Gaiters are essential footwear items for hikers and backpackers. There is a wide variety of styles available on the market, from Gore-tex mountaineering gaiters to ultralight thru-hiking gaiters. However, there’s a huge trend amongst outdoor enthusiasts in making your own gear.
Whether you have special requirements, or just think you can do it better, making your own hiking, camping and backpacking equipment is easier than you think. We’ve written about building a tent from scratch, DIY camping showers, and now you’ll learn how to make gaiters for hiking.
This article will outline why gaiters are important, and why you might want to try your hand at making a pair for your next hiking trip; there are so many benefits to wearing gaiters, you’ll wonder how you’ve gone without. We’ll also go into the different options available for materials and methods for making your own pair.
Why are gaiters important?
The number one reason to wear gaiters is long-distance backpacking. Hiking hundreds, even thousands of miles is a huge undertaking and one that many outdoor enthusiasts aim to complete. Hiking trails are usually free from larger rocks and sticks, but still feature plenty of small stones and plant debris.
On an extended hike, you could find yourself stopping very often to empty out your shoes. Pine needles cause splinters, pebbles can bruise, and gaiters can prevent these problems. For casual day hikes, this extra piece of kit isn’t vital, but it makes a big difference long-distance. If you’re spending an extended period of time on the trails, ultra-light gaiters are a valuable addition to your outfit. These are also vital when trail running, as you’ll be kicking up extra debris with every step.
Some gaiters also provide an extra layer of waterproofing. Bridging the gap between your trousers and your hiking boots, waterproof gaiters prevent water from running down your legs into your shoes. If you’re hiking in rainy conditions, it won’t take long to soak your boots, especially if you’re wearing waterproof pants as the boots will collect all the runoff. Waterproof gaiters do an excellent job of preventing this, a problem which can be dangerous in cold weather.
Also helpful in the winter months, gaiters can provide an extra layer of insulation. The thicker the gaiter, the warmer you’ll be, and this is vital if you’re hiking through deep snow. Ice climbing gaiters are ultra-thick, waterproof, and abrasion-resistant, to give you full protection from the harsh environment.
Another important purpose that gaiters serve is protecting your legs from crampons. When hiking and climbing, crampons can easily snag on the opposite leg, so wearing some protective heavy-duty gaiters will prevent holes in your trousers.
If you’re hiking through the backcountry, preferring to stay away from well-traveled trails, you might encounter thick bush or rock scrambles. These would give your lower legs quite a battering, so in order to protect your legs and trousers, wear some protective gaiters.
Why make your own gaiters?
As mentioned, the number one reason to wear gaiters is for long-distance hiking. The ultra-light gaiters used for this are simple, and not very technical, so many people choose to make their own. If you struggle to find hiking gear that fits correctly, this might be another reason to make your own.
For example, a common problem with the fit of gaiters is the tightness around the top. This means they might fall down or not seal, meaning debris can still get inside and the gaiters lose their main function. If you’re tall you may struggle to find full-length gaiters that give you full protection. Otherwise, you might want to try making your own gaiters just for fun, or maybe you can think of some improvements you’d like to implement.
Different materials used for gaiters
The material you use for your gaiters affects the weight, amount of insulation, breathability and amount of waterproofing. This makes the material an important consideration when making your own gaiters, as it affects the level of comfort and performance you’ll get out of them.
Most gaiters are made from one of two materials. For longer length gaiters, nylon is the most common material. The thickness and weight of nylon materials can vary, but for creating your own pair, we recommend using polyurethane-coated ripstop nylon.
This will provide lightweight and waterproof gaiters, that are reasonably hard wearing. Gaiters made from spandex are very stretchy, flexible, and lightweight. They don’t provide a lot of protection but are enough to keep trail debris from getting in your shoes. Many upmarket gaiters use Gore-tex, which is a great material that is both waterproof and breathable, but this is harder to use when making your own pair.
There are two different methods we’ll outline for making your own gaiters. Both of them require basic materials and a sewing machine, but if you’re used to making your own hiking and camping equipment this shouldn’t be an issue. Read on to find out how to make some simple waterproof gaiters and a pair of lightweight trail running gaiters.
