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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One Comment on How Important are Gaiters?

  1. Lisa de Speville on Sun, 14th Jun 2015 2:21 am
  2. Hi John,

    Thank you for reminding your readers about the value of wearing gaiters and for mentioning my post.

    Interestingly, too many people still don’t seem to get this gaiter thing. To us it is soooooo obvious. In addition to reducing the amount of grit in your shoes and thus friction and blister-forming opportunities, I find that the life of my socks is substantially increased. Good quality socks are definitely not cheap these days!

    On our side, the home-based gaiter business ticks over and fulfills a lovely little niche market. Oddly, more overseas people order our gaiters than locals. I still see too many friends walking around with dirty, blistered feet and slashed legs. I’m not sure why they’re so hesitant to don gaiters of any sort?

    The AR Mini Gaiters are my fundamental pair and I wear them when ever I’m out and about on trails, dirt roads… anything other than tar. These are the ones that I put the pattern online for, which is mentioned in your book. We’ve tweaked the pattern a bit for the pairs we sew but the base is the same and the online version is the easiest for the less experienced.

    My mom, Elizabeth, is the gaiter ‘elf’ doing the manual labour to make all of our gaiters. We’ve tried to outsource aspects but we find that our quality is of a much higher standard than we’ve been able to get from professionals!

    My favourite pair is one in a floral pattern. I was recently trying to work out how long I’ve had them – they’re quite faded but still my favourites and so I haven’t bothered to replace them. I reckon I’ve had them for close on five years – and they’re worn very regularly.

    The AR Desert Gaiters are our favourite because the people who order them are the most exciting and adventurous where colours are concerned. Where AR Mini Gaiter people go for black and bland colours (mostly), the AR Desert Gaiter people go for wild pink, bright orange, any funky patterned fabric that we can source and they love the lime green. Nevermind deserts, I’ve worn them – and other runners have worn them – for multi-day runs on beaches with river crossings as well as sandy river gorge (with lots of crossings) runs too. You can run through rivers and not get a teaspoon of sand in your shoes.

    These are now into Version 3 and we’re happy with them. We always advise people to have the Velcro stitched – not glued – on to their shoes. Sand and dust is sneaky and it does lift even the strongest superglue, especially if the event is over a few days. Stitching works brilliantly and it can be undone after the race (and re-done for another race).

    The AR Adventure Gaiters are orienteering gaiters with shin padding and with AR Mini Gaiters on the bottom. They came about because I always used to wear AR Mini Gaiters over my orienteering gaiters; and also we can’t buy orienteering gaiters here in South Africa. When we bring them in from orienteering events overseas, the colours are always so dull. We customise ours in a range of fun colours – whatever we can get our hands on.

    I don’t venture off trails without my AR Adventure Gaiters protecting my legs. I just bash straight through anything and everything. They’ve saved my shins many times from bad bashes on rocks, getting poked by protruding sticks and being caught on barbed-wire fences. As it is now winter, we have just started our longer distance, more rugged colour-coded orienteering events and so most weekends I’ll be wearing my AR Adventure Gaiters. My current pair is about to go into its third season.

    We recently adapted a pair of AR Mini Gaiters for a guy who visits Mocambique regularly. It is a malaria area with loads of mosquitos and he finds that despite his best attempts to avoid being bitten, he ends up with mosquito bites around his ankles – between where his socks end and his pants begin. So we made him an extended AR Mini Gaiter that goes higher up his shin so that he can tuck his pants into them.

    We’ve customised a type of gaiter for hiking boots for friends too.

    And we had a guy from the US email about using our gaiters to prevent snake bites! We sent him a custom pair of gaiters AR Adventure Gaiters. As we have no experience directly with snake bites, we can’t guarantee that these work for this purpose, but they’re better than nothing. We haven’t heard from him since he received them so either a) he has had no snake encounters, b) they’re working perfectly and have prevented snake bites or c) he was bitten!

    This weekend we actually received an email from a friend in Swaziland making the same kind of enquiry about snake-bite preventing gaiters. There’s a market out there but this is a challenging product to test! hahaha

    warm wishes,


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