Great design starts with curiosity. We’re always in search of solutions to problems, but before a problem can be solved, it needs to be identified and understood. From there, we design, test and refine a product, working through all of the iterations until there’s nothing left to improve, and never settling for good enough.

This design ethos took shape with the Kahtoola Traction System (KTS) Crampons—which launched Kahtoola back in 1999—and a passion to improve upon a category of gear that already existed.

At the time, crampons were designed for big mountaineering boots. A crampon that wasn’t overbuilt and easily conformed to the flexibility of the foot was unimagined, so when Kahtoola founder and owner Danny Giovale set out to build one, the idea was to apply more thought to a product that went beyond just alpine ascents.

He quickly discovered that traditional crampons were easy to design for a rigid boot, but designing a crampon for flexible footwear was very difficult. When one problem was solved another arose. If an element was missing, a custom part was designed to work and fill the void. Like falling dominoes, it was a game of continual refinement and making things fit together. And eventually, solutions evolved into something else that became more dialed.

The result was a game-changer. The KTS Crampons put us on the path of changing the face of winter traction, and instituted a philosophy that we still implement into the design of all of our products.

Prototypes from early (top) and late (bottom) in the design process, a few of many designed and tested.

In a quest to transform another existing category of gear, we applied that same thinking to gaiters.

In 2015, during a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, Danny saw a similar opportunity in hiking gaiters. Noticing how poorly his hiking partner’s leading-brand gaiters functioned, he thought, Kahtoola can put some design effort and thought into this to create something truly unique and valuable.

Like the crampons before them, a gaiter we wanted to use—that was lightweight, easy to use, form-fitting, comfortable and functional all at once—wasn’t available. We started buying and using every style and brand of gaiter we could find, relentlessly testing what worked and mostly what didn’t. Traditional tall gaiters were often too bulky, overbuilt, and not user-friendly while low- and mid-height gaiters existed as more of a fashion statement than providing any real functionality.

Going into the design process, we realized what we wanted was not only a gaiter that performed at a higher level than anything else, but also one that we could completely forget we were wearing.

Production pair of Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low.

After designing, testing, and refining dozens of prototypes, it became obvious when some parts no longer fit our design intentions. Lightweight fabrics that could be tailored to the foot’s natural shape were essential. Velcro closures that ran down the middle of the shin and foot were super crunchy and didn’t complement the fabrics, so we incorporated an asymmetrical zipper. And by taking the versatility and flexibility of TPU and combining it with a low-profile form, we designed a custom instep strap that bridged the gap between bulky buckles and cords lacking long-term durability—while also integrating a streamlined adjustment system. Constantly fine-tuning, everything started to work and fit together.

Where we ended up was the Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low and Mid, LEVAgaiter GTX and NAVAgaiter GTX, a new line of gaiters that can be used across a variety of terrain, conditions and activities, and most importantly, keep users comfortable and the elements out. They’re exactly what we envisioned: gaiters rethought and so comfortable they go unnoticed. Mission accomplished.

Our design ethos is about looking for, understanding, and solving problems. When we make gear, we set out to design something that not only we want to use, but something that everyone wants to use, no matter how many iterations it takes to get us there.

It’s this approach and spirit that lives in all of our products, inspires us to design great outdoor gear, and sets our Kahtoola gaiters apart.

Photo courtesy of TrailandUltrarunning.com.