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Walking

Guide to Gaiters

You’ve more than probably come across this term when shopping for outdoor supplies or reading about hiking gear, but gaiters can still sometimes arouse a look of puzzlement from the average Joe and even outdoor enthusiasts.

If you’re new to hiking and you’re just putting together your kit for your first forays into the trails, you may want to add a pair of gaiters to your outfit.

What Are Gaiters?

A gaiter is a simple fabric guard that covers the gap between your trousers and your boots. Gaiters look like a cut-off sleeve with attachments and are designed to easily wrap around the ankle and hook under the heel of your boot with a thin strap. They also fasten at the top for a snug fit and generally have drawcords for adjustment. While not essential, gaiters can make a real difference in wet climates as once moisture infiltrates your boots, it’s a difficult and awkward process to dry them out on the move. Gaiters protect your legs even further by acting as a shield in that vulnerable area between the edges of your trousers and your walking boots or shoes.

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What Are Gaiters Used For?

When hiking, you regularly kick up loose debris like stones and mud and there’s a good chance these end up lodging themselves in your footwear, causing discomfort. If it’s been raining, you’ll also face puddles, sticky mud and more, not to mention crossing streams and marshy land if you’re traversing diverse terrain. With a pair of gaiters, you’ll have an extra layer of defence to stop anything getting into your boots or trouser legs.

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Types of Gaiters

Ankle Gaiters

Ankle gaiters are the most common form of walkings gaiters. They bind to the ankles and offer protection from the top of the footwear to the bottom of the trousers, covering the crucial gap in between. These are most commonly used for trekking on trails in fair weather that isn’t too harsh and over terrain that isn’t too challenging.

Full-Length Leg Gaiters

These are the classic gaiter style that covers the shins up towards the knee and protects the entire lower leg from water and debris particles. A popular choice for serious hiking enthusiasts and hillwalkers, these are a classic accessory and the perfect way to safely seal in your lower half.

Expedition Gaiters

Gaiters designed for Alpine expeditions and mountaineering, as well as other high-level outdoor pursuits. These models are technical, frequently waterproof up to and over 5,000mm with breathability ratings of 5,000mvp and above. This means you can wear them for very long periods of time without feeling restricted or becoming uncomfortable, and their top performance ensures your legs and feet can handle anything.

Snow Gaiters

Snow gaiters are similar to regular ankle gaiters, except that their primary function is to keep snow out when walking through heavy piles of the stuff, or if you’re skiing or snowboarding. Salopettes very often have built-in snow gaiters to keep snow from sliding in through the gaps between ski trousers and ski boots.

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Features

Fabric

Gaiters are made from synthetic fabric, usually polyester or polyurethane-coated nylon. The type of fabric used determines the level of performance of the gaiters. Apart from providing a waterproof and breathable skin, the fabric in gaiters serves to close off the physical gap between trousers and footwear. This prevents larger debris such as twigs, stones and mud from finding their way in.

Fastenings

There is a range of gaiter fastenings on the market, but the most effective are waterproof zips. These can be further strengthened by an adjustable strap, securing the gaiter into place. This style of fastening is called a storm flap, which as its namesake implies, keeps the worst of the muck out when the weather takes a nasty turn. An elasticised drawcord gathers around the ankle to secure it tightly.

Straps

Stirrup straps are used in the construction of gaiters as they fasten well and are easily adjustable. Virtually all gaiters have them as they provide the fundamental fastening mechanism for the entire gaiter and enable it to work effectively. Stirrup straps are made from either nylon or rubber and pass under the outsole of the walking boots to hold the gaiters down across the boot. The fastening mechanism should be on the outside of the boot and it can also be cut to size if it’s composed of rubber. Be careful to leave a little wiggle room so that the gaiters still fit nicely with alternative footwear.

