If you’re a hardcore road runner who has never stepped foot on a trail and has no desire to change that, gaiters aren’t a necessity for you, unless you run in a lot of snow. Why spend money on something that won’t benefit you?
But if you’re a trail runner, you’ve likely used gaiters. If you haven’t, chances are you’ve noticed them at many of your races. They’re those little tent-like materials you see covering the ankles and shoes of the other runners at your race.
If you’re new to the world of trail running, you might have wondered what those were doing there. Their purpose is to stop debris from going into your shoes as you run on dusty, sandy, or rocky ground.
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Continuing your run when you get weighed down by too much sand in your shoes isn’t fun. It can feel like you’re running in quicksand. It hurts your time and it turns a pleasant run into an unnecessary battle.
Even if the sand doesn’t bother you, the rocks will. Little pebbles or stones make their way into your shoes and every step can feel like agony, especially if the rock is sharp.
There’s nowhere for that stone to go when it’s in your shoe, except into your foot. All that debris in your shoes can cause pain and even blisters, which in turn will cause more pain.
Aren’t Gaiters Annoying to Wear?
Given the choice, I’d rather run without gaiters. But, if I’m running a trail, I’m going to put them on every time because they really can help.
Some gaiters seem to fade into the background and you really do forget you’re wearing them. The worst gaiters make you feel like you have clown shoes on or that you’re dressed up in a really bad, cheap Halloween costume.
So, while you might find gaiters annoying, they are still worth it to some runners because they’d rather have annoyance than pain.
What Should I Consider While Buying Gaiters?
The biggest thing you should understand when buying gaiters is that you’ll want to find ones specifically made for trail running.
If they aren’t designed solely for that purpose, it’s going to be a waste of your money. They won’t hold up to the rigors of running on the trail and they won’t have all the features you need to fully protect your feet.
Let’s look at some of the things you should consider before buying running gaiters.
- How simple they are to put on: If breaking into Fort Knox seems easier than getting into your running gaiters, you should look for another pair. Putting them on shouldn’t be that difficult. If it is, you’re going to be annoyed before your run even begins or you might begin leaving them at home, which defeats the purpose of buying them in the first place.
- If they are waterproof: When you’re running on a trail, you have to be prepared to encounter water. There are the normal running fluctuations road runners have, like a sudden shower. But, as a trail runner, there are also big puddles and wet grass to contend with.
- If you want reflective material: If you want others to see you coming, you should opt for a pair of gaiters that have some reflectivity.
- They need to go up high enough to do you some good: If your gaiters don’t go up high enough on your ankles and low enough around your shoe, they won’t keep out enough dirt and rocks.
- Do you feel foolish wearing them: If you feel like you look stupid while wearing your gaiters, you should look for another pair. Some look like something you’d see at a circus, while others are stylish and sleek looking.
- What kind of temperature you’re running in: Some gaiters are thick, which means they’ll be good for runs in cooler temperatures. Other gaiters are thin enough that you won’t feel too overheated in the summer sun.
- How much you want to spend: You can find cheap gaiters, but you should weigh the long-term cost before you buy anything. Cheaper gaiters may not protect your feet as well and they may not hold up to your heavy running schedule. You may have to replace them periodically, while pricier ones may hold up for extended usage.
- How comfortable they are: Some gaiters can feel too tight around the ankle area. You don’t want something that feels uncomfortable every time you move. This is an issue you have to be aware of if you have thicker ankles.
Top 5 Best Running Gaiters
1. Altra Trail Gaiter
They are great at keeping debris out because of the tight fit they have on your shoes and leg.
Although they are tight, they are still comfortable and they don’t rub your skin raw while running.
They are breathable enough that you won’t feel overheated while wearing them.
You won’t even remember you have them on after the first few minutes. At 1.3 ounces, they are so lightweight, you won’t even notice the extra weight on your legs and feet.
They do have a reflective marking on them for extra visibility.
