Deep snow is a hiking nightmare without the right gear. With each step you take, more snow gets in your boots and melts into your socks. It doesn’t take long to end up with cold, wet feet that end your hiking endeavor early. Gaiters are designed to prevent situations like these by shielding the gap between your pants and your shoes with waterproof material. A pair of gaiters is essential if you want to hike a 14er during the winter or spring. Here is some advice to find a good pair of gaiters for 14ers, plus a few suggestions of my own.
Gaiters Are Essential for Winter 14ers
Gaiters are an important and necessary piece of gear for those ascending 14ers in winter-like conditions. With deep snow common from November through June, gaiters are important throughout this period of time. Here are the three biggest reasons why you need gaiters for 14ers on winter ascents.
Gaiters keep your lower legs and feet dry
Gaiters prevent snow, ice, and water from getting into your boots and melting into your socks. Without an effective pair of gaiters, snow can get jammed into the gap between your pants and boot. Over time, this melts, and your socks become soaking wet. This is a recipe for frostbite if you are high on a fourteener. Gaiters block this gap and keep out snow. If they are waterproof, they prevent all moisture from getting into your boots and socks.
Gaiters insulate your legs and trap in heat
Gaiters also add one more layer of insulation on your upper shoe and lower pants. By blocking the gap between them it also prevents cold air from penetrating, while holding in warm air to act as a cushion of insulation. This makes gaiters an extra source of warmth, in addition to their snow-blocking ability. The more robust your pair, the better insulator they will be (lightweight gaiters do not provide much, if any, insulation).
Gaiters keep rocks and debris out of your shoes
Snow and moisture isn’t the only thing gaiters protect against. Small twigs, brush, rocks, and other debris are common along the trail, especially while snow is melting out. Hiking through this terrain without gaiters means constantly stopping to pull out rocks or sticks that make it into your boot. With gaiters on you’ll be protected from small debris you encounter along your adventures.
What to Consider When Buying Gaiters
Before we dig into specifics, let’s discuss what to consider when shopping for a pair of gaiters for 14ers. While there are many factors that matter, here are several essential things to keep in mind while deciding which pair to choose.
Using gaiters while hiking 14ers requires waterproof materials or they will quickly become wet and ineffective due to melting snow. A breathable fabric like GORE-TEX or other membranes allows water to evaporate so your shoes, socks, and gaiters dry, while still preventing liquid water from penetrating. Cheap alternatives use waterproofing that isn’t breathable and will leave your socks wet and cold.
Durability and Construction
Gaiters get beat up over time as you walk through brush, snow, ice, and rocks. If you wear them with crampons, you may also snag and tear them occasionally. Some gaiters come with abrasion-resistant material, especially along their bottom, to protect against tears and defects. A higher price option typically signifies a more durable product with better construction to last the test of time. Cheap options typically tear or fail more quickly in rugged conditions.
Gaiter Length and Size
Gaiters range in length and size, from smaller options that stop above the ankle, to full-length gaiters that reach just below your knee. For those in mountainous terrain, you want to use a full-length option to fully protect your lower legs from deep snow while post-holing. They also lock in more warmth than smaller alternatives. Shorter-length gaiters are better saved for hiking on muddy trails or with limited snow (6 inches or less).
Straps, Hooks, and Closures
Gaiters use a series of velcro closures, plastic straps and metal hooks to secure them around your lower leg. Not all of these are equal. Some are built with more durable materials – others are poorly thought out and fail easily with little use. All of the gaiters I suggest below have well-built closure systems, but it is always a good idea to inspect them closely while making a decision to pick something that looks and feels like it will last. Usually, it is relatively easy to identify poor design or materials that may easily break.
Gaiters for 14ers: My Suggestions
Four out of five of my suggestions are all from Outdoor Research, the leading manufacturer of hiking and climbing gaiters. They’ve gotten pretty good at what they do, which is why their products consistently rank first in quality, year after year. While Black Diamond has managed to fill a niche for more technical climbers, most hikers will find what they need in terms of a gaiter from Outdoor Research. Here are my five top suggestions for gaiters for 14ers.
Best Overall: Outdoor Research Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters
My overall top suggestion is the CR Crocodile GORE-TEX gaiters. They’re tougher than most other options, have the best breathable waterproofing available, and are built with solid materials and a durable design to last the test of time.
For most people who plan to hike a few winter 14ers and other trails, these are the best pair of gaiters for your needs.
Lightest: Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters
The Rocky Mountain High Gaiters are a lightweight alternative to the Crocodile deluxe option. They aren’t as robust, with lighter-weight materials and they aren’t 100% waterproof. The lower portion of the gaiters are waterproof, but the upper section is breathable material. If you don’t expect to encounter deep snow, or it is limited, these might work and save some weight. For tougher expeditions, I would go with another option.
Best Compromise: Outdoor Research Helium Gaiters
If you want a balanced option that includes durable materials and waterproof protection, without a lot of unnecessary weight or a high price, the Helium Gaiters are the best option for you. They aren’t as tough as other options but they are 100% waterproof and should deal better with deep snow than the Rocky Mountain High Gaiters. They still make some sacrifices to save weight, so the material isn’t very tough and may not stand up to repeated use with crampons.
Best for Technical Terrain: Black Diamond GTX FrontPoint Gaiters
These gaiters from Black Diamond were built with ice climbing in mind. If you intend to do more advanced winter 14er routes like couloir climbs with crampons and an ice axe, they might be the right choice.
The material is reinforced along the edges to deal with repeated crampon nicks, and the design was specifically tested for compatibility with technical ice-climbing boots. These are my gaiters of choice for most climbs – I really just love the look.
