Trail Running Gaiters

I’m here to talk trail running gaiters. (No, I’m not going to talk about speedy bipedal reptiles.) In case you don’t know, gaiters are pieces of fabric that span from at least the outside of a shoe’s ankle collar to one’s lower leg. Their purpose? To keep debris from entering the top of your shoe and, therefore, reducing the chance of blistering or other discomfort.

Mountain Hardwear Seta Gaiter

An example of a trail running gaiter, the Mountain Hardwear Seta Gaiter.

In a typical trail running configuration, the gaiter is a removable accessory that covers a good portion a shoe’s upper and doesn’t extend far above one’s ankle. For general trail running, gaiters tend to be constructed with thin, breathable, stretchable material that doesn’t impede movement and minimizes heat or water gain. However, at least two trail running shoes – the La Sportiva Crossover and Saucony Razor (iRF review) – go so far as to incorporate a gaiter into the shoe itself. Over the years, many trail shoes have included attachment points, whether brand-specific or generic, specifically for gaiters.

This trail running configuration and set of traits is quite different from hiking or snow-sports gaiters which tend to be made of much thicker fabric, come much higher up the leg, and are aimed at maximum protection (whether from brush or snow) rather than breathability and range of motion.

I mention these non-trail running versions so you don’t accidentally pick up a pair at your local outdoor retailer and go for a run in them when a variety of great trail running-specific gaiters have popped up in the past few years. Over the next few days, iRunFar’s Travis Liles will take an in-depth look at three gaiters:

Call for Comments
When and where do you wear gaiters? If you never where gaiters, why not?


There are 30 comments

  1. Matt Smith

    I'm a big fan of the Mont Bell Stretch Gaiters:

    Super breathable and always stay put without having to install Velcro on the shoes. The newest version has a reinforced under-foot strap which should resist abrasion – I've got the old model and need to replace the elastic cord every 100 miles or so, depending on how rocky the trails are (1/8" shock cord from eBay is only $5 for 30'.)

    I wear these for longer runs on messy trails – I regret it if I forget them, since I usually end up with sticks, mud or rocks in my shoes without them. For short runs or dirt roads/carriage trails, I'll go without. I always wear them for racing on trails, since I;d hate to get passed while I stop to take a rock out of my shoe…

  2. Koichi Iwasa

    I have tried several running gaiters so far. Gaiters work well when they keep cussion around ankles and inside of shoes away from mud and dirt. If you get those parts of shoes dirty, it is not easy to rince to clean up. Saving time to care shoes. That is the only benefit I found from running gaiters. ;)

  3. footfeathers

    I wear the Dirty Girls in every race! I'm interested in getting some that are a little more durable though. Aside from looking dorky (which is difficult for me to avoid anyway), the gaiters are so light and breathable that I don't even realize I'm wearing them. Anyone who's run further than 5 hours knows that any ailment is magnified 10x, so having a bit of dirt and/or small rocks under the ball of your foot can drive you NUTS!

  4. Jeff

    I have a pair of Running Funky gaiters from Zombie Runner that I wear any time I'm doing more than 7-8 miles on the trail – or anytime the trail is going to be especially muddy.

  5. Steve Pero

    I have a story I love to tell occasionally….

    Back in 2003 I had always worn gaiters in most trail races…that year I was lucky enough to run the first 25 miles of Hardrock with Dennis "The Animal" Herr. As we reached Grant Swamp Pass, which is a steep scree slope that we were running down that year, I let Dennis go first and I waited at the top until he got halfway down so not to send rocks down on him. As I reached the bottom, Dennis was sitting there taking off his shoes to dump out the rocks. I said to him "Why don't you wear gaiters?" His answer was "Do you have rocks in your shoes?" I said yeah, but not as many as he did…he answered that it's far easier to take a couple of minutes to untie the shoes, dump out the few rocks in there, take in the sights and let the Heart rate come down a bit than to fuss with trying to get gaiters off and then put them back on to get out that one pebble that finds it's way in.

    So at the next aid station I removed the gaiters and have never worn them again and when I'm sitting dumping out the rocks, enjoying the views and just taking a small break from the race I think of that day with Dennis.

    Today I even go as far as removing the cloth covering on my LaSportiva Crosslites!

