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.

More on Blisters and Foot Care

April 4, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health, Sports, toenails 

Lisa de Speville, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a close friend who often emails with insights on blisters and foot care. Yesterday I received the following email and asked whether I could share it with my readers. Her email contains insights on little toe blisters, issues with minimalist shoes, and fit of shoes modified with gaiters.

Here’s her email.

Last week I ran in the 5th edition of the Namib Desert Challenge. I had the pleasure of running in their inaugural event back in 2009 and so it really was a treat to return. Great event, well-organized, wonderful region of Namibia and a lovely warmth and hospitality from the organizers.

Since about June last year I’ve been running in more minimalist shoes. I’ve always enjoyed a softer, more tactile shoe and I took to the pair of Asics Gel Fuji Racers that I won at a race immediately. I liked them so much that I was even running them on road. I like to keep trail shoes for trail and road shoes for road so in about August I bought a pair of Inov-8s. The brand is relatively new in SA so I thought I’d give them a try (my road shoes have been Addias Response or Supernova for more than 10 years). Let’s see… I’m in the Men’s Road X 255 (6mm lift), which is not flat as a pancake. Both the Asics and Inov-8 are quite roomy and my feet enjoy this.

Certainly over the past three months I’ve felt a change in my soles – more firm and muscular, which stands to reason if they’re strengthening and working harder. It is muscle after all. Before I started adventure racing and running ultras my feet were 1.5 shoe sizes smaller and I have a feeling that my feet are another half-size bigger in recent months.

So, the time comes for the Namib Desert Challenge and I get my favorite race shoes stitched with Velcro for my desert gaiters. Everything is ready. I hadn’t worn these shoes for a while. They were still relatively new – perfect for going into a multi-day race – as I’d bought two pairs of the same at an end-of-range special many months ago. I’d flattened the first pair so they were in no condition for this race.

When I put my foot into the shoes in the days before the race to get a feel for them again they felt a little tight, especially across the width of my forefoot. And more than just newness. This is why I figure my feet are a certainly a half-size bigger. Nothing that some lace-loosening wouldn’t sort out.

I started to develop what I call ‘triangle toes’ almost immediately. This is the one thing I avoid like the plague because I hate having sore little piggies. Triangle toes is where the underside of the little toe – and sometimes the neighbor next door – becomes pointed. A blister forms here and can result in a ‘toe sock’ – where the skin of the whole toe comes off, almost like a sock. It’s nasty and I not very fondly recall some incidents of almost toe sock about 10 years ago in adventure races. Since then I take special care pre-race to make sure my little toes stay ’rounded’ and that any harder, potentially triangular skin, is filed off regularly.

I dealt with the resulting blisters – stage 2 or 3 they came up on both little toes – by draining, leaving overnight to dry and then added some tape for the stages. I tried to flatten the triangle under the tape, but it ended up triangular again at the end of the stage. For the most part they gave me little trouble.

At the start of the 55km ultra stage on Day 4, I was debating whether to remove the inner soles for give my feet more room so that the little toes would have more width. It felt odd so I started with them in and my laces not too tight. By the first waterpoint I needed to change something so I took out my innersoles. I had to re-tape a toe a little way further because the change in space altered something. After this, no problem.

I’ve never run in shoes without innersoles and it really changes the feel of the shoe. The Adidas Response TR shoes really suit my feet – I’ve been running in them for 13 years! Taking out the innersole changes them to the Inov-8 feel. Flat and bland inside, which isn’t a bad thing – just different. It also makes the sole feel so much more flat and less cushioned – I felt like I was running in a non-cushioned shoe… for 47km!

Fortunately I was none the worse for wear but, for sure, if my feet hadn’t been conditioned from 10 months of running in ‘flat’ shoes my feet would have felt it. I ran the 5th and final stage without the innersoles too.

