Snowshoeing is a great way to get outdoors in the off-season. You can see new vistas of your favorite places, and you can visit popular spots after the crowd has gone home. There’s not much gear required to get started, either, making it a great way to get some exercise during those cold winter months. Of the equipment you do need, snowshoe gaiters are some of the most practical and beneficial.
What to Look For in Snowshoe Gaiters
Gaiters are an essential piece of backcountry gear, and since they’re so versatile, you’ll find that they come in handy for a lot more than snowshoeing. They keep snow out of your boots and away from your ankles, but they also keep out rain and mud, dust and sand, and even pests like leeches or ticks.
For more information about snowshoeing and the best gear for it, check out REI’s Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing.
Material and Weatherproofing
It’s surprising how much goes into the design and making of a pair of gaiters. Most are made of several different next-generation material combinations to ensure the right blend of hard-wearing ruggedness and lightweight comfort.
Gaiters are made of nylon and other advanced synthetic fibers. The fabric’s quality, the heft of it, and the weaves vary considerably from maker to maker. The thickest fabrics ensure that they can take some abuse and that they are waterproof. But since these fabrics tend not to breathe, the best hiking gaiters have extra layers to help them be more comfortable. Most brands use heavy 1000 denier fabrics in high wear areas around your boots and ankles, and then use something lighter near the top where you want them to breathe.
The best gaiters for snow have some extra weatherproofing, too. Look for pairs that feature Gore-Tex or other name-brand technology. These are proprietary mixes of treated fabrics that lend themselves to being both waterproof and comfortable.
Getting the Right Size
Two important factors dictate the size of gaiter that’s right for you. First, you need a gaiter that fits tightly around your ankles and calves to keep water and muck out. Secondly, you need them to be high enough to ensure that nothing leaks through the top.
How tall is too tall? Snowshoe gaiters should be about knee-high in length, which are pretty much the longest ones you can get. You might be able to get away with mid-calf height gaiters for light snow or early season adventures, but for serious backcountry work where you never know when a misstep might happen, the only option is a long pair.
Shorter gaiters are great for keeping mud and gunk out of your hiking shoes in normal conditions. The best hiking gaiters are ones that provide not only the best protection but also a fair bit of ventilation.
Gaiters are nearly always sold in unisex pairs, but some makers make male and female versions too. Most users are fine with unisex versions, but you might want to look at other options if you have very narrow or very thick calves. In the end, the branding doesn’t matter so much as the fit. Just like with hiking boots, many men wear women’s pairs and vise versa. You’ll get the best waterproof gaiters by finding the best fit for your body. Find the sizing guide from the manufacturer that uses calf size as a basis for fitting gaiters.
As with a lot of backcountry gear, you’ve got to decide on the right balance between ruggedness, water resistance, warmth, and bulk. Not every expedition requires the heaviest gear. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s a disadvantage. Gaiters marketed as “year-round” are likely too thin for really harsh conditions. Likewise, for light snow use on balmy days, you might want a lighter pair.
You can really take two routes. The best plan is probably to have a heavy pair and a light pair. The heavier pair will serve you well in harsh conditions, deeper snow, and colder days. The lightweight pair can be used for the rest of the time. With gaiters, keep in mind what base layers and pant combinations you might be wearing underneath and size them accordingly.
The real problem with using heavy-duty gaiters all the time is breathability. A warm and completely waterproof pair is going to be hot–your skin can’t breathe under so many layers of protective clothing.
Alternatively, if you don’t go on expeditions in the dead of winter, you might be okay with one medium-duty pair of gaiters. They might be a little heavy some days and a little light on others, but you can likely make up for those shortcomings with your choice of base layers.
The Best Gaiters for Snowshoeing
BEST CHOICE: Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters Men’s/Women’s
Looking for beefy gaiters that most users describe as “bulletproof”? The Outdoor Research Crocodiles are the gaiters of choice when you need durable gear. They’re made of a combination of hefty 70D and 1000D Cordura nylon. They’re knee-high, water and windproof, and yet still breathable. The Gore-Tex lining ensures your boots and legs stay dry and cozy. They’re machine washable and easy to take on and off. In short, they’re the best gaiters for snowshoeing.
The best thing about the Crocs is their indestructibility. These gaiters should last you a lifetime of snowshoeing. However, they do run big, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s sizing to get the right pair for your needs. They’re available in men’s and women’s but pay more attention to calf size than boot size.
BEST DURABLE GAITER: Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters Men’s/Women’s
If the Outdoor Research Crocs look good, but a little bit too hefty for you, check out the brand’s Rocky Mountain High Gaiters. They’re also water-resistant and breathable, but a little less heavy and bulky than the Crocodiles. While they still work great for snowshoeing, they’re equally capable in fair weather hiking or cross-country skiing. The Rocky Mountain gaiters are made out of a nylon and spandex blend, which reduces bulk and keeps the wet out. Keep in mind–these gaiters are only water-resistant. If you want a fully waterproof pair, look at the Crocodiles with Gore-Tex.
The Rocky Mountain Gaiters are also available in a low model, though it’s not recommended for snow conditions. Like the Crocodile gaiters, base your sizing on calf measurements instead of boot size.
BEST BUDGET: Hillsound Armadillo LT Hiking Gaiter
The Armadillo LT gaiters from Hillsound are a solid year-round design made for a variety of activities. They keep snow and rain or mud, rocks, and scree out of your boots and pants. They’re waterproof and breathable, with a Flexia 3.0 upper layer that contours to your calves. The lower portions are made of 1000D high-density nylon for abrasion resistance and long life. These gaiters also have a nifty waterproof zipper to make them easier to get on and off.