There is a simple beauty in the basic design and function of a gaiter. As a result, we tried not to overcomplicate things. We did some basecamp testing, weighing them, saturating them with water, and dumping dirt over them. Ultimately though, we just pounded out some miles on trails, glaciers and scree fields to see how they held up. We typically wore multiple pairs on a single trip, sometimes with different styles on each foot to try and control for environmental conditions. We also tested each with a variety of footwear to assess each pair's versatility and did our best to wade through water crossings and stomp through the muckiest parts of the trail.
Comfort & Breathability
Comfort and breathability are the major considerations when determining whether or not to purchase a particular pair. Everything else only matters if you are going to actually wear them. We were very careful to note how well each model stays put or slides down over the course of a day. We also took a look at how adaptable each model is for use on bare skin, over socks, and over pants. Again, using leg-by-leg comparison, we also assessed how long we could go into each activity before we noticed our legs were hot and sweaty or chaffing.
Debris protection, of course, is one of the primary functions of any gaiter. To test this, we wore each comparable pair over similar distances and terrain. Sometimes wearing a different pair on each ankle, we would see what got into our shoes at the end of the day, and note whether we had to stop mid-hike to remove anything from our shoes. In a more controlled environment, we also took a bucket of debris and dumped it over the gaiters on our feet to assess the seal at the top.
Gaiters are meant to protect one of the most valuable assets you have on a hiking trip: your feet. Our thinking is that they better last as long as you do. Short of a tensile testing machine, the most effective way to assess durability is to cover miles. The most vulnerable point on any pair of gaiters is often the instep strap, so we pay special attention to how easily they can be replaced if they fail. We also look at other attachment points: buttons, snaps, hooks, elastic cord, and toggles.
Ease of Attachment
Though not essential, it is always nice when gear is easy to use. To test this, we count the number of steps and how long it takes to attach and remove each model, as well as whether a pair can be put on or taken off with or without footwear on. We consider the method of adjusting the instep strap, how easily hooks can be attached to laces, and whether a model can be adjusted around the leg for a proper fit.
Depending on the intended use of the model, water resistance can be a critical component of a gaiter (or not). Some gaiters are meant to be waterproof, others water-resistant, and others aren't meant to be either. Our water resistance testing is straightforward. In the field, we wore each pair in rainy and wet weather. In a more controlled environment, while wearing each pair, we also spray each one with a spray bottle and assess water penetration to footwear and socks. To test water retention, we also weigh each pair of gaiters dry, dunk them into water, and weigh them again.
Typically the most straightforward to test of any metric, we put each model on a scale to confirm whether or not a manufacturer's claimed weight is accurate.