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.

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.

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