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Looking for your next pair of gaiters to keep your feet dry and your footwear grit-free? We purchased 12 of the best pairs available today to put to the test. Our team of die-hard sloggers pushed these contenders to their limits through snow, slush, talus, dust, and mud. From posthole-worthy options to low-ankle trail runners, our review spans the full spectrum of styles and uses. There are a lot of options out there, but our experts hone in on the most important metrics to help you make the right decision for your next adventure.
Gaiters are but one piece of the puzzle for keeping your feet clean and dry. If you are also looking for footwear to pair them with, we've tested hiking boots for both men and women as well as men's and women's hiking shoes. If you need a daypack, pants, or hiking socks, we've tested those too.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on April 22, 2022, to reflect additional tested products, including the Outdoor Research Helium, Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid, and Black Diamond GTX FrontPoint.
The Rab Muztag GTX is a winter wonder gaiter that offers an excellent balance between durability and comfort. At under 8 ounces for the pair, this model will keep your feet warm and dry without weighing you down on the trail. The Muztag is fully waterproof and sits just below the knee, meaning that they are prime for plunging through deep snow. The instep strap is wide, thick, and durable, and it is even ostensibly replaceable since it is held in place by velcro instead of being sewn in. The bootlace hook is also super secure, and all-in-all, this pair is more comfortable than any other longer-length model we tested.
The primary drawbacks of the Muztag are related to long-term durability. Though it is made for heavy use, the fabric is not quite as thick as other long-length options in this review. The boot hook is plastic, meaning that it could crack if you inadvertently step on it at camp. Another comparatively minor complaint is that these gaiters crinkle like paper which can be somewhat distracting if you are trying to enjoy nature's silence. But all things considered, if we were going on a hike after a fresh snowstorm, this is the pair that we would reach for first.
Might be too hot for summer and isn't tall enough for snow
Fabric susceptible to snags
The REI Co-op Backpacker Low is a solid mid-height model and the best of its kind in our fleet. If you do a lot of sloggy hiking in the shoulder seasons but also want something for shoveling the snow from your driveway, this is your all-in-one. It has a heavy-duty lower, which means that it can easily stand up to bramble, rocks, and microspikes. During testing, the Backpacker proved up to the task of repelling water, pebbles, and other grit. They are easy to attach, comfortable to wear, and a great value model overall.
The value of the Backpacker Low is relative, however. If you would prefer to have the ideal accouterments for every situation, then there are others in this review that perform better under particular circumstances (i.e., in the heat of summer or the dead of winter). However, as long as you are not planning to go running in them, this pair is worth a strong look if you want a decent performer across multiple seasons.
The Outdoor Research Helium is a full-length gaiter with an ultralight mentality. At just over two and a half ounces each, this gaiter is easily the lightest full-length option in the category and one that we would definitely want on hand for sloppy shoulder seasons when the weather is warm but snow and mud are plentiful. It's super thin, but a fully waterproof construction makes it a great option when you want leg and foot protection without too much insulation. It has a replaceable instep strap, a thicker nylon lower, and a thin nylon upper. It works well with traditional, mid to high ankle hiking and winter boots.
There are always tradeoffs with gear this light. Though it is full-length, the thinness of the material means it's not especially insulating; water crossings will still feel cold and wet, even if your feet stay dry. The fabric on the upper is also delicate enough that we have questions about its long-term durability on ice and talus. With all of that in mind, this is still the pair we would want on our legs when full-length protection is paramount, but staying comfortable is also key.
The Dirty Girl Gaiter is a long-distance hiker's dream. They are super lightweight but also have thicker, more durable fabric than other similar models in our lineup, meaning that they stand up to use and abuse on the trail. The shoelace hook is super secure, and we found that they don't ride up nearly as easily or often as similar trail-running models. They aren't waterproof, but they will keep the mist and fog off of your socks, and they are dynamite comfortable — we barely even noticed when we were wearing them.
The only knock against the Dirty Girl is that you have to do a little pre-use 'install' on your footwear. If you are using them with sneakers that don't already have a trap at the heel, you will have to make one yourself with the included velcro. It doesn't take long, but depending on the sneakers and how old and/or dirty they are, it can be difficult to ensure that the velcro adheres properly. Of course, being of thin material, the Dirty Girl clearly lacks the durability of the heftier options in this review, but the tradeoff for comfort and breathability is necessary for high-output use in warm weather. In any case, if you need a pair for trail running or long-distance backpacking, there is no doubt that this model is a steal.
