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Rubber Boots vs. Gaiters? What’s Better?

A man hiking while wearing a pair of gaiters.
  • Boots and gaiters are personal protective equipment or PPE
  • Each is ideally worn with the other
  • Gaiters are constructed of varying materials to suit their use, i.e, industrial vs hiking

To many people, gaiters is just a word. To outdoorsmen, those working in construction or industry, and those who work in water, however, they’re a necessary item for the protection of the feet, ankles, and calves. The goal of gaiters is to keep the feet, ankles, and calves from getting wet, otherwise damaged, or bitten by a snake.

Isn’t that what boots are for, some might ask. The answer is yes. Boots aren’t enough protection by themselves, though. For example, snakes can bite through most boot materials except pure leather.

Stones and wood can penetrate boot materials when moving at alarming speeds, such as an industrial or construction accident. So how can we protect the feet and lower legs?

What Are Gaiters?

This is a close look at a gaiter supported by velcro, zipper and clip.

Many Americans live in states in which snow piles up. We have to grab a shovel to dig ourselves out before we can go to work or the store. Guess where that pile of snow goes? Right down the tops of our snow boots or sneakers, if we don’t own boots of any type. That’s cold. Enter gaiters.

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Gaiters are made from different materials depending on the activity or industry in which they’ll be used. They begin with a stirrup strap that goes beneath the shoe or boot. The gaiter then rises up the ankle and lower leg.

Some rise only to mid-calf, while others go to the knee or even above. The top of the gaiter ties or is otherwise securely closed to prevent the entry of water or anything else.

Of What Materials Are Gaiters Made?

A very important aspect of gaiters is their toughness or impenetrability. No serious hiker or mountain climber sets foot outside of his house without the most impervious leg protection. Hiking and mountain climbing involves vigorous movements. The material of the gaiters therefore must not only protect but remain strong.

Lots of gaiters are made of mixed textiles like nylon and polyester combined with waterproof yet breathable textiles like Gore-Tex or Cordura. These combinations give the garment durability and quality.

Ratings

A man trekking through the snowy mountain wearing gaiters.

If you invent something, somebody will slap a rating on it. The same is true of gaiters. In this instance, you’ll want to pay attention to the Denier, Tex, and waterproof ratings:

  • Denier. Measures the thickness of fibers in textiles. A low rating will be a thinner, more silky fiber. A high rating will be a thicker, more sturdy fiber. You’ll look for a high number, because the higher the number, the denser the textile, such as 1000D.
  • Tex. The same thing, but applied to mixtures of textiles such as polyester with waterproof textiles. Tex ratings are smaller numbers, but mean the same thing.
  • Waterproof. Nothing is actually waterproof. It’s water resistant. Special membranes are added to gaiters to make them more water resistant, or the textile is treated with a water resistant coating. Gaiters are made to withstand water per square inch or how much it can handle in a 24 hour period. As in the other ratings, the higher the number here, the better the product.
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Rubber Boots

A farmer walking through the field wearing a pair of rubber boots.

The image rubber boots enjoy is mainly rain boots. Those working around water, such as fishermen and sailors, or slippery floors such as food preparation, reach for rubber boots. That’s not all they’re good for, though:

  • If you’ve ever worked around a barn full of horses, then you know what a muck boot is
  • If you go hunting, then a hunting boot or a hiking boot is familiar to you
  • A hiking boot and walking boots might sound like different things, but they’re made for the same job
  • Winter hiking is a thing, and hikers need the proper footwear for protection

Rubber is waterproof, so rubber boots paired with wool socks or any type of thick sock-like ski socks, for example, are excellent protection from feet of snow or rain that don’t know when to quit. Add neoprene to the rubber, and you have a waterproof boot that’s lightweight but durable.

Another thing that recommends them is their grip. The soles of rubber boots grab onto whatever they’re walking over. The wearer is confident s/he won’t slip and slide. Some rubber boots have cleats on the soles that, when flexed such as when the wearer is stepping, shakes off its own mud from the soles.

Types Of Rubber Boots

We talked about rubber boots for working around water and food preparation plants, hiking, and mountain climbing. Where else would you wear rubber boots?

  • Chemicals. Those working around chemicals and oil, such as pest control personnel or oil company personnel, often wear rubber boots in case backsplash harms their clothing or skin.
  • Grounding. Working with electricity sometimes means getting a shock. Electricians, roofers, and tree surgeons will wear rubber boots, just in case they come into contact with power lines.
  • Flooding. I wish I had had rubber boots the year our basement flooded. The mud was ankle deep after the waters receded, and my sneakers just weren’t up to the job. If your house floods, or the rains leave standing water in your yard and/or driveway, you’ll need rubber boots.
  • Hunting. You’ll be tramping through wet leaves, mud, and sometimes marshy land to hunt deer or other animals. Hunting boots come insulated or not and free of any scent.
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Snake Boots

A snake bites onto the hiker's boot.

