Best Trail Running Gaiters: Clean and Lean

running gaiters featured
Written by Dennis Owens

Year round running has never been easier than it is for the modern runner today, with gear for every weather and every trail regardless of rain, snow, and rocks. Other than the right running shoe, there is another essential piece of gear to keep you both dry, warm, and blister-free on gravel trails, and that is a trail running gaiter.

These products are specifically designed with the different needs of a runner and with such a large selection to chose from picking the best trail running gaiters can be a challenge. In this article, we are going to cover the basics of how gaiters differ from one another and what to look for when you buy.

As you adventure into the land of running gear you may notice that there are different types of running gear for different types of runners. Gaiters can be used for almost all different types of running treks, whether you are a trail runner, tackling wild terrain with map stashed in your back pocket, a casual park jogger, or even a city street trailblazer.

They come in a variety of sizes, lengths, and breathability. Choosing the right gaiter starts with determining how you are using them and what type of running adventure you are going on.

Different than your average gaiter

When people think of the word gaiter, it is often associated with the calf-high heavy duty material attached and tugged into an alpine adventure’s boot for the long snowy mountain, not a sleek ankle height ultra lightweight attachment to little trail running shoes.

When you are going online or in store to buy gaiters you are going to notice that there are generally three different types of gaiters that you can choose from, and they are all for different types of outdoor adventure.

  • Expedition – These particular types of gaiters are made for the worst conditions one can face on long backpacking and mountaineering trips. If you are trudging through calf deep snow on your way up the mountain than looking for gaiters that are either labeled expedition or come in a heavy duty grading will protect you from the wet and the cold.
  • Alpine – Some runners will choose a less sturdy but still very protective type of gaiter called the alpine grade gaiters. They have nice breathable fabrics, keep out debris while they run, and are generally water proof.
  • Trail – Finally, the go to options that we will predominately cover today is the classic trail gaiter, distinctive because of how lightweight and breathable they are while also keeping you safe in rocky brush lined trails. A good pair of trail running gaiters is going to keep you focused and light weight, will not rub uncomfortable and are easy to take on and off.

When you go to buy a trail running gaiter you may be tempted to cut cost and buy a cheaper gaiter that is used by fishers or casual hikers.

running gaiters

However, these gaiters are not as light weight nor do they provide much comfort for high intensity running. There are a few other specific qualities that you can choose from that we cover below.

Height That’s Right

There are two height types of gaiters that a runner can purchase and your choice will depend on your level of comfort and what type of terrain you plan on running through. Luckily enough the name of the gaiters is pretty easy to interpret, there are low gaiters and high gaiters.

The low gaiters will ride lower down on your ankle, meaning they will feel most like wearing nothing at all and will provide you with a lightweight run. This type of gaiter is ideal for terrain where rocks and pebbles are constantly sneaking into your shoe.

It is not ideal for those who are taking on larger puddles, snow, or even beach side running. Because they do not cover past a few inches above your shoe you are still likely to end up with a soggy foot.

man wearing running gaiters

High gaiters tend to be waterproof, can go anywhere from half way up your calf to a few inches above the shoe, look more like a traditional gaiter, and are a bit heavier. High gaiters are preferred for when you have to worry more about getting wet, or needing leg protection from thistles and bushes than for having a less noticeable piece of gear.

What separates them from higher traditional gaiters is the fabric used, which is more breathable and light weight. When you are trail running you want to simultaneously protect your leg while also having a large range of motion for faster movement.

*Pro Tip For Fit: You want your gaiters to sit snuggly in place when you put them on. Some gaiters Velcro in, others have straps or pulley devices as well, regardless of what system holds them in place you are going to want a tight fit. The biggest complaint about gaiters is their tendency to slip around while running, so when you try them on, make sure they fit right.

Waterproof and Ultralight

The next few items to check for when you are purchasing gaiters are important regardless of your experience level. If you are purchasing gaiters for all season trail running and plan on being out in the wet or the mud then you are going to want to make sure your gaiters are made from waterproof material.

with running gaiters in puddle

Any runner can tell you that your time and comfort increases as your gear become more waterproof from head to toe. When you are shopping around if rain or even light snow is your concern then look for the always trusted Gore-Tex brand in the materials.