  6. Jenny Handy

    I have worn Dirty Girl gaitos in a couple 24 hour trail races and they were great! They kept out all the rocks and twigs for which I was thankful.

  7. Doug Mackay

    I think it depends where you run, as to a gaiter's usefulness.

    I don't so much use gaiters for keeping out rocks as I do for preserving expensive socks and the liners in my shoes from dirt and stickers. Especially cheat grass and other sock ruining culprits that can become permanently stuck in a shoe's liner/sock and affectively ruin one, or both.

    I'm currently using the REI desert gaiter which is slightly uncomfortable but immune to stickers. I also have the Salomon S-Lab (as I run exclusively Salomon shoes), but the advertised sizing is way off, so I can't actually wear them. [They run super big!]

    Also, sighting my example above the S-labs (and likely other spandex type gaiters) will suffer the same fate as socks and shoe liners with regard to stickers. The S-labs actually get frayed by their own Velcro closure :(

    My $0.02

  8. Kim Neill

    I prefer the Montbell, Salomon or REI stretch gaitors. While Dirty Girl gaitors are funky and stylish, the fabric attracts stickers and burrs, which I run through a lot of. DG gaitors also require a velcro tab be placed on the back of the shoe, which I find a make-work project when you have multiple pairs of shoes. Plus the velcro attracts mud and dog hair, so it's always clogged up. But really Dennis Herr's practice of stopping, emptying, and letting the heart rate come down, sounds much more mindful and peaceful–probably better over the long term. Gaitors also work well in the winter for keeping snow from going in around the ankles and tops of the shoes

  9. Rob

    The only "race" I'll wear gators is at the Barkley Marathons, because there, unlike Steve's approach I don't have time to stop and dump my shoes out and enjoy the view. It is go, go, go the whole time. For the Barkley I really enjoyed using the Inov-8 Debrisocks. They worked extremely well when coupled with my Inov-8 Oroc 280s. Never had any stuff get into my shoes and the socks helped protect the top of my feet/laces from the many briars that are on the course. I'll use this combination again for sure in the future. Otherwise, like Steve and Dennis (friends of mine, BTW) I too like to take a break every now and then and dump out my shoes… enjoy the view!

  10. Chris

    I never toe the line of an ultra without my "Dirty Girl Gaiters". I've worn them for the past 3 years and swear by them. Light, durable enough for most events, no frills, cheap, and the money goes to a good cause. What's not to love? Plus they have some pretty rad patterns you can wear which can entertain fellow runners and it often motivates me when I start feeling sorry for myself and hanging my head : )

  11. Andy

    I have used a pair of Inov-8 Debris gaiters the past few years with really good success. Typically only wear them on really long runs or races where I will be bugged if I have to stop and empty shoes, though I used them pretty consistently this past winter (which was a killer here in New England) with reasonable success in reducing snow/ice pack in my shoes. I also bought a pair of Dirty Girls last year and have worn them some, though they're probably better for the sand of the west than the the rocks and acorns and stickers of the east. Still, it's fun to show up at an ultra in the Northeast — where DGs have not yet permeated like in the west — in a pair of psychedelic gaiters and get the look from others that says "What the hell are those?!"

  12. Steve

    I'm a gaiter fan. Maybe it's the way I run, but I tend to fill my shoes with grit while my wife running along with me doesn't get hardly anything in hers. I used to like the OR flex gaiters (and the similar REI version) but both of them had problems with the snaps coming apart. I see OR beefed up the new version which seems too rugged for running. One downside of the old OR's was that they tended to rub on my legs unless I wore taller socks. I like the DG's for their light weight and breathability. I agree with the winter use comment, gaiters are great for keeping the sand and grit and slush out. That's where the DG's shine because there's no strap across the bottom of the shoe to pack with snow.

  13. Troy

    I use the Mont-bell stretch gaiters. I've used them all winter and they've held up very well. They're not fancy (they are very well made however), but they're simple to use and stay in place. I run trails all winter and have found these gaiters and a pair of Gore-Tex shoes make running snowy trails quite enjoyable. Tuck your pant legs into the gaiters and BOOM dry feet! I'll use the gaiters from now on. Happy spring everybody!

