For nearly a decade now, I’ve been venturing into tropical forests to photograph wildlife–particularly reptiles and amphibians. This means that I deliberately place myself in snake territory.
Every time I head out on a hike or trek, I have a little prayer that I say to mother nature: let me see snakes, but let me see them before they see me.
I don’t say this for no reason. I’ve heard stories and seen the aftermath of snake bites.
I’ve met people in SE Asia who have been bitten by cobras and seen the chunks missing from their lower legs. A friend of a friend lost a leg from the thigh down in Peru because of a Bushmaster (the largest venomous snake in the neotropics). I shudder to imagine it happening to me.
All of this is to say, if you’re going hiking, hunting, or deliberately looking for snakes in areas with potentially dangerous or deadly species, especially if you are going to be moving through dense brush and won’t always be able to see what’s in front of you (or if you’re going out at night), a pair of guards is piece of mind.
So for all the hikers, fishermen, woods men, wildlife photographers and fieldherpers out there, below are 3 of the best snake guards (or snake gaiters) on the market:
- Best Overall Snake Bite Protection: Crackshot Men’s Snake Bite Proof Guardz
- Best for Hiking and Yard Work: Tuff Shins Snake Leggings
- Best Cheaper Snake Gaiter: ForEverlast Snake Guard
Best Overall Snake Bite Protection: Crackshot Men’s Snake Bite Proof Guardz
Crackshot has been making these since 2011 and these are definitely some of the best-selling on the market.
I like the Crackshots the best because they are super lightweight, breathable, water-repellant and they offer the best metatarsal protection without restricting your mobility. Mobility is always a big consideration when wearing guards, and the Crackshots definitely pass the mobility test.
They are also the preferred snake bite protection for a wide range of civil and military departments, including us border patrol and forestry service:
Crackshot claims that these are the only guaranteed snake gaiters out there, backed by a $1 million dollar product liability policy (I’m assuming that if a snake bites through and you are envenomated, causing injury/disfiguration etc., the company’s insurance will pay you out).
As far as I know, there is no such thing as a guarantee with guards because they don’t actually test these out with real venomous snakes (it would be unethical, IMO, because it could damage their fangs and mouths).
They are, however, tested to ASTM (American Testing and Materials Organization) 1342-05 standards, which is one of the puncture tests performed on protective clothing materials like elastomeric films, coated fabrics etc.
It is highly unlikely that material that passes this test would be vulnerable to penetration from fangs (powered by snake jaw muscles) when it is being subjected to penetration testing using harder materials and more force.
Nylon, Polycarbonate Inserts
17 x 2 x 4 inches
- Some reviewers complain about the buckles being a bit loose.
Despite that, over three-quarters of people who own these love them enough to give them five stars.
Best for Hiking and Yard Work: Tuff Shins Snake Leggings
These are definitely snake gaiters that I would feel comfortable wearing if the sole intention of my excursion was to avoid snake bite.
Snake fangs definitely aren’t getting through the hard plastic and they are super lightweight and easy to take on and off.
Because they are 100% hard plastic, they are also waterproof (as opposed to water-resistant). And, contrary to what you might think at first glance, the reviews indicate that these high-leg, hard plastic guards don’t cause any mobility issues–which would be a concern of mine.
Advertised as multi-purpose and a great way to protect yourself from snakes, weed trimmers, sand spurs, cacti and more, these snake covers have sold extremely well for over 45 years.
100% hard plastic
21 x 7 x 7 inches
- Noisy. Because these are made of hard plastic, they do make quite a bit of noise if you are walking through brush, which is not great if your objective is to observe and photograph animals.
Lack of metatarsal protection. Unlike the Crackshots, these don’t extend down the top of the foot.
Best Cheaper Snake Gaiter: ForEverlast Snake Guard
These are great for the price, but they are cheaper than the Crackshot because they are quite a bit heavier.
At 3 lbs, I definitely wouldn’t call these lightweight snake gaiters, although 3 lbs is not prohibitively heavy.
They give you good leg, calf and ankle protection from the knee down to your shoes, nice metatarsal protection, and they are one-size-fits-all thanks to the adjustable straps, so you don’t need to worry about sizing.
900-denier nylon-composite shell and high-density polycarbonate inserts
15.98 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
- Weight. The biggest downside for me is that these weigh 3 pounds.
