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Boot gaiters: Why you need them all year long for hunts

Sitka Stormfront gaiters hunting elk

Recent elk hunt using the SITKA Stormfront gaiters. All photo credits: Brady Miller

If you asked me what one of the most essential pieces of gear I wear on every hunt, you would be surprised at my answer. Boot gaiters. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, you will always see me using a gaiter over my boot or shoe on every single hunt or scouting trip. That may not be high up on your list of essentials, but by the end of this article, you’ll understand why they are a critical piece of my gear list no matter the conditions. And, if you don’t currently use a pair, hopefully, this will change your mind and you’ll wear them on your next mountain hunt.

Why boot gaiters?

Boot gaiters keep rain, snow, sticks, rocks and any other debris out of your boots. They also add a layer of waterproofing. They are a great add-on to your boots; however, gaiters are still one of the most underappreciated and overlooked pieces of gear out there.

Case in point: I was hunting with my brother a few years back and after a day of pushing around in the snow looking for rutting mule deer, he mentioned how his feet were wet. Instantly, he thought his boots were horrible and leaked when, actually, the opposite was true. His feet were wet because the lower part of his pants was wet and, in the process of his pants getting saturated, water was able to leak through his pant legs and run up the back of his boots, entering through the top portion of his boot. If he had worn gaiters, things would have been different!

Gaiter construction

Boot gaiter strap

Strap design of the Outdoor Research Flex-Tex II gaiters on a spring bear hunt.

Typically, gaiters are built with a length of protective/waterproof material that covers your boots with a strap at the bottom. They attach with a lace or hook and a zippered or velcro closure runs up the lower portion of your leg to seal everything off from the elements. At the top of gaiters, there will typically be a strap or pull cord that can be used to increase the tension around your leg to provide a solid seal.

Gaiters are usually found in two different lengths: full length and short length. For the most part, the longer gaiters are designed for fall hunts and shorter gaiters are for summer and early September hunts. However, I have used the tall gaiters a lot in the summer when I know I’m going to be pushing through a ton of brush — and I’ve even used tall gaiters with shorts in the summer.

Fall/winter boot gaiter use

Full length Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters in snow

Fall and winter hunts are where boots gaiters really shine! They keep your feet dry so you can steer your focus more toward what matters — hunting. I also think that full-length gaiters also add a level of heat retention to the lower portion of your legs.

Stream crossing with gaiters

One little known benefit of full-length gaiters is during stream crossings. When you quickly (emphasis on quickly) cross a stream with a quality boot and gaiter, your boots will stay completely dry on the inside! I’ve been doing this for a long time and it always brings a smile to my face when I don’t have to take my boots off to cross a stream. 

What about using gaiters when hunting in the snow? If you’re not using gaiters, you need to remember that your legs are going to be warm from all the hiking, which will cause snow to melt on your pant legs. That little amount of snowmelt in your pants will get transferred to your boots. And…this will cause your boots to get wet.

Gaiters while hunting in muddy conditions

Save your boots and pants from the mud. Pictured above are the Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters.

Another great benefit of gaiters is when you’re hunting in muddy terrain. It could be snowing all week and then you get a few days of warm weather. Snow starts to melt and the ground becomes a mud pit. There is nothing worse than digging out mud from your boot laces every night. Having a boot gaiter on will prevent both your boots and your pant legs from getting caked in mud.

Summer boot/shoe gaiter use

Short gaiters for summer hunts

Summer hunts shine with a gaiter to keep things out of your shoes. In the photo above I'm wearing the SITKA Ascent Gaiters.

Summer is probably the one season when most people question the use of gaiters. Yet, during the summer months, a gaiter still serves a great purpose. There is definitely a certain group of people who like to poke fun at others for wearing them during the summer, but hear me out. If you have ever run around the mountains in the morning, you will probably notice that morning dew can cause your pant legs and footwear to get wet. And you never know when an afternoon storm will brew up. Walking through that vegetation without gaiters is a surefire way to get your feet wet.

Even more important, a short early season gaiter is going to keep dirt, rocks, sticks and other debris out of your boots or early season shoes. 

Summer is a great time to also scout or hunt in a trail running shoe. So this is the time when I will use a short “ankle-high” gaiter. Even on hot antelope hunts in sagebrush and cactus country, I really enjoy having a gaiter on my shoe! Gaiters really are a year-round necessity for hunting and scouting.

In summary

Late season mule deer hunt with gaiters

After all that, are gaiters for you? I know they work great for me on all my hunts and scouting trips and are worth every penny and ounce of weight.

I’ll leave you with one final tip: make sure you put your gaiters on correctly. I see it all the time with my friends and family (sorry Bryce) when they constantly have them on the wrong leg. Typically, you can tell right from left by a logo on the gaiter. The logo should go on the outside of your leg. Or if your gaiter doesn’t have a logo on the side, you’ll be able to tell which foot they go on because the buckle to adjust the tension on the boot should be on the outside edge of your boot. When they are on the wrong leg, the buckle in the middle will rub and the strap at the top will hit the inside of your legs as you walk.

Gaiters are so light that you will barely know they are there and once you wear them, you’ll see what you’ve been missing.

We carry a bunch of great options in the goHUNT Gear Shop.

Check out boot gaiters here

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