Gaiters are a valuable accessory when Hiking in the New Zealand outdoors, where mud, overgrown tracks and changeable weather are regular features.
Worn on the lower legs, they fasten over your boots and;
- Keep track and stream debris out of your boots and socks(*1)
- Protect your lower legs from overgrowing vegetation, thorns and long wet grass.(*2)
- Keeping socks and feet dry, (particularly the waterproof breathable version) when walking on muddy tracks or crossing streams.
- Keep your legs and feet clean, a real bonus on a multi day trip when you may not be washing every day.
- While they are useful all year around, if you are hiking in a hot climate tall Gaiters will be hot to wear, some more than others.
Most modern Gaiters, wrap around your legs and close along the long front edge.
- Top Closure: This is usually a strap or cord, that draws closed the top edge to prevent debris/ and water entering the top of the Gaiter. The closure also helps hold the Gaiter up in wet weather.
- Upper Fabric: The upper leg section of good quality Gaiters are a lighter fabric then the ankle section.
- Gaiter Closure: Most hiking Gaiters close up the front or rear edge with strong Velcro strip.
- Reinforced Ankle: The ankle section of quality Gaiters is a strong abrasion resistant nylon, to protect them from your boots and the terrain.
- Bootstrap or Cable: Attaching to the lower margin on both sides of the boot, they pass under the instep of the boot stopping it riding up in mud, water and snow.
- Tip hook: To keep the front of the Gaiters down tight over your laces, by clipping into the lowest laces.
When I started wearing Gaiters there was only hot and heavy Canvas, thankfully technology has replaced them with a range of much lighter Nylons;
- Standard Nylon: Lighter weight, durable in the cheap to mid price range . These are well suited to most general hiking on tracks, and capable off track too.(*3) They do the basic Gaiter function of protecting the legs from abrasion and damage, but they aren’t waterproof, so heavy rain or stream crossing wont take long to invade your boots. They can still be hot to wear in hot Summer temperatures.
- Breathable/ Waterproof Nylon: Durable, but usually in the higher price range. Unlike Standard Nylon however they will keep your legs dry and warm in wet weather/ wind, wet vegetation and snow. When combined with higher leg Gortex lined boots,(or similar technology) These Gaiters will keep your legs and feet dry crossing deep mud, swamps and streams for some time. While more effective and comfortable in bad weather, they are still the coolest to wear in summer temperatures.
Short: More suited to wide and clear tracks, in wide open spaces, they keep the track or stream debris out of your boots. They offer almost no protection to your legs.
Medium: Much the same as short, adding a little protection in longer grass or shallow streams.
Knee Length: This type is the most common in New Zealand bush and Alpine areas. They are effective in keeping debris out of your boots, as well as superior protection to your lower legs from bad weather, vegetation. This protection extends to deep mud, stream/ river crossings and deep snow when they are made from Breathable waterproof Nylons.
- Like buying any gear its wise to first do your research so you can test the knowledge of the sales person.
- Always take your hiking boots with you and put them on fully laced up when you are trying Gaiters for size.
- The Gaiter should fit snugly all the way around the boot at its base, tight enough that its hard to push a finger under the lower margin.
- Make sure the Gaiters you are buying for Hiking boots – NOT mountaineering boots. Mountaineering gaiters are for wider plastic boots, and will be loose enough to push your hand under the margin as a result.
- Once they fit around your boots, makes sure you can do them up completely and the top closures bring the top edge tight around your leg.
- Adjust the boot strap just enough to stop the lower margin of the Gaiter from riding up. Tuck the excess strap in to the loop (usually on the outer side of the gaiter.) Don’t be concerned that the boot straps will catch on roots – steel cable or strap its never happened to me.
- When your bootstraps have a plastic or leather strap with a metal buckle – always make sure the buckle is on the outside of your foot.(worn inside they wont take long to rip a hole in the opposite Gaiter)
- The top closures, can usually be left open until you are pushing through overgrown vegetation, crossing rivers or it starts getting wet.
- The little hook at the front edge of the Gaiters needs to be hooked as far down your boot laces towards the toe as possible. This is most important in wet, mud and snow conditions.
Cleaning your Gaiters properly(*4) after each trip, particularly when a breathable waterproof fabric will ensure a long life and good performance.
(*1) Debris like track stones, river gravel and bits of vegetation are a great at combining with sweat to create blisters and abrasion.
(*2) As a hay fever sufferer, an encounter with some long wet grass and no gaiters recently resulted in a very itchy allergic reaction … wont walk through the stuff again with out knee-length Gaiters!
(*3) You will also see polyester Fleece Gaiters – often in camouflage colours, beware that these are more ideal for hunters with the fleece designed to dampen sound as well as hunting in cold climates.
(*4) I always scan the information cards, including the cleaning instructions that come attached to a new piece of gear for future reference. You can also often find this information on the manufactures website also.