If you’re familiar with the joy of running down a slope of soft scree — a common experience for runners on the U.S. Pacific Northwest’s crumbly volcanoes, for example — you know that once you get to the bottom, you need to sit down and dump debris out of your shoes before continuing on your way. The best running gaiters can keep your shoes from accumulating debris without causing your feet to overheat.
While this may come with the territory when running through tiny ankle-deep rocks, it can be a nuisance to take multiple breaks during a run. Even worse is the discomfort and blisters that can result from a lingering pebble or the friction caused by dirt and dust. This is where running gaiters can make a big difference in saving time, increasing comfort, and protecting your feet for the miles ahead.
Running gaiters are different from traditional gaiters used for hiking and mountaineering. They are generally lighter weight, less bulky, and cover only the top of the shoe and ankle area. As they tend to be water-resistant rather than waterproof, they are also more breathable. If your trail running takes you off trail or through mud, scree, brush, or lots of dust, then gaiters could be a worthwhile addition to your gear bin.
However, even among running-specific gaiters, there are some notable differences when it comes to materials, style, fit, and attachment systems for your shoes. Below, we’ve rounded up the best trail running gaiters currently available and highlighted the conditions in which they excel. For more background information, see our buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions.
Best Running Gaiters
- Best Overall Running Gaiters: Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid Gaiters
- Best Running Gaiters – Runner-Up: REI Co-op Swiftland Running Gaiters
- Best Running Gaiters for Hot Weather: Altra Trail Gaiter
- Best Running Gaiters for Cold Weather: inov-8 All Terrain Gaiter
- Best Minimalist Running Gaiters: Salomon Trail Gaiters Low
- Best Minimalist Running Gaiters – Runner-Up: Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter
- Best Budget Running Gaiters: Dirty Girl Gaiters
Best Overall Running Gaiters: Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid Gaiters ($50)
When it comes to a high-quality and durable trail running gaiter, the Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid Gaiters has you covered — literally. This surprisingly lightweight gaiter is constructed with a stretch-woven nylon blend, a sturdy YKK zipper, and the brand’s DuraLink instep strap. Yet, it weighs just 2.4 to 2.7 ounces per pair, depending on size.
We especially like the versatility of this gaiter. These gaiters are burly but can still be balled up in your fist. They held up well across rocky trails and through the mud and slushy conditions common during the transition from spring to summer in the high country. The fabric is designed to shed mud, although thick mud will cake around the instep attachment points.
This gaiter comes in two heights: the mid-height comes about a hand’s width above the ankle and will likely cover your running socks, and the low height, which is about 2.5 inches shorter, will cover just above the ankle. We preferred the mid-height version for its extra coverage of our ankles and lower legs.
A front hook and an adjustable instep strap attach to any trail running shoe with a secure fit. The top of the gaiter also cinches closed to keep the gaiter in place and prevent debris from entering at the top. The breathable nylon-blend fabric is treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating to repel water, and the zipper is backed with the same fabric to prevent water seepage and chafing if you’re wearing low socks.
Material: 84% stretch-woven nylon/16% polyurethane blend with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating
- Multiple adjustment points for a precise fit on any shoe
- High-quality materials and construction
- Mid-height provides significant protection from brush and rocks to feet and ankles
- High price point
- Could be too much gaiter for some environments
Best Running Gaiters – Runner-Up: REI Co-op Swiftland Running Gaiters ($30)
When testing the REI Co-op Swiftland Running Gaiters, we were impressed with how easy it is to forget we were even wearing gaiters. Lightweight and breathable, these gaiters fit like a comfy sock that just so happens to attach to the outside of your shoe. There’s subtle grippy material inside the top cuff that prevents the gaiters from slouching while also helping to keep dust and debris from entering. The material breathed well, dried quickly, and shed mud splatters. While the stitching held up well during testing, we did notice a hint of abrasion on the fabric inside the ankles, so our hunch is that these gaiters could have limited durability in the roughest terrain.
The front hook and adjustable elastic cord attach to any trail running shoe — however, if you run in Altras, you can remove the elastic cord, as they also have a hook-and-loop tab on the heel that’s compatible with Altra’s trail shoes.
Material: 76% polyester/24% spandex
- Adjustable elastic cord tucks out of the way
- Grippy material inside the top cuff keeps the gaiter in place
- Breathable, quick-drying fabric
- Limited durability
- Requires removing your shoes to put the gaiter on/take it off
Best Running Gaiters for Hot Weather: Altra Trail Gaiter ($25)
Weighing just 1.3 ounces per pair, the Altra Trail Gaiter is one of the lightest and most breathable gaiter options available.