Snakes don’t usually bother humans unless they feel threatened. They’ll coil up to gather their muscles, and then they’ll strike. They usually flee rapidly, leaving you to call the ER for a snake bite antidote. Thus, poisonous snake protection in the form of a snake-proof boot is required.

Snake fangs can bite through anything, including rubber boots. They aren’t aware, though, if they’ve gotten to the skin. Hunters will need snake protection by wearing thick rubber boots with neoprene as well as thick, waterproof socks. Not only do these keep the feet dry, but they add an extra layer of protection against snake bites.

This is where gaiters enter the picture. Waterproof gaiters worn over thick rubber boots can act as a snake gaiter. This means thick barriers to snake bites.

Not every leather boot, hunting boot, winter boot, or hiking boot is thick enough to prevent penetration by a snake bite. Adding thick snake gaiters to these types of boots gives hunters extra protection.

Socks

Foot protection begins before you ever choose a rubber boot or gaiter. Socks are the foot’s first line of defense against dirt, water, snow, and other intrusions. My favorite snowy winter foot protection is thick ski socks. Worn over the pant leg, I can tramp through miles of snow without getting my feet wet.

Any outdoor store like Bass Pro Shops, for example, offers waterproof socks in the form of wool socks and other thick foot protection. Worn beneath a shoe or boot, these socks can come up to the knee and keep the foot and lower leg protected. Deep snow, rain, and mud won’t have a chance to let you get wet feet.

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Short History Of Gaiters And Rubber Boots

In medieval times, warriors and soldiers wore leg protection first of thick leather and then metal on their shins. This prevented the enemy from landing a blow that would knock the warrior out of the battle. This was so up to the mid-20th century, at least for European and sub-continent soldiers.

A man wearing gaiters resting feet on his trek through the snow.

Ladies from antiquity up to modern days wore gaiters to protect delicate slippers and wispy hosiery from mud and puddles. At this time, gaiters were made of leather and worn by the clergy as well as ladies and soldiers. Men wore gaiters due to the fact that pantaloons were in fashion.

These pants came to the knee, below which they wore hosiery and heeled shoes. Gaiters went up to the knee, protecting pantaloons, hosiery, and shoes.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was a military man who wore Hessian boots into war. He asked his personal shoemaker to adapt the boots for wearing in wet conditions such as flooded trenches. The boot was snug with a shorter heel and no tassels or other trim around the top. The “wellington” was born in the early 1800s.

A close look at rubber boots on display at a store.

Not long after, Hiram Hutchinson obtained the patent for vulcanizing rubber. The owner was Charles Goodyear, who was using the process to make tires for cars. Hutchinson produced the first rubber boots. They were still called wellingtons and were worn by everyone from children to farmers to soldiers. They’re still called “wellies” to this day in England.

FAQs

Why Would You Wear Gaiters With Rubber Boots?

Protection is the name of the game. Hiking through the foliage with low-lying branches, walking through flooded areas, walking in muddy areas, working in industrial or construction locations, and hunting or fishing can all harm the feet and legs. While rubber boots provide some protection, adding gaiters of good quality doubles the protection.

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How Can You Prevent Feet Sweating In Boots?

Wet feet are not only uncomfortable, but they also present a breeding ground for fungus. This means itchy, peeling, cracking feet, not to mention odor. The answer is to choose the right boots, namely waterproof boots.

The next step is to wear socks that wick away moisture. Look for merino wool, DryMax, or polyester. You can also carry an extra pair of socks if you’re in wet conditions for a long period of time.

Powders dedicated to helping wet feet are another answer to the problem. You can also use an antiperspirant on your feet. If circumstances permit, and if you have a lunch break, shed your socks and boots. Let your feet breathe and get dry.

Is Cheap Or Second-Rate Gear A Good Thing?

It is if (a) that’s all you can afford, (b) you won’t be attacked by branches or slide on wet leaves, or (c) you won’t be around any snakes. Expensive gear is expensive for a reason. They’re made of quality materials, they last a long time, and they offer superior protection from anything that might damage your feet and legs.

Moreover, expensive rubber boots and gaiters provide support for the feet and legs that cheaper goods can’t offer. Most are waterproof. Some offer support for the ankles. Some even offer help in removing the boot from the foot with a sort of kick-plate on the heels.

References:

Outdoor Research: Gaiters: What Are They and How to Choose

Broamer: The Ultimate Gaiters Guide 2019

Bass Pro Shops: Rubber Boots Buyer’s Guide

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