If you are looking for the right gaiters for your next adventure, we've got you covered. We evaluated a dozen pairs with rigorous comparative field testing and found some award-worthy contenders in a few different categories. From low-ankle trail running models to high-ankle designs great for hiking and scree scrambling, to full-length options capable of keeping feet warm and dry in the most rugged, snow-covered terrain, we tried out a wide variety of the best products available. We tested them by climbing some of the tallest mountains in North America, finding some serious alpine rock in Washington state and doing some dirty trail runs through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We spent some seriously cold days in Antarctica 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 them each on a host of metrics, including water resistance and debris protection. You can find the results of our testing below, including the standouts and the fall downs.
The Best Gaiters Review
We just tested five new models and retested some of our previous picks. Wouldn't you know it!? Some new Top Picks emerged from the pack. We were particularly pleased with the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap for trail running and long distance hiking and the Black Diamond Talus is a great high-utility option.
Rab Latok Alpine
The Rab Latok Alpine offers durability, exceptional water resistance, breathability, and functionality in one lightweight package. Its body is made of eVent fabric to keep feet, boots, and clothing dry inside and out. Our testing made us believers in eVent, not only as a very water resistant fabric but one that is also more breathable than Gore-Tex. For us, this meant our feet stayed drier from the inside even in warmer conditions. The Latok Alpines went on quickly over all the boots we tested it with and had a low profile, offering excellent protection without tripping us up. There are Robic nylon patches at the instep to protect against crampon spikes, and an intelligent internal Velcro adjustment system for the instep strap, which meant we didn't have to worry about broken buckles.
They are not quite as durable as some of the other mountaineering models that we tested. However, this pair is so cool and comfortable that we think they'll win you over. At only $65, we'd way rather trash a pair of these over a $300 pair of guide pants.
Read review: Rab Latok Alpine
Best with Trail Running and Hiking Shoes
Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap
The Overdrive Wrap does what other low-ankle trail models often do not: they fit. We fell in love with how easy they are to slide on and off as well as how secure they are once they are attached. Because of the high-quality fit, they also scored highly on debris protection — there just aren't many openings for gravel and pine needles to sneak in. The Overdrive Wrap is the best option to use with trail running or hiking shoes. We take these on long trail runs, backpacking trips or just normal hiking excursions.
These may not fit your hiking boot. They're ideal for low- and mid-cut shoes. They're not very water resistant, but they aren't meant to be. As a lightweight option meant for moving quickly, they pair best with shoes that are typically not waterproof anyway. In this case, good design breeds good performance, and that makes our feet very happy.
Read review: Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap
Best Value for Day Hikes and General Use
Black Diamond Talus
The Black Diamond Talus is a gaiter's gaiter. It's no-frills, lightweight and easy to attach. Its design is a little old school, but it performs like we need it to when we need it to and is consistent across the board.
The bummer is the instep cord, which will wear out with consistent hiking adventures, but it's easily replaceable. It performs best with high ankle hiking boots. This is the model we would want to have on hand for everyday, regular use for day hiking, weekend trips in the backcountry, or under a pair of snow pants in the winter. It's the same price as the Overdrive Wrap. Get the Overdrive if you are mainly hiking and running and trying to keep out dirt and dust. Get the Talus if you want more protection in the snow, water, and thick brush.
Read review: Black Diamond Talus
Top Pick for Lightweight and Breathability
The Rab Scree is a lightweight model designed for use with approach or running shoes. It's made with a double weave stretch fabric that doesn't offer much in terms of water resistance, but a lot when it comes to comfort and breathability. Although no scree model is super simple to put on, the Scree was a breeze compared to other models in this category. This was largely due to the bungee cord instep strap, which quickly loops around your shoe and secures down with a toggle. And because the geniuses at Rab can tell that the instep strap will be the first thing to wear out, they kindly included a spare for each foot with an extra toggle.
These aren't the model to wear on your next trip to the big mountains, but for trail runs, bushwacks, hot hiking days, or for tick protection, the Rab Scree is the most comfortable and breathable model that we tested, and well-deserving of a Top Pick award. For many people, the Overdrive Wrap will be a better option, especially since the cord on the Scree is not that durable. You also have to take off your boots or shoes to put on the Scree. But if you have taller boots or just want a little higher protection, the Scree is the way to go.