Lead reviewer Ben Applebaum-Bauch is no stranger to backpacking through wet, cold, muddy trails. He has guided trips along the most rugged portions of the Appalachian Trail, including the 100-Mile Wilderness, and bagged countless peaks in New Hampshire's White Mountains in all seasons. He is an avid distance hiker, splashing through thousands of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, Long Trail, Colorado Trail, and Oregon Coast Trail. His adventures have equipped him to appreciate the value of warm, dry feet and to know the ins and outs of gaiters that claim to offer that protection.
For this review, we tested the best pairs of gaiters on the market selected by our experienced team of hikers, runners, and mountaineers. We then put each pair through its paces. In addition to water and dirt immersion tests, we rely heavily on foot-on testing. It becomes much easier to determine which models are up to the task and which ones fall short by taking these accessories on trip after trip, run after run. We perform leg-by-leg comparisons, wearing a different (but comparable) model on each leg simultaneously, allowing us to control environmental conditions. The strategy here was to rack up the miles and let those miles tease out the differences between models.
Because there are so few moving parts, the differences between similar gaiters are even more slight than with, say, the footwear they are covering. Different models are designed for various conditions and hiking styles, but the elegant simplicity of this piece of equipment is largely the same across the board. After aggressive field testing, aside from seeing which ones survived with the least damage, we could see which ones performed the best in a variety of conditions. When designed well, they protect the wearer from debris, moisture, snow, and ice. They keep feet drier, warmer, and as a result, healthier than they would be in boots alone. We rated each tested pair on six metrics:
Though not part of a product's overall numerical score, we recognize that value is an important component of most purchasing decisions. To quantify the old maxim price is what you pay, value is what you get, we find it worthwhile to compare the overall score of each product relative to its price. Models that score highly and are priced reasonably offer great value, but it is also possible that less expensive products still score highly enough to have good value as well. Products in this review that offer in the value department are the REI Backpacker Low, the Black Diamond Talus, and the Dirty Girl Gaiter.
Comfort and Breathability
These products are meant to keep junk and gunk out, but that doesn't mean they need to trap the sweat in. Ideally, you don't even know a pair is there until you realize you haven't had to stop to dump out sand or pine needles from your shoes all day. We assessed comfort by noting how each pair felt on our body and fit over footwear and clothing.
Breathability is an important complement to comfort because sweaty feet can also be a source of discomfort, as is the chafing that comes along from rough or tight material rubbing against bare skin. In assessing this aspect, we considered the little things: how long it took for us to notice we had gaiters on (or to forget) and whether or not the buckle, snaps, hooks and elastic pulls were in the right place or cutting off our circulation.
When it comes to breathability, we are impressed with the lightweight Dirty Girl. This trail running model is made with super-stretchy nylon, allowing ankles to air out easily. Another top performer is the Altra Trail, which is even thinner and also highly breathable. With either of these pairs, it is easy to forget that you are wearing them. Taking top honors for this metric in the full-length models, the Outdoor Research Helium offers a lot of comfort while maintaining knee-high protection. We are also impressed with the performance of the Rab Muztag, another long-length model. The lightweight fabric on this pair is supple yet kept us warm in the snow without making us sweaty. We were also pleasantly surprised by the top cinch strap and buckle. Frequently, this feature can feel restrictive on high leg models, but we found it much more tolerable on the Muztag.
This is the essence of what this piece of equipment exists to do: keep debris out of your shoes and boots, protect your feet, and protect your clothing from snags, tears, and abrasions. Most manufacturers have this concept pretty dialed, but there are some differences in fabrics and closure styles to look out for.
When it comes to alpine and expedition models, debris mostly means snow and ice. Having a snug fit and secure attachment on your boots and your legs ensures a dry interior. The Rab Muztag does this very well, with a glove-like fit around single-layer winter boots. The upper closure is a cinch cord that is easy to tug closed, even with gloves, and it stays securely fastened. The two full-length Black Diamond models — the Apex GTX and GTX FrontPoint are similar to each other but both turned in a strong performance when it came to keeping out the gunk.
On the light, ankle-height side of the spectrum, the Dirty Girl offers solid protection against sand, dirt, and dust on trail runs. The ankle opening starts relatively narrow and can stretch to accommodate larger legs. The Kahtoola INSTAgaiters Low also perform well here. When it comes to traditional hiking models, both the REI Backpacker Low and the Black Diamond Talus impressed us with their debris protection (though the Talus is a little beefier). The components these models share are a secure fit around the bottom of your footwear and a tight seal around the ankle.