Aside from the triangle toes, my only other foot ailments included an injured big toenail on my left (not sure why? perhaps from a kicked stone?). The toenail developed a blister underneath, which was easily solved by drilling into the nail to relieve the pressure. I only discovered this one after the second stage when inspecting my feet. The other blister came up on the long stage under the ‘joint’ of my left big toe, where it connects to the foot. I have some scar tissue there from when I sliced my toe open many, many years ago. It occasionally twinges and at this race, on the long day, I caught exactly this spot so many times on rocks – prodding in. I couldn’t have purposefully aimed as many times in that exact spot! Again, not a bother (fortunately!) and easily solved by draining. On the final stage I didn’t hit it once and so it didn’t flare up again. For the rest, beautiful feet after 230km.

As I haven’t had triangle toes for years, this confirmed for me that width-ways just-that-little-too-tight squeezing of the forefoot is almost guaranteed to cause triangle toes and the resulting underside blisters, with the potential for toe sock, somewhere you do not want to go. In fitting shoes we tend to focus on the amount of space at the front of the shoe but definitely need to pay attention to left-right wiggle room.

Finally… one of the runners had really badly injured toenails (most of them) and the tops of his toes. The reason… too small desert gaiters for his shoes! I don’t know what kind they were (not mine) but they were Velcro attached (around the shoe) and pulling at the top and front of his shoe and causing toe injury. Live and learn.

Lisa de Speville

Johannesburg, South Africa

Adventure Racing: www.ar.co.za

FEAT: www.featsa.co.za

Blog: www.adventurelisa.blogspot.com

Foot Care Expectations

June 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Sports 

Lets talk about expectations for foot care at races. I like this subject because being prepared is important. It can make my work easier and likewise that of everyone helping with medical and foot care at races. This coming weekend is Western States and there will be a lot of runners needing help with their feet.

Over the years I have seen everything at 100-mile races. Runners with holes in their socks or socks so worn you can see through the material, severe Athlete’s Foot, long and untrimmed toenails, huge calluses, no gaiters, the use of Vaseline as a lubricant, the use of Band-Aids on blisters, existing injuries that have not healed, shoes that should have been tossed out, huge blisters caused by not treating hot spots, and lots more.

I see runners with crews that manage everything for them – including foot care. These are typically runners who have experience in longer races. They also seem to have some degree of foot care expertise. They will come through an aid station and meet their crew and all is well. If they need foot care, they have the supplies and they or their crew knows how to use the materials. They are prepared.

Other runners are less prepared. They might have crews, but they don’t have the foot care supplies, much less the expertise in how to do what they needed. They count on someone being there to fix their feet.

Many of these runners expect a lot from the podiatrity staff – sometimes, they want a miracle. There are four issues to get past. First, many times there are no “official” podiatrity people at the aid station. No podiatrist anyway. Second, what they get is someone who is maybe a nurse, paramedic, EMT, or even a full-fledged MD, who is volunteering as the aid station’s medical person. Third, often this person(s) has limited skills in fixing feet. And finally, fourth, often they have limited supplies.

So what do you get? You get a person who really wants to help but may be hindered by their limited skills and resources. Don’t fault them if the patch doesn’t work or it feels wrong. You might try and give them directions on what to do – with limited success.

What’s wrong here? Your expectations are wrong. You cannot expect every race to have podiatrity people at every aid station, with supplies to fix hundreds of feet. Some races have medical staff while other races have none. A majority of races do not have podiatrist on hand. Is it their job to provide it? Only if they advertise such aid.

This means you should be prepared at any race you enter, to have the foot care supplies and knowledge to patch your own feet – or have crew that knows how. Does that sounds harsh? Maybe so, but you entered the race. You spent money on travel, a crew, food, new shoes, lodging, new shorts and a top, water bottles, and more. But did you spend a few bucks on preparing a good foot care kit?

Why take a chance that I or anyone else is there to fix your feet? I find lots of runners who have my book (Fixing Your Feet) but I am amazed at the large numbers who haven’t heard of it.

Many of us don’t mind fixing your feet. In fact I love to do it. But we can’t be everywhere – at all aid stations, at all hours, and at all races. Can you do me a favor? Tell some else about Fixing Your Feet and this blog. Make their life a bit easier and help them finish their race with happy feet.