Long distance runners who are going on more adventurous dusty trails might be worried about the additional weight around their ankles, however, many of these trail running gaiters are specifically designed to be lightweight. This is perhaps one of the most important differences between the trail gaiter and the alpine gaiters.

The fabric used in a good trail gaiter is going to be ultra-light, breathable, and hardly detectable while running, the only thing you should notice is the comfort you feel regardless of the type of trail you choose.

Before you pick

There are a few more things to be aware of when buying a trail running gaiter, and most of them have to do with personal preference and experience. Some styles of attaching the gaiter to your running shoe are easier, those tend to be gaiters with Velcro and straps.

gaiters with velcro

They allow for you to quickly put on and remove your gear as you explore your new trail. Some gaiters for more experienced trail runners have different systems that are meant to lock the gaiter in place better as you run along. When you go to purchase your gaiter try putting them on and going for a quick jog around the block, this way you will know how they feel and whether or not they are easy enough for you to use on the go.

How they get put on and how well they stay on are major considerations for your final purchase. This little piece of relatively inexpensive gear to add on top of your running shoe can make your trip all that more successful, and may even encourage you to take on a few miles to your trail run.

Top products on the market

The best trail running gaiter is going to be different for different types of runners, however, if you follow our buying guide above you can narrow down the numerous options available to you.

Below we have listed a few well-rated gaiters for you to start with, just make sure to try them on for fit and feel for the most comfortable running experience. Trail running can be tough enough without having to also deal with wet feet or pebbles in your shoes!

Altra Trail Gaiters altra trail gaiters

Weight: 0.8 ounces

Dimension: 9.2 x 4.5 x 1 inch

Specific Features: Brightly colored and incredibly stretchy, these gaiters are made from nylon and spandex to fit over your shoe. They run up a bit past your ankle for a breathable yet protective design to keep out dirt, rocks, and mud. They are strapless for easy pull on and pull off, and feature metal hooks to lock in your shoe.

Best Use: Trail running in rocky conditions with limited water.

This Altra Trail Gaiter is going to help you get through dusty rock trails with next to no problems! They are incredibly durable, very breathable, and stretchy enough to fit over a variety of running shoes. While they are not graded waterproof, the material is stretchy enough to help protect you in light water situations, but are not the best for running through trails dense with water and mud.

Two things that customers are not big fans of is the difficulty getting the right size for both their ankles and their shoes and that there is no front holder on the gaiter itself. When people go to amp up their workout through sprints or uphill running the metal hooks fly off and because there is no front strap they slide a bit.

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eForCrazy Outdoor Unisex Double Gaiter eforcrazy gaiters

Weight: 0.15 lbs

Dimensions: 2.1 x 3.5 x 5.5 inches

Specific Features:  These gaiters are fully made from nylon material with water resistant coating. They feature shear tabs for a front lock into your shoe and fit like a low gaiter around your boot or trail running shoe. They come in a tiny stuff bag and are attached to a strap system to keep them in place.

Best Use: Trail running through mountain terrain.

These EforCrazy Outdoor Unisex Double Gaiters pack small and add minimal weight for your trip and trail running, they fit tight meaning you will struggle less with keeping them on your running shoes. While they are not the highest quality, they will do the trick on a rocky hike and have waterproof material to keep you and your feet dry!

Customers are not a big fan of the hooks and straps that are supposed to hold the gaiter in place, as they tend to not work very well and are not durable. Some are also bothered by the fit of the gaiter which is too small around the ankle making it ultimately uncomfortable. While they do the trick for short trips many say do not rely on them for long hikes or trail runs.

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Gore X-Running Shoe Gaiter gore x-running shoe gaiter

Weight: 1 lbs

Specific Features: These short gaiters are made from a material mix that creates a durable and waterproof gear. The Gore Men also features a grip elastic bottom edge to hold the gaiter in place as you tackle different types of terrain.

Best Use: All season trail runs

People love these Gore X-Running Shoe Gaiters because they stay in place and can take a lot of abuse as you tackle rocky trails and hikes. These low gaiters allow you to trudge in all season running, whether you are going through snow, rain, or dry dust these gaiters will protect you and your shoes. Their iconic tight fit creates a seal between the gaiter and your shoe to keep pebbles out as you run.

If you have larger feet then this might not be the best buy for you as they tend to fit a little small and rip when pulled on too tightly. These gaiters require you to take off your shoes in order to put them on and take them off. Other than that these gaiters can handle a lot of abuse once they’re on so you can take them up both wet and rocky trails.

