Seeking the best trail running gear for your next off-road challenge? Whether uphill or through valleys, selecting appropriate trail running gear like shoes, apparel, and accessories tailored for the trail is important.
- The right pair of trail running shoes should provide excellent grip and traction for safety, adequate cushioning and support to prevent injuries, and weather resistance to keep feet dry in various conditions.
- Trail running apparel should be comprised of technical, moisture-wicking fabrics and include layering options like lightweight jackets and insulating mid-layers to adapt to changing weather conditions during runs.
- Essential trail running accessories for enhanced performance include hydration solutions like vests and packs, navigation and tracking devices such as GPS watches, and safety gear including whistles and headlamps.
Table of Contents
Choosing the Right Trail Running Shoes
Experienced trail runners know that a successful and enjoyable run is highly dependent on what’s on your feet.
The right pair of trail running shoes is fundamental for comfort, performance enhancement, and injury prevention. So what are the key factors that influence the selection of the best trail running shoes?
Grip and Traction
The challenging, often slippery, and uneven terrains encountered during trail running make grip and traction indispensable for preventing slips and falls, thus ensuring runner safety. Shoes with aggressive grip patterns and high-quality rubber outsoles are key in tackling technical terrain and enhancing performance. Vibram Megagrip outsoles, for instance, are a popular choice for their exceptional traction and durability.
Models such as the Saucony Endorphin Rift and Salomon Thundercross have earned kudos for their superior grip, thanks to their PWRTRAC and Contagrip outsoles respectively. Other standout options include the Hoka Speedgoat which utilizes a Vibram Megagrip outsole, renowned for its excellent traction on technical trails and durability.
Cushioning and Support
A further important factor to consider in the selection process is the cushioning and support the trail running shoes provide.
The midsole of the shoe is the main area that provides cushioning, which is crucial for absorbing shock and minimizing impact on joints during a run. Shoes offer varying levels of cushioning from maximum cushion with a high stack height for shock absorption to traditional cushion for stability and ground feel.
Pure racing shoes tend to have less cushioning, although many runners are beginning to favor cushioning so their body isn’t beaten up so much.
Supportive features in trail running shoes can help address overpronation or supination, thus helping to prevent injuries. When choosing the level of cushioning and support in their trail running shoes, runners should consider their foot structure, gait, and typical running terrain.
Check out this article on what to be aware of when purchasing running shoes. The choice of stability features can greatly influence comfort and performance.
From a light drizzle to a heavy downpour, wet conditions can add a slippery and soggy dimension to your trail run. That’s where waterproof trail running shoes come into play. These shoes typically feature:
- A coating (Gore-Tex) or built-in liner to create a waterproof barrier from moisture
- A taller/longer ankle covering to keep mud and debris from entering the shoe
- Shoelace coverings to help keep foreign objects and moisture out of the shoe
However, keep in mind that while waterproof shoes prevent external moisture from getting in, they can also trap water inside if it enters from the top, potentially leading to a heavy and uncomfortable experience. That’s why, in wet conditions, pairing waterproof shoes with water-resistant gaiters can provide comprehensive protection, keeping your feet dry and comfortable regardless of the weather.
The right socks are so very important when trail running.
Trail running often involves varying terrain and weather conditions. Trail running socks are designed with moisture-wicking materials that help to keep your feet dry by drawing sweat away from the skin. This is crucial for preventing blisters, discomfort, and the growth of bacteria.
Running socks are designed to minimize friction through their seamless construction and specific materials.
In case your feet get wet due to water crossings or wet weather conditions, running socks are often quick-drying, preventing discomfort and potential issues associated with wet feet.
Essential Apparel for Trail Runners
Though the right trail shoes lay the groundwork (and are most important) for your trail running gear, your chosen apparel is extremely significant in terms of comfort and performance.
Selecting technical shirts, shorts, tights, and layering systems made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials will ensure your comfort and adaptability during trail runs.
Technical Shirts and Tops
Beyond aesthetics, trail running shirts and tops are engineered to regulate your body temperature, absorb sweat, and shield you from the sun’s harmful radiation (UV rays). The key is to opt for moisture-wicking and breathable materials that keep you dry and comfortable during your activities.
For instance, find a shirt with open-knit mesh panels for enhanced airflow and moisture management and a front zipper for additional breathability. These fabric technologies and design elements contribute to temperature regulation, helping mountain runners maintain comfort in varying conditions.
Shorts and Tights
Shorts and tights are the preferred choices for lower-body trail running apparel. As a trail runner, you might find the Patagonia Strider Pro 5” and Baleaf Laureate 5” shorts offer unique pocket designs and comfort due to their lightweight feel and choice of liner or no liner based on runner preference.
Other notable choices include the REI Active Pursuit 7”, Brooks Sherpa 5”, and Tracksmith Van Cortlandt that cater to various needs from modest price with a comfortable liner to endurance support and racing design.