I’ll be in the medical area at the Michigan Bluff aid station. In back of the scales and food tables. If you need me, I’ll be there.

Looking at Shoe Uppers

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Foot Care, Footwear 

Last month I was at my local REI store to conduct a clinic on foot care. At the same time, they held a footwear festival, which had eight footwear companies represented.

I noted something about some of the shoes that is valuable to know if you are shopping for shoes. Specifically, the materials of the shoe’s upper.

I have two photos to share with you. The shoes in these photos are made by Salomon. In fair disclosure, I have several pairs of Salomon shoes that I received as swag for working medical at races. I find they are well made and are easy to fit to my feet.

Shoe with a mesh upper
Shoe with a mesh upper

The first photo shows a shoe that is typical of many shoes today – by most of the companies. The shoe’s upper is made with a mesh material. Whether it is one or two, or even more layers is not important. It’s mesh.

Wearing shoes with a mesh upper will generally help keep your feet cooler. But the mesh allows minute particles of sand and dirt to get inside, onto and into your socks, and on your skin. Those particles can cause friction and over time can cause hot spots and then blisters to develop. Yes you can wear gaiters, but the usual gaiter design covers only part of the front of the shoe’s upper. Stuff still gets inside. The alternative gaiter is a design that covers the full shoes, from the outer sole up over the ankle. A few months ago, I did a review of a gaiter that covers the whole shoe. Here’s the link.

Shoe with a non-mesh upper

Shoe with a non-mesh upper

The second photo shoes a different shoe, also made by Salomon, that has an upper made with a non-mesh material. This upper will keep sand and dirt out of the shoe. A gaiter with this shoe will be useful if you are running in a sandy, dusty, or dirty course, where you would likely get stuff into your shoe through the top of the shoe.

To be truthful, I feel strongly that trail runners should wear gaiters regardless of what shoes they wear. Gaiters are good proven equipment.

If you have a race or event on your summer calendar that involves lots of sand and loose dirt, keep the material of your shoes in mind when planning. Something as simple as a non-mesh upper can save your feet.

Rough Country Gaiters – a Review

January 6, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footwear Products 

For years I have been a strong advocate for gaiters if you are doing trails. In fact, it has been one of my “absolutes” – things I believe you must do. This post is a review of the Rough Country Gaiters. Most gaiters follow the same design. They cover the top of the shoe and go up to the top of the ankle. The

Rough Country Gaiters cover the whole shoe

Rough Country Gaiters covering the whole shoe

benefit of Rough Country Gaiters over the typical design is how they cover from the top of the ankle to the bottom of the shoe. The beauty of this design is how they cover the shoe’s upper. With so many shoes’ uppers being made of mesh, this design, when correctly applied to the shoe, will keep all dust, dirt, and sand out of the shoe. Period.

Jay Batchen, of Dream Chaser Events, recently talked about Rough Country gaiters. I had been set a pair to try and decided to ask Jay for his opinion and a few questions about the gaiters.

Jay responded, “Having done the Marathon des Sables (MDS) nine times, and volunteering at two others, I have seen many different brands and configurations of gaiters for the desert environment. Here’s a great recap a friend provided after using the Rough Country model at this year’s MDS; I ran with him for the better part of three days and heard many of the same things from others in our group.

The Rough Country Gaiters have the same basic shape as the Raidlight Gaitors. The material used by the Rough Country gaiters is thicker that some other gaiters and is more resilient to tearing as a result. The Rough Country gaiters have an additional seam around the bottom edge where the Velcro attaches. There is an elastic cord that runs through the seam and exits the gaiter through a metal eyelet on one side of the gaiter. The elastic can be pulled tight and run underneath the shoe and connect to a hook on the other side of the gaiter. If you are running on anything other than deep sand, however, the elastic under the shoe can be cut by sharp terrain (i.e., rocks).”

The Rough Country Gaiters are shipped with strips of Velcro that can be sewn or glued to the shoe’s sole. Jay says, “It’s best to have a shoe cobbler sew the Velcro strip along the perimeter of the shoe’s sole, where the sole meets the upper. The key is to make sure the Velcro is as low as it can be in this area so sand cannot get under the gaiter. Be careful that having the Velcro sewn on doesn’t change the fit of the shoe or pinch an area of the toe box so it chinches the area and causes fit problems.”

