The popularity of half chaps has skyrocketed. More riders are finding they’re fashionable, functional, and the range of choices make them work for nearly everyone.
However, one of the most important reasons for this trend is that using half chaps - whether they’re made of split cowhide, suede or top-grain leather - is more like riding in tall boots than using full chaps.
Some half chaps actually imitate the feeling of a tall boot quite well. There’s nothing on your upper thigh to give you extra grip or to cause your leg to stick, prohibiting your seat from dropping down into the saddle.
In addition, half chaps may be worn over just about any type of pants, breeches or jodhpurs. If fitted right, half chaps protect the rider’s legs from rubs and abrasions that occur when riding in loose-fitting pants.
Economically, even the most expensive half chaps cost less than a pair of tall leather boots. In fact, in some cases, you can purchase a good-quality pair of paddock boots and half chaps for the same or less money than a mediocre pair of boots.
While you might have to own a pair of tall boots for showing, as half chaps aren’t legal at most recognized shows and events, you can prolong your pricey boots’ life without sacrificing your feel by doing your everyday riding in half chaps.
With the increasing popularity of half chaps, many manufacturers are designing matching paddock boots and half chaps. Such coordinating items are sometimes referred to as ’systems.’
At this time, systems range from paddock boots and half chaps that are simply made by the same manufacturer to ones that are designed to look good together. In a few instances, these systems actually work and feel like tall boots.
Tredstep has what we consider a true system in which the paddock boot and the top-grain half chap, the Galway Gaiter, interlock to create the look and feel of a tall boot. The system felt the closest to tall boots than any other combination we tried.
The Gaiters slip into the paddock boots via small ’pockets’ on either side of the ankles. There is no elastic or leather strap to go around the bottom of your boots, which our testers appreciated.
While the ankle area where the boot and Gaiter combine was a bit stiff the first few rides, it was not uncomfortable or distracting. The Tredstep system didn’t require as much break-in as a new pair of tall boots, but it did feel different than simply wearing paddock boots and half chaps.
Note: While this trial focused on half chaps, it’s difficult to do without discussing paddock boots when manufacturers believe the combination is a system. Therefore, the only paddock boots in this trial are those considered by the manufacturer to best coordinate with their half chaps.
The last time we tested half chaps (December 1998), our testers had more than a few problems with half-chap zippers. This time, we didn’t have any zipper problems. We’re confident that’s because our first article was written when half chaps were just beginning to gain popularity. As consumers purchased more half chaps, manufacturers improved the designs and materials.
However, zippers aren’t designed to withstand pressure that pulls against the teeth. Over time, zipper wear may occur. If you feel the wear is unwarranted given the amount of use, contact the retailer where you purchased your half chaps. If your half chaps are well-worn or old, consider spending around $25 to repair the zippers or buy a new pair.
Some of the half chaps we tried had elastic panels, some didn’t. A few were synthetic, although most were made from some kind of leather. Some had a thicker, bulkier feel, while others felt ’skin-thin.’ It’s your choice.
Consider what kind of feel you prefer. Are you used to well-made, custom boots or looser-fitting, off-the-rack boots' Determine if you’re riding in field boots or stiffer, German-style dress boots that usually have a heftier feel in the leg. Then use these preferences to determine the style best suited for you.
Half chaps are designed to protect your leg while riding. They should fit snugly. Not everyone likes this snug fit, but remember that size charts and the design of half chaps are based on a tight fit.
Zippers should be difficult to zip up. If you easily fit the half chap around the circumference of your leg, they’re probably too loose. Consider how difficult it is to get in and out of your properly fitted tall boots.
When measuring, wear the breeches or pants you intend to ride in the most. If you wear thick socks, put those on, too. Determine if the half-chap manufacturer’s height measurement is based on the person’s knee-to-floor or knee-to-ankle bone measurement.
We found that, for riders with long calves, finding a half chap that actually fits up to the knee can be quite a challenge. In most cases, we found the ’tall’ size fits an average height calf. However, we did find that the tallest sizes available - even in slim widths - are the Grand Prix half chaps. Tredstep, Dansko, Landi and Hawthorne come close for those with long legs, too.
If you want to duplicate the feeling and appearance of wearing tall boots, a system is the way to go. Our comments on individual half chaps and boots are in the charts below. No system we tried could challenge Tredstep, making it our hands-down top recommendation.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with purchasing a pair of half chaps to go with your existing paddock boots. With few exceptions, the half chaps in our trial all proved good choices, although we have a few suggestions.
For just half chaps, we’d first reach for the Grand Prix for their price, range of sizes and versatility. Dankso is a close runner-up, however, and an excellent choice.
If you’ve already got Ariat boots, it makes sense to consider the Ariat Crowne. For odd sizes, Equestrian Traditions is it, especially with wider calves. The Landi chaps are great for sensitive legs, and their paddock boot was incredibly comfortable.
And for a Best Buy, we don’t think you can beat the quality of Thornhill’s Victoria half chaps at $39.95.