‘Tis the mud season in the mountains of New England, a good time to review how to keep stuff—including mud and slop—out of your footwear when you’re hiking. A key way to do this is to wear ankle gaiters over your hiking footwear, which blocks mud, grit, and other debris from getting inside, because hiking around with muddy squishfeet or crunchy gravelfeet is no fun.
The lightest way to keep stuff out of your shoes is a pair of ankle gaiters, which cover just around your ankle and a short distance above it. Some weigh just a few ounces, such as the ultralight offerings from Dirty Girls, the new Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low, or the many offerings from Outdoor Research. There’s a couple things you should know about them, though, before you buy.
A new trend on the trails is to hike in trail runners instead of hiking boots. Nearly all ankle gaiters are designed with these folks in mind. Some gaiters may fit low- to mid-cut hiking shoes or boots, but you’ll definitely want to test them out first before buying. (If you’ve got full on hiking boots, but don’t want a full gaiter length, go for a low or mid-gaiter, like the Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low.)
Most ankle gaiters feature a strap that runs underneath the shoe to secure it in place and pull it down snugly. It’s a key and effective part of the system. The strap also gets a ton of wear and tear underfoot, especially in rocky terrain, and can quickly abrade to failure. You’ll want the most durable strap and material you can find; strings and other thin, lightweight materials won’t hold up over time.
Ankle gaiters close with either a Velcro or zipper system. I greatly prefer Velcro for a number of reasons, including durability, ease of use, and fine-tuning the fit to any particular footwear shape.
Ankle gaiters are designed to fit tightly. As a result, they can be difficult to fit on footwear larger than the size range it was designed for. This makes it important to try on some different gaiters, and sizes, for the specific footwear you plan on using them for. (And a note for the giant-footed among us, including me (men’s size 15); most extra large ankle gaiters won’t fit above a size 13 or so.)
Keep those feet clean—and hike on!