Lace Hook

Most gaiter models feature a lace hook, which allows you to tie your shoelaces to the gaiters to optimise their fit. This is sometimes called ‘hoop and loop fastening’, and the hook is found on the front of the gaiter, corresponding with the front of your walking boots.

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How to Put On Gaiters

Gaiters can be tricky to put on, especially for the inexperienced. Gaiters should always be worn outside the trouser leg. It’s best to set the gaiters up for the first time before you embark on your walk, so you can adjust them freely and avoid problems while you’re already deep into your activity. Take note of these steps to wear your gaiters correctly:

  1. Put your walking trousers and boots or shoes on and open up the gaiters completely, ensuring that the stirrup strap is fastened to both sides at the bottom. The adjusting mechanism should always be on the outside of your footwear.
  2. Lift your heel and position the stirrup strap under your foot towards the front of the heel section of the outsole. The lace catch should be at the front of the boots or shoes, but don’t fasten quite yet as otherwise, the tension will be too high for you to zip up the gaiters.
  3. Zip the gaiters up two or three inches and start to engage the adjustable strap to prevent the zip from getting undone, and stretch the lace catch forward as far as possible, or use the lace hook to fasten it securely.
  4. Proceed with the zipping up of the gaiters and fastening the adjustable strap.
  5. Adjust the stirrup strap on the outside of the foot, aiming for a tight, secure fit. Secure the trim or cut off the excess so that the loose end of the strap doesn’t get in the way.
  6. Adjust the top cord for a snug, comfortable fit that isn’t too tight.

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How to Look After Gaiters

As with any other piece of outdoor gear, gaiters require after-care to maintain their appearance and function. With a little bit of attention, you can keep your pair pristine for years. Gaiters don’t need intensive care so taking a few precautionary measures and cleaning thoroughly will do the trick.

Firstly, inspect the gaiters each time you use them. Check whether the stirrup straps, zips and adjustable straps are in good working order. Check the fastenings to see if any dirt, mud or debris is lodged into the spaces. You should wipe the whole exterior surface clean with a regular cloth after each use, but if the gaiters are soiled, more thorough cleaning is required.

Brush off any chunks or flecks of dirt, mud or debris, and use warm water and a coarse sponge or nailbrush to clean the surface gently. Work your way towards the inside of the gaiters until all the surfaces are restored to tip-top condition. After this treatment, you should allow the gaiters to dry naturally. Avoid speeding up the drying process by putting the gaiters in close proximity to artificial heat sources, as this may damage them.

Waterproofing spray will reinvigorate the waterproof coating and amp up the gaiters’ protection capacity.

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Gaiters vs Wellies

Is there any difference between using a gaiters/walking boots combo and just pulling a pair of wellies on? A lot, actually!

The two types of footwear arrangements are miles apart, even though they have the same end goal of keeping your legs and feet sheltered from water, mud and debris.

Here are the main differences between them:

Gaiters and Walking BootsWellies
Technical features include waterproofness and breathabilityTend to be just waterproof
Specific material construction providing specialised benefits for walking and hikingVulcanised rubber is only adept at being waterproof
Comfortable and supportive for walking and hikingNot suited for walking long distances
Good weight-to-features ratioClunky and awkward
Fastenings such as laces to ensure security on the footNo adjustable fastenings or security
Wearing and removal is a multi-step, time-consuming processEasy to put on and remove by slipping on and off


Based on these aspects, wellies are more of a fashionable item designed to protect feet when wading through deep puddles and thick mud, and as such are best suited to festivals and very light walking. Wellington boots are not built for extended periods of active use, especially if pursuing physical activity. Wellies can certainly keep your legs and feet protected from heavy sludge but they are not recommended for walking or hiking.

Activity-specific walking or hiking boots, along with gaiters, make for excellent walking and hiking companions and can’t be substituted with a pair of wellies. Furthermore, you shouldn’t really have to choose between gaiters or waterproof trousers – there’s no compromise to be made here! Select a quality model of both to benefit from full leg protection when trekking outdoors.

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