Head-to-Toe Essentials for Trail Running Right Now

Snow may be sparse this winter, but at least that means your local trails may still be open for running. Trail running offers a myriad of benefits over running on your neighborhood streets: a softer landing surface can mean fewer injuries, uneven terrain can force you into developing better form, and fresh air coupled with scenic views is literally a form of therapy.

Trails present their own set of challenges. Photo: David Marcu/Unsplash

Running on trails has different demands than road running, though, and having the right gear is important to ensure you’re equipped to meet those demands. We’ve rounded up the latest and greatest gear from head-to-toe for trail runners of any experience level to get out there and log some dirty, happy miles.

For Your Noggin

trail running essentials
Halo Fire Headlamp. $80

The Nathan Halo Fire headlamp ($80) boasts a whopping 280 lumens shining bright from two down-angled LEDs to light your path and one forward-pointing spotlight so you can see what’s next. It’s lightweight, holds a charge for 22 hours, and has all the colorful and flashy strobe features you’d expect. If you’re hitting the trail in low light, you want this on your dome.

trail running essentials
The Patagonia Duckbill Hat, $20

Not every runner likes to wear a hat, but it’s a good idea to have one in your gear kit to protect you from sun exposure, wind and rain, and to help keep sweat out of your eyes. The Patagonia Duckbill Hat ($20) does all that in a lightweight and flexible design that’s easy to stash in a pocket if you decide you’re better off without it.

Outer Layer

trail running essentials
Patagonia Women’s Houdini Jacket in Dolomite Blue colorway, $99

If rain is a remote possibility, you’re going to want to bring the Patagonia Houdini Jacket ($99) on your run. Available in both men’s and women’s designs, the Houdini folds into its own pocket so you can easily stash it in a pocket or pack without having to play the “is this worth the weight/bulk?” game with yourself (nobody likes that game). It’s definitely a less-is-more design, offering the features you need to get it on and off easily and stay dry, and not much else.

trail running essentials
Brooks Men’s Cascadia Thermal Vest, $71.50

In winter temps, a vest gives you added warmth without the full commitment of a jacket that you’ll likely end up wanting to shed after a couple miles anyway. The Brooks Cascadia Thermal Vest ($71.50) is perfect for 30-40 degree days, providing protection from wind and water in a sleek design that looks just as at home at the post-run pub as it does on the trail.

Under Layer

trail running essentials
Lululemon Enlite Bra, $98

Ladies: If you still haven’t found a sports bra you truly love, the next piece of gear on your shopping list needs to be the Lululemon Enlite Bra ($98). Trail running is bouncy and sweaty and occasionally several hours long – this is no time for a stretched-out bra that chafes and stinks. The Enlite bra is the result of two years of research led by a team of female engineers, featuring molded cups, bonded seams, and regular bra sizing (band measurement plus cup size).

trail running essentials
Saxx Quest 2.0 Boxer Brief, $31.95

Don’t worry, guys, we’ve got gear for your situation, too. Two words: BallPark Pouch. The Saxx Underwear Quest 2.0 Boxer Brief ($31.95) is made of high tech fabric that dries quickly and stays put, features a 3D hammock-shaped “BallPark Pouch,” and chafe-free lay-flat seams. Keep your eye on the trail, not on the ball(s).

Main Layer

trail running essentials
Patagonia Nine Trails women’s T-shirt, $45

While I tend to grab a tank top or long-sleeve tee for road running, I like a short sleeve tee for the trail. With the Patagonia Nine Trails T-shirt for women ($45) or the Under Armour UA Sunblock T-shirt for men ($50), you’ve got full coverage under any backpack or hydration vest straps, a little more coverage against weird tank top tan lines, and just enough warmth for a 45 degree or warmer day where you’ll be working up a good sweat.

trail running essentials
Brooks Cascadia men’s shorts, $60

The Brooks Cascadia Short for men ($60) is a nice hybrid short that’s just as well suited for hiking as for trail running, featuring a built-in brief, soft elastic waistband with drawstring, and sweatproof zippered pocket conveniently placed on the side rear where any pack is unlikely to rub against it.

The Patagonia Centered Crops for women ($69), meanwhile, provide a semi-compressed feel and a wide, stretchy waistband that stays put without digging in or chafing under a pack. Updated tech fabric facilitates advanced moisture control with just enough heft to withstand the occasional unavoidable brush with a branch or boulder.

Gear To Make You Feel Hard Core

trail running essentials
The CambelBak Ultra Pro hydration vest, $120

Trail running is a BYOW sport (that’s Bring Your Own Water), and the Camelbak Ultra Pro Hydration Pack ($120) allows you to comfortably haul up to two liters of it between a one liter bladder on your back and two 17 ounce collapsible bottles stowed in front. 3D vent mesh provides maximum airflow between your body and the vest, and a fully adjustable design available in three sizes ensures a comfortable fit on any frame. Plenty of pockets allow you to stash outer layers, fuel, and whatever gear you can’t live without.

trail running essentials
Leki RCM Micro Poles, $199.95 per pair

More and more trail runners are adding trekking poles to their kits to help with balance when fatigued, add power on steep climbs, and stay more upright. Leki Micro RCM Poles ($200) are lightweight, collapsible (stored easily in a hydration vest), and feature a unique grip system that allows a more natural hand grip throughout a runner’s stride compared to standard hiking poles.

For Your Feet

trail running essentials
Fits Socks Light Hiker socks, $18.99

Never. Underestimate. Socks. Varying temperatures, moisture levels, and terrain surfaces make trail running one of the easiest ways to get some foot-destroying blisters, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not about that life, stock up on the Fits Socks Light Hiker ($19). Merino wool is blended with nylon, polyester, and lycra for a true second-skin fit that performs even after hours of sweaty, muddy, shifty pounding up and down the trail.

trail running essentials
Brooks Caldera 2 men’s running shoe, $140

The only thing possibly more important than socks? You guessed it: shoes. Brooks Caldera 2 for men ($140) feature proprietary midsole cushioning that dynamically adapts to your stride even on the most uneven of terrains. An integrated Gaiter Tab at the heel secures gaiters with a hook and loop, and a lace garage keeps laces secure, clean, and out of the way.

trail running essentials
Saucony women’s Koa TR shoe, $110

The Saucony Koa TR shoes for women ($110) are a great hybrid shoe that’s tough enough for most trails but still lightweight and versatile enough for your go-to neighborhood park loop. An oblique toe-box allows full toe-splay for maximum stability in dicey situations, and an updated topsole provides extra energy return to every foot strike.

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