For those who prefer tights, options made with stretchy, water-repellent, and quick-drying technical fabric are designed to prevent chafing, provide warmth, and maintain the range of motion for a comfortable trail running experience.
Layering for Changing Conditions
Trail running can often take you through varying weather conditions even in the span of a single run. This is where layering comes into play. By wearing multiple layers of clothing, each with different features and purposes, you can adapt to changing weather conditions, temperatures, and activity levels, ensuring your safety and comfort.
The Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket is an excellent outer layer, known for its ultralight weight, water resistance, and underarm vents for adaptability to changing conditions. For colder conditions, the Dynafit Radical Dwn Rds M Hood Jkt serves as an insulating mid-layer ideal for mountain running.
Choosing apparel with water-resistant and wind-proof materials is essential for the layering system to effectively protect against variable weather encountered on the trail.
Trail Running Accessories
Trail running transcends the mere act of foot placement. It’s centered on performance optimization and elevation of your trail running experience. And that’s where accessories come into play. Some essential accessories for trail running include:
- Compression socks
- Protective headgear
The right accessories can greatly enhance your trail running performance.
Now, we’ll navigate through the universe of trail running accessories to help you select the optimal gear for your upcoming trail adventure.
Hydration vests and packs, such as the Ultimate Direction Race Vesta 6.0, Amphipod Purerun Minimalist Hydration Vest, and Salomon Adv Skin 12, provide ample storage and easy access to water during extended runs. You can also store your running nutrition in its pockets and perhaps a small rain jacket in its netting.
For mountain runs, portable water filters like the Katadyn BeFree 0.6L offer a quick and efficient solution to hydrate from natural water sources, emphasizing portability and convenience.
These hydration solutions not only keep you hydrated but also improve your running performance by preventing dehydration and its associated performance declines.
Navigation and Tracking Devices
Given the expansive nature of trails, getting lost is simpler than one might assume. As such, arming yourself with trustworthy navigation and tracking devices is essential. The best GPS watches are popular among trail runners for their ability to track distance, duration, and speed over different trail sections, as well as navigation aid.
The Garmin fēnix 7X – Standard Edition is especially recommended for trail runners due to its comprehensive mapping capabilities and touchscreen interface, making it a reliable companion for navigating mountain trails.
These devices offer the following features:
- Comprehensive mapping capabilities
- Fitness tracking and feedback
- Motivational tool
They not only help you navigate your way but also provide valuable feedback on your fitness trends, serving as an electronic running coach.
Safety and Emergency Gear
Trail running often takes you to remote locations where help might not be readily available. So be ready to take safety precautions and be prepared for emergencies. Carrying a cell phone (assuming there is a signal), and an emergency whistle, like the Fox 40 Sonik Blast Whistle, is recommended for trail runners as a safety precaution.
Having a reliable headlamp is another essential for ensuring visibility on the trail, especially for early morning or late evening runs. The Black Diamond Sprinter 500, with its adjustability and extra lumens, is a popular choice among trail runners.
Also, carrying a small first aid kit can be lifesaving in emergencies on remote trails. Small kits can fit into one of the pockets on most hydration packs.
Finally, prepare for weather changes if in Alpine environments. Gloves can offer warmth, breathability, and the flexibility needed for gripping or handling objects during cold weather trail runs. You may not need them at ground level, but up high the temperature can be much colder.
Adapting Your Gear for Different Terrains and Climates
Trail running involves many different terrains – from rugged mountain terrains to scorching desert heat and chilling winter snow. These different terrains and weather conditions necessitate unique types of trail running gear.
Adapting your gear according to the trail and weather conditions enhances your performance and safety.
Mountain and Technical Trails
Mountain trail running is an exhilarating challenge that tests your strength, endurance, and agility. The rocky terrain, sharp ascents, and steep descents also call for specialized gear. Some essential gear for mountain trail running includes:
- Trail running shoes with good traction and ankle support
- Lightweight and breathable clothing
- Hydration pack or water bottle
- Trail running poles (see our list of the best trekking poles) to reduce muscle exertion on your legs and assist with establishing a steady rhythm, especially beneficial in mountain trails with long, grueling climbs.
Make sure to invest in high-quality gear that is suitable for the specific demands of mountain trail running.
For tackling the challenging ascents and descents of mountain and technical trails, additional traction devices like the Black Diamond Distance Spike are essential. You wear these over your trail shoes to dig into ice and minimize slipping.
Also when it comes to footwear, shoes with a rock plate and reinforced toe cap can provide critical protection on rocky terrain.
Hot and Dry Climates
Running in hot and dry climates poses its own challenges. The intense heat and glaring sun demand gear that provides protection while keeping you cool. Headgear and sunglasses that provide sun protection are a must.