  14. Tammy Massie

    I happily use Dirty Girl Gaiters…but I am on the lookout for gaiters that are snake proof. So far I have only found snake proof gaiters in hunting stores and am getting close to buying a pair (my husband fell off a mountain on WS100 weekend last year and I am really afraid this year I get helicoptered off the course with a snake bit). I am curious if anyone might have any experience. I think there are a bunch of knee high hiking gaiters by Outdoor Research, REI or EMS that might be sufficient but I really do not want to leave this to chance/luck.

    Thanks in advance for any advice!!


  15. Kristin Zosel

    LOVE my dirty girl gaiters… keep the gunk out just great, breathe well, and i don't use the velcro tab… never needed it… they stay down on my shoes just fine! need another pair! i wear them for all trail races or long training runs on trail… i'd switch to something burlier if i still lived in ak and ran deep snowy trails.

  16. Justin S

    I use the ones in the picture in the article (Mountain Hardwear). I find they help keep dirt/rocks out and are easy to zip down and take shoes off if necessary. I do notice my feet wind up being a bit warmer than they do without gaiters and thus produce a little bit more foot sweat….

  17. Justin

    I can't imagine anything more comfortable than a dirty girl (gator). Just after attaching the velcro to the back of the shoe, you completely forget that you are wearing them, which is how you know that your gear is really doing its job. I've been through a few pairs of these and they are absolutely ideal for Hawaii trails. They offer great color/pattern choices, the money goes to a great cause, and they just work. Time to go stare at my dirty girls.

  18. Will T,

    Something I don't understand is that I never seen any of the fast guys wearing gators. Do they not get debris in their shoes? We race on the same trail. Are they just so fast that the only debris left behind is the dust we are eating? Is it a fashion no-no for them to wear gators? Are they just so tough that they don't mind rocks and junk in their shoes? I believe I saw video footage of Krupicka at WS100 last year a good 60 miles in stopping to take his shoes off and remove some debris. These guys are so competitive that you would think they would use any advantage they could (like gaiters to keep debris out)to make them faster. I would love to hear each of their reasonings on why they choose not to use gaiters and if they have ever done so. I can't see "gaiter weight" being a factor as it is almost nilche.

    My favorite gaiters are the REI Desert gaitors. They are lightweight, breathable, easy access to laces with velcro front, and they stay in place. I do modify them along with my shoes to make them like the dirty girl gaiters with the velcro on the back of the gaiter and back of the shoe. This allows me not to have a lace going under the shoe. I find that just attracts mud and it piles up.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I'm not one of the fast guys, but, for the record, I don't wear gaiters unless I'm running on snow or over sand dunes … and then not always. It's very rare that I find trail grit to be an issue. I did empty my shoes around mile 60 of Leadville in 09. It took all of two minutes and wasn't a something I was certain to do. Personally, I don't want to deal with any extra hassle, don't want extra heat, will skip any extra weight where it matters most, and rarely find debris to be an issue.

      1. Will T,

        I consider you one of the guys up front, so thanks for your opinion. Maybe it has something to do with running form or speed, as I would guess less than 1% of top 10 finishers wear gaiters and at least 1/3 of the back of the pack runners do. hmmm… maybe it's time I remove the gaiters and tap into my true potential. lol

        It's now your top responsibility to ask during each of your elite interviews, why they choose to forgo gaiters; just for my curiosity sake. :)

      2. Andy

        Since us mid- and back-of-packers can't revel in being ultralight and ultra-fast, we have to find some way to amuse ourselves and be cool (as if running for hours on end thru the wilderness wasn't fun and cool enough). So, nothing like a pair of far-out DGs to make a statement — and we're moving slowly enough that you can actually see them as we run!

  19. Stephen

    I've never worn gators whilst running. I am a freak about having the least amount of gear on my as possible. I would be afraid these would rub or bother me in some way. I also rarely have a problem with dirt and rocks getting into my shoes when I run off-road.

  20. Sock Runner

    Looks cool. But it does look like a bit constricting. I don't know about the others, but I guess, I'll have to try it on to make some credible judgments. LOL. Thanks for the review.

  21. Scott

    I suppose it's preference like anything else. I used to run for miles with a pebble or two in my shoe…contemplating removal. I fought the urge for a couple of years then finally bought a pair of GD gaiters. I've completed several races and many training runs in them and for me – they do the trick. Thumbs up.

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