Read review: Rab Scree
Analysis and Test Results
In 1991, when the preserved remains of Otzi the Iceman were extracted from a glacier on the Austrian-Italian border, he was wearing a pair of goatskin leggings. In the 5000 years since Otzi walked this earth, the materials and methods of production have changed, but the elegant simplicity of what we now call gaiters are largely the same. When done right, they keep snow, rain, muck, and debris out of our footwear and away from our other clothing. As a result, they keep our feet drier, warmer and as a result, healthier than they would be in boots alone.
Because there are so few moving parts, the differences between similar models are even more slight than with, say, the footwear they are covering. It is harder to discern which ones are doing an amazing job versus which ones that are just fine. After aggressive field testing, aside from seeing which ones survived with the least damage, we were able to see which ones performed the best in a variety of conditions and enabled us to keep moving. We opted for literal side-by-side (more specifically foot-by-foot) testing, which allowed us to scrutinize features and materials of each model in near-identical conditions. With companies like Rab using highly breathable eVent fabric, and Outdoor Research and Mountain Hardwear producing some seriously high denier models, gaiters are more waterproof, breathable and durable than ever. But before you buy a pair for your next hike, climb, or expedition, check out more about our methodology and metric criteria below.
With defining features of different types of gaiters being so minimal, it can feel nearly impossible to choose. If value is important to you, the chart below should be helpful in illustrating how each gaiter in our test stood up to the competition. You can see that the Best Buy winning Black Diamond Talus and Editor's Choice winning Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap line up almost neck and neck for value in the lower right of the chart. Hover over the dots to see where the other competitors fall.
Selecting the Right Product
Finding the right pair is a choice that offers a bit of nuance. There are myriad options available; some that add mere ounces to your ultralight set up, and others that keep crampons from tearing your pants to ribbons, right next to a variety of classic mid-height backpacking options. 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 on how diverse your outdoor hobbies are, you might want a couple different pairs on hand (or, shhhh… maybe none at all). In any given year, whether we are out on sunny Sierra rock climbs or traversing the flat white nothing of Antarctica, we have found (unscientifically) that the ratio of users to non-users leans towards those without. Whether it is a fashion trend, practicality, or a combination of the two, gaiters have seemingly slumped in popularity. We have also noticed in recent years that many mountaineering boots are now manufactured with a built-in gaiter, further negating the need for an external pair.
However, we think that this humble foot guard still has its place. Whether you're scrambling over sun-drenched Sierra granite or slogging through the Appalachian Trail in early spring, we think there are times when this low-tech tech enhances outdoor experiences. If you need to learn a little more before to decide whether or not they are right for you, check out our Buying Advice guide.
On the other hand, if you are set on wearing a pair on your next adventure, then the first step to finding the right one comes down to a couple simple questions: what are you going to be doing and where are you going to be doing it? The pair you want to protect your legs while breaking trail through deep snow is not the same as 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 in the Mojave.
Water: sustainer of life, giver of soggy feet. We assessed how much water made its way through the gaiter and onto our pants, socks, and ultimately to our feet. For backpackers, trail runners, and mountaineers, a fundamental practice that keeps people happy, healthy and on the move is good foot care. Even if you don't have water seeping in from the outside, your sweaty feet might be liable to cause hotspots and blisters. There was one model we tested that stood out from the rest in terms of balancing water resistance and breathability. 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, this model sheds water like a champ. The Outdoor Research Crocodile uses a three-layer Gore-Tex upper and a 1000D foot panel and is even more water resistant, but it lacks breathability, which on warmer days will contribute to moisture build up on the inside.
When it comes to the lighter hiking models, we were still impressed with the water shedding ability of the Outdoor Research Wrapid. This model can keep your socks 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. The softshell material on the Rab Scree held water out for a time but eventually soaked through, and the jersey-knit Outdoor Research Ultra Trail and Outdoor Research Surge offered little more resistance than a paper towel.
This is the essence of what gaiters exist to do- keep debris out of your shoes and boots and protect underlying clothing. Most manufacturers have this concept pretty dialed, but there are some things to look out for. A primary predictor of how well a gaiter keeps debris out of footwear is by how it attaches to it. Lace hooks and instep straps are common, but not all pairs have them. The Outdoor Research Surge relies in part on a rubberized strip around the heel to stay secure on a shoe. Unsurprisingly, this model scored low in this metric.
