While most trail runners revel in the elements of the trail, too much dirt, debris, and moisture can be a problem. From a rock in a shoe that forces you to stop, to sand in your shoe that causes irritation over time, to snow that melts and soaks your feet, an excess of mess can ruin a run. When you’re running on the trail, you want to ensure that rocks, sand, dirt, and even snow don’t get into your shoes and cause blisters or discomfort.
Enter the running gaiter, a piece of fabric that covers the opening of your trail shoe to prevent unwanted items from getting into the shoe.
Of course, it’s essential that the running gaiter actually works, so it’s important to do your research to figure out what trail running gaiter is going to be best for you.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low
Ultimate Direction FK Gaiter
Outdoor Reseach Surge Running Gaiters
1. Altra Trail Gaiters
The Altra Trail Gaiters are great for any shoe, but especially if you use them with Altra GaiterTrap-equipped shoes that have a Velcro tab on the back. If you intend to use them with other trail shoe brands, you’ll use the extra hook-and-loop piece to keep the gaiter on. The fabric is made of stretchy, abrasion-resistant material that is both breathable and durable.
Nobody likes the hassle of taking off more items than needed, which Altra has accounted for. The strapless design means that you can change your shoes and socks without ever removing the gaiters. This comes in handy during long trail races when a change of shoes might be warranted part way through. Leave the gaiters on, change your shoes, reattach the gaiters, and off you go.
- The integrated Velcro on the heel makes it easy to use with Altra shoes
- Comfortable and more durable fabric than other brands
- When using with other trail shoes, the front hooks tend not to stay on for more than a few minutes
- Much harder to use on non-Altra shoes without the Velcro gaiter trap on the heel
- Not very good in heavy dew, rain, or snow
2. Inov-8 All Terrain Gaiter
If you run outside a lot when it’s wet or rainy, the Inov-8 All Terrain gaiter is a lightweight water-resistant option that will keep debris from entering your shoe as well as keep your feet dry!
This gaiter is ideal for compatible Inov-8 ultra shoes in particular, as it can clip onto the shoe’s attachment points, making it easy to put on, take off, and provide coverage. In addition, it can be fitted to another shoe by using the strengthened rubber O-ring.
With the gaiter compressing close to the ankle for a tight-yet-comfortable fit, there’s less chance for water and debris to enter your shoe. At the same time, the fabric stretches with the ankle so you can experience unrestricted running movement.
Finally, you can change in and out of the gaiters quickly, as there are just three attachment points that are all on the shoe. And to top it off, the DWR coating makes the gaiters water resistant so that you don’t have to worry about water entering the top of the shoe.
- Hardly noticed them while running
- Can be machine washed
- Great with compatible Inov-8 race shoes
- Fastening the gaiters to non-Inov-8 race shoes is not a great system—either the cords break or they ride up
- Need to re-waterproof the gaiters every so often
3. Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low
The easily-adjustable Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low is designed with a variety of shoes and sizes. Zippers allow you to put them on after your shoes are on. Plus, the asymmetrical coil zippers won’t rub your ankle bones as you flex and move during your run.
Then you can customize the fit by using the elasticized drawcord, which ensures that elements won’t enter through the top of your shoes. The adjustable instep strap makes the gaiters work with a variety of shoes, but you don’t have to worry about it breaking because it is made from a durable, rounded thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).
Finally, the material is designed to be lightweight and breathable. They keep your ankles from getting too sweaty in warm temperatures and easily pack down to be stowed away when not in use. And a light drizzle is no big deal with the durable water repellent (DWR) finish.
- You can put them on after you put on your shoes
- The drawstring at the ankle allows you to customize the fit
- The material is heavy-duty and durable, yet breathable
- Ultra-light and you forget that you’re wearing them
- Wear and tear on the zipper
- Have to pull socks up because they are low cut
- Adaptable to a variety of shoes
4. Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap Gaiters
If you want gaiters that you can just forget about during your trail runs and distance hikes, the Outdoor Research Overdrive Wrap gaiters could be the ones for you. First off, they are incredibly comfortable. But they are also incredibly easy to use, slipping on and off simply and quickly
While they excel in being breathable and lightweight, they are not the most heavy-duty gaiter out there. They are totally fine for a little precipitation and light trail debris, but if you’re going to be splashing in puddles, these are not the best choice.