Another important key is to apply glue to the Velcro strip before sewing it to the sole. He stresses that sewing the Velcro to the sole is the most important point to making the gaiters work. Using glue alone will not work well, especially in a multi-day race. The constant daily abuse of rocks, shrubs, burrs, and sand puts more pressure on the gaiters than the glue will allow.

Jay is quick to point out that he tells people he knows to not just glue the gaiters on – and every year someone shows up whose has not had the gaiters sewn on. They always have problems as described.

Jay’s friend wrote, “The first day of the 2011 MDS was the dune day and I wore the Rough Country Gaiters. The sand would enter the gaiters through the metal eyelets on the sides, and fill the seams. The seams started to balloon out from the sand and it looked like I was running with small hula-hoops on the bottom sides of my shoes. Once the seams ballooned out, the Velcro under the seam of the gaiters started separating from the Velcro sewn on the shoes. This made me carry the extra weight of the sand in the seam through the run and I was constantly adjusting the gaiters through the dunes.”  

Jay said for this reason, he didn’t think the Rough Country design lends itself well to an environment with deep sand. It seems that it would perform better when the majority of the terrain is comprised of rocks and scree.

Rough Country Gaiter eyelet's

Sew a seam to isolate the eyelet's on the bottom side of the gaiters

I have provided foot care at several desert races and like the Rough Country Gaiters for the full-shoe coverage and sand control. So, I would find a way to make them work for these conditions. Here’s my suggestion to control sand going into the seam. The gaiters have a pair of eyelets on each side for the cord going under the arch of the shoe. As you can see in the image here, the eyelets are in the middle of about a 3/8-inch strip, which we will call the seam. My idea is really simple. Have a friend with a sewing machine stitch up and down on the outside of the pair of eyelets. Use quality thread and stitch up and down a number of times. Then run a dab of Super Glue over the threads on both sides of the gaiter. This effectively seals both side of the seam from sand coming in the eyelets.

Eric LaHaie, in a review on the Racing The Planet webpage for Rough Country Gaiters, gives a good suggestion for using the strap, “… when the elastic strap is pulled under the shoe, it tightens the cord that goes around the gaiter and can make the toe of the gaiter peel off the Velcro more easily. Therefore, I recommend using the strap only in emergencies, like if the Velcro starts to come off the inside sole of the shoe. Leaving the strap off leaves the metal eyelets even more exposed.”

I asked Jay about changing socks and whether it’s much of a bother to undo the gaiters on the shoe’s Velcro. He responded, “I don’t think it’s a big deal to work a sock change, but I’m used to the system. I believe it’s worth the effort since the design of the gaiters keeps the sand out.”

On the questions of whether the top could it be loose on someone with a small ankle/calf, Jay had this answer. “It’s possible that it could be too loose (or too tight) on some people. On average folks they should be fine. I’ve seen people add an additional strap if they’re too small.”

They are made of thicker material (80% nylon, 20% Spandex) then other gaiters so they may not breathe as well as lighter weight gaiters. If the temperatures are really hot, the heat buildup inside the gaiter could lead to heat rash on the foot and ankle, and even hot spots. The trade-off is lighter-weight material can tear or torn easier by rocks and branches.

In my opinion, gaiters are a “must” for those doing trails. Rough Country Gaiters would be my pick for an event where one needs protection from sand and dirt that get under most other gaiters. The usual style of gaiters that most runners use go from the ankle over the top of the shoe – but not down to the sole. That style allows sand and dirt, and trail dust, to get into the mesh uppers, which most shoes today are made of. It then gets inside on the socks – and then on the skin. The sand will lead to irritation of the skin as it rubs against the skin. Dirt will lead to the same thing, but not as fast. The best way to keep sand and dirt out of your shoes and socks is to wear a good pair of gaiters. Rough Country Gaiters will do that better than other gaiters.