All in all, a great, less expensive pair of gaiters that nearly two-thirds of the 1100+ reviewers loved enough to give 5 stars.
What Went Into My Selection Process for the Best Snake Guard List
In a nutshell, thousands of hours in snake country, many while wearing various pairs (my own or loaners from friends and lodges).
When I first started traveling to the tropics to look for and photograph wildlife, I was sometimes cavalier when it came to snake safety.
Here I am photographing a monocled cobra in just flip-flops. Granted, gaiters/guards are more designed to protect you against well-camouflaged ambush hunters like vipers, still not advisable.
After a couple of close calls–not seeing something like the below just a few feet from me–and hearing some horror stories that put the fear of G O double D in me, I wanted my feet and legs to be better protected.
I also wanted good quality snake protection that was lightweight, flexible and easy to adjust and that fit over a shoe or boots.
I don’t always wear them, but I always have them just in case I decide the terrain and brush cover are such that I won’t always be able to see what’s around me.
I spoke to plenty of fellow fieldherpers (people who go out into the bush looking for snakes) and snake enthusiasts about what they were currently wearing and why they liked them, in addition to spending a lot of time browsing forums on Reddit, watching YouTube videos and reading comment sections to see what the general consensus was on some of the products I thought were worth reviewing.
I think what I’ve put together offers a good breakdown of what’s out there, the various price points and tradeoffs that come with them, while trying to choose snake gaiters for various use cases, reconizing that not everyone will want them for what I need them for.
Main Evaluation Criteria When Buying Snake Gaiters
When I’m choosing snake guards, I want to know about 4 main buying criteria:
- Coverage (i.e., dimensions)
How much your gaiters weigh is important because if you, like me, spend a lot of time in the field, you need to factor in how long you think you will be able to comfortably wear your snake gaiters for.
The ForEverlast Snake Guards, for example, weigh around three pounds. That doens’t sound like much, but if you’ve ever strapped ankle weights to yourself to incorporate some additional leg workout into your walks/runs, three pounds can start to wear on you after hours of hiking (especially if the terrain is tough).
Coverage is important because some snake gaiters offer more protection than others. You want something that is going to protect from at least the bottom of the knee down to your ankle and, ideally, you want metatarsal protection on the tops of your hiking boots too.
All of the guards on the above list offer metatarsal protection to varying degrees. The Crackshot Snake Proof Guardz offer the most:
Waterproofing and water resistance is important to factor in because you want protection from both the rain, from creeks and streams, from mud and from moisture on plants.
If you’re out actively looking for snakes in the tropics, very often, you’re in wet environments.
The only snake guards in the above trio that can be called “waterproof” are the Tuff Shins Snake Leggings. They’re made from hard plastic. The others have a waterproof coating and are “water-resistant.”
Materials are important because they affect the weight, durability, resistance and flexibility of your snake gaiters.
Most snake gaiters, including the ones on the list, are going to be made of a combination of high-strength nylon and plastic (probably polycarbonate plastic).
Polycarbonate is a very strong plastic that is made for impact resistance. It is commonly used for things like machine guards, signs, face shields, skylights and POP displays, and it is a more-than-adequate snake guard material.
Some, like the Crackshots, are subjected to standard puncture testing that implies they are able to withstand far more force and much harder materials than a venomous snake is equipped with.
Mobility is important because you don’t want to be lumbering around stiff like the Tin Man while wearing your snake guards.
The guards that I’ve used personally have never felt restrictive, and the ones I’ve chosen for the list aren’t either, but you should always look to reviewer comments to see how many people are griping about mobility.
How to Make Your Yard Less Snake Friendly
While snake protection like gaiters and snake chaps can make a difference, snake and human conflict is a major problem around the world.
While it’s impossible to know the total number of envenomations worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that around 5.4 million people are bitten each year, with 2.7 million resulting in envenomations (around half of bites are “dry bites”).
Most of these occur in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Subsaharan Africa–places where a lot of the population still live a largely rural existence and contact with snakes is a part of life.
But even people in Western countries like The United States (especially in south and desert states) and Australia (especially Australia) are aware that they often share their yards and neighbourhoods with venomous snakes.
If you’re buying snake guards for use around your property because you live somewhere where it’s likely that you will encounter snakes, below are some tips for making your yard less snake-friendly.
