If you’ve spent enough time on the trail, you’ve probably experienced the discomfort of getting something caught in your shoe, and any debris during long outings can cause significant blisters or chafing problems. Regardless, no one wants to lose time by taking off their shoe to remove rocks or sand—particularly during a race. So, what’s the best way to prevent this common problem?
Enter the trail running gaiter. This piece of equipment is a small investment that could pay large dividends for your health and peace of mind. They are small, lightweight and easy to use, and come in a variety of styles and color schemes. Wearing gaiters, you have a slight increase in shoe weight and decreae in overall breathability, but for many runners, these drawbacks are offset by the benefits. We tested five models in a variety of conditions, ranging from dry and sandy to wet and muddy, and everything in between.
- Weight: 46g
- Material: 77% nylon / 23% spandex
- Three size options
The UD Ultra Gaiter is a versatile option, made with lightweight, breathable and durable fabric. This model utilizes an adjustable and replaceable spectra cord strap that attaches under the arch of the shoe, plus a lace-hook attachment in front. The simple attachments make this gaiter easy to use with a variety of footwear – there are no Velcro modifications or alterations required. However, without a physical attachment point in the rear of the shoe, some testers found that this gaiter tended to ride up in the back, especially when used in wet conditions like creek crossings. When this occurred, a small amount of sand was able to enter the shoe, but overall these gaiters performed well and kept the majority of debris out.
Available at www.ultimatedirection.com.
Topo Performance Gaiter ($30)
- Weight: 51g
- Material: 100% Nylon
- Two size options
Two of the gaiters we tested are made by shoe companies and designed primarily for their own shoes. Topo was one of the first companies to make their entire line of trail running shoes compatible with their Performance Gaiter, but the catch is that these gaiters cannot be effectively used with other shoe brands. A unique hook system inserts attachments into holes on the rear of a Topo trail shoe, and a large Velcro front closure allows you to customize the tightness. This fastening system allows the gaiter to be easily added and removed without taking off your shoes, which comes in handy for trips when you might not need to wear the gaiters the entire time. The design also eliminates the need for a strap on the underside of the foot, which is a typical wear point for other gaiters. Available at www.topoathletic.com.
Altra Trail Gaiter ($20)
- Weight: 37g
- Material: 82% Nylon / 18% Spandex
- Two size options
Altra makes the other brand-specific model in this review. However, unlike the Topo model, these Trail Gaiters can be modified to be used with other shoe brands. Or should we say, the shoes can be modified to work with the gaiters by adding a small piece of Velcro (provided with purchase) to the back of any shoe for use with this model. Altra’s trail running shoes all have Velcro gaiter point attachments at the heel, so if you’re running in Altras, you can save your Velcro piece for another brand. These were highly breathable and the lightest gaiters we tested. The inverted front hook remains in place even through use on overgrown trails, but the lightweight material did incur a small amount of damage when used in denser vegetation. We also tended to get small gaps at the top of the gaiter when saturated, but even then, they kept debris out of the shoes.
Available at www.altrarunning.com.
Dirty Girl DFL Gaiter ($20)
- Weight: 42g
- Material: SpandeXy, UniseXy blend
- Six size options
If bright colors or flair on the trail are your thing, Dirty Girl is your company. The DFL gaiter is only one colorway in a huge catalog; a quick glance at their online store shows more than 130 colors and patterns to choose from. These gaiters are fairly simple and low cut, providing just enough coverage and weighing in as one of the lightest models tested. Attachment requires a small Velcro strap affixed to the heel (or just use an Altra trail shoe), and a front hook attaches to the top of the shoe on the front-most lace. The Dirty Girl website has extensive instructions on how to apply their gaiters to a variety of footwear, including tips for attaching to more challenging surfaces. These very light and highly breathable models were a favorite of our testers, showing little wear, going almost unnoticed during use and providing adequate protection. With six sizes available, they are almost custom. They are also one of the most reasonably priced models on the market. Available at www.dirtygirlgaiters.com.
Kahtoola RENAgaiter Mid ($60)
- Weight: 117g
- Material: 90% stretch-woven nylon / 10% polyurethane blend with DWR
- Two size options
These mid-height, ultra-durable gaiters from Kahtoola are in a different class than the other models we tested – they are a more rugged version of the company’s popular INSTAgaiter that is built to handle rocky scree exposure on mountain terrain, on or off-trail. The highly water-resistant, abrasion-resistant ripstop material stood up to the challenge of off-trail use, and the overall protection and durability of this model makes them ideal for extended use while backpacking or through-hiking, while still allowing decent air flow and ventilation. A modified TPU DuaLink strap has three points of adjustment on each side, and a lateral vertical zipper allows for easy on-and-off function despite their height. These are the only gaiters in our test group with an adjustable top closure, utilizing a shock cord and toggle to allow users to further dial in the fit. If the mid-size has too much height for you, the RENAGaiter is also available in a low version that weighs 30g less and is $10 cheaper. Available at www.kahtoola.com.