Friday, November 23, 2012

Tested: Dirty Girl running gaiters

This week's review: running gaiters from Dirty Girl (but not the Canadian Dirty Girl).

They're in there somewhere.

Seen in an unnaturally clean state.

What they are: Lightweight ankle coverings that attach to your shoes - incredibly popular among trail and ultrarunners.

Why you want them: Because rocks in your shoes suck!

Heavy-duty cordura and stitching attach the front hook.

Inside out, displaying the band of soft loop-side velcro at the heel.
A solid metal hook attaches to the laces of your shoes.

Duration used: 2 years

Price paid/purchased from: I paid $20 + shipping direct from Dirty Girl herself.

The provided sticky-back velcro is tenacious!
I've only had to replace one piece in two years.

This is what I still have left of the self-adhesive hook tape;
 there's probably enough for another 8 pairs of shoes.

Original packaging - I keep the spare self-adhesive hook tape inside.

What rawks: They're a simple, lightweight and damn stylish solution to keeping crap out of your shoes while you run. The heavy-duty spandex material is durable without being heavy or stiff - you won't even notice you're wearing them - and comes in a sufficiently wide array of colours and patterns to satisfy anyone's tastes (skulls are cool!). The fabric has 4-way stretch, breathes beautifully, and the stitching doesn't chafe. When they get dirty, chuck them in the washing machine; I wash everything in cold water and don't bother with a lingerie bag, but they always come out looking brand new after hanging to dry overnight. They go on easily, but stay put once they're on your foot - I've never had one come loose, and I've used them pretty hard. The installation instructions are so simple a toddler could prep a pair of shoes, and there is ample sticky-back velcro provided in the packaging to do several pairs, plus you can order more from Dirty Girl if necessary. The gaiters are tall enough to provide excellent coverage from low-hanging thorns or burrs, but can be shoved down if you feel they're taller than you'd like. Since they're very thin, putting a timing chip strap on overtop is no problem (unless you already have truly gargantuan ankles, in which case you've probably got bigger problems). Without making any claims to do so, the fabric even blocks a bit of wind, so they're great for protecting that gap that forms between the top of your socks and your tights in cold weather. Furthermore, while originally intended to keep stones and debris from entering your shoes, they do a fine job of keeping your footwear free of snow for those of us in Northern climates who thumb our noses at winter's attempts to keep us indoors. When they do get wet, they don't hold much water and dry quite quickly, so you won't be weighed down. The lack of a bottom strap means there is no interference with the sole or tread of your shoes - since I run in trail shoes that have a flat sole, I would feel the strap of many other gaiter designs at every step. The lack of strap also removes the highest wear area; several other types have non-replaceable straps you will eventually need to purchase whole new gaiters when they wear through.

Put your socks on, then slide the gaiter on.

Hook the front to your laces.

Attach the rear hook & loop and go!

What sucks: These will not keep mud out of your shoes if you step in it - I had a vivid demonstration of that at Horror Hill this year. They're neither wind- nor waterproof (though they do cut the wind a bit), so if you're a weenie about that sort of thing you'll need to look elsewhere for additional protection. They are not as tall and the material is not as rugged as some other gaiters (especially those designed for mountaineering or snowshoeing), so if you're consistently running or hiking through highly abrasive materials they may not be as durable or provide the coverage you desire. The metal hook at the front may interfere with your lace tension, and if your shoes or boots have a cover over the laces you may not be able to use these at all as you must be able to attach the front hook to some type of loop. The exact construction of your shoes can greatly impact the fit, too - I have a pair of trail shoes whose laces start further back on the foot and the gaiters don't work optimally with them. The self-adhesive hook tape can fail - I've had to replace one patch - and if it happened in a race you'd probably be unhappy. Applying the hook tape really requires a smooth, non-fabric area on the heel of the shoe, too, which isn't present on all models. Additionally, when not using the gaiters, the exposed hook side on the back of your shoes can cause abrasion to other items; if you absent-mindedly scratch your shin with your opposite heel, you can seriously snag a pair of running tights, compression socks or calf sleeves, and they can do damage to other items if you chuck your shoes in a bag. The gaiters and additional hook tape are not widely available, so if you need a pair in a hurry, you may be out of luck.

Pre-race at Run for the Toad 2011

What I'd like to see: A heavier-duty version would be pretty keen, possibly even using softshell material to make them wind- and water-resistant.

2011 25k Run for the Toad finish.

What I'm saying: If you run off-road, a mere $20 can make your experience so much more comfortable. I looked at a lot of different makes and models of gaiters prior to purchasing these, and I've never once regretted my decision or gone looking at any others since. The only thing I might do is buy another pair, since they also have skulls on a red background!

2011 Frosty Trail 3-hour trail race in calf-deep snow.

For further edification: iRunFar, Backpacker Magazine and Backpack Gear Test have all reviewed these, plus others.

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