Many running caps are made with light, breathable, and UPF 50 fabrics, providing necessary sun protection while maintaining comfort. An added bonus is that if I come across a mountain stream, I can dunk the hat in the cool water and it helps cool me down for a while.
Some of my essential gear for sunny mountain runs includes:
- Polarized running sunglasses offer dynamic light adaptation
- Apparel and accessories made from technical fabrics that are lightweight, ventilated, and quick-drying
- Light and breathable gaiters, like the Altra Trail Gaiters, to shield against intrusive sand and keep objects out of my shoes.
Cold and Wet Conditions
Waterproof footwear with insulation like GTX (Gore-Tex) is indispensable for maintaining warmth and dryness in snowy environments.
Water-resistant gaiters paired with waterproof shoes can provide comprehensive protection, keeping your feet dry and comfortable regardless of the weather.
Clothing layers with thermal insulation are crucial for maintaining optimal body temperature during the run. Some essential items to consider are:
- A waterproof running jacket to prevent soaking through during heavy downpours
- A winter running hat to provide essential warmth for cold trail runs
- Accessories like the Black Diamond Distance Spike traction devices, offer reliable grip on snowy and icy conditions, providing an added layer of safety.
Best Trail Running Gear Recommendations for 2024
Let spotlight our top trail running gear recommendations for 2024. These recommendations, evaluated based on performance, price, comfort, durability, technical features, and style, are the top choices of trail runners and experts alike.
When it comes to trail running shoes, the Hoka Speedgoat 5 stands out as the ‘Best Overall Trail Running Shoe’ for 2024, offering exceptional traction and cushion at a price of $155. Saucony Peregrine 13 follows closely as the ‘Best Overall Runner-Up,’ recognized for its versatility on various trails at a cost of $140.
For those new to trail running, some recommended trail shoe models are:
- Brooks Cascadia 17: recommended for its transition from road to trail, priced at $140
- Altra Lone Peak 8: top choice for zero-drop shoe enthusiasts, also priced at $140
- Nike Pegasus Trail 4
- Brooks Catamount 2
- Altra Olympus 5
- La Sportiva Akasha II
- Hoka Torrent 3
- Topo Terraventure 4
Each of these models offers unique features and benefits tailored to different runner needs.
In the realm of trail running apparel, some notable options include:
- Outdoor Research Deviator Hoodie: stands out for its innovative VerticalX Octa insulation, which warms at half the typical weight
- Brooks Run Visible Insulated Vest: known for its reflective features and insulation
- Brooks High Point Waterproof Running Jacket and Pants: great for layering in wet conditions
Some of the best trail running gear includes items from our trail running gear list, such as trail running clothes like:
- The Oiselle Flyout Long Sleeve, which provides sun protection without clinging
- The Nathan Interval Running Tights, known for their comfortable fit and weather-resistant material
- The Janji Mercury Run Jogger, a relaxed option with soft, stretchable fabric and multiple zippered pockets
Each of these pieces offers unique features designed to enhance your trail running experience during trail races.
A running vest, like the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0 for men and the Nathan Pinnacle 12L for women, offers comfort and ample fluid capacity for lengthy trail runs.
Navigation devices, such as the SUUNTO VERTICAL Titanium Solar stands out as a GPS watch with solar charging capabilities.
When it comes to head protection, the Black Diamond Dash Cap offers lightweight and breathable sun protection. For eye protection, polarized sunglasses (such as Oakley models) offer dynamic light adaptation, essential for maintaining visibility and eye protection during sunny mountain runs.
We’ve journeyed through the world of trail running gear, exploring everything from shoes and apparel to accessories, and how to adapt your gear to various terrains and climates.
Remember, the best gear is the one that fits you well, suits your needs, and enhances your performance. So gear up and let us know what is your favorite trail.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I take on a trail run?
Wear comfortable moisture-wicking clothing and supportive trail running shoes. Avoid cotton and choose layers for changing weather conditions.
What do you wear to trail running?
Wear wicking, quick-dry long-sleeve T-shirt, running pants, and a running jacket for trail running. These will help you stay comfortable and protected.
What are the key factors to consider when choosing trail running shoes?
When choosing trail running shoes, consider grip and traction, cushioning and support, and weather resistance to ensure safety and comfort on the trails.
Why is layering important for trail running?
Layering is important for trail running because it helps you stay comfortable and safe by allowing you to adapt to varying weather and activity levels.
What are the top trail running gear recommendations for 2024?
In 2024, top trail running gear recommendations include Hoka Speedgoat 5 and Saucony Peregrine 13 shoes, Outdoor Research Deviator Hoodie and Brooks Run Visible Insulated Vest apparel, and Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0 and Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar accessories.
We review products based on a multi-point health-focused methodology. Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to us if you decide to purchase the product at no cost to you.