They are pretty versatile and can fit with a hiking boot—although order a size up—while still being a great option if you want to move fast. Plus, you’ll have a streamlined fit with a reflective logo, which is just another way to improve your safety out on the trail.
- Lightweight and breathable
- Can put on after you put on your shoe
- Great for skinny ankles
- Poor fit—runs too tight or too loose
- Cannot replace or add protective sheathing to the heel strap
- Not very water resistant
5. Outdoor Research Surge Running Gaiters
These Outdoor Research Surge Running gaiters are quite a bit different than other gaiters you’ll see, as they don’t use an underfoot shoe strap or rely on a back hook or Velcro. Instead, they feature a unique bungee tensioning system that will grip the heels of your shoes for a slide-free fit.
Plus, the UPF 50+ fabric will block out 98 percent of the sun’s UV rays, which will help you guard against the elements. The breathable and lightweight material and the flatseam construction will help prevent chafing, keeping you comfortable during your runs. Finally, you can stay visible in low light with the reflective logos, which will help you stay safe when you’re out.
- Very lightweight
- No underfoot shoe strap
- Much less irritating than underfoot or back hook gaiters
- Do not stay secure around the mouth of the shoe
- No way to tighten the top of the gaiters around the calf
- Sticky rubber only works when the shoes and gaiters both are perfectly clean
6. Salomon Trail Gaiters Low
If you’re looking for gaiters that will give you full range of motion while at the same time being high enough to keep debris out, the Salomon Trail Gaiters Low might be a great fit for you. The outsole straps are thin, but they are tough, keeping the gaiters secure on your feet.
You’ll also have protective pads that will help your ankle bones from getting banged up as you’re on the trail. Plus, you can stay safe with the reflective logos that provide visibility in low-light conditions. Finally, you don’t have to take off your shoes to put on these gaiters, as the external side hook-and-loop closure system makes it quick and easy to don these gaiters for a trail run.
- Can easily remove them without taking off your shoes
- No blisters around the ankles even with low-cut socks
- A little extra space around the shin
- Work much better with high-arched boots than flat-soled running shoes
- Can run large
7. Salomon Trail Gaiters High
Although these Salomon Trail Gaiters High are made for hikers, they are lightweight and not cumbersome. The upper part of the gaiters are padded, protecting your shins and ankle from abrasion. The mesh material is durable, meaning that you can venture onto whatever trail you desire, and these gaiters will be able to withstand the trail abuse.
The elastic cuff conforms to your ankle and shoe, giving you a nice, tight fit that stays put and provides protection from stray rocks and prickly vegetation. The underfoot strap and hook-and-loop fastener will keep the gaiters securely attached to your shoe.
- Great combination of ease, fit, and function
- Nice light padding in ankle area
- Works great with a high top hiking boot or trail shoe
- Rear edging sticks out
- Velcro can be incredibly loose
- Not great for durability
- Not water resistant
8. Ultimate Direction FK Gaiter
Made with synthetic yet ultra-strong and stretchy Kill Twill Cordura, you’ll have a great fit as well as breathability and durability with the Ultimate Direction FK gaiters. Plus, these gaiters adjust to fit your shoe and shape without being baggy, so you’ll experience a comfortable feel without thinking that you’ve put on a tourniquet.
Like other gaiters, the Ultimate Direction FK gaiters have a hook-and-loop closure on the outside, but they also have extra snap protection and a front lace hook, which will keep the Velcro from accidentally opening as you’re running. The Hypalon strap is adjustable with T-Hooks and can be easily replaced if necessary, meaning that you don’t need to get new gaiters every season.
Marked as a gaiter “designed by Trail Runners for Trail Runners,” these gaiters will last many miles while still maintaining their durability and effectiveness.
- Underfoot strap can survive a lot of trail running where it is really rocky
- Don’t feel them when you’re wearing them
- Light and comfortable, yet still sturdy
- Can be worn with different length socks
- Can be somewhat challenging to affix the Velcro correctly