beefcakes of the mountaineering world to everyday gaiters for a quick blast down the trail.  Our expedition gaiters, like the Expedition Crocodiles™, are our toughest gaiters, built sturdy to withstand harsh conditions and long mountaineering trips. Made with waterproof and breathable three-layer GORE-TEX® to combat the snow, rain and cold climates of mountaineering, these gaiters also have tear-resistant Cordura® strategically placed on this inside of the leg to prevent snags and rips from wearing crampons. They also have a larger circumference to fit over insulated pants and mountaineering boots.

Our alpine gaiters have a more general purpose. Crafted to protect your feet while hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, these gaiters are made with waterproof and breathable fabric uppers and also an abrasion-resistant lower to protect your ankles and lower legs from sticks, rocks and other trail debris.

The Crocodile Gaiters™ are our time-tested classic with a fitted design and sturdy fabrication of GORE-TEX® upper and Cordura® lower. As at home in snowy environment as a dry and brushy trail, the Crocs (as they have come to be known) will fit well in your pack’s essentials kit and come in both Men's Crocodiles and Women's Crocodiles styles.

Lastly, our trail gaiters are lightweight and breathable and provide the most basic protection against wet terrain and the thick underbrush of trails. They pair with anything from cross-country ski boots to trail running shoes. Take, for example, our Ultra Trail Gaiters™, a favorite for Outdoor Research athlete Chris dePolo – a ridiculously long distance hiker who has hiked over 8,000 miles and spent 487 days in the woods in the last four years. 

“Anything that goes in my backpack or on my body has to be small, lightweight and dry quickly,” say dePolo, which is why the Ultra Trail Gaiters™ are perfect. These breathable, water-resistant gaiters are stretchy with a molded boot section to conform to the shoe and streamline the design. Designed with an endurance trail runner in mind, these gaiters help protect against the trail’s hazards when you don’t have time to avoid them.

Another gaiter for trail runners or those covering tons of ground are the Sparkplug Gaiters™. The Sparkplug Gaiters™ gets rid of everything but the basic must-haves for a gaiter resulting in the ultra light, hyper-minimalist design. Nothing but the bare necessities of this stretchy, breathable and water-resistant gaiter, the Sparkplug pulls on and has a hook that attaches to the laces of your shoes keeping the gaiter secured in place.

Simply put, gaiters protect your feet and help keep you focused on your moving forward comfortably. “I’ve had zero blisters in my 8,000 miles,” says dePolo, “and it's all about the gaiters keeping stuff out."

Shop all Outdoor Research Gaiters here.