|Well-worn sneakers and gaiters. Rad!|
One of the first things I changed in my transition from heavyweight to lightweight backpacking was my footwear. After the Appalachian Trail, I never wore boots again for three-season hiking, and thanks to my Forty Below overboots, I doubt I’ll ever wear boots for winter hiking, either. Even at their lightest and most breathable, boots are heavy, clunky, hot, and they take forever to dry out after full immersions. Give me a lightweight, non-waterproof, mostly mesh trail-runner, and my feet will be good to go.
There is one slight add-on to the sneaker that I’ve gotten used to in the past few years, though. I almost always wear my Dirty Girl Gaiters.
Toward the end of my Appalachian Trail hike, I noticed a lot of the beginning southbounders walking down the well-defined trail in the middle of the summer wearing shorts, heavy boots, and knee-high gaiters. These were the sorts of gaiters I wear in the middle of the winter to keep snow from jamming into the tops of my boots. I couldn’t imagine what purpose they served in the summer, aside from being insanely hot and looking like goofy leg-warmers. As far as I was concerned, gaiters were for snow, and nothing else. This was before I started wearing ankle gaiters, and before I learned that some people like knee-high gaiters for leg protection in brambly and overgrown bushwhacking (the Appalachian Trail is not this, so I still say they were foolishly overkill).
I’ve also seen ankle gaiters made of high tech waterproof-breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex and eVent, but what’s the point of a waterproof gaiter on a non-waterproof sneaker? Your feet will get wet just the same, and even breathable fabrics like eVent are less breathable than no gaiters.
|Hiking is all about looking real cool, and these gaiters do the trick!|
A few summers later, I discovered the wonders of ankle gaiters with trail runners, but not the overkill waterproof gaiters, and not the super overkill knee-highs. I found the insanity of Dirty Girl Gaiters. One look at their early-1990’s style web site, and you’ll know you want to have them, even if you don’t really know what they are.
What are they, you ask? Dirty Girl Gaiters are basically a very thin Spandex cone/tube with a bit of velcro on the back and a small hook on the front. You slide them on over your foot before putting on your sneakers, then, after your sneakers are tied up, you clip the hook to the front laces of your sneakers, and attach the velcro to an adhesive velcro tab on the back of your sneakers. The stretch of the Spandex keeps the gaiter up over your socks, while the hook and velcro keep the bottom of the gaiter down over the opening of your sneaker. Most gaiters use a cord or strap under the arch of your foot to keep the gaiter down, but this is a much simpler method, and it works just as well.
The only purpose of the Dirty Girl is to keep little debris out of your shoes. It won’t protect your ankles from big thorny bushes and stabbing sticks, but you shouldn’t rely on heavy gear to do that for you, anyway. For approximately 0.5 ounces per pair, all they do is keep dirt and other nuisances out of your sneaker. You know, things like small pebbles and twigs that work their way into your feet and make you stop to dump them out from time to time. Or just the dirt and crushed leaves that build up in the bottom of your shoes. All of these things are uncomfortable, and they wear out your socks as you grind them in with each step.
|Taking a break, flip the gaiters up and untie the shoes.|
I started wearing Dirty Girl Gaiters two summers ago, and put them to their first big test on the New England Trail. Then I put them to an even bigger test on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ve owned a total of three pairs, and I don’t even notice when I’m wearing them now– they don’t heat up your feet, they don’t get in the way, and they weigh practically nothing. I only notice that they’re there when I take off my shoes. And I notice when they’re not there, because all that dirt and grit that gets into my sneakers becomes even more of a nuisance. But I’ve also noticed that my socks are less nasty after a few days of hiking, and that I never need to take off my sneakers to dump out a tiny pebble that feels like a thorn in my foot.
For $19 and 0.6 ounces per pair (my first pair was $15, but inflation happens everywhere. It’s still cheap), you get a very simple and effective piece of hiking gear. They make your feet more comfortable. They prolong the life of your socks by keeping dirt from getting ground into the bottoms of your feet. They are nearly unnoticeable and have no disadvantages to speak of. And they last a good long while. I’m still using my first pair, which are near the end of their lifetime, but they’ve lasted through three pairs of sneakers. I tore up two pairs on the PCT, where the gravel, sand, and manzanita shredded many pieces of my hiking equipment, but for the price and usefulness, I love the gaiters.