Best Gaiters of 2020
Best Overall Gaiters
Rab Latok Alpine
The Rab Latok Alpine offers durability, exceptional water resistance, breathability, and high performance in a lightweight package. Our testing made us believers in the fabric of this pair. It is not only highly water-resistant but also breathable. For us, this meant our feet stayed drier, even in warmer conditions. They have a low profile, offering excellent protection without tripping you up, and they went on quickly over all of the boots that we tested them with. 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 means you don't have to worry about broken buckles.
On the downside, 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 will win you over. At their price point, we'd way rather trash a pair of these over a super expensive pair of guide pants.
Read review: Rab Latok Alpine
Best with Trail Running and Hiking Shoes
Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap
The Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap is a simple, lightweight, and reliable trail running model. We appreciate 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 aren't many openings for gravel and pine needles to sneak in. This is the best option to use with trail running or hiking shoes. We take these on long trail runs and hiking excursions.
This model probably won't fit over your hiking boot; they're ideal for low- and mid-cut shoes. They're also 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 Bang for Your Buck
Black Diamond Talus
The Black Diamond Talus is a traditional pair that gets the job done. This model is no-frills, lightweight, and easy to attach. Its design is a little old school, but it performs how we need it when we need it and is consistent across the board. It works well primarily with traditional, mid to high ankle hiking boots.
The bummer is the instep cord, which will wear out with consistent hiking adventures, but it's easily replaceable. Its nylon isn't very breathable, so your ankles will get toasty if you wear this model on a summer hike. With that in mind, these are the ones 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 at a price we can't complain about.
Read review: Black Diamond Talus
Best for Lightweight and Breathability
The Rab Scree is a lightweight model designed for use with approach or running shoes. This model is a breeze to put on compared to other models in this category. This is largely due to the bungee cord instep strap, which quickly loops around your shoe and secures down with a toggle. It is also made with a double weave stretch fabric that doesn't offer much water resistance, but a lot when it comes to comfort and breathability. Our pair also included a spare instep strap for each foot as well as an extra toggle.
This model can't be put on or removed if you are wearing footwear, so it can be a little annoying if you want to take them off midday. This also isn't the one to wear on your next trip to the big mountains, but for trail runs, bushwhacks, hot hiking days, or for tick protection, the Rab Scree is the most comfortable and breathable model that we tested.
Read review: Rab Scree
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.
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
For this review, we tested 8 of the best pairs of gaiters on the market. 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 Black Diamond Talus and the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap.
Comfort and Breathability
Gaiters 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 Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap. This low cut model is made with super stretchy fabric that allows feet to air out well. Another top performer is the Rab Scree, which is 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. 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.
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 things 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 Latok Alpine does this very well, with a glove-like fit around single-layer boots. The upper closure is a drawstring cinch cord that is a breeze to attach with gloves and stays securely fastened.
The Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap offers superior protection against sand and dirt on trail runs. The Kahtoola Instagaiters Low also performs well here.When it comes to the shorter trail running and hiking models, the Rab Scree impresses us with its ability to keep snow, sand, pebbles, and other unwanted muck out of our shoes. 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 a common gaiter. 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.
Though they are made for much faster and lighter adventures, 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 has some durability issues. The instep strap broke on us during testing.
Ease of Attachment
Despite the simplicity of the concept, there are a surprising number of ways to attach a gaiter. Having a model that goes on easily is a really nice complement to good comfort. 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 Latok Alpine 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.
All of our low-ankle models, including the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap, Kahtoola Instagaiter Low, and Salomon Trail are 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. The Rab Scree makes this fairly easy with a bungee cord strap.
Water: sustainer of life, giver of soggy feet. We assess 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. 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. Accordingly, this metric accounts for a comparatively small total of a product's overall score.
One model we tested stood out from the rest in terms of balancing water resistance and breathability. The eVent fabric used by Rab in 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 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 super wet weather, but ones like the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap 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, so we believe there is a middle ground. At the end of the day, we'd prefer to use the ones that weigh 3 ounces rather than keep a lighter pair tucked away.
We tested some sub-one-ounce products. Some of them, like the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap, perform really well. We also like the 1.5-ounce Rab Scree (which we honestly wouldn't know weighed slightly more if we hadn't weighed them).
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. 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