The gaiters are simple to attach.
You’ll get a few color selections with these gaiters.
If you have thick ankles, these won’t work as well for you and if your ankles are thin, they’ll feel a bit baggy.
They don’t do a great job at keeping out the snow.
2. Salomon High Trail Gaiters
These gaiters are heavy duty compared to some other brands. They will give you ankle bone protection, which is a great add-on when you’re running on trails because uneven trails can hurt even the strongest of ankles.
These gaiters have a reflective logo on them, so while you won’t get much-added visibility in low-light situations, you will get some.
You’ll get great breathability with these.
It’s a one-piece design, which runners who hate complicated, time-consuming gear will appreciate -- they’ll slip on fast.
Although they offer the extra ankle protection, they are still lightweight enough that you won’t feel like you’re running in molasses while wearing these.
These will fit any shoes, which runners who bounce between different running shoes will like.
You’ll only have one color selection with these.
These gaiters won’t get you through years of running -- they may not even last months, depending upon your running volume because they tend to get holes in them.
Some runners have had problems with the Velcro coming apart during their runs and if mud gets on the Velcro, that problem becomes even worse.
3. Outdoor Research Men’s Gaiters
These black gaiters are made of primarily nylon and polyester, with a little bit of spandex thrown in. They are tall enough to protect you from anything that’s trying to work its way into your shoes.
These gaiters have anti-slip prints at the heel that are made of silicone.
They use a hook and loop system on the inside so you won’t have that annoying flapping of straps while you’re running.
They also have an instep strap that you can take off if it’s irritating you or you can adjust it if the fit just needs a little tweaking.
These gaiters are tall enough to handle snowy conditions and they’ll also keep your feet drier in wet conditions, thanks to the water resistant shell material.
The Velcro positioning on these gaiters can snag on socks and pants. You’ll want to be careful not to wear any super expensive gear while using these or you may want to cover that area with a bit of duct tape on your run.
These may not feel very comfortable on your first run, but they’ll break in over time.
They run a bit small.
4. Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters
These aren’t as heavy duty as the other Outdoor Research gaiters on our list. These are more affordable and they are a minimalist version for runners who want as little weight as possible and don’t mind losing the water protection feature.
These gaiters have an elastic top to help keep them in place.
They have hook and loop patches in the heel area, which gives runners a little more security that they’ll stay attached mile after mile.
They come in three different color choices -- basic black and two bright, eye-catching colors that will stand out on the trails.
The fabric is extremely lightweight, so your legs won’t feel the strain of wearing these gaiters.
The air will circulate well when you’re wearing these because the fabric is so breathable.
These won’t do well in heavy rain or snow because they are so light.
The Velcro at the heel isn’t the strongest stuff -- it starts to come off after a while, but the gaiters still stay in place.
5. Inov-8 Debris Gaiter 32-SS17
If you’re tired of your feet getting wet from snow or rain when you’re running trails, you might like these gaiters. They are better at repelling water than some other trail gaiters are.
This gaiter is made with moisture-wicking fabric that will keep the sweat away from your skin to make you more comfortable on your run.
These stay in place because they have an under-the-heel loop and a lace hook on the front.
They hold up well in extremely muddy conditions, which is where some other gaiters fail.
They hug your leg without being too constricting and that’s nice for runners who hate the billowy nature of some other gaiters on the market.
They are easy to put on.
Some runners have said the rubber straps these use have snapped on them mid-race.
The material is a magnet for thorns and other plant life that likes to stick on clothing.
And the Winner Is …
The Altra trail gaiters are the best running gaiters on this list as long as you wear Altra trail shoes. If you don’t, they will still work, but you may have to do some modifications to make them perfect for you.
These are affordable and you’ll get great color choices with these. They don’t use straps, which some runners like about this gaiter because if they want they can switch their shoes and socks without having to take off the gaiter.
At 1.3 ounces, they feel like feathers on your legs and they won’t make you feel hot during summer runs.