Gaiters provide boot and leg protection against vegetation, pebbles, dirt, mud and snow. They’re helpful in muddy conditions, on tracks with abrasive or stinging scrub, and on off-track walks. In a recent survey about two-thirds of respondents advised that they wore knee-length heavier gaiters most if not all the time while bushwalking.
Gaiters typically comprise of water resistant uppers that are held in place with Velcro, lace hooks and straps that run underneath the boot.
The level of protection depends on the type of material that the gaiters are made from, and how tall they are. Ankle gaiters only cover the ankle region providing minimal protection and are best for walks with only small amounts of debris, mud and water. Knee-length gaiters cover the whole length of the leg below the knee, giving superior protection.
Typical waterproof materials include:
Most common material used. Lightweight, but less durable than other materials below.
Excellent waterproof and windproof material that also is breathable.
Strong fabric designed to withstand abrasion by rocks and ice.
Waterproof, stretchy and flexible.
Select gaiters that give a snug fit, provide the best possible seal and best suits the expected terrain and weather conditions.
Bushwalkers tend to use gaiters more as they go on more trips. Gaiters are generally not needed on easy to moderate walks. On harder walks, in wetter and muddier conditions and particularly off-track walks, gaiters are very desirable.
The advantages of gaiters are:
- Footwear, socks, trouser and leg are protected from scrub, sticks, dirt, pebbles, mud and other debris.
- Prevents debris getting into footwear.
- Easy to clean and remove biological material.
- Provides some resistance to snake bites (see below), leeches and ticks.
- Can be used in tent vestibules to cover dirt or mud.
Some disadvantages of gaiters include:
- Some gaiters are not very breathable; sweat accumulates.
- Can hide leeches and ticks. User must be careful to check underneath gaiters for hitch-hikers at breaks.
- More time needed to change footwear for river crossings.
- More time needed to get ready in the morning or after lunch breaks if gaiters are taken off, which is a good idea because sweat accumulates.
Bushwalking gaiters do not protect against snake bites. While thicker knee-length gaiters afford better protection than any other option, they do not guarantee non-penetration by a snake, and snake bites should still be treated even if there is no visible wound. Also, given the tendency for gaiters to collect mud, seeds and spores, users must take biosecurity issues seriously and properly clean gaiters after every trip.