I've been in the market for a lightweight hiking gaiter for a while now. I own a set of Kuiu Yukon Gaiters, however they don't exactly fit into the lightweight category and I don't always need something that comes up so high on my leg. Since making the switch to trail shoes for the majority of my hunting and hiking activities, I've been trying to find something that matches the same style of shoe. There are a few good options out there, but nothing seemed worth the money until I found the First Lite Hunting Gaiter.
I picked up a set of First Lite Gaiters at a local Dicks Sporting Goods for about $29 and figured they would do an okay job of filling that gap between a heavyweight and lightweight gaiter. As with all new purchases, I headed home to try them on for the first time and immediately found them to be disappointing. This is the first piece of gear I have purchased from First Lite and though they have a reputation for making quality goods, I feel they have missed the mark on gaiter design.
The First Lite Hunting Gaiter comes in two sizes - a small/medium and a large/extra large. I picked up the large/extra large and I'm glad I did because I'm not so sure I would have been able to fit a small/medium (and I'm the guy with the small feet).
Build Quality: Solid
The build quality on the gaiters looks to be pretty solid. The material is stretchy in every location minus the collar at the top and bottom. This I don’t fully understand. If there were one place you need the gaiter to be flexible, wouldn't it be the top and bottom portion so it flexes with your movements? The strap running under the foot is of a durable material that looks like it’ll hold up to a beating. Most lightweight gaiters on the market either have too rugged of a strap or too fragile of a strap. First Lite seems to have found one that is durable yet low profile, a solid mix of the two styles. Thumbs up on that design.
The fit of the gaiter is small - I mean, really small. It actually took me a few minutes to figure out just how to fit it over Salomon Speed Cross shoes, which are as low profile as you can get (I've tried them on over larger boots and it's not a fun process either). The First Lite Gaiters fit so snug that it makes closing them up a struggle. Once in place it's fine, but it's not exactly a easy or enjoyable. I even went so far as leaving them Velcroed together so I could just slip them on and off like a sock, but the opening at the top of the gaiter is so small that I couldn't fit my foot through and I don't exactly have hobbit sized feet. There's no draw string type feature on this gaiter at the top so you either fit or you don't, and I really don't see how this gaiter is going to comfortable fit the majority of hikers out there unless you have childlike legs.
I've tried the gaiters on over and under pants and I found that if you happen to be wearing a set of thick trousers, you're going to be in for a struggle. Again, the top of the gaiter provides no stretch at all so as you make your way up from the bottom of the gaiter while closing them, you're left with having to scrunch them down as far as you can on your ankle to make them fit, and even that is difficult to do. Furthermore, they fit really tight on the calf which almost makes me want to cut a slit in the upper part just to give me some breathing room. I just don't understand why First Lite would make the top opening of the gaiter so small. Simply out of curiosity, I slipped the gaiter over my forearm and could only get the thing about 5 inches before it stopped. Think about that for a moment and ask yourself how in the world it's supposed to fit on your calf if it can't even make it to my elbow.
The anchor at the bottom of the gaiter that attaches them to boot laces is a cool design. It requires you to slip the anchor under the lace to catch it instead of going over the lace. At first I thought this was odd, but after thinking about it I realized it's actually not a bad idea. It does make it a little more difficult to attach them but once you do, you're locked in for good.
As for the bottom strap, it seems durable enough to withstand hiking over rough terrain and they give you plenty of length to custom fit the strap to your boot. The location of the strap, however, is too far back in my opinion. This makes the strap fit in a weird place on the bottom of your boot or shoe instead of in the sweet spot between the heel tread and the tread for the ball of your foot.
· Durable bottom strap
· Poor fit
· Poor sizing
· Difficult to put on
· No stretch material at the bottom or the top of the gaiter
· Struggles to fit on a common hiking boot
Final Thoughts: Save your money and look elsewhere
I purchased these gaiters on sale so I will give them a run or two this next year, but I'm not hold my breath and will keep looking elsewhere for a solution to a lightweight gaiter. I like the size, weight, and material these gaiters are made of, but they unfortunately fail the form test pretty badly. They were originally $40 and had I not purchased them on sale, I'd be returning them immediately. Instead, I think I'm going to give them a shot on the trail to see how they hold up after a few hikes.
I will continue to add photos and updates to this post as I work with the gaiters throughout the year. Maybe my mind will change, but for the time being, it's set on this gaiter being a bust.