REI Co-op Backpacker Low Review
Cons: Heavy for length, chunky-looking
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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REI Co-op Backpacker Low
$44.95 at REI
|$20.00 List||$40 List|
Check Price at Backcountry
|$49.95 at REI||Check Price at REI|
|Pros||Durable, secure, waterproof||Lightweight, secure, inexpensive||Easy on and off, instep cord is replaceable||Replaceable instep strap, easy-to-use zipper, work with high and mid boots||Super lightweight, easy to attach, flexible|
|Cons||Heavy for length, chunky-looking||Not waterproof, requires velcro installation on shoes||Not versatile, instep cord wears quickly||Water seeps through zipper, ankle cord pinches||Not waterproof, requires velcro on shoes|
|Bottom Line||A pair of mid-length rugged gaiters with the versatility for multiple seasons||A lightweight and comfortable pair of gaiters that are meant for the long haul||A simple, old school gaiter that is easy to put on and take off||These mid-height gaiters are practical for a variety of trail conditions||An ultralight pair of gaiters that are made for trail running and UL backpacking|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Backpacke...||Dirty Girl Gaiter||Black Diamond Talus||Kahtoola INSTAgaite...||Altra Trail Gaiter|
|Comfort and Breathability (25%)|
|Debris Protection (25%)|
|Ease of Attachment (15%)|
|Water Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Backpacke...||Dirty Girl Gaiter||Black Diamond Talus||Kahtoola INSTAgaite...||Altra Trail Gaiter|
|Weight (each)||3.5 oz||0.7 oz||1.8 oz||2.5 oz||0.5 oz|
|Length||10 in||7 in||7 in||8 in||6.5 in|
|Material||Nylon||Polyester||Soft Shell/Hard Shell||Nylon||Nylon|
|Water Resistant?||Yes, 3-layer waterproof/breathable fabric||No||No||Yes (DWR fininsh)||No|
|Attachment||Hook and loop, instep strap||Hook and loop, velcro heel||Nylon cord instep strap, lace hook, velcro, snap||Adjustable instep strap, lace hook||Hook and loop, velcro heel|
Our Analysis and Test Results
At 10 inches high, this model offers a middle ground between low-cut ankle gaiters and full-length ones that sit just below the knee.
Comfort & Breathability
These gaiters are fair when it comes to comfort and breathability. They don't sit as high full-length gaiters, so they aren't quite as hot. Having said that, the thick fabric does keep the extra inches of your leg that it does cover quite toasty. There is no elastic at the top opening. Instead, this model relies on a regular plastic tension buckle and strap. What this means in practice, is that they get a little slumpy over time and need to be retightened. They aren't uncomfortable, they just need an adjustment from time to time.
Overall, our experience with this model tells us that stiffness is one of its defining qualities. In terms of breathability, the upper nylon portion is much thinner and does provide some relief, but there is no doubt some bulk to the lower portion. One noteworthy detail that our experience tells us is that these gaiters run small. Especially considering the fabric is fairly stiff, it could be necessary to size up to ensure that you are benefiting from full coverage and that you are able to get the velcro halves in the front to meet.
As long as you are wearing the right footwear, the Backpacker Low will keep out debris even on long hauls. Their length makes them ideal for low or mid-height hiking boots. The buckle and strap at the top make a tight seal, keeping out any soil or pebbles that you might kick up. The bottoms also keep out mud and twigs. They even perform admirably in the snow both as extra protection while snowshoeing or while shoveling the front steps after a big storm.
Though we did find on occasion that the overhand-oriented lace hook sometimes jostled loose, the instep strap and fairly rigid fabric of the main body kept the gaiter in place and prevented any gunk from getting further up our feet. Even though the fabric is fairly stiff, the shape of the gaiters conforms well to hiking boots, creating an excellent seal around the bottom.
With exceptional durability, the Backpacker Lows are made to be battered. The lower three-quarters of the material is extra-thick multi-layer, reinforced nylon. It feels almost like canvas and stands up exceptionally to abrasion from rocks.
The wide instep strap also resists wearing as a result of its low profile and plastic coating. Though it isn't replaceable, we don't see any reason why it wouldn't last as long as the rest of the gaiter. The extra-wide velcro and double-riveted metal lace hook are also ready to do battle with the elements in service to your feet. We think that given its utility as a general-use gaiter, this model is among the most durable that we have tested.
Ease of Attachment
The only reason we aren't quite ready to say these gaiters are easy to put on is because of their stiffness and the strength of the velcro. They have all of the trappings of a standard gaiter: instep strap, overhand metal lace hook, and velcro up the front. They also have an additional velcro flap just above the lace hook to prevent the main velcro from coming undone. There is also a plastic buckle at the top to tighten them around your leg.
The first time we put them on, we found that it was somewhat challenging to adjust the instep strap (but on the flip side, means that the strap is also very secure). The process is otherwise straightforward except for the front velcro, which in practice can be somewhat tricky to align properly with itself. This is in part because it is stiff and because it is so wide and strong that it is easy to inadvertently touch two parts together before the sides are lined up. These gaiters also have 'left' and 'right' labels on the inside so that you don't have to spend time getting laced up only to realize you put them on the wrong feet.
The fabric on the Backpacker Low is waterproof, for the most part. During testing, they were perfect through puddles. In water crossings, they are also great, so long as the height of the water doesn't top out over the gaiters. In almost all typical instances they performed as we would have needed them to. Because of their bulk, they don't dry especially quickly.
In addition, what we noticed in heavy rain is that because there is no elastic around the top portion, water can sometimes drip between the ripples and folds in the fabric, especially if you are pairing them with water-resistant hiking pants that themselves bead water and direct it down your leg (toward your gaiter, and eventually, your foot). In practice, we didn't find that this made much of a difference for the dryness of our feet, we just noticed that the interior portion of the upper gaiter was sometimes damp.
Weighing in at 3.5 ounces each, this model is about average relative to its length. Given the extra 7 ounces and the fairly bulky fabric, we wouldn't want to carry them if we weren't planning to actually wear them. However, your not liable to notice much of a difference when they are on your feet.
A very minor drawback in our observation is the webbing that tightens the upper around your leg is not waterproof. In addition to absorbing water (and this becoming marginally heavier), when it does get wet, either by rainwater or a stream crossing, the loose extra strap can flip up and flap against your skin.
If longevity is one of your primary considerations, you can't go wrong with this gaiter. Its thick fabric and durable construction give us faith that, in the long run, you will get your money's worth. It performs as well as its price point necessitates and in almost any typical hiking scenario, these gaiters will keep your feet warm and dry.
The REI Backpacker Low is a sturdy gaiter with the versatility to protect your feet and ankles in moderate snow and heavy muck. For those who don't need a highly technical full-length pair and want the flexibility that comes with a lower model, we think this is a great option.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch
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