We all love hiking – but there are some things about the sport that just drive us crazy. Getting dirt and sand down our shoes and into our socks is one of them. So is walking on any pebbles that get into your shoes. Or getting cold, wet snow in there during the winter. In other words, it’s just a really good idea to have a pair of hiking gaiters you can wear out on the trail.

Why Get Hiking Gaiters? Do You Really Need Them?

Hiking gaiters serve two purposes. First, they do an excellent job of keeping dirt, sand, pebbles and rocks out of your shoes and hiking boots during regular hiking. In winter, they can be lifesavers that keep snow, ice and water out of your boots and socks – making for a drier and more comfortable, as well as safer, trip.

Sounds great. But would we say they are strictly necessary?

No – not for most hiking. If you mainly hike on well-trod and maintained, especially in wetter climes where the ground is more compacted, then you may not really have a need for them.

But if you live in a drier climate with lots of loose dust, sand and rock – the desert, or the mountains of Southern California come to mind – then you might find they are veritable lifesavers. And if you do any kind of bushwhacking and wandering off the beaten path – through heavy brush – then you will find that these are indispensable pieces of gear.

The longer and further you’re hiking, the more debris, twigs and pebbles are going to end up in your shoes – and the more you’re going to have to stop. Gaiters also do an excellent job of protecting your legs and shins from branches and rocks when bushwhacking; the kind of damage and injury that could otherwise result in is painful and trip-wrecking.

They can also serve two more integral purposes: keeping rain out of your shoes and insulating in colder months. Waterproof gaiters will divert water over the top of your shoe instead of straight down the ankle, keeping your feet warm and dry. And insulated gaiters can be lifesavers in frigid climes.

What Types of Gaiters Are There? How Tall Do You Need Them? 

Hiking gaiters range from the super simple (essentially, a wrap for your ankles) to the heavy-duty waterproof or insulated versions used for mountaineering and cold-weather expeditions.

For most hiking, trail running and backpacking, the lesser gaiters will work great – without weighing you down or emptying out the wallet. They’re light, breathable and quick-drying, and can be shoved in your pack when you don’t need them.

For serious mountaineering and cold weather expeditions, you will want real high gaiters. These will often go all the way up your shins to your knees, and will be thick, durable and waterproof – or at least heavily water resistant softshell. These are the kind of gaiters that give you straight-up confidence when tackling some seriously rough terrain.

The List: Best Hiking Gaiters for 2019

Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low

These gaiters from outdoor gear mainstay Outdoor Research are simple and no-frills, but thick, heavy-duty and built to last. They’re made from a classic 420D packcloth construction, which is heavy enough to repel branches, dirt and pebbles, while also water-resistant so rain runs off instead of soaking right through. It’s also breathable and abrasion-resistant.

A Hypalon instep strap allows you to quickly and securely put them on, and reinforced boot lace hooks keep them secured to your boots with no gaps for debris to get through.

All in all, these are solid, reliable gaiters good for general backpacking and trekking use in a variety of conditions and weather. No frills – but they’re well-priced and make an excellent addition to your pack.

Salomon Trail Gaiters Low

Trail runners looking for gaiters are usually looking for something low-profile, compact and easy to put on. Salomon – a big name in outdoor footwear – deliver. They’re ultralight – at only 60g – made from a 100% poly back and 78% polyamide and 22% elastane body. This makes them ultra-stretchy, and they fit comfortably over shoes of varying sizes, styles and widths.

There isn’t a fancy clip attaching them to your shoe (in the fashion of the Rocky Mountains above) but the stretch means they fit snugly over the tongue and opening of your trail runners, keeping dirt and rocks out. The stretch fabric is also ultra-breathable and quick-drying, so even if they aren’t water-resistant, they’re still super comfortable when the weather turns ugly.

Rab Latok Alpine

When the mountains are calling and you need waterproof heavy-duty gaiters to protect your ankles (and keep your feet dry), reach for the Rab Latok Alpine. These bad boys are reach all the way up your calf to your knee for full protection, and are fully waterproof, constructed from eVent fabric. eVent is just as waterproof as Gore-Tex, if not more, and is even more breathable, keeping these gaiters dry, comfortable and safe no matter the conditions you’re in.

Which is good, because you’re likely to be using these in some intense alpine challenges. The top layer is Watergate softshell, and the ankle panel is a Robic nylon – which is meant to protect against crampons doing their dirty work. Yet they remain light, at only 9.4 ounces a pair. And they’re still super easy to put on, thanks to the easy Velcro adjustment system that instep strap includes.

