• A bushwalker wearing gaiters. Mount Ossa, Tas. Tourism Tas.
    A bushwalker wearing gaiters. Mount Ossa, Tas. Tourism Tas.

Great Walks columnist Caro Ryan (lotsafreshair.com) gives the rundown on why you should wear gaiters on a bushwalk.

"A gaiter is a piece of fabric, usually canvas or other tough material, that wraps around your leg below the knee. Commonly sealed by velcro and a press stud, they can also feature a hook to attach them to your shoe lace and a strap that goes under the sole to hold them in place. You could be forgiven for thinking they’re a type of 80’s bushwalking leg-warmer!

They're are designed to protect our lower legs from a variety of annoyances like mud, scrub, spinifex and scratches; however, their number one priority is protection against snakebites. Anecdotal evidence tells us that 80% of snakebites in Australia occur below the knee, so when moving through scrubby areas, especially in summer, they’re the first thing on my packing list.

Whilst the old jeans DIY approach offered some snake protection in the form of an air gap between the leg and jeans, they lacked the extra functionality of modern gaiters. These days there are different types of gaiters and each one is designed for a specific purpose. The key differences are durability and function.

Standard bushwalking gaiters were traditionally made from tough canvas but are now available in a variety of lightweight and waterproof materials like Cordura. Make sure you look for a material that breathes as peak season for gaiters is summer and you don’t want to be creating your own leg sauna in them!

A close relative of the bushwalking gaiter is the waterproof or snow gaiter. If you’re a ski hound and fan of backcountry off-piste adventures, these will keep you drier when you’re steep and deep. These are also a good choice if you spend a lot of time in places renowned for muddy tracks, like the South Coast or Port Davey tracks in Tasmania.

Keen rogainers tend to feel more at home in a specialist type of gaiter, designed to offer more protection from bumps and scratches, with thin layers of padding that wrap around the shin. They have a firm fit, which hugs the lower leg and look a little like knee-high socks. When moving at speed through untracked scrub, often through the night, these streamlined leg-sleeves offer protective performance, without the bulk of a bushwalking gaiter.

Stepping down in protection from snakes, are lightweight, mid-calf gaiters. This style tends to be best in keeping grass seeds, like Cobblers Pegs or Spinefex, away from your socks and legs. If you’ve ever spent the evening around a campfire, slowly pulling off Cobblers Pegs from your pants, you’ll appreciate these.

If trail running is your thing, you’re probably familiar with ankle height sock gaiters. Whilst these can come in a rainbow of colours and designs, they offer no snake protection and are simply to keep grit, pebbles and seeds out of your shoes.

So even though a pair of gaiters are never going to be the sexiest thing in your bushwalking wardrobe, I encourage you to give these 80’s Flashdance throwbacks some love. Who knows, maybe they’ll set off your outfit in a way that Jane Fonda and Jennifer Beals never quite managed."

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