Method #1 for waterproof homemade gaiters
For a pair of simple waterproof gaiters, use this easy method. These gaiters will keep debris and water out of your shoes and will provide some protection from any obstacles you might encounter on the trail.
You will need:
- Measuring tape
- A large piece of paper
- Sewing machine
- 8 4-inch Velcro fasteners
- Waterproof material, for example, ripstop nylon
1. Firstly you’ll need to determine the measurements for your gaiter pattern, as there’s no reason to make your own gaiters and not have them custom fit. Put on all the hiking gear you’d usually wear, trousers and boots specifically. Then measure the lower circumference of one leg, over the top of your trousers. Measure once at the shin, and again around the calf. Add 4 inches to each of the measurements and then record them for later use.
2. Measure down the outside of your leg, from above your boot (where you want your gaiters to finish) to the ankle. This will be the length of your gaiter fabric, so record the measurements.
3. Next, you’ll need to create a pattern for your gaiters using these measurements. Using a big enough piece of paper, draw one vertical line representing the gaiter length measurement, then draw a horizontal line for the shin circumference measurement (your shin circumference plus 4 inches) at the top of the vertical line, meaning you should have now drawn a “T” shape.
4. At the bottom of the vertical line, draw another horizontal line using your calf measurement.
5. Connect together the ends of the two horizontal lines, which should leave your pattern looking like a triangle with the tip cut off. You can now cut out this pattern.
6. Use pins to attach your pattern to the fabric you have chosen for your gaiters, and carefully cut around the edge.
7. Now you have the raw material cut to size for your gaiter, turn in a 1/2 inch hem around all sides, and stitch using a sewing machine.
8. Attach four four-inch Velcro fasteners and their corresponding straps to the gaiters. Three fasteners should go horizontally at the top, middle, and bottom of the gaiter, along one side of the open gaiter length. The fourth should go on the bottom edge, which is the narrower end. Place this fastener so it aligns with the arch area on the sole of your boot. This will allow for the instep strap to wrap under the arch of your boot, keeping the gaiter from rising up your leg and securely in place. Throughout this whole process, you can “try on” your gaiters in order to make sure they fit correctly and all the elements are in the right place.
9. Connect the corresponding steps to line up with each Velcro fastener on your gaiters.
10. Repeat for a second gaiter to complete the pair!
Method #2 for ultralight homemade gaiters
Most long-distance backpackers wear trail shoes, as they’re much more comfortable and lightweight. If you’re spending hours a day hiking, it’s great to have some extra protection, and these lightweight spandex gaiters are perfect for this purpose. You can use any spandex fabric you might find in the store, so why not grab some crazy patterns and make your own pair of gaiters stand out from the crowd.
You will need:
- A large piece of paper (for example newspaper) for constructing a pattern
- Measuring tape
- Marker pen
- Fabric scissors
- Straight pins
- Sewing machine
- Needle and thread
- Polyester thread (or another synthetic thread, just not cotton)
- 1/2 yard of lycra or spandex material
- Some spare scraps of a durable nylon fabric
- Large hook and eye hooks (must be big enough to hook onto shoelaces
- Velcro strips
1. Firstly you’ll need to construct a pattern to work from. Gather your paper and pen, measuring tape, and a pair of scissors. Mark and cut out a rectangle 22cm high and 40cm wide, and fold in half lengthwise. Reopen the fold, so you have the paper in front of you crease up.
2. Measure 2 cm from the top (longer length) of the paper and fold it down, repeating along the bottom ledge as well.
3. Keep these creases folded as you re-fold the center crease. The paper should be folded one way in the center and the opposite way around the edges.
4. Next, keeping the paper folded up, measure outwards along the top of the paper 9 cm, starting from the creased side. Make a mark using a pen or pencil at this point. Do the same along the bottom 19cm, or 18cm if you have smaller feet. Now, use a straight edge to draw a diagonal line between these two points.
5. Cut along this line using your scissors, then open up all the fold of the paper, and you have a pattern ready to make your own gaiters.
6. Place the pattern on your chosen fabric. You can pin the two together, or trace around the pattern. Either way, cut out a piece of fabric to fit your pattern.
7. The next step is to hem the edges of your fabric. The top and bottom edges should fold to be perfectly aligned, as the pattern accounted for this shape. You can fold the fabric just once, or fold it a second time to hide the raw edges and make a stronger hem. Pin the fabric folded in place using your straight pins.
