Best Gaiters of 2021
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|Pros||Easy on and off, instep cord is replaceable||Inexpensive, durable||Lightweight, thick instep strap||Lightweight, good water resistance, interchangeable instep strap||Heavy-duty and durable, waterproof, warm|
|Cons||Not versatile, instep cord wears quickly||Lacks versatility, baggy||Strange fit, instep strap oddly aligned, need to be readjusted often||Tight ankle cinch, stiff instep strap||Expensive, not breathable, heavy|
|Bottom Line||A simple, old school gaiter that is easy to put on and take off||A mid-height durable and easy-to-attach gaiter||A trail running gaiter meant for low-cut footwear that's hampered by a few design flaws||A low gaiter with excellent water resistance and debris protection||For the big mountain grind, this gaiter is hard to beat|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond Talus||Outdoor Research Ro...||Salomon Trail Low||Kahtoola INSTAgaite...||Outdoor Research Cr...|
|Comfort And Breathability (25%)|
|Debris Protection (25%)|
|Ease Of Attachment (15%)|
|Water Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond Talus||Outdoor Research Ro...||Salomon Trail Low||Kahtoola INSTAgaite...||Outdoor Research Cr...|
|Weight for one (oz)||1.8 oz||2.5 oz||1.5 oz||0.8 oz||5.0 oz|
|Length (in)||7.0 in||9.0 in||4.5 in||5.0 in||17.5 in|
|Material||Soft Shell/Hard Shell||Nylon||Elastic jersey||Stretch-woven nylon/polyester blend with DWR finish||Gore-Tex leg panel, Cordura Nylon foot panel|
|Attachment||Nylon cord instep strap, lace hook, velcro, snap||Hypalon instep strap with metal buckle, boot lace hook||Instep strap, velcro closure||Instep strap||BioThane webbing instep with metal buckle, boot lace hook|
Rab Muztag GTX
The Rab Muztag 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. This fully waterproof pair sits just below the knee, meaning that they are prime for plunging through deep snow. The instep strap is wide, thick, and durable. 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 this model are related to long-term durability. Though it is made for heavy use, the fabric is not quite as thick as other highs in this review. The boot hook is plastic, meaning that if you inadvertently step on it at camp, it could crack. A comparatively minor complaint that we have is that they 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.
Read review: Rab Muztag GTX
Best Bang for Your Buck
Black Diamond Talus
The Black Diamond Talus is a very basic, traditional-looking pair of gaiters that is high on utility. This model is no-frills, lightweight, and easy to attach. Its design can be considered a little old school, but it performs how we need it to when we need it to and is consistent across the board. It has a large boot lace hook, and metal grommets that hold the instep strap, making it easy to swap out once the original wears out. It works well primarily with traditional, mid to high ankle hiking boots.
However, strengths can be weaknesses as well; the instep cord wears out (read: frays and breaks) with consistent use. Its nylon isn't very breathable, so your ankles will get toasty if you decide to wear this model on a summer hike. With that in mind, these are still the ones we would want to have on hand for everyday use for day hiking, weekend trips in the backcountry, or under a pair of snow pants in the winter at a price we can't argue with.
Read review: Black Diamond Talus
Best for Trail Running and Thru-Hiking
Dirty Girl Gaiter
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 this model 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, they clearly lack 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.
Read review: Dirty Girl Gaiters
Best Mid-Height Option
REI Co-op Backpacker Low
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, they proved up to the task of repelling water, pebbles, and other grit. They are easy to attach and comfortable to wear, and overall a great value model.
The value of this model 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, if you want a decent performer across multiple seasons, then this pair is worth a strong look.
Read review: REI Co-Op Backpacker Low
Why You Should Trust Us
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 on the market selected by our experienced team of hikers, runners, and mountaineers. We put each pair through its paces. In addition to water and dirt immersion tests, we rely heavily on foot-on testing. Taking them on trip after trip, run after run, it becomes much easier to determine which models are up to the task and which ones fall short. We perform leg-by-leg comparisons, wearing a different (but comparable) model on each leg simultaneously, allowing for us to control for environmental conditions. The strategy here was to rack up the miles and let them tease out the differences between models.
Related: How We Tested Gaiters
Analysis and Test Results
Because there are so few moving parts, the differences between similar models 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 were able to see which ones performed the best in a variety of conditions. When done right, they protect the wearer from debris, moisture, snow, and ice. They keep our feet drier, warmer, and as a result, healthier than they would be in boots alone. We rate each pair on six metrics: comfort and breathability, debris protection, durability, ease of attachment, water resistance, and weight.
Related: Buying Advice for Gaiters
Though not part of a product's overall numerical score, we recognize that value is an important component of most any purchasing decision. In an effort 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 more than they typically cost 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. Comfort is how a pair feels on your body and fits over footwear and clothing.
Breathability is an important complement to comfort because sweaty feet can also be a source of discomfort, as is the chaffing that comes along from rough or tight material rubbing against bare skin. In assessing this metric, we consider the little things — how long it takes us to notice that we had equipment wrapped around our legs (or, more likely, how long it takes us to forget); how cinch cords rub against the skin; or 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 that allows ankles to air out well. Another top performer is the Altra Trail, which is even thinner and highly breathable. With either of these pairs, it is easy to forget that you are wearing them. We are also impressed with the performance of the Rab Muztag. It's a totally different style, but it is rare to find a full-length model that still has some flexibility. 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. Oftentimes on high leg models, this feature can feel restrictive, but we found that in the Muztag it is much more tolerable.
This is the essence of what this piece of equipment exists to do — to keep debris out of your shoes and boots, protect your feet, protect 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 both on the boots and your legs is what will result in 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.
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 as well. The Kahtoola Instagaiters Low also performs well here.When it comes to traditional hiking models, both the REI Backpacker Low and the Black Diamond Talus impress us with their debris protection (though the former 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 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 find on this type of apparel. 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.
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 had a hearty canvas-feeling lower that makes it an excellent option for those who want a pair that stand up to the punishment of harsh terrain. Of course, thin nylon trail-runners are not going to stand up to rocks and thorns in nearly the same way as other models, but we found that the Dirty Girl was the heartiest lightweight model.
Ease of Attachment
Having a model that goes on easily is a really nice complement to good comfort. We consider how long and how much effort it takes to put on each pair. There is some variety in the ways that different models connect to footwear. Most go on after you lace up your footwear, but some are meant to go on before. We pay attention to 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. 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 Outdoor Research Crocodile has been the same for years for one simple reason: it works. The Rab Muztag features a velcro-secured instep strap instead of a buckle closure. Though 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. Though we found the top snap to be a little finicky, it actually proved to be an inessential part of the attachment process.
All of our low-ankle models, including the Dirty Girl, Altra Trail, Kahtoola Instagaiter Low, and Salomon Trail 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.
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 here that not all models 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. The Outdoor Research Crocodile uses a three-layer Gore-Tex upper and a 1000D foot panel and is even more water-resistant, but it is also a liability, allowing moisture to build up on the inside.
When it comes to the lighter hiking models, they just aren't meant for wet weather, but ones like the Dirty Girl can keep your socks dry during a wet bushwhack and dry quickly as well. The Kahtoola Instagaiter Low is another standout for its water-shedding prowess. The small scree-blocking models were not really noted for their 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. As far as full-length models go, the Rab Muztag offers the best coverage for the weight, and 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.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch
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