Racing the Planet sponsors unique, rough country footraces that take place in remote and culturally rich locations around the world. The events consist of the 4 Deserts, an annual series of 250-kilometer footraces in the Atacama Desert of Chile, the Gobi Desert of China, the Sahara Desert of Egypt, and Antarctica, and a 250-kilometer roving footrace that moves to a new location each year. Previous year’s roving races have been held in Vietnam, Australia, Nepal, and Namibia. The 2012 roving race will be in Jordan. In 2004, I worked medical doing foot care at the Atacama Desert event. I know many athletes who have done their events and highly recommend them. Check them out at RacingthePlanet.com.

Problems with Mesh in Running Shoes

June 20, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footwear Products 

Footwear made with mesh is lightweight and many trail shoes use it liberally. Your shoes may be lighter and cooler, but the mesh allows junk to get inside the shoe. It then can increase friction.

Whether or not you wear gaiters, if you are running trails a lot, try to use shoes that don’t have too much mesh. The mesh allows trail dust, grit, sand and other debris to get inside your shoes where it gets under your insoles, into your socks, and onto your feet. This “trail junk,” along with the movement of your feet inside the shoes, can tear up the shoes’ inner material, causing even more irritations to your feet.

To a certain extent, gaiters can help control what gets in your shoes. Typically, gaiters cover the top of the shoes and a bit up the leg. While this helps control debris and grit from entering at the top of the shoes, they often don’t help in controlling it from entering in other areas. When you have a lot of mesh over the toes and instep, you’ll find these mesh areas allow fine grit inside your shoes.

Racing the Planet's 4 Desert Gaiter

Racing the Planet's 4 Desert Gaiter

I know some runners who will apply duct tape over the mesh. Others will make gaiters that attach to the soles of your shoes. One pair of gaiters made for this are the 4 Desert Gaiters from Racing the Planet are made from nylon and spandex and are ankle high. Their uniqueness is the design, which attaches to the shoe’s sole to provide sand protection. They suggest having a cobbler sew the Velcro onto the sole for strength. Make sure the stitching can’t be felt inside the shoe – www.racingtheplanet.com.

If you use lubricant on your feet, make sure you clean your feet when changing socks and reapply another coating of lube.

You may like lightweight mesh running shoes. I do too. But it helps to recognize one of the potential problems with mesh and deal with it. Next weekend I will be at Western States 100, patching feet at Michigan Bluff. I know I will see lots of runners without gaiters – and many will suffer because of skipping this simple choice.

Disclosure: I have no financial interest in Racing the Planet. It is just a good product.

Blisters and Gaiters

January 26, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products 

Lisa de Speville, an adventure racer and ultrarunner from Johannesburg, South Africa, and a friend, sends me updates every so often.  I value her input because she is good at thinking through problems. I received this in an email in December and decided to share it with you because it is a great example of how to critically think through the cause of your blisters. Lisa wrote:

Pinky toe blister

Pinky toe blister

Here’s a delicious picture of a common blister. Nice and big and hadn’t popped yet 😉 – on my teammate’s little toe. We teased him about growing a new toe 😉 This developed during the desert trekking stage at the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.

I’m sad to say I got blisters on my little toes and their friend next door – haven’t had these for ages! – during the desert trekking, and they developed early on. My feet have been brilliant for a long time so I wasn’t impressed with these blisters. Essentially the result of ‘triangle toes’ yet, as you know, I’m especially cautious about this and I make sure that I keep my toes smooth with no triangle possibility pre-race. As a result, I have various theories – there has to be an explanation…

First… socks. I was wearing my Asics Gel Trabuco, the same pair I wore during the TransRockies Run in August, where I had no blisters at all. The shoes were relatively new then with not too much more distance in them post TransRockies. The socks I was wearing were my favorites – a local brand, Falke. They make excellent socks and the style is their ‘Adventure sock’, which was discontinued a few years ago. I managed to buy a bunch of pairs directly from them and I’ve been slowly working through them. This pair was a bit older – you know when the fabric gets more coarse? This is my primary explanation – I think these socks had one too many outings and that the coarseness is the reason behind the blisters.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering about sand in my shoes too? I refined my gaiters for this year’s race and they actually did really well. BUT, I did get a bit of sand in my shoes. That stuff in the desert really is powder fine. I generally shook it all out, plus socks, at every checkpoint, which we reached every 4-5 hours. Nothing serious. But, I don’t think sand was to blame; I’ve had worse.