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Salomon Low Trail Gaiters salomon low trail gaiters

Weight: 1.7 lbs

Specific Features:  The brightly colored gaiters are made out of unique fibers of a breathable material. It features a connecting sole strap to lock the gaiter in place and to external closures along the side of the shoe for extra protection.  Finally, the gaiters have easy hooks and loops to strap in your shoes.

Best Use: Trail running in dry terrain

Customers love these Salomon Low Trail Gaiters to keep their feet dry and lightweight while doing extreme trail running. The Salomon is a fan favorite for those tackling the obstacle race Tough Mudder which features dry and muddy terrain.

The fabric they used to make it is stretchy and is meant to fit snuggly around your ankle for extra protection. They are lightweight and comfortable, and while they are not water sealed, they do an excellent job of keeping the wet out.

While most reviewers loved this product, there are a few complaints about the fabric rubbing against the heel if your socks are not covering you. While most runners wearing gaiters will have on higher socks, you could get a blister your first time out with these specialty low gaiters.

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Salomon High Trail Gaiters salomon high trail gaiters

Weight: 2 lbs

Specific Features:  These gaiters are the ideal option for the trail runner who not only needs protection from debris but can also give you extra support around your ankles. The elastic fabric is synthetically made to be the breathable and lightweight for long runs. It is a one-piece design that comes on and off easily and has reflective sides.

Best Use: Trail running

The Salomon Hight Trail Gaiters will go up about 2 or 3 inches off your ankle for additional protection to keep out both dirt and brush that can scratch as you run along a mountain terrain. The Velcro up at the top does come loose when it is wet, meaning that you will need to adjust your gaiters as you go along, for some people this makes this product not worth the price.

However, the rest of the gaiter is very durable and will hold you in place. The trade off with these high gaiters is less durable Velcro, but they add security to your ankle and allow you to tackle more brush as you trail run.

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Inov-8 Debris Gaiter 32 – AW16 inov-8 gaiters

Weight: 1.12 ounces

Specific Features:  Inov-8 made these gaiters to be both water resistant and protective from debris and dirt. The materials that the gaiter is made from will keep your feet dry without adding and discomfort. They feature an under-heel rubber fasten with additional lace hook in the front to ultimately hold them in place.

Best Use: Trail running through mountain terrain.

What is great about these Inov-8 Debris Gaiters is that they are incredibly light weight, keep all debris out and are easy to put on. They are definitely smaller gaiters so splashing around too much will mean wet legs but not wet feet!

While people generally love these gaiters, some have found a problem with the durability of the strap. Over a few runs with direct contact to gravel and really rocky terrain the rubber tie downs snapped up on their ankles and made the gaiters difficult to use.

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Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters outdoor research gaiters

Weight: 13.6 ounces

Specific Features:  Perhaps the best feature for these gaiters is the shock cord that tightens the top independently from the rest of the gaiter. The short gaiters are both water resistant and breathable due to the nylon and spandex material blend. The gaiters were made with lace hooks and instep straps as well as anti-slip pads to ensure that they stay on no matter how fast you run or how bumpy the trail is.

Best Use: All season trail running, wet and dry conditions.

The low Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters are comfortable, breathable, and water resistant making your run both comfortable and dry. Customers love the adjustable shock cord and the rubber on the back that grabs to the shoe is a fan favorite for locking these gaiters into place.

They are easy to take off, and even have an extra strap on the bottom if you are going for a very long distance run over very rocky or wet terrain. This seems like a great gaiter, however, they have one fatal design flaw and that is its stiff plastic at the front of the gaiter that is used to help hold the hooks in place, the plastic piece doesn’t mold nicely to the top of the shoe.

Also, some do not like the seams along the gaiter as they tend to take a beating in cold weather, both water and snow.

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Buy the Best

Any seasoned trail runner is going to have a gaiter in their running gear arsenal for those cross country terrains that kick up a lot of dirt, rocks, and mud. The gaiter not only saves you the discomfort of wet shoes or dirty socks it also protects you from serious injuries and cuts that you can encounter when cross country running.

Picking the right gaiter will depend on what is most comfortable for you and the type of terrain you will be running on, just remember to get gaiters specific to trail running. Have we missed your favorite gaiter? Let us know in the comments below!


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.