Most Durable: Outdoor Research Expedition Crocodile Gaiters
If you are planning some major expeditions or you plan to spend a lot of time in the backcountry, you might consider getting OR’s premium Crocodile Expedition Gaiters. These are a tough pair made for the most extreme conditions: think blizzards on Denali – that kind of thing. They also work well for ski patrol, search and rescue, and others who regularly depend on a pair of gaiters. For typical 14er winter hikers, they are probably overkill.
How to Use Gaiters for 14ers: Tips and Tricks
Gaiters only work if you are using them correctly. They can be a bit cumbersome at first, so it is a good idea to practice putting them on at home when it isn’t cold or snowy. Here are several other tips on using gaiters for 14ers and other winter hikes.
Tip 1: Make sure your gaiters are the correct size
A lot of people do not realize that gaiters come in various sizes according to shoe size. If you wear a pair of gaiters for 14ers that is too large or small, it won’t rest correctly on your foot. This makes it less effective and more likely to break while you are using it. Double check to ensure you have the right size when you use a new pair of gaiters.
Tip 2: Ensure the gaiters fit tightly over your boot
Gaiters must be snug and tightly fit to the top of your shoe to prevent snow from getting in. This usually means you need to tighten the straps and closures along the top and bottom or it may be less effective. Always take a moment to ensure your straps are fully tight and that the bottom of your gaiters is snug against your shoes before entering deep snow.
Tip 3: Fix small tears and clasp or strap failures early
Over the course of several years it is normal to find small tears or broken clasps or straps on your gaiters, especially if they are well-used. It is important to try to fix these defects quickly to prevent them from expanding or becoming ‘catastrophic’ while in the field. For example, many gaiters have redundancies, like extra clasps, so that if one fails you can still use them. However, if the second fails as well, you might end up with unwearable gaiters in the middle of hip-deep snow. Keep your gaiters in good shape, and they’ll keep your feet in good shape too.
Tip 4: Put on your gaiters sooner rather than later
Gaiters help keep your feet dry by preventing snow from entering your boots. If you walk through deep snow and wait ten minutes before putting on your gaiters, your boots and socks will probably already be soaked – which isn’t good on a 14er. Put your gaiters on before you enter any snow deeper than a few inches. Also, remember that even a small amount of snow will kick up as you walk and gradually get your feet wet. Keep your gaiters on anytime you’re hiking across snow of any kind to minimize this impact.
Frequently Asked Questions About Gaiters and 14ers
A lot of hikers who want to climb a 14er in winter have never used gaiters before. They are relatively uncommon among summer hikers and backpackers, so it is normal to have some questions. Here are a few commonly asked questions about gaiters and 14ers along with my answers.
Q: What are gaiters and what do they do? A: Gaiters are protective coverings that are worn over the shoes and lower legs. They are designed to protect the feet and lower legs from water, snow, mud, and other elements, as well as from scratches, cuts, and abrasions. They are commonly worn by mountaineers and winter hikers to keep snow out of their boots and stay warm and dry while moving through deep snow.
Q: Do I need gaiters for winter hiking? A: While not everyone uses gaiters for winter hiking, they are highly recommended. While you may be okay during short hikes, all shoes gradually absorb moisture while you hike through snowy environments. Eventually, your socks and boots will become wet, increasing your risk of frostbite and hypothermia. I strongly recommend wearing a pair of waterproof, knee-height gaiters for winter hiking.
Q: What should I wear to hike a 14er in winter? A: Gaiters are only one element of a mountaineer’s clothing. Start with a base layer of insulating material like merino wool which also wicks away sweat and moisture. Add one or two warm mid-layers, like fleece and polyester shirts, and finish with a warm jacket. In addition to gaiters, wear gloves, warm insulated hiking boots, a warm hat, face mask, and ski goggles or sunglasses. You should always pack the ten essentials for winter 14ers too.
Q: Are gaiters worth wearing? A: Gaiters don’t have many downsides other than a slight bit of weight. They keep your feet and toes warm and dry in wet and snowy conditions when it would otherwise be impossible. While they may not be necessary in warm, dry conditions, gaiters are well worth wearing when it it is wet, cold, or both.
Leave No Trace While Wearing Gaiters
Remember, we all have a role to play in conservation by leaving no trace in the outdoors. While wearing gaiters for hikes and climbs, keep these simple tips in mind to limit your impact and recreate sustainably for the next generation of visitors:
- Plan ahead and prepare before your hike or climb. Be aware of forecasts, closures permits, and rules so you can plan accordingly.
- Travel on durable surfaces. In areas without snow cover, continue to hike on trails and camp in previously established sites.
- Pack it in, pack it out. In winter situations, it is usually recommended to pack out solid human waste. Urinate far from trails, water sources, and camping areas.
- Be Courteous to others and respect wildlife. Keep your voice down, limit noise from speakers, give wildlife lots of space (100+ feet) and avoid feeding them intentionally or accidentally.
In Conclusion: The Best Gaiters for 14ers
A pair of gaiters will help keep your feet and toes dry and warm on your next winter 14er adventure. The five suggestions I included here are all good options depending on your specific needs. Remember to double check the size of the gaiters you need, take the time to properly fit them, fix tears early, and put on your gaiters sooner than later. These tips will help ensure you stay warm and have fun during your next winter hike or climb using gaiters for 14ers. Safe travels on the trail!
Additional Resources for 14er Gaiters
I hope you found my guide helpful and informative. If you are still looking for more resources and information related to gaiters for 14ers, here are a few additional sources that I found helpful while writing this article. If you have a suggestion for a website or link to add to the list, leave a comment below. We love to share advice and ideas from our community of readers!