When it comes to alpine and expedition models, "debris" mostly means snow and ice. 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.
When it came to the smaller hiking and scree models, the Outdoor Research Wrapid and Rab Scree both impressed us with their ability to keep snow, sand, pebbles or other unwanted muck out of our shoes. The Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap offered superior protection against sand and dirt on trail runs. The components these models all share is a secure fit around the bottom of your footwear, and a tight seal around the ankle. In the case of the Outdoor Research Surge, there is no instep strap. Though this is better for running shoes that don't have an arch, the sides often ride up, leaving gaps where sand and other debris can often find its way into your footwear.
Watching a new piece of gear fall to pieces like a badly knit sweater is a real bummer. The trade-off for durability is typically weight, and in our pursuit of lighter gear that empowers us to move faster, we sacrifice a little durability. Some gaiters offer a good balance between the two.
We were impressed with the durability of the Outdoor Research Crocodile. This model held up, both during testing and in our years of experience with it. 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.
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- this is the part of the gaiter that will contact the ground with almost every footfall. The models themselves are lightweight, but the instep straps of the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap and the Salomon Trail are fairly beefy. On the other side of the spectrum, the Rab Scree showed some durability issues. The instep strap broke on us. Rab includes replacement cord, and we used those until they snapped and replaced them again.
The material of the main body is important as well. 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, and with even heavier duty models like the REI Co-op Alpine 3/4, fabric durability is almost a non-issue.
Comfort and Breathability
Gaiters are meant to keep junk out, but that doesn't mean they need to trap the sweat in. Keeping sand out of your shoes and boots is important for blister prevention, but sweat can be problematic, so it's important that gaiters have some breathability. In assessing this metric, we have to consider the little things: how long it took us to notice that we had equipment wrapped around our legs, and whether or not we were ever able to forget it; how velcro attachments rubbed against our skin; or whether or not the buckle, snaps, hooks and elastic pulls were in the right place, or cutting off our circulation.
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 our feet feeling sweaty or constricted. The Outdoor Research Ultra Trail was also breathable, but in order to get it to stay up, we had to crank down the upper cinch cord, which leaves a deep impression on 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 still has some flexibility, but the eVent fabric on this pair is supple, highly breathable, and finally gives us the option to leave them on even when the day warms up.
Ease of Attachment
Despite the simplicity of the concept, there are a surprising number of ways to attach a gaiter. Most go on after you lace up your footwear, but the Outdoor Research Surge goes on before. Most models take advantage of a lace hook and instep strap, but some also include a combination of velcro, snaps, and elastic cord, all of which contribute to how easy it is to get the things on in the first place. We also care about whether a pair is easy to put on with gloves or cold hands, or in the dark on an alpine start. The cut and geometry of the fabric also play into this metric. The REI Co-op Alpine 3/4 is a solid option, but the velcro can be challenging to align and secure properly.
The Outdoor Research Crocodile has been the same for years for one simple reason: it works. Rab has come up with some exciting innovations 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 move to a velcro closure made us wonder why they aren't all like that.
The Outdoor Research Wrapid, also scored highly in this category thanks to its quick-adjust instep strap and step, wrap and go design. All of our trail running models, including the Outdoor Research Surge, Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap and Salomon Trail were all comparatively simple to attach. Perhaps more noticeable were the ones that were not so easy. 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 in the case of the Outdoor Research Ultra Trail. The Rab Scree makes this fairly easy with a bungee cord strap, but the Mountain Hardwear Scree 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.
As with any other piece of gear, weight counts. With that in mind, lighter weight materials typically suggest a tradeoff with durability, so we believe there is a middle ground. At the end of the day, we'd prefer to use the ones that weight 3 ounces rather than keep a lighter pair tucked away. We tested some half-ounce products, but we preferred the 1.5-ounce Rab Scree. And to be honest, we probably wouldn't have been able to tell the difference if we hadn't weighed them.
Finding the right pair of gaiters depends on the activity they are used for. We use them primarily to keep things out of our boots and to keep our feet a little warmer and a little drier. We hope our tests and ratings help you sort through just some of the products out there in order to choose the best pair for you, or if you even need this piece of gear to begin with. Check out our Buying Advice article for more information on what to look for in your next pair.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.