Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Sunday, January 31, 2016

GEAR REVIEW and My Favorite Gear #8: Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiter

By Will Rietveld

If you wear lightweight trail runners as your footwear of choice for ultralight backpacking, an accessory I highly recommend is a pair of ultralight gaiters. Why? They keep dirt, grit, debris, and snow out of your shoes.

Since we are choosing the lightest footwear to meet our needs, we need to match them with the lightest most functional gaiters available. 

At 1.2 ounces per pair the Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiter is one of the lightest to be found.

Specifications and Features

Outdoor Research (www.outdoorresearch.com)
Sparkplug Gaiter
86% Nylon 14% Spandex
Front hook, heel Velcro attachment
Manufacturer 1.2 oz/pr, measured 1.15 oz/pr


These thin and stretchy gaiters are intended for running. They have a reinforced lace hook on the front and Velcro hook tab at the heel that attaches to a mating loop tab that you stick to the back of your shoes. Two sets of the loop tabs are provided. The Velcro appears to be a stickier version. Three colors are available: green, blue, and black.

They are made of a stretch nylon that is breathable, wicking, and water-resistant.

To achieve their light weight, the minimalist Sparkplug Gaiters are made of thin fabric, don’t have an underfoot cord or strap, and don’t any provision to put them on/off without removing your shoes. You need to put your foot through the top opening of the gaiter and then put on your shoe.

Field Testing

I tested the Sparkplug Gaiters on several backpacking trips and day hikes. I'm not very fond of the green color but the gaiters are impressively lightweight and functional.

 The sizing seems to be on target. I tested size L/XL for my size 12 feet and the gaiters stretch appropriately to cover the top opening of my shoes, without being over-stretched or loose.

One nice feature of these gaiters is they cover the top of your shoes from the toebox back, so they keep brush from catching your shoe laces and effectively keep debris out.

After quite a lot of use, including bushwhacking and bouldering, the gaiters do not have any holes in them or seams unraveling; they are surprisingly durable.

I found that the Velcro attachment at the heel works quite well; it really takes a lot to break it loose, and in my opinion is a lot better than an underfoot cord.

The only issue I have is the Velcro loop patch, which has an adhesive backing that attaches to the back each shoe, is coming loose. I followed the instructions to first clean the area with alcohol before attaching the patches, but they are still coming loose at the ends. This is not a big issue because it is unlikely that the patch will be lost (it will stay attached to the mating hook patch), so it can be reattached with contact cement or other adhesive.

 Adhesive-backed Velcro is also available in many stores, so it can readily be replaced on the gaiters or shoes, or added to additional shoes.


These gaiters are wonderfully lightweight, functional, and durable. They land on my list of favorite gear.

Tip: You don't need to put gaiters over the bottom of your hiking pants; they work just fine under your cuffs, and provide more freedom of movement.

1 comment:

  1. I have had bad luck with the adhesive backs on the velcro not holding as well. I attach them with epoxy now.