Every year there is a big debate about gaiters for the Marathon Des Sables (MDS) and other desert races. What are the options? Which gaiter is the best? How should it be fitted? This can make it quite confusing so we'll cover these questions and help you choose the right gaiter for YOU.
Considerations when Choosing your Desert Gaiters:
What is right for one person may not be right for someone else. When considering your kit for the MDS you can use your race ambitions and estimated finishing position as a guide. If for example you aim to be in the top 50 of the MdS you will be a skilled and fit runner already and you are likely to spend about 20 to 30 hours on the course running. You're probably treading lightly on the dunes and you'll do more running than walking. If, in contrast, you expect to be more of a completer, you may spend in the region of 50 to 70 hours or more on the course. You may walk more and as a result your feet will spend more time closer to the ground and your gaiters may run larger risk at tearing on rocks. In the MDS you will face dunes as well as rock and other surfaces. If you're doing other desert races, try to find out what the surface will be like and what demands that will put on your gaiters as some deserts are quite rocky like for example the Namib Desert.
Types of Desert Gaiters:
The main types of desert gaiters available are tall gaiters of parachute rip-stop material, short gaiters primarily based on lycra, and the myRaceKit gaiters which are short and made from a PU coated, breathable nylon.
The main advantage with the tall parachute gaiters is the light weight and their ability to keep sand out if you step deep into dunes. Whilst the construction is very simple, one drawback is the excess fabric that can flap around and increase the risk of tears on rocks. The rip-stop will in most cases prevent tears from spreading but the fabric is very thin and tears easily. Also look closely at the materials used as parachute rip-stop fabrics may not be breathable despite of their light weight. This could cause your feet to sweat more in the heat and also your lower legs due to the tall length of these gaiters. We suggest the best place for the gaiters is an environment with mainly sand and limited rocks.
The short lycra based gaiters' main advantage is the elasticity which contributes to a snug fit around your shoe and thus reduces the risk of tears due to excess fabric. When stretched however, you may notice very fine holes in the lycra fabric. Whilst this contributes to good breathability the knit is not completely sand proof so very fine grains of sand may still slip through though this may not cause any issues. Lycra is also heavier per gram than some other fabrics and with the zip that is frequently seen in the design of these gaiters they end up being heavier. If you have small ankles you may find the ankle cuff too wide and it can slip down. It can help to wear calf sleeves (Compressport R2 Race & Recovery is a popular choice) and pull them over the cuff of the gaiters. Some people stitch the gaiter and calf sleeve together. We advice against this. It is not necessary and you risk over complicating things...
The myRaceKit gaiters were developed in response to a need to improve on existing desert gaiters. The coated nylon fabric is very light weight but also in this context more durable than an uncoated rip-stop, completely sand proof and also breathable. Whilst not as snug fitting as the lycra gaiters, the design does reduce the amount of fabric used compared to traditional parachute gaiters. An ankle strap helps provide an extra secure fit around the ankle and the ankle cuff itself has been designed to be snug without being overly tight. These gaiters are typically lighter than lycra gaiters. A strong toe cap has now been incorporated to protect against scuffing from rocks. The velcro on the myRaceKit gaiters is specially manufactured for ths product. It is wider and has better adhesion than the velcro typically used in other gaiters. The gaiters are hand made in the UK.
Preventing Tears and Making Repairs:
All gaiters may tear. In particular the toe area and any part close to the ground would be at greatest risk. Two ways to reduce this risk is to reinforce the toe area with gaffa tape or rip stop tape if it isn't already reinforced, and to fit the gaiters as high as possible on the shoe without letting sand in. You can also repair small tears with whatever tape you have available as long as it adheres reasonably well to the fabric. Rip stop tape is light weight and be carried in small amounts as it has a paper backing. It can typically be purchased by the metre from suppliers of technical fabrics.
Fitting your Desert Gaiters:
There are two recommended methods for fitting your gaiters to your shoes and the best method will depend on the gaiter chosen. Either stitch the gaiter directly on to the shoe or, for more flexibility, stitch a Velcro hook strap around the shoe if your gaiter has a Velcro loop strap attached (mostly the case). Do NOT glue the Velcro or gaiter without stitching if you can avoid it. This may be tempting but will likely not be sufficient to hold it in place. It can be an advantage to fit your gaiter higher on the shoe to keep it off the ground as much as possible. However you must still ensure that any areas not completely sand proof on your shoes are covered by the gaiter. For a professional fitting we recommend sending your shoes to a cobbler experienced in fitting gaiters. Our own in-house service is now available which can be particluarly convenient if you buy your shoes from us, especially for overseas customers who will save on shipping. The stitching is done by an experienced, specialist cobbler and we personally check every pair.
We also recommend: Alex' Shoe Repairs, 103C Lavender Hill London SW11 5QL, United Kingdom, +44 20 7223 4931
We hope this was helpful! Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, we're always happy to help!
What have others said about our gaiters?
Colin- the gaitors went really well. Not a grain of sand inside the shoes for either of us and we both had light runners on with lots of mesh. A lot of people commented that they thought our gaitors were the best there and they would think about it for next year. Daniell (Big Red Run 2015)
Firstly want to say congratulations to Elisabet on her MDS win, totally in awe! Both John and I completed (very slowly! I developed shin splints on Day 3). I would also like to say your gaiters were fantastic, I had the tiniest little hole in the toe cap and I can tell you I kicked a lot of stones!!. Are you both going next year? I would make a very good Great Dane babysitter as I have one too haha. Thank you for all of your help in getting us there with everything we needed. (John & Sarah, MDS 2015)
Hope you're well. The MdS was a brilliant experience I enjoyed it so much. The gaiters were amazing and I managed to finish with no blisters! A lot of it down to the gaiter. I will review them for you everywhere I can. Alan (MDS 2015)
Racekit gaiters - TOP BIT OF KIT, I’ve really tested these in the past few days and practically no sand in my shoe at the end of each day, I was sceptical to be honest, but cannot fault them at all. Note that I got the Shoemaker in Doncaster to attach the velcro to my trainers, great service and well worth doing. Matt Buck (MDS 2014)
RaceKit's gaiters are the dogs doodahs!! Coupled with shoe healers velcro, not a trace of sand has come home with me!!! Tony Sheridan (MDS 2014):
Absolutely Marvellous! Mimi Anderson (Namib Desert 2013)
I wanted to pass on my product review of your Race Kit Gaiters after using them for a week in the Sahara - "Bombproof". They were fantastic - comfortable, great fitting and did not a single grain of sand in. They took a real beating on the rocks and the rip-stop material made a real difference. Gordon Marshall (MDS 2013)
Your RaceKit gaiters TOTALLY saved me, I literally didn’t get a single blister until the long day and then it wasn’t too bad, compared to some people whose feet were ripped to shreds. They really were excellent, so many people were commenting on them. Rebecca Pattinson (Winner Atacama Crossing 2013)