This gaiter is perfect for dusty trails and hot desert running. It is made with an airy nylon-spandex blend that’s quick-drying and durable enough for all but the most rugged environments. While these gaiters have held their own on the U.S. Pacific Northwest’s volcanic rock, they really shine on hot trails where breathability matters as much as keeping the dust out of your shoes.
The simple attachment system is designed specifically for Altra’s trail shoes. However, these gaiters can work for just about any shoe if you’re willing to purchase some self-adhesive Velcro and install it on the back of your favorite trail running shoes. They fit fairly well and stay in place, but they are a little loose around the bottom, which causes us some doubt about their performance in deep sand or scree. That said, they’re easy enough to stuff in a pocket and keep on hand for when you need them.
Material: 82% nylon/18% spandex
- Lightweight and breathable
- Quick-drying fabric
- Fit is slightly loose around the collar of the shoe
- Limited durability
Best Running Gaiters for Cold Weather: inov-8 All Terrain Gaiter ($25)
For shoulder-season running that involves chilly temperatures, slushy trails, and sloppy mud, we recommend the inov-8 All Terrain Gaiter.
These gaiters feature a knitted ankle cuff and highly water-resistant fabric (we even tested holding it under a running faucet), making it a top performer for keeping muck out of our shoes.
The downside of double-layer, water-resistant fabric is that it doesn’t breathe well or dry quickly. We found that several hours after a run, these gaiters were still damp around the ankle from lingering sweat. We got the same result after the faucet test — it wasn’t easy to soak them, but after four hours, they were not dry. We recommend these gaiters for colder, drier climates rather than humid regions where they’ll take longer to dry.
The gaiters are constructed to work well whether you run in inov-8 shoes or not. They are compatible with select inov-8 trail running shoes using a built-in attachment system with metal hooks. But they will work with any trail running shoes using the included O-rings. This system works well enough — but the O-rings only attach to the gaiters’ metal hooks, come loose from the gaiter when you take them off, and are easy to misplace in a gear pile.
Material: 90% polyester/10% polyamide
- Highly water-resistant
- Knitted ankle cuff is snug and comfortable
- Compatible with any shoe using rubber O-rings
- Not quick-drying
- Hook attachments are not compatible with all inov-8 trail running shoes
- Multiple detached parts with the O-rings
Best Minimalist Running Gaiters: Salomon Trail Gaiters Low ($35)
With a minimalist style that’s easy to put on and take off, the Salomon Trail Gaiters Low are a great choice that are compatible with any trail running shoe. They’re built with a hefty fabric blend that has just enough stretch to provide a snug fit around the midfoot. These gaiters cover the top of the foot and shoe collar, so they’ll keep grit out without adding bulk or blocking airflow. They work well as an everyday gaiter in all but the muddiest or sandiest conditions.
With a burly underfoot strap and hook-and-loop closure, these gaiters will stay put and hold their own on technical and rocky terrain. The durable materials and construction come with a cost. At 4.3 ounces for the pair, they’re about twice as heavy as comparable gaiters, such as the Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid Gaiters, which weighs 2.4 to 2.7 ounces per pair thanks to its stretch-nylon blend, and the Topo Performance Gaiter, which weighs even less at 1.8 to 2 ounces per pair.
Material: 78% polyamide/22% elastane on the front face/100% polyester on the back face
- Easy on/off
- Durable construction
- Low height provides ample protection with moderate coverage
- Relatively heavy
- Could chafe top of the ankle
Best Minimalist Running Gaiters – Runner-Up: Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter ($30)
If Topo is your trail running shoe of choice, then the Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter is an easy add-on to your next pair of fresh kicks. These gaiters are constructed with three hooks — two in the back and one in the front — that attach to built-in loops on all Topo trail running shoes.
They’re easy to put on and take off without any underfoot straps, and you don’t need to take your shoes off to do so. Along with the hook attachments, the gaiters wrap around the top of the shoe and secure in place with an overlapping hook-and-loop closure. The design does a great job of keeping dirt and debris from getting inside the shoe. The gaiter fabric doesn’t have a ton of stretch, and once they’re in place, they don’t budge. The fabric is thick and durable, yet it still breathes well.
We learned the hard way that these gaiters could chafe if you don’t wear socks underneath them. They’re minimalist enough that it’s easy to forget they’re on — until you’re losing skin where the thick seams overlap. It’s an easy fix if you wear the right running socks, so we’re still big fans of this gaiter.
Material: Stretch nylon/polyester trim
- Secure attachment with three hooks
- Easy on/off
- Durable construction
- Only compatible with Topo Athletic trail shoes
- Could chafe top of the ankle
Best Budget: Dirty Girl Gaiters ($20)
Dirty Girl Gaiters started in 2004 after its founder, Xy Wiess, made leopard print gaiters to wear at the Western States 100. Since then, the woman-owned company based in Tucson, Arizona, has grown an international presence in the trail running and thru-hiking communities. While the gaiters are available at select retail stores in the United States and internationally, you can find the full selection of colors and patterns, as well as sizing information, on the brand’s website.
