PROBLEM: You’re out hiking. There’s a constant splash of mud and water up the back of your legs & pants and into your shoes. To add injury to aquatic insult, you got a freaking pebble in your shoe. Ouch and a half.
SOLUTION: Get yourself a pair of gaiters.
Um, What Are Gaiters?
I will admit that I did not become familiar with gaiters until this past winter. For those of you who are still curious to what they are, gaiters are essentially sleeves that cover your ankles/legs to stop dirt, water and other outdoor debris from getting into your shoes while outdoors.
Because they’re made of fabric, their flexibility makes them much easier to pack into a suitcase than a pair of boots. Gaiters can be a real space saver if you’re planning on taking trip, with luggage space at a premium.
Gaiters come in two heights, low (ankle height) and regular (calf height). They generally open and close in the front using velcro, and a stirrup straps underneath the sole of your shoe to keep them in place. Some pairs include a hook at the bottom to help keep the gaiter in line with your shoelaces.
Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters ($79)
Having recently spent a week in Colorado, I knew hiking would be on my agenda, and that despite 70-degree temperatures before I got there, I would be contending with generous amounts of snow and mud. The first two days I was there, snow happened – but that wasn’t going to stop me from heading toward the Flatirons. On go the gaiters!
FIT: Prior to leaving home, I headed to REI in search of a lightweight solution to the potentially uncomfortable problem listed up above. In stock were REI’s house brand and a couple of pairs by Outdoor Research. My store didn’t have any gaiters specifically made for women in stock, but seeing that I’m 5’9″, I figured that the size M Men’s model would be fine on me, and it was. For taller women, Men’s models may do in a pinch. If you’re 5’7″ or less, then you may want to keep shopping for a Women’s pair.
MATERIALS: The Crocodile Gaiter is made from wind and waterproof GoreTex-coated nylon, and the underfoot strap is made of a super heavy duty webbing called BioThane. I was initially wary of how the strap would hold up, being in constant contact with the ground all the time. However, I just read a review online that one woman’s Crocodiles lasted her 14 years. Don’t worry about shredding them so soon. They won’t. I’ve assaulted mine with plenty of snow and mud so far and they haven’t shown any signs of compromise.
I wore trail running shoes underneath the gaiters both times through the ice and snow, and these worked phenomenally. Don’t expect too much warmth, though, as the Crocodiles are not insulated. Think of them as a rain shell for your ankles.
Keep in mind that they will keep rain and dirt from getting into your shoes, but if you are not wearing waterproof shoes, your feet may still get wet.
ACCESS: To get in, you’ve got 2 options. If you’re not very good with keeping large amounts of velcro in line, keep that part closed, step in with your stocking feet, put on your shoes and then buckle the strap. Only do this if you’ve got good hip flexors and can comfortably imitate Gumby when it comes time to get around the bottom/side of your foot to fasten the straps.
Otherwise, keep the buckles done from your previous outing and carefully align the velcro from the bottom to the top before tightening the straps at the calf (pictured above).
FEATURES: There are a variety of different closures to keep everything out. The main front closure is a wide strip of velcro. At the bottom, there’s an extra tab that wraps over to help keep them shut.
At the bottom end, there is also a metal hook to hook onto your shoe/boot laces. The only caveat with this feature is that if your shoes have a loop in the center of where the laces begin, the gaiter’s hook will be a little off-center.
At the top, there’s a webbed strap and plastic buckle that ‘locks’ so that you can tighten them, so that nothing drips in from above.
THE VERDICT: YES, I would recommend these gaiters. Outdoor Research was founded by a climber whose friend suffered severe frostbite due to a faulty pair of gaiters on Denali, so you know that OR has paid a lot of attention to developing a durable and effective product.
These gaiters will see continued use throughout the spring. As outside temperatures warm up, you won’t catch me wearing these with shorts, as being on the inside of GoreTex when you start sweating isn’t a nice feeling. Although it doesn’t let water in, water also doesn’t come out.*
*I learned this the hard way after wearing GoreTex trail runners during an obstacle race in which I ended up having to go into waist deep water 2 miles in. I spent the next 3 miles going *squoosh splash squoosh*, earning myself some pretty gnarly blisters by the finish line. #shoepuddles
Lastly, I know this is a complete girl thing, but it doesn’t hurt that on top of functionality, it looks like you’re hiking in leggings and knee-high boots. Which is one of my favorite winter looks. High five.