The Best Gaiter Review
Looking for the perfect gaiters for mountaineering, trekking or running? Well, so are we. We used our side-by-side comparison testing process to evaluate nine pairs from several different categories, including shorter hiking and scree models to full-length ones, to figure out which were the best. 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 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!).
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Analysis and Test Results
When the mummified Otzi the Iceman was pulled out of a glacier on the Austrian-Italian border, he was wearing a pair of goatskin leggings, or gaiters. In the 5000 years that have passed since, the materials, design, and construction has improved quite a bit, but the concept is still largely the same. 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 testing also allowed us to really scrutinize which features and materials worked best among four major brands. With companies like Rab using highly breathable eVent fabric, and Outdoor Research and Mountain Hardwear producing some seriously high Denier fabrics, gaiters are more waterproof, breathable and durable than ever. But before you buy a pair because this is what you think you'll need on your next hike, climb, or expedition, lets first examine how to select the right model for you, or if you even need them to being with!
Selecting the Right Product
Like any decision, finding the right pair is a complicated choice. Gone are the days when you might of had one or two choices, with neither of them being ideal. You can now easily find a pair that will add mere ounces to your ultra-light alpine set up and still keep those aluminum crampons from tearing your pants to ribbons right next to a specialized ankle-high model for long-distance desert trail running. There are now several companies making expedition models that will likely outlast you and the rest of your gear, along with a veritable cornucopia of scree and light hiking models that will keep sand, twigs and other intolerable objects out of your socks. Depending of how diverse your outdoor hobbies are, you might want a quiver of them, or perhaps none at all. On any given year, guiding on terrain as variable as sunny Sierra rock climbs or traversing on the flat white nothing of Antarctica, our ratio of users to non-users leans pretty heavily on the non-users column. Whether a result of trends in fashion, practicality, or a combination of the two, gaiters have definitely slumped in popularity. In addition, many mountaineering boots are now manufactured with a built-in gaiter, further negating the need for an external one.
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.
If you are set on wearing a pair though, then finding the right one comes down to a few simple questions: what are you going to be doing and where are you going to be doing it? With all the different models out there, you can really specialize according to your intended activity, as the pair you want to protect your legs while breaking trail through deep snow is not the one you need to keep small pebbles and sand out of your shoes on a hot desert hike. That might mean that you end up with a few different pairs in your closet, but better that than suffering with 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.
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.
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 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.
Outdoor Research Wrapid, REI Alpine Light, and Outdoor Research Rocky Mt. Low.
Rab Scree, Outdoor Research Ultra Trail and Mountain Hardwear Scree.
Criteria for Evaluation
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. However, there were two models that we tested that came close. The eVent fabric used by Rab in our Editors' Choice winner, the Latok Alpine, sets a new standard for performance. Like a mini hardshell jacket for your feet, the Rab Latok Alpine sheds water like a champ. The Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiter uses a three-layer Gore-Tex upper and a 1000D foot panel and is even more water resistant, but it does lacks breathability, which on warmer days will contribute to moisture build up on the inside. 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 Wrapid and REI Alpine Light. 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.
This is the essence of what gaiters exist to do - keep debris out of your shoes and boots and protect underlying clothing. 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. Most manufacturers have this supremely simple concept pretty dialed. 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.
When it comes to alpine and expedition models, you are largely trying to keep snow and ice chunks from getting in your boots. Having a snug fit and secure attachment, both on the boots and your legs, is what will result in a dry interior. The Rab Latok Alpine did this very well, with a glove-like fit around our single-layer boots. The upper closure is a draw-string cinch cord that is a breeze to attach with gloves and stays securely fastened. 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.
When it came to the smaller hiking and scree gaiters, the REI Alpine Light, Outdoor Research Wrapid, and Rab Scree all impressed us with their ability to keep snow, sand, pebbles or other unwanted muck out of our shoes. The components these models all share is a secure fit around the bottom of your footwear, and the ability to create a tight seal around the top. Anything less than that, and you'll still end up with some junk in your shoes. The Outdoor Research Ultra Trail, for example, was designed to be worn without an instep strap (though is does come with an optional one), and while this is better for running shoes that don't have an arch, there is noting holding the sides down, leaving gaps where sand and other debris can enter your shoes.
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.
We were most impressed with the durability of the Outdoor Research Crocodile. Both during testing and in our years of experience with this model, we can say with certainty that they will last, and last, and last. The 1000D foot panel is about as thick as a piece of fabric can get and still remain usable. This pair can withstand years of glacier travel and all the spiky tools that go along with it. The buckle is large and securely attached, and the instep strap might even outlast your psyche for the mountains.
In fact, when checking out any new pair that you plan to buy, the instep strap should be the main area that you look at to assess a model's durability, as this is the thing you will be stepping on repeatedly. 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 Wrapid, 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 criteria 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.
When it came to breathability, we were impressed with the lightweight Rab Scree. It's made with a double weave stretch material that's highly breathable - we wore it on hot desert trail runs without feeling sweaty or constricted in our feet. The Outdoor Research Ultra Trail was also breathable, but in order to get it to stay up our legs we had to crank down the upper cinch cord, leaving a deep groove in our legs. It's also mostly black, which is not the color you want on your feet in the hot desert sun. We were also impressed with the comfort and breathability of the Rab Latok Alpine. It's rare to find a full-length model that is not super stiff, or that leaves your feet overheating on sunny days on the glacier. But the eVent fabric on this pair is supple and highly breathable, and finally gives us the options to leave ours on even when the day warms up.
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 uses 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. The Outdoor Research Crocodile has been the same for years for one simple reason, it works. But, Rab has come up with some interesting innovation on their Latok Alpine model, including a Velcro secured instep strap instead of a buckle closure. While you might only need to adjust your buckles the first time you use them, the switch to a Velcro closure really impressed up with its easy "Ease of Attachment."
Our Best Buy award winner, the Outdoor Research Wrapid, also scored high in this category, thanks to it's quick adjust instep strap and step, wrap and go design. It's name is a clever take on the two things it does well - wrapping rapidly. Perhaps more noticeable were the ones that were not so easy to put on. All of the scree models require you to take your shoes off, slide them up your legs, fiddle your pants inside, then attach the bottoms, either with an instep strap, or with a Velcro tab on the Outdoor Research Ultra Trail. The Rab Scree makes this fairly easy with a bungee cord strap, but the Mountain Harwear Scree model provides a piece of shoelace for the job. We had to cut the shoelace to size (otherwise we'd have a flap of shoelace to trip over), and then had to figure out whether it was easier to undo the welded shoelace knots each time, or try to finagle it on after putting it over our shoe first (shoelace is not stretchy). 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 overly 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 provides 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 weight you down, but you might have to pay a bit more for it.
Finding the right pair of gaiters can depend on the activity you are planning to use them for and where. We buy these products for protection, to keep things out of our boots, and to help our feet stay warm and dry. By using our tests and ratings, we hope to help you sort through the available products in order to decide on the best pair for you, or if you even need these fancy accessories to begin with. Check out our Buying Advice article for more information on what to look for in your next pair.
— Thomas Greene
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