8. Next, it’s time to use your sewing machine. Sewing stretchy materials like spandex can be a struggle, so we recommend practicing with a few spare scraps of fabric first. Because of the elasticity of the fabric, the feeder foot will stretch the bottom layer of fabric as you feed it through the sewing machine. In order to combat this, sew slowly and carefully. Feed the fabric into the machine with care, and take your time. Once you’ve had some practice and checked the tension on your machine, you can sew the hems of your gaiters.
9. Use a zig-zag stitch to sew along your hem, removing pins as you go. It’s likely there will be some puckering of the fabric, but once you’re wearing the gaiter it won’t be noticeable so don’t worry. You might find it easier to start from the middle of the fabric and sew to one edge, before starting from the middle again and doing the other side. This will help keep stretching and puckering to a minimum. Once your hems are complete, fold the fabric in half lengthwise, inside out. Pin together the two raw edges, and using the zig-zag stitch sew them as close to the edge as you can.
10. Then, switch your machine to a straight stitch. Use this to sew a line parallel to the zig-zag stitch from top to bottom, this will reinforce the connection.
11. Your gaiter should still be inside out at this point, but switch it to the right side now to try it on. This size should fit most, but of course, the benefit of making your own gaiters is having a custom fit. Check that it’s not too tight or too loose on your calves. Then you can make adjustments as necessary.
12. Once you’re happy with the general fit of your gaiter, take it off and bring your attention to the front point. There will be some extra fabric here from the hems, you can trim this off. This area will be reinforced later so don’t worry about the raw edge, just ensure there’s no tip sticking out.
13. Now you’ll need some of your durable nylon fabric straps. Cut out a rectangle several inches wide, and use a lighter to sear the edges and prevent fraying. Line up the rectangle across the raw edge where we just cut off the tip of the fabric, and sew it in place using a straight line stitch.
14. Turn your gaiter over, and fold the two corners into the gaiter, creating a triangle point, and pin this in place. Then use a straight stitch to sew along the edges and middle of your now reinforced tip.
15. Use a needle and thread to attach the lace hook to the reinforced tip of the gaiter. Make sure you do this on the outside of the gaiter, with the hook pointing down. Aim to attach it so that the edge of the hook aligns with the point of the reinforced tip, and be sure to use plenty of stitches so the hook is securely in place; there will be a fair amount of pressure and pulling on this connection from your shoelace.
16. Cut a strip of velcro about two inches long, you’ll need the soft and fuzzy looped side for this step. Attach it to the inside of the gaiter, along the bottom, opposite where you attached the lace hook. This is where the heel of your boot is. You can attach the Velcro using adhesive if it comes with it, but we recommend sewing it in with a straight stitch too as the adhesive can degrade over time.
17. Some hiking shoes and boots come with a gaiter trap, aka the other side of the Velcro, already installed on the heel. If your shoes don’t, you’ll need to attach the corresponding hook side of the velcro to the heel of your shoe. To get the best fit, put on your shoe and gaiter and check where the soft Velcro you already attached to the gaiter falls. This is where you should place the hook Velcro, which you can secure in place using superglue.
18. Your first gaiter is now complete, so all you need to do is repeat steps 6-18 to create a second, and you have a brand new pair of homemade gaiters, ready to hit the trails! If you need it, read our article on how to wear gaiters for some advice.
You now know two different methods of how to make gaiters for hiking. Both of these methods provide simple and lightweight gaiters, best for trail runners and hikers. If you need high gaiters for mountaineering, these should be much more heavy-duty and you’ll probably have to invest in a shop-bought pair.
Spandex trail gaiters are so easy to make, they fit right over your trail running shoes and stop all those pesky stones and twigs from working their way inside. However, these gaiters are not water-resistant, so if you’re hiking through rainy conditions, use the first method we mentioned.
The same goes for hiking through long grass which might be wet. You might feel overdressed, but wearing a waterproof pair of gaiters will do an excellent job of keeping your feet dry.
Gaiters are such an underrated piece of hiking gear, but their benefits are endless. For dry feet and pebble-free shoes, try your hand at making a pair of gaiters today.
Bonus tip: Check out this video on how to wear gaiters!