These gaiters are made with a polyester and Lycra blend that feels similar to a bathing suit material. They are lightweight at about 1.5 ounces per pair, depending on size, and breathable. The top of the gaiter reaches a few inches above the ankle, and the fabric holds enough structure to keep the gaiters securely in place.
They’re constructed similarly to the Altra Trail Gaiter and other over-the-shoe gaiters, with a hook in the front and a hook-and-loop patch in the back that will work on just about any trail shoe. You have to install the self-adhesive hook-and-loop yourself, but each set of gaiters comes with a six-inch strip of adhesive that provides more than enough for a couple of pairs of shoes.
Once installed, we found that these gaiters provided a secure fit and did the job of keeping dust, dirt, and debris out of our shoes. These stretchy, lightweight gaiters will have limited durability and are not designed for bushwhacking through brambles or scraping against sharp rocks. However, they’ll perform great in most trail running applications.
Material: 83% polyester/17% Lycra
- Secure fit
- Requires Velcro (included)
- Limited durability
How to Choose: A Buyer’s Guide for the Best Running Gaiters
Comfort and Fit
Whatever your reason for searching for the best running gaiters, comfort and fit are among the most important factors in the decision-making process. Factors that will influence the comfort of the gaiter include the materials and fabric, the height of the gaiter and where it sits on your leg, breathability versus water resistance, and whether the gaiter provides a snug or loose fit.
Some trail running gaiters reach a few inches above the ankle, while more minimalist styles just barely cover the shoe collar. The Salomon Trail Gaiters Low and Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter provide a more minimal look and feel, but they could chafe without protection from ankle- or crew-height running socks.
When choosing your gaiter size, we recommend referencing the size guide on the product page website.
Custom Compatibility Versus Universal Attachment
If you’re already running in a shoe brand that makes a custom running gaiter, it’s easy and convenient to choose the gaiter that’s built for your shoe. However, some of these brand-specific gaiters can accommodate any shoe with a bit of modification. The inov-8 All Terrain Gaiter comes with O-rings, and the Altra Trail Gaiter require a strip of adhesive hook-and-loop to adapt the gaiters to shoes made by other brands.
Additionally, there are a variety of gaiters available that can work for just about any trail running shoe without modification. Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid Gaiters and Salomon Trail Gaiters Low attach to any trail running shoe via an underfoot strap and front hook, while the Dirty Girl Gaiters feature a front hook and hook-and-loop design for over-the-shoe attachment.
Water-Resistance and Breathability
The environments and trail surfaces where you’ll be using gaiters — high alpine granite and shale, hot and dusty trails, or muddy and humid environments — will help guide the best trail running gaiter for your needs. They will help you weigh the value of a gaiter’s features, like breathability versus water resistance.
Trail surfaces and conditions will inform an appropriate gaiter height. If you’re in mud, sand, deep scree, or thick brush, then a running gaiter that reaches higher on your leg will do a better job of keeping debris out of your shoes. The tradeoff is that any fabric covering your ankles and shoes will inhibit breathability.
If you’re mostly running on buffed-out trails and simply want to keep dust and pebbles out of your shoes, the best running gaiter with be one with more minimal coverage, such as the Salomon Trail Gaiters Low or the Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter.
Price and Durability
Price and durability depend on your intended use for trail running gaiters. Generally, gaiters built with durability in mind will have more bells and whistles — and a higher price point.
If you’re looking for a day-in, day-out trail running gaiter, it’s worth investing in a style that’s designed to be more durable, such as the Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid Gaiters.
If you’re looking for a pair of gaiters to get you through one specific adventure run or race, the Dirty Girl Gaiters are a solid choice that offers decent durability at a lower price point.
Why You Should Trust Us
The iRunFar team comprises road runners, trail runners, and ultrarunners with hundreds of years of running experience. We began this running gaiters buyer’s guide with extensive research into the gaiters marketplace.
From there, author Alli Hartz refined a list of the top choices and took the potential best running gaiters into the field, where she tested them over many miles and in all kinds of conditions. From hot, dusty gravel roads to slushy snowmelt and sloppy, muddy trails around where she lives and runs in Central Oregon, she broke down the details you find here.
Please note that in the running world, product models are routinely discontinued, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running… they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing as well as research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. When we update any buyer’s guide, most of the products are likely to remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear that you’ll be using for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Running Gaiters
What’s the purpose of running gaiters?
