Desert gaiters: the 3 golden rules to fix them correctly!

The desert is not just “sand” and the deserts and sands can be very different one from the other. Compact sand, soft sand, alluvial plateaus, rocky canyons and many other geological conformations are all part of what we consider “desert”. For this reason, in some races the sand gaiters can be considered an optional, as they are used for short sections and the comfort of reducing the temperature and increasing the air circulation for the feet, compensates the need to stop to remove the sand from the shoes. This strategy doesn’t work in Oman.

The only alluvial plateau in Oman Desert Marathon

The Oman Desert Marathon is a race where about most of the course is on the sand, and the sand you will find is mostly soft. The stunning 165 kilometers of race are crossing some of the highest dunes, and the most remote areas of the Omani Desert: no roads, no 4×4 tracks, just flags to mark the course and show the direction to follow. You will cross just one alluvial plateau, of about 15 km, and this section will be the only one with the consistency of a traditional road or a mountain trails. The remaining 150 kilometers will require sand gaiters. A real challenge!

During the past editions of Oman Desert Marathon we had two cases of runners that decided not to use the sand gaiters.
The first was a barefoot runner, that insisted to try to run since the first day with no shoes. After 5 kilometers of burning sand, he changed his mind. Unfortunately, he developed a lot of blisters and plagues and he couldn’t finish the race.
The second case was a competitor that simply “forgot” to take the sand gaiters. After 1 stage of struggle with the sand, he cut the sleeves of his night jacket and used them as socks covering the shoes and blocking most of the sand. He was able to finish the race, but he said that in the future he will never forget the sand gaiters!

How to choose, prepare and use correctly the sand gaiters:
(tested for 1000 km and 5 years of desert running)

1- Buy gaiters specifically designed for the desert. Don’t buy hiking or mountain gaiters, even if the salesperson gives you this advice. You need gaiters specifically designed to stop the sand and they must be light and cover all the shoes and part of the leg. Mountain gaiters are designed to stop small stones, water and mud and the material and shape is not adequate for the desert: they will just increase the temperature and humidity of your feet, without blocking the sand. Example of desert gaiters

  • Stitches are crucial. You have 2 options for fixing the sand gaiters to the shoes:
    1. Sew the sand gaiters directly on the shoes and create an inseparable “combo” shoe + gaiter. If the work is done correctly this solution gives you the most solid and affordable way to wear sand gaiters. This is the solution adopted by many top runners like Marco Olmo, and is the best solution for very fast runners. The negative aspect is that you must wear the gaiters all the time and this increases the humidity and temperature of your feet, that is directly correlated with the increased risk of blisters. Fast runners finish the stages in less than half of the time of the average runner and in 1/4th of the time of the slowest runner and for this reason, this solution works for them.
    2. Seam a stripe of velcro on the shoes. Do to try to use glue: many sand gaiters brands suggest to use glue, but in years of experience in the desert we saw that 90% of times the glue is not the best solution, as it melts, rip off or lose adherence, and having just a small section of the shoe  without cover, will cause the sand to enter. With Velcro you can put the sand gaiters on and off, your feet can breath better and this is the most versatile solution.

3) Use them only if you need them. Try to keep your feet as dry and clean as possible. The high temperature and sweat make the skin softer, as when you come out from the sea after a long swim. Soft skin increases the risk of blisters and sand grains are like small pieces of glass. Keeping your feet dry and clean is important to avoid or reduce blisters. Try to wear the sand gaiters only where you need them and take advantage of all the opportunities you have to make your feet “breathe”.

How to apply Velcro on your shoes, the 3 golden rules:

1) Stitches are crucial. Do not trust glue. Glue can resist or can be ripped off. In our experience, in most cases, the glue will not resist perfectly all the race. Are you sure you want to find out in the middle of the desert? – Not a good idea! Go to a cobbler or a shoe repair shop and ask to do the job. They will use a special sewing machine designed for shoes. That will give you the best result.

2) Use silicone. Before proceeding with the sewing machine apply an abundant amount of silicone in order to seal perfectly the Velcro to the surface of the shoes. Once the silicone is dry the stiches will block perfectly the Velcro to the shoes.

3) The perimeter must be perfect. You need to apply the Velcro all around the shoes, and the best position is following and touching the sole. Consider the Velcro as a continuation of the sole. Cut it in small pieces in order to better adapt to the curves of the shoes and use silicone to fill the space between the sole and Velcro. Do not understate this aspect: a small gap or a little piece uncovered by the Velcro will cause your shoes to fill up of sand.

News article will be about shoes, what are the best shoes for a desert race?


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