- Keep your grass short
- Don’t let tree and shrub branches touch the ground
- Keep firewood, excess lumber, yard trimmings and debris away from your house and garage
- If you are allowed to have a bird feeder, keep the feeder away from your house (or don’t have one)
- Feed your pets inside
- Make smart landscaping choices
- Seal cracks and crevices
- Consider fencing
Keeping your grass short
Snakes prefer long grass because it provides cover from predators. Below is what a snake-friendly yard looks like:
One of the quickest ways to make your yard less snake-friendly and snake guards less necessary is to cut your grass regularly.
Don’t let tree and shrub branches touch the ground
Create a 24-36 inch space under trees and shrubs to keep snakes away and to make it easier to spot them if they decide to curl up under one.
Keep firewood, excess lumber, yard trimmings and debris away from your house and garage
There is nothing a snake likes more than a safe hiding spot and this type of stuff provides great hiding areas. People get bit all the time in tropical countries at the firewood pile.
If you are allowed to have a bird feeder, keep the feeder away from your house (or don’t have one)
Birds are messy eaters, and seed very often ends up all over the ground below a feeder. The seed attracts rodents, which may end up attracting snakes following their trails.
Additionally, make sure to store bird seed in a metal can with a tight lid that squirrels, rats and mice can’t break into.
Feed your pets inside
Similar to the bird feeder, feeding pets outside means leftover dog and cat food that can attract rodents and, eventually, snakes.
Make smart landscaping choices
Avoid using a lot of large rocks and mulch in your landscaping because they make for great hiding and overwintering spots for snakes. If you want to use rocks, consider tight-fitting rocks like river rock or gravel.
Water gardens and fish ponds are also snake magnets. If venomous snakes are a serious concern in your area, then a water feature is not the best idea.
Seal cracks and crevices
Snakes see the cracks and crevices on sidewalks and around your foundation as hiding and entry points. If you’ve snake-sized cracks and fissures around your home, consider filling them.
Whether you don’t want to go to the trouble of putting some or all of the above tips into practice or the snakes, keep coming, consider installing some ¼ inch (or smaller) rigid mesh or solid sheeting and anchor it a few inches into the ground.
Put a bend at the top to prevent snakes from scaling it.
How to Spot Snakes on the Ground and What to do When You see One
I’ve been looking for snakes my entire life. In fact, I’m always looking for them. If I’m anywhere with even the slightest amount of “snakey” looking habitat, I have my eyes peeled.
Despite being quite good at spotting snakes in the wild, I still miss them. This guy was inches from me before I noticed.
The idea of walking past a non-venomous snake without being able to check it out is disappointing. The idea of walking past one that could do some serious harm to me without seeing it is unnerving. That’s why I like snake guards.
That said, whether you are trying to avoid snakes altogether or want to get better at spotting them so you can photograph and observe them, here are some tips:
- Get a hiking flashlight. A lot of snakes (venomous or otherwise) are most active at dusk, dawn and throughout the night.
- Improve your peripheral vision. I think the most important factor in spotting snakes on the ground is your peripheral vision, and you absolutely can improve your peripheral vision.
- Know what the snakes look like. If you know what you’re looking out for, it’s a lot easier to spot. If you know what a coiled up Diamondback Rattlesnake or a Fer de Lance in ambush position looks like, it’s much easier to spot one on the side of a trail.
Whether it’s a venomous or non-venomous snake, if you don’t want anything to do with it, just give it a wide berth and keep walking. The snake may see you as you walk by and decide to stay put or slither off, depending on your body language. It might not even notice you.
If you want to photograph it, and you know what you’re doing, then do your thing.
If you know it’s a venomous snake, again, just give it a wide berth and keep walking. If it’s a viper species (which are mostly nocturnal and have poor eyesight), it probably won’t even see you, depending on how slowly you walk and how far away you are.
If you are inexperienced with snakes, DO NOT try to scare or move a snake off of a trail.
Why Investing in Some Snake Guards Makes Sense
Snake guards are one of those things that you probably won’t need most of the time, but you will be damn glad when you do (like a seatbelt).
Even when you’re out actively looking for snakes, in ideal habitat, you can go multiple nights in a row without seeing them. They are some of the most cryptic creatures on the planet, which is a lot of the fun of looking for and finding them.
Snake gaiters are easy to travel with, simple to take care of, affordable and could save you a stressful, painful and potentially life-altering (or ending) experience depending on where you are.