The main purpose of running gaiters is to keep dirt, rocks, burrs, and other debris from getting inside your shoes and causing pain or blisters. Even a small amount of dirt between your feet and your shoes can cause friction and irritation, and gaiters such as the Altra Trail Gaiter will help for keeping out light debris. While not necessarily an essential piece of gear, running gaiters can make a big difference in your comfort as you up your mileage and time on your feet or venture into a wider variety of terrain and trail conditions.
What’s the difference between hiking gaiters and running gaiters?
There are a few key differences between hiking gaiters and running gaiters. First, hiking gaiters are generally taller because they’re designed to cover the top of hiking boots, whereas running gaiters stop at the top of the shoe or a couple of inches above the ankle. Some are very minimalist, like the Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter.
Hiking gaiters are also constructed with stiff, sturdy, highly durable materials and are usually waterproof. That’s because hiking gaiters are used to keep boots dry through rainy weather or creek crossings — possibly over multi-day hiking or backpacking trips where there may not be an opportunity to dry out boots. Hiking gaiters are also designed to withstand abrasive brush and brambles and protect against things like poison ivy and poison oak, snake bites, and ticks.
Traditional hiking gaiters are too heavy and cumbersome for running. Unlike hikers and backpackers, runners move much more quickly through terrain and aren’t as worried about things like snakes or ticks. Usually, we’re not too worried about wet shoes either since running shoes dry much faster than hiking boots.
Mostly, runners want to keep dirt and small rocks out of their shoes. In addition, runners prefer minimal weight and breathability over heavy but durable materials and waterproof protection. As a result, running gaiters sacrifice some amount of durability and waterproofness to keep the added weight and bulk to a minimum.
When should I use gaiters for running?
Running gaiters are a good option when you’re running far or when you’re running through challenging terrain. When you’re on your feet for several hours at a time and covering a lot of ground, gaiters can help enhance your comfort by keeping debris out of your shoes and save you time by eliminating the need to stop and dump dirt or silt from your shoes. This becomes more important when you’re on terrain with loose dirt, scree, mud, fine dust, sand, or other elements that can easily get inside your shoes and cause discomfort. If you go for the REI Co-op Swiftland Running Gaiters, they will work well on a mix of terrain and are so comfortable you can forget you are wearing them.
Are trail running gaiters worth it?
Whether running gaiters are worth it for you depends on where and how far you’re running. If you’re running on buffed-out, well-trafficked trails and your feet stay fairly dry and clean, then you may not need gaiters. On the other hand, if you’re spending long days on mountain trails that could be wet, muddy, snowy, and/or dusty, gaiters could be a great addition to your trail running kit. Gaiters like the inov-8 All Terrain Gaiter will provide a good deal of protection in wet, muddy conditions.
If you’ve experienced discomfort or blisters from getting debris in your shoes, then running gaiters will absolutely be a worthwhile investment. The good news is that there is a range of running gaiters available to meet a variety of needs and budgets.
Are trail running gaiters waterproof?
While some of the best running gaiters are water-resistant, like the inov-8 All Terrain Gaiter, they are generally not waterproof. Since we’re running and therefore generating heat, runners tend to prefer breathability over waterproofness. Waterproof fabric inhibits breathability and slows the drying process, which can result in sweaty, uncomfortable feet and possibly blisters. Breathability will keep feet cooler and allow feet, socks, and shoes to dry more quickly.
Unlike mountaineers, hikers, or backpackers that may opt for traditional knee-high waterproof gaiters, trail runners are not typically spending extended time on snow or in wet conditions, and most trail running shoes are made with breathable, quick-drying materials rather than the waterproof materials found in hiking boots. As a result, waterproof gaiters won’t be much help for non-waterproof shoes — and waterproof shoes are too hot for most running conditions.
What gaiters are used for running in sand?
Perhaps the most pervasive sediment on our home planet, there’s seemingly nowhere that sand can’t reach. If you’re running through sand, you’re at higher risk for blisters and related infections, so your feet will thank you if you do your best to keep it out of your shoes. For running through sand, the best running gaiters are ones that provides more coverage over the top of the shoe, rises a bit higher on the ankle, and offers maximum breathability. The Altra Trail Gaiter and the Dirty Girl Gaiters are both good options for sand.
What gaiters are used for the Marathon des Sables?
The six-day, 251-kilometer race in southern Morocco’s Sahara Desert is deemed one of the toughest ultramarathon races. Among the extremes that Marathon des Sables runners face is lots of sand. The multi-day nature of the race underscores the importance of keeping sand out of shoes. For this race, runners choose full-shoe gaiters. Raidlight and myRaceKit make such gaiters, or if you have a sewing machine, you can make your own. Of the gaiters we tested, the Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Mid Gaiters provided the highest level of coverage.
Call for Comments
- We want to hear about your favorite trail running gaiters! Leave a comment to share which gaiters you love, and be sure to tell us in what conditions they perform best for you.
- If you choose not to wear gaiters, please let us know why.