Running in the trails or on dirt roads can be exhilarating – the ground is easier on your foot and the natural scenery more than makes up for ditching the comfort of your treadmill or the neighbourhood track. There’s a catch, though. With the unpredictable terrain that comes with trails, there are chances of pebbles, rocks, twigs and other loose material lodging themselves in your shoes, leading to discomfort and a hampered run. This is where gaiters step in.

What are gaiters?
To put it simply, gaiters shield the vulnerable tops of your running shoes and guard your feet against the elements. While your waterproof shoes may be adequate for the track, gaiters help protect the little nooks and corners (like the top of your shoe) from abrasive elements in the wild. Typically, gaiters are designed to run from the bottom of your feet up to the mid-calf region. Designed from sturdy, weather-resistant fabric, they serve to guard your foot from wet loose soil, debris or even snow that is common on hilly trails and outbacks. For less severe conditions, there are also low gaiters that come up to about your ankles.

How do they work?
Gaiters can be fixed to your boots or shoes from either the front through a hook, or through shoe laces at the bottom of the tongue, with a flexible strap that extends to where your heels meet the boot end. Running shoe gaiters usually prefer to have a Velcro strip attached to the back of your shoes, so that they can wrap around your lower leg when strapped on from top to bottom. Basic gaiters are usually attached with toggles and drawcords; while hi-end models may even feature a dedicated top strap with cam buckle.

Anatomy of a Gaiter
Anatomy of a Gaiter

What are they made of?
Depending on the fabric of the gaiters, you can tell exactly how much protection they can offer. Typically, the lower section of gaiters is abrasion resistant to protect against injuries, while the top section is waterproof or water resistant to guard against natural elements. Some common gaiter fabrics include Gore-Tex®, a well-known laminate that provides superior waterproof, windproof protection and breathability; and Cordura® nylon, designed to withstand the abrasion of ice, rocks and the occasional nick of loose stones and gravel. Coated nylon, a type of fabric made with polyurethane-coated nylon is good for short day runs through sand and wet bush while the soft-shell Schoeller® fabrics offer flexibility as well as excellent weather protection.

Types of gaiters
Like the rest of the running gear available in the market today, gaiters come with all sorts of choices, shapes, colours, fabrics and utilities. If you’re a regular trail runner, or keen on attempting outdoor routes in the rains, gaiters will be a worthwhile investment in the long run. For rainy weather, it’s advisable to wear waterproof pants tucked into your boots and then fitted with a low gaiter on top for best results. The right kind of gaiter for you will depend on the activity you plan to put them through.

Trail gaiters
Lightweight and airy, these provide protection against gravel, rocks, grit and light rain during your trail runs.

Alpine gaiters
Designed for ultra running, mountaineering and cross-country skiing, alpine gaiters offer protection against puddles and rock abrasions.

Expedition gaiters
Meant for extreme weather conditions, these feature a waterproof breathable fabric for superior protection against harsh rain, snow or sludge.

The type of gaiter you ultimately choose will depend on the frequency of your excursions and the conditions that you will be putting them through. Remember though, that gaiters come in all sorts of sizes based on a range of boot sizes. It’s important to try them on with your shoes to ensure that you have a good snug fit.

Main image: Sage to Summit

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