There are times when gaiters are an obvious necessity. The snow, duh, or while tromping through hellish muddy conditions, or maybe even in super long distance sand dune hiking, if that’s your thing. But in run-of-the-mill hiking or trail running, do you really need gaiters? I got along just fine without them for years and years. So have zillions of others. So no, technically, you don’t need them.
But this past year I’ve been using gaiters on hikes in low-cut trail shoes and trail runs on muddy days or in areas with lots of scree, and in the snow, of course, and I’ve learned, boy, do they make a world of difference. I’ve become a dedicated gaiter wearer. They’re light, they’re easy to pack, they’re relatively inexpensive, they can keep your feet clean, and alleviate lots of minor annoyances on the trail. What’s not to love about that?
I’ve been wearing them in several variations.
• Lightweight low gaiters with trail runners. This is my preferred method. I’ve happily worn trail runners on long distance hikes and even while actually trail running believe it or not, without gaiters for much of my life and never gave them much thought. Then I tried gaiters. I don’t think I was truly aware of how many rocks, bits of sticks, weeds, stickers, thorns, sand, and other annoyances got into my shoes until my gaiters started keeping those things out. On wet day trails, they’ll keep your socks a little drier, too. I like the Outdoor Research Sparkplugs and the Salomon Low Trail Gaiters. I’ve also heard wonderful things about Dirty Girl Gaiters. Breathable, easy to put on, and dare I say, they look badass.
• Calf-high gaiters with boots or trail runners. I like this setup if I’m hiking in the rain, long distances in really gravelly trails, off-trail through areas with lots of stickers and thorns, and sometimes with snowshoes. Gaiters of this length are often a bit burlier and water resistant than low gaiters designed more for trail running, so they resist branches, rocks, and thorns a bit better. On hot trails, I find they make my feet feel a little too warm, but small price to pay for the protection if you need it. My go-tos here are the REI Alpine 3/4 Gaiters.
• Knee-highs with boots. I can’t believe how often I’ve worn these with shorts. Off-trail hiking through brushy or rocky zones? These are perfect. Off-trail through wet grasses or places with lots of ticks? Can’t go wrong. Tromping through brushy riverbanks looking for a good place to cast to rising trout? Awesome choice. With pants, they provide incredible protection. I wear them under rain pants sometimes if I’m determined to hike through a downpour. Try it! TheRab Hispar Gaiters are waterproof and really tough.
Sure, they’re more of a want than a need, but short of wrapping your ankles in duct tape, you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to keep entire trail’s worth of rocks and thorns out of your shoes than gaiters.