They may not be the cheapest pair of gaiters out there, but they’re totally worth the price – and promise to keep your legs and your pants in great shape – and your feet comfortably warm and dry – on many an alpine adventure to come.

Pike Trail Leg Gaiters

Pike Trail’s leg gaiters are lightweight and super-comfortable leg gaiters offering waterproof protection for virtually any outdoor activity, from hiking to snowshoeing. They are constructed from an ultralight polyester that repels 100% of water, according to Pike Trail, and is woven in a durable, ripstop construction to prevent tearing or puncturing.

At 15” tall, they’ll provide excellent, effective protection that reaches to the knee for most hikers (all but the tallest). They’re kept there with the help of a sturdy instep strap, and metal snaps that keeps them tightly secured to the top of your shoe (even if there is no hook to attach them to your boot hooks and laces).

Pike Trail may not have the name and reputation of many other outdoor brands, but these hiking gaiters deliver none-the-less. Quality ripstop design and build, 100% waterproof, and large and adjustable enough to work with almost any leg/boot.

Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Another excellent pair of gaiters from Outdoor Research, the Crocodiles are the epitome of “heavy-duty”; they’re constructed from a 70D nylon upper leg and a 1000D Cordura inner leg and boot, and laminated to create an undeniably tough, sturdy construction that can take a beating (and ensures your shins don’t have to). Thanks to a Gore-tex panel on the inside, they are entirely waterproof – ready for hiking across streams or in heavy snow. And, they’re insanely abrasion-resistant, ready for the toughest of challenges from snow to rocks and heavy brush.

The step-in strap uses what they call BioThane: a PU and vinyl-coated polyester designed specifically for repeated, heavy use and for contact with boots and crampons. Reinforced boot lace hooks keep the front of the gaiter securely fastened to your shoes, creating a tight seal to keep debris and snow from working their way underneath the gaiter into your boot. The front closure is double-stitched for strength and comes with a handy, durable nylon tab that is easy to grab and open/close.

Like the Rab Latok, these are on the pricier end of good gaiters. But if you want sheer quality, durability and waterproof, abrasion-resistant protection – maybe for use on alpine climbs – then you’ll find yourself reaching for something with Outdoor Research’s reputation.

Black Diamond Cirque

You don’t need the sheer heavy-duty, alpine-ready protection that Crocodile or the Rab Latok offer, but you do want something quality and durable, and good for all-around use. The Black Diamond Cirque offer that perfectly. These mid-height gaiters use Black Diamond’s BD Dry fabric – a waterproof membrane that ranks up there with Gore-Tex and eVent and keeps your ankles and feet dry in a variety of conditions (from regular backpacking to high-altitude climbs). BD Dry is essentially a welded hardshell, and the chances of moisture getting through are essentially zero. And at 600D, it can withstand virtually all abrasion and impact.

Unlike the thick nylon straps found on most gaiters, the Cirque uses a replaceable nylon heel cord. It’s much smaller than many other straps but has the added benefit of being easily replaceable with any piece of paracord you might have on you should it break when you’re out in the wilderness. On the front is a heavy-duty lace hook to secure them to your boot laces.

The Cirque are lightweight and packable, so you can toss them in your bag when you no longer need them. They’re also great for hiking in summer with shorts and when full-gaiters aren’t needed, but also hold up just fine for all-season hiking with pants when you need a bit too much protection (but don’t aren’t planning to scale icy peaks). Reasonably-priced and easy to use.

Kahtoola INSTAGaiter

These gaiters effectively combine the low-profile simplicity of Salomon’s running gaiters with the heavy-duty protection and durability of alpine gaiters. They’re made from stretch-woven nylon with a DWR finish that repels water while still allowing for breathability, and the compact size packs down to virtually nothing. The adjustable instep strap is made from TPU for strength and durability, and has a “rounded” shape and design, which allows it to fit more easily into the many different lugs and shapes found on different outsoles.

The INSTAGaiters use an offset zipper closure, which allows them an easier on/off than many other similar ankle gaiters. And it also allows for a better fit and more comfort as your ankles flex on uneven terrain.

Kahtoola’s gaiters effectively bridge the gap between lightweight trail running gaiters and heavier-duty ones for all-around hiking use. They come with their own tiny tote sack and take up little to no room in your pack, so they’re a practical choice for everyday hiking and overnight backpacking – whether that’s with low-cut hiking boots or trail running shoes on your feet.