Watching a new piece of gear fall to pieces like a poorly knit sweater is a real bummer. Durability refers to a model's ability to stand up to repeated use and abuse. The tradeoff for durability is typically weight, and in our pursuit of lighter gear that empowers us to move faster, we sacrifice a little durability. However, some models offer a balance between the two. 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 that will contact the ground with almost every footfall. The material of the main body is important as well. Smooth-faced fabric is less likely to snag on bushes or other vegetation than a heavier duty model.
We were most impressed with the durability of the Outdoor Research Crocodile. This model held up during repeated testing and for years of experience after that. The 1000D foot panel is about as thick a piece of fabric as you can find on this type of apparel. The Crocodile 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.
The Black Diamond Apex GTX has a massive swatch of fabric on the lower half that feels almost like kevlar. It is thick, robust, and ready for rocks and microspikes. The REI Backpacker Low also has a hearty canvas feel on the lower portion, making it an excellent option for those who want a pair that stands up to the punishment of harsh terrain. Of course, thin nylon trail-runners will not stand up to rocks and thorns nearly the same way as other models, but we found that the Dirty Girl was the heartiest of the lightweight models.
Ease of Attachment
Having a gaiter that goes on easily is a really nice complement to good comfort. For this metric, we considered how long and how much effort it took to put on each pair because there is some variation in how different models connect to footwear. Most go on after you lace up your footwear, but some are meant to go on before. We paid attention to whether a pair was 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 played into this metric. Many 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.
The Black Diamond Talus is a top option for this metric. This classic mid-height gaiter has a straightforward design that makes it easy to attach; the large lace hook is foolproof and the velcro and snaps are no-fuss. The Outdoor Research Crocodile has been the same for years for one simple reason: it works. The overall high scoring Rab Muztag features a velcro-secured instep strap instead of a buckle closure. The move to a velcro closure made us wonder why they aren't all like that, though it did score slightly lower because we found the top snap to be a little finicky and the front velcro could be challenging to line up smoothly.
All of our low-ankle models, including the Dirty Girl, Altra Trail, and Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low, are all comparatively simple to attach, especially the first two, which do not have an instep strap to contend with and leverage a lace hook at the front and velcro at the heel. We also really appreciate the zipper on the Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid, which we found easier to use than the velcro typical of its higher counterparts.
Rain, melting snow, and river crossings can all wreak havoc on your feet. For backpackers, trail runners, and mountaineers, a fundamental practice that keeps people happy, healthy, and on the move is good foot care. However, with that in mind, it is important to remember that not all gaiters are designed to be waterproof or even water-resistant in the first place. Though it is crucial for mountaineering and expedition models, it is much less so for trail running pairs. Each product is ranked relative to other similar styles.
One model we tested stood out from the rest in terms of balancing water resistance and breathability. The waterproof fabric used in the Rab Muztag is meant for high-performance. Like a mini hardshell jacket for your feet, this model sheds water like a champ yet somehow manages to not be stifling. The Outdoor Research Crocodile uses a three-layer Gore-Tex upper and a 1000D foot panel and is even more water-resistant, but it also allows moisture to build up on the inside.
When it comes to the lighter hiking models, they just aren't meant for wet weather. However, models like the Dirty Girl can keep your socks dry during a wet bushwhack and dry quickly too — a splendid combination. The Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low is another standout for its water-shedding prowess. Other small scree-blocking models were not very notable in terms of water resistance.
As with any other piece of gear, weight counts (though admittedly, not as much here as with other equipment). Lighter-weight materials typically suggest a tradeoff with durability, but experience also tells us that there is a middle ground.
For full-length models, the Outdoor Research Helium lives up to its name. The waterproof nylon shell is super lightweight, making it great for shoulder seasons where the ground is sloppy from snowmelt or rain but the air temperatures might be warmer, meaning you need less insulation. The Rab Muztag also offers excellent coverage for the weight — a pair of these settles in at less than eight ounces.
We tested some sub-one-ounce products as well: the Dirty Girl performs really well, with the Altra Trail weighing even less at a scant one-half ounce per foot — an addition that is barely noticeable whether you are wearing them or carrying them in a pocket or backpack.
Regardless of what you are using them for, a good pair of gaiters will keep your feet comfortable and keep things out of your footwear so that you can stay on course, no matter the terrain. There are a variety of options out there, from mountaineering highs to trail running lows and a lot in between. We hope our tests and ratings help you sort through just some of the products out there to choose the best pair for you on your next adventure.
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