If you're immediately thinking along the lines of a crocodile you definitely don’t know what hiking gaiters are. Don't be worried, It's easy to see why you could get pretty confused when you try to guess as to what gaiters are and how they're related to hiking when you don't know.
For example, recently I was on a hike with a great bunch of folks who were a mix of experienced hikers and people who were completely new to hiking.
The hike was up through hills and mountains that traversed both bog and marshland. We also had to traverse two rivers.
As we headed out on the hike, the group leader announced to everyone to be sure to bring their gaiters with them. You could see the clear look of confusion on all the newbies faces. Not wanting to seem uninformed no-one said anything while the more experienced folk took something rather mysterious looking out of their cars and slipped it into their day pack!
And so, the Hike Began
Not long into the hike we came across the aforementioned marsh land. The group leader turned to everyone and said, ’Ok Guys, better put your gaiters on.’
The newbies were intrigued as they watched the experienced folk reach into their day pack and pull out what looked like foot long sheets of scrunched material with loops at the bottom and zips down the sides.
The gaiters, pictured above are the Mountain Hardwear Nut Shell High Gaiter (click on the image to learn more), were put on and then one of the newbies finally asked the question they all wanted to know the answer to, ‘what are they used for?’
And so …
Gaiter are Used for …
The idea of Gaiters is to provide additional protection and insulation for your lower legs when walking in wet conditions or through wet terrain. This will help keep your socks and therefore your feet and boots dry. Gaiters are an important part of your hiking gear. Depending on where you’re hiking, they can be used all year round.
This does not mean that gaiters are only used in wet conditions. They can also act as a type of leg shield, when hiking in rockier terrain, in that they can keep rocks and sand from getting into your hiking boots and prevent scraping and scratches on your lower legs. They provide great protection when hiking over scree.
Gaiters are available in different sizes depending on what you need them for. For example some ones are specifically designed to be used with crampons for hiking in snow while other smaller types are best suited for the shield guard purposes mentioned above. There are specific types of gaiter for specific sports too, for example you can get gaiters specific to trail running but they all serve the same function.
For hiking you of course need to have Gaiter compliant hiking boots to properly attach gaiters to your feet but that would be standard with any decent pair of hiking boots. If you look at the picture of gaiters above, you can see how the gaiter fit's to your hiking boot.
A hook at the front hook of the gaiter attaches to a loop on the boot or shoe laces at the lower end of the tongue, where it is attached to your boot, and a strap also reaches under your boots where your heels meet the middle of the sole of your boot.
The gaiter wraps around the lower leg and is sealed with a velcro strip or zip that runs from the top of the gaiter to the bottom, sometimes with buttons or fasteners at each end. The top of your gaiter will also have a tightening cord so you can tighten / loosen the gaiter. Gaiters are generally worn over your hiking pants and above your hiking boot.
Gaiters are made from many different fabrics e.g. Goretex, nylon, etc. As with all hiking gear you need to consider the environments you will be using your gaiters in to ensure you select an appropriate pair.
To close this post, check out the video below from the good folks at Sierra Trading Post on how to put a gaiter on. It give's you a good visual picture of all the information above:
In conclusion, I hope you found this post useful and it helped explain what gaiters are. If you're a total newbie to hiking, there is a fair bit in terms of hiking gear, to get your head around and this is just one of the many.
Gaiters are a very important part of your hiking kit and are a key item in any day hikers gear checklist. If you don't have a pair, I recommend adding them to your hiking kit as soon as you can. They're great for protection from wet and boggy ground, especially in harsher weather like snow, as well as providing shield protection from small rocks, stones and scree.
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