Gaiters: What Are They and How to Choose

Planning on hiking through spring snow melt? Or lacing up for an ultra-long trail run? Whether you're mountaineering, hiking or running, 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, hiking 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, cross-country skiing or mountaineering. Low gaiters are about ankle high and are designed for less extreme conditions.

In addition to the fabrication and design, most hiking gaiters 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. The entry system is a closure like Velcro. 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.

Mountaineering Gaiters

At Outdoor Research, we make gaiters for mountaineering and also trail running and hiking. They range from the beefcakes of the mountaineering world to everyday gaiters for a quick blast down the trail.

We divide our mountaineering gaiters into two categories: expedition and alpine.

Our expedition gaiters are our toughest mountaineering gaiters, built sturdy to withstand harsh conditions and long mountaineering trips. The newest addition to the expedition gaiter team is the X-Gaiter—a fresh take on the very first product Outdoor Research ever produced. These are our warmest gaiters, and feature a streamlined, low-bulk design that's compatible with both mountaineering boots and ski touring boots. The X-Gaiter uses PrimaLoft® Aerogel insulation to cover the toes and entire lower half of boot, extending the range of your three-season mountaineering boots.

The Expedition Crocodiles™ are 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 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 Crocodile Hiking Gaiters and Women's Crocodile Hiking Gaiters.

Two hikers wear gaiters out on the trail.

Trail Gaiters

Lastly, our trail gaiters are lightweight and breathable and provide the most basic protection against all the pesky tidbits like pebbles, sand and twigs that can find their way into your shoes. They pair with anything from cross-country ski boots to trail running shoes. Take, for example, our Ferrosi Thru Gaiters, made with breathable Ferrosi soft shell fabric, and the Ferrosi Hybrid Gaiters, which include thermo-regulating technology that breathes in hot weather and traps heat in the cold for total temperature control. Its back is constructed of the exclusive self-cooling ActiveIce™ fabric to provide protection where you're most vulnerable to sunburns and sweat.

For a super light, packable version, we offer the waterproof Women’s Helium Gaiters and Men’s Helium Gaiters, built for the fast hiker and ounce-counting backpacker.

For a lower profile, the Rocky Mountain Low Gaiter. If you're most concerned with keeping bugs out from between your pants and boots, the BugOut Gaiters are constructed with Insect Shield® to help protect against mosquitoes, ticks and other biting insects, including those that can carry disease.

How To Choose The Right Size Gaiters

Finding the right size gaiter is crucial. If they're too big or two small, they won't keep out whatever it is you want to keep out of your boots—be it dirt, snow or brush. To find the right size, first take a look at our gaiter sizing chart below, and choose the size that corresponds to your shoe size. Here are some additional tips for getting a perfect fit:

  • Always try your gaiters on before you head out for your adventure.
  • Before you head out, set the instep strap fit for the boot you plan to take, so that you don’t have to fiddle with the instep adjustment with cold or wet hands. Once you have set it, you don’t have to undo it every time you put it on that boot.
  • Ensure that the bottom hem fits as snugly as it can around the boot. You shouldn’t be able to fit your finger up under the gaiter easily.
  • Still unable to fit the gaiter tightly against your boot? Don’t be afraid to size down. It’s worth a try.

Fit Note! For the Men’s Crocodile Gaiters, Women’s Crocodile Gaiters, and Men’s Expedition Crocodile Gaiters, we recommend sizing down one full size for best fit with lightweight hiking boots, shoes, or trail runners. When wearing your gaiters properly, the instep strap buckle should lie on the side of your shoe, not underneath.

How To Put Your Gaiters On

Note: For the Ferrosi Thru Gaiter and Ferrosi Hybrid Gaiter, the gaiter must be put on before the shoe—it will not fit over the top.

For hook/loop front closure gaiter optionslike the Expedition, Crocodile, Verglas, Rocky Mountain, Bugout, Overdrive, and Flex-Tex Gaiters:

  1. Fully open the hook-and-loop closure & instep strap.
  2. Close the hook-and-loop closure, wrapping the gaiter around your leg: The fabric should wrap around your legs, and once closed, the opening should be in front.
  3. Place the OR logo and instep strap buckles to the outside: Put the gaiters on so that the buckles on the instep straps are to the outside of your feet. If you place them on the inside, you may accidentally kick the buckles while walking. If the logos are on the inside, you have your gaiters on the wrong feet and risk breaking the buckles. Also, make sure the instep straps run through the instep areas of your boots or shoes.
  4. Fine-tune the instep straps: The goal is to snug the straps up so that the bottoms of the gaiters make a nice, tight seal around your boots or shoes. If you’re using the same footwear with your gaiters every time, you should only have to adjust the instep straps once.
  5. Attach the lace hooks: If your gaiters have lace hooks, try to attach them as far down on your boots as possible. On larger boots, you might not be able to reach all the way to the farthest laces.
  6. Cinch the top hem as needed: This helps your gaiters to stay up on your leg, and prevent rain/snow from entering the top of your boot. Avoid overtightening as your will lose circulation to your feet.

For low, fast hike gaiters – like the Ferrosi Thru Gaiters and Ferrosi Hybrid Gaiters:

  1. Take shoes off if you have them on.
  2. Slip the gaiter on around your ankle, reminder that logo goes outwards with the hook in the front.
  3. Place shoes back on.
  4. Attach front boot hook.
  5. Attach Hypalon strap if there is one (the Surge Gaiter doesn’t have one).
  6. Make sure it doeesn't feel too sloppy around your ankle. It should fit securely, but not too tight. Size down if necessary.

Simply put, gaiters protect your feet and help keep you focused on your moving forward comfortably. When in doubt, size down—and have fun out there!

Shop all Outdoor Research Gaiters here.