How Important are Gaiters?

Many runners have a love-hate relationship with gaiters.

Some love them and swear by them when running trails. Others never wear them, and dislike them. Which camp do you fall in?

I have regularly promoted the value of gaiters since I made my first homemade set from a pair of old white cotton crew socks. I believe it was one of the first years I ran Western States, maybe in 1985 or 86. I cut the foot out of the socks, leaving the ankle part to pull on my foot and fold over to cover the top of my shoes. I used twist-ties to anchor the socks to the shoes. And – they worked – as primitive as they were.

Then as the years progressed, people with more business sense than I started to make and sell gaiters. Now days, you can get gaiters in a myriad of colors and types.

I still believe in gaiters for trail runners, and in one recent conversation, told a friend that should make them mandatory gear for multi-day trail events.

You have every right to ask why.

Today’s shoes have become increasingly lightweight and many shoes are made with mesh uppers. It’s this mesh that allows all kinds of sand, dust, grit, and dirt into the shoe. These bad things will work their way into your socks and onto your skin. Rubbing and abrasions can occur. If you use any type of lubricant on your feet, the bad stuff will be attracted to the stickiness. The bad stuff can be a contributing factor that can lead to blisters.

A good set of gaiters will cover the tops of the shoes and the toe box to keep bad stuff out.

I’ve included two images of special gaiters that are typically found at the Marathon des Sables (MdS).

Running in sand at the MdS

Running in sand at the MdS

 

 

 

 

 

Gaiters at the MdS

Gaiters at the MdS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the link to the myRaceKit for the MdS page that shows two gaiters they support. And a page from their blog that describes the fit and application.

These are highly useful when doing races in the desert, but how about when running trails? I believe the weak point in some gaiters is how they fail to cover the top of the shoe’s upper, thus allowing bad stuff inside.

I have treated many runners’ feet that are filthy with dirt and grit that makes it hard to wash off in order to find, clean, drain, and patch blisters. Blister patches and tape usually does not stick to dirty skin. In addition to making it harder for medical personnel to clean one’s feet, it also means it takes longer, which can affect not only your race, but those behind you that also need their feet worked on.

Back when, I wore homemade gaiters because that’s all there was. Now there are many styles and fabrics to choose from.

If I was going to run a tail race of any length, but especially a 50M or 100M, or multi-day race, I would buy one of the gaiters that attached to the shoe with Velcro and cover the whole shoe.

Still unsure?

Here are two of my blog posts about gaiters.

Blisters and Gaiters – this is by Lisa de Speville and adventure racer and ultrarunner from Soith Africa and her homemade gaiters.

Rough Country Gaiters: a review – this is a review of gaiters and offers commentary by Jay Batchen, who has done the MdS. Here’s a new link to the Rough Country Gaiters mentioned in the post.

In two weeks I will be working foot care at the Michigan Bluff aid station of the Western States 100. Then three weeks later I’ll be doing a foot care study at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-Mile Run. I’d love to see a few runners wearing a more substantial gaiter.

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