High Gear: Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiter | TahoeDailyTribune.com

High Gear: Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiter

Armadillo LT specs

Cost: $49.99

Sizes: XS (women’s shoe 5-7) to XL (men’s shoe 12-15)

Weight: 10.5 ounces (size M)

Waterproof: 20,000 mm

Upper material: Flexia three-layer fabric (waterproof, breathable)

Lower material: 1,000-denier nylon (waterproof, slash resistant)

Other features: Flexible upper, replaceable nylon instep strap, limited lifetime warranty

Made in: China, designed in Canada

The Armadillo LT and all Hillsound products are available through the manufacturer’s website at hillsound.com.

Editor’s note: High Gear features outdoor sports gear, technology and innovations useful in the High Sierra and America’s West.

My first introduction to gaiters came when I was about 7 years old. We were getting ready for a winter Boy Scout trip to Fraser, Colorado, a tiny town just past Winter Park, when my dad unburied a pair of ‘70s-era hiking gaiters. They were burnt orange with a snap closure (not a zipper) and two cinch laces under the knee — nothing more, nothing less.

About a year or two later, I was giddy to get a new pair of Columbia snow pants with gaiters built right into the legs. Sure, they were about two sizes too big — I could grow into them and have pants for years, mom figured — but I was thrilled to have gaiters tucked away inside the bottom cuff. My new pants just looked cooler that way, and, when you’re a grom obsessed with everything in the pages of Transworld Snowboarding, that’s important.

I was re-introduced to traditional gaiters nearly 15 years later when I lived down south. In New Zealand, gaiters are a must for any backcountry tramp (aka hike), just like tramping shorts, stripedy Kathmandu thermals and Anzac biscuits. You simply don’t head into the wilderness without them.

Oddly enough, though, I’ve never gone out of my way to purchase gaiters. In Boy Scouts, I borrowed a pair from my dad. In NZ, I borrowed a pair from my tramping partner. Again, I’d rather spend my money on cool-looking snowboard pants or maybe a pair of freezing-cold Vans high tops. I’ll admit it — I’m a slave to fashion.

The Armadillo LT from Hillsound just might make me a slave to gaiters. If you already wear gaiters, these should be near the top of your must-have list. They’re light, durable, simple and, even though it hardly matters for a piece of technical gear, pretty damn attractive.

The LT is one of three gaiters in the Armadillo line. It’s the entry-level model, which means it’s not as rugged as the $79 Super Armadillo, nor as insanely technical as the $98 Super Armadillo Nano.

But, just because the LT is an entry-level model doesn’t mean it’s cheaply made. Based in Vancouver, Hillsound is a relatively small manufacturer that knows its target audiences inside and out, and the LT is built for year-round hikers and snowshoers, the sort of folks who don’t need gear that can survive multi-day mountaineering or ice-climbing trips for years at a time.

Field test

I took the LT gaiters for a nighttime hike on the Flumes trails in Breckenridge to see how they handled the stresses of routine, everyday travel in the mountains. It was about 17 degrees and snowing lightly when I left my house, with three to six inches of packed powder on the trail. In other words, Breck normal for late November.

Within 15 minutes, I forgot I was even wearing gaiters. The flexible upper moved and stretched without slipping or sliding, even when I turned uphill and started post-holing through a foot of snow between switchbacks. The thin upper even managed to hold warmth while doing its job by keeping water out. When I returned home after two hours, the inside of the upper material was still bone dry. It never froze or turned stiff — a strange and uncomfortable feeling I remember from my dad’s old-school pair.

The lower performed just as well, although it didn’t fit as snuggly as I expected around the tongue and sides of my ankle-high boots. Some gaiters come with cinch cords or a secondary rubber gaiter inside. To be honest, I didn’t miss those features. My shoelaces were dry and unfrozen when I finished, which means the LT did its job just fine. Still, I’d be wary of thick slush or deep pools of water.

My biggest concern is the zipper. It slipped twice (as in the teeth didn’t mesh) when I was putting them on, and I like to think that by now I know how to use zippers. This isn’t exactly a red flag — the slim YKK zipper never slipped or seeped moisture when I was hiking — but it’s something to keep in mind.

That aside, the LT gaiters are ideal companions for anyone who likes to hike, trek or snowshoe around Summit. You could easily pay twice as much for a comparable model, and the limited lifetime warranty is a major perk (It covers a defective zipper if you’re nervous about that). They won’t handle the rigors of mountaineering and ice climbing, but, then again, they were never designed that way. I might be falling in love with gaiters all over again.

This story originally ran in the Summit Daily News, serving Breckenridge, Colorado, and the surrounding area. The Summit Daily is a sister publication to Tahoe Daily Tribune.

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