Lisa's home-made gaiters

Lisa's home-made gaiters

My second theory could be around the attachment of the gaiters themselves. We stitched our gaiters on to the front of the shoe. The fabric (lycra) is pulled snug. Could this change the dynamic of the upper? Mmmm… it is a possibility. I’ve had an even better idea for the gaiters – will be making version 3 over the next few months 😉 This is the version of the gaiters we used in the race. This is our team blog site – lots of photos from the race 😉

As an aside… gaiters as much as the shoe itself helps in keeping sand out. Two of my teammates were wearing their Hi-Tec Trail Eruption shoes; I was in Asics and the other was in Salomons (maybe XA Pro… not sure). The Hi-Tec guys, who had sewn their gaiters on exactly the same, got little to no sand in their shoes. Both me and the Salomon one got sand in. Interesting.

Anyway, I wasn’t impressed with the blisters. I’m of the ‘keep ’em drained’ school and so I drained the blisters at each checkpoint and over the course of the stage managed to mostly ‘reverse the process’, keeping the roof on and the fluid out. I did powder my toes with each treatment.

While sewing gaiters for Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, I finally got around to posting instructions on my blog for my regular mini gaiters, which I wear every time I am orienteering or running on trails. Keeps trail debris out and prolongs the life of your socks. Pricky socks is my pet hate because no matter how often you wash them you can still feel prickies.

Lisa’s blog can be found at AdventureLisa.blogspot. Check it out. She’s good.

Trail Shoes – The Good and the Bad

July 3, 2009 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Footwear 

Lightweight, breathable, flexible, gripping, durable, and stable are a few words that describe today’s trail shoes. By far, today’s shoes are better then shoes of years ago. Technology has made great strides in how shoes are designed and made. I love all the above features. They’re good. Trail runners have it made. Almost.

Last weekend I patched feet at the Western and I quickly realized many trail shoes have a huge flaw. Let me qualify my statement. When I look at footwear, my view is that of someone who repairs damage done by the shoe, socks, the trail, and other factors. Sure, I look at stability, fit, comfort, mid and outer sole design, the lacing system, and more. But put me out on the trail where I have runners coming to me for aid, and I look at the shoe a bit differently.

A Montrail shoe with mesh panels on the top and on the sides

A Montrail shoe with mesh panels on the top and on the sides

What I saw at Western States is the amount of dirt that gets inside the shoe. Even the runners who wore gaiters had dirt inside their shoes. Where did the dirt come from? It was easy to see. It came through the shoe’s mesh. On some shoes this was concentrated in the forefoot. Other shoes also have mesh around the midfoot and heel. All that mesh creates the flaw.

I understand that the mesh is designed to make the shoes breathable. This helps keep the feet cooler and weight down. It makes sense. But, Western States is a dusty trail. All that dust has to go somewhere. And it does – inside the shoe – through the mesh. Then the dust and grit goes through the sock and onto the foot. Sweaty feet and feet coated with lubricant attracts the dust. This leads to dirty feet and an increase in friction, hot spots, and blisters.

I still believe in gaiters for trail runners – but even with them, the mesh in the shoes give the dust and grit an entry point.

When you buy your next pair of trail shoes, look at them in this perspective. Some brands have more mesh than others. Maybe go for a pair that has a few mesh panels on the side, rather than over the whole forefoot.

