I usually only use my boots at rides since I am lucky enough to have good trails to condition on. I had a friend that tried to compete barefoot, but even in the "barefoot ok rides", I've been much more comfortable using my boots and I do so at all rides since I'm not always familiar with what might come up on the trails and because I don't want to come up lame during a ride and waste all that time and money :(
I like my easy boot gloves and they're pretty popular. I've also heard of the epics and glue-ons being used a lot, but I trust my gloves quite a bit. You'll need to keep up your trimmings, and I recommend getting a rasp to trim on your own in between trimmings. I also recommend a rubber mallet - they often make a world of a difference in putting the gloves on.
And I'm with you on the gravel thing ;)