Bold Gaiters

October 14, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports 

Yesterday I worked the Bort Meadows aid station at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile Run and Golden Hills Marathon. There were 244 runners in the 50-miler and about 114 in the marathon. All day I watched the runners come through the aid station. They ate some food and refilled their water bottles. The weather was great, but we had had a lot of rain the day before. The trails had drained well and I saw only a few muddy shoes. But as usual, I saw a lot of dirty shoes and socks. I especially watched for runners wearing gaiters. They were in the minority.
     Of those wearing gaiters, most were doing the 50-miler. Even then, I’d guess that less then 20 percent of the runners wore gaiters.
     Gaiters are an important for trail runners, and for that matter, hikers, adventure racers, and even walkers. They cover the top of the shoe and prevent debris from going inside the shoe. It is this debris, Showlettergetting between the shoe and sock, which leads to hot spots and blisters. A simple pair of gaiters can help prevent problems.
     For my money, I like the gaiters made by Chrissy Weiss, called Dirty Girl Gaiters. Chrissy has a lock on gaiters that make a statement. They are bold and colorful. They are in-your-face patterns that inspire. Most of the runners yesterday wore Chrissy’s gaiters. They are made from soft, comfortable four-way stretch spandex unisex with gaiter hooks under the front shoe lace and secures to the back of the shoe with a self-adhesive Velcro strip. They are dirt-cheap for $13 per pair, including postage.
     And, yes, guys are wearing them too. A lot of guys.

Gaiters for Shoes

October 19, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports 

Whether you are an adventure racer, a simple short-distance trail runner, a hiker, or an ultrarunner, you owe it to yourselves to cover all your bases, and figuratively speaking, to cover your socks and shoes with gaiters.

Homemade Gaiters
Homemade Gaiters can be easily made for running shoes or boots out of a pair of regular white crew socks. Pull the socks on your feet and with a scissors, cut the socks around the foot at the top of the shoe line. Toss out the foot portions. Fold the top of the sock down on itself so the folded down top covers the top of the shoe. Make a small hole in this folded down top at the back of the shoe and just to the rear of each upper shoe lace eyelet. Make similar holes in the shoe. Through the shoe hole place a plastic twist tie from a loaf of bread or similar package. By twisting the ties through these matching holes you have effectively covered the top of the shoes. Undo the twist ties to change shoes or socks while leaving the sock gaiter on your leg.
     You can also use the arms off an old nylon jacket with elastic sleeves. Cut the sleeves off about 6 inches up the sleeve from the cuff. Simply pull the arms, elastic end first, onto your legs over your socks. The loose nylon covers the top of the shoes and it keeps 100% of the usual trail debris from entering the shoe. With this type of gaiter, there are no straps, so changing your shoes and socks is a breeze. Look for old nylon jackets at your local thrift store. Improvising can work wonders.

Professionally Made Gaiters
Dirty Girl Gaiters are made in great colors and designs. These lightweight gaiters are found on the shoes of both men and women. They keep the debris out of your shoes with style and sass. This soft, comfortable four-way stretch spandex unisex gaiter hooks under the front shoe lace and secures to the back of the shoe with a self-adhesive Velcro strip. They are available in many sizes including for youth and children. There is an an everchanging variety of groovy colors and patterns.
JoeTrailMan Gaiters are made without the usual strap under the shoe. They attach to the front most Imgp0081243x168shoelaces via a hook and to the rear with a Velcro tab. The tension of the four-way stretch material holds the gaiter in place. Joe’s gaiters are offered in small and regular to fit all types of shoes. This style slips on your foot before putting on your shoes, which also makes it easy to changes shoes or socks.
North Face Gaiters come in several designs. Their styles offer form-fitting pull-on with hook attachment and a single-handed drawstring closure system. Although their gaiters are made to fit several North Face shoes, they can be adapted to other shoes.
Outdoor Research makes several gaiter styles appropriate for running and hiking. All gaiters open in the front with Velcro, have an eyelet on either side for a lace that goes under the shoe’s arch, and a metal hook that fastens to a shoelace.
RaceReady Trail Gaitors are made for running shoes and low-top hiking boots. Made in a Trailgaters_9800_05_smcombination of colors from quick drying and breathable Supplex nylon, these gaiters have a “space-age tough” cord that goes under the shoe’s arch. They fasten with the usual Velcro closure on the outside of the shoe.
REI makes several designs of gaiters. 

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