Oh trail running, you addicting and fickle beast. Love you, hate you, can’t get enough of you.
While I have been running off and on since middle school, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really started to get into trail running. And in this past year that passion has only grown and now I am actively training for a 50k (31-mile) ultra race as well as a few fully unsupported epic long-distance trail runs. Over time, I have learned what gear is actually needed, what is worth splurging on (and not), and what really works for me.
Below you will find my list of the top trail running gear you should have with you when you start hitting the trails — especially if you are looking to go for longer distances. This gear guide covers both trail running clothes and trail running essentials (as well as a few tips from my own adventures).
Explore it now.
Top Choice: Altra Lone Pine 6 or 7
I converted to Altra’s a couple of years ago and now I don’t know if I will ever go back. While this style might not be for everyone, I do believe strongly in the less is more approach. I have run hundreds of miles in Lone Pines and have nothing but good to say. If there is one thing you invest in for trail running, have it be your shoes. They will not only help you enjoy running more, but help keep you from getting injured (which is never fun).
Top Choice: Smartwool
I feel like socks are one of those somewhat underrated pieces of your trail running setup. But man can they really make or break a run. This pair by Smartwool will keep your feet comfortable and dry no matter how many miles you put in.
Top Choice: REI Co-Op Swiftland
Love a pair of shorts that are breathable and loose, but that stay in place around my waist (nothing sucks more than having an uncomfortable waistband — especially when you start to sweat). This pair from REI Co-Op are affordable, comfortable, and durable.
Top Choice: Lululemon or On Running
Some mornings shorts just aren’t enough. That’s when I reach for a trusty pair of tights that are light enough to not be constrictive but warm enough to keep me going for miles out in the cold. Lately, that pair has been a thrifted pair of Lululemon active leggings. I never got the hype before, now I do. Love ’em for trail running and for running around town.
Top Choice: really anything wicking!
You will want a bra with plenty of support but also something that doesn’t feel like an 18th-century corset. Nike and Patagonia both make good ones. Though I have also found Target has some decent options (at good affordable prices).
Top Choice: REI Switftland Running T-Shirt
This soft shirt is not only light and breathable, but the color choices are cute too. I find myself wearing this top for most of my extra long runs just because I know it will be comfortable at mile 10, 15 and 20 no matter how hot/sweaty I am.
LONG SLEEVED SHIRT
Top Choice: Mountain Hardwear Sunshirt
Sun coverage without all of the weight is how I tend to look at long-sleeved running shirts. This one by Mountain Hardwear keeps my skin protected from the sun’s blasting rays while also feeling like nothing on those uphill climbs. It’s breathable, wicking, and hella comfortable.
Now, when it is nice and cold out — and especially if it is raining or snowing — I tend to choose something a bit thicker (but not constrictive) and also something that has a nice comfortable collar and/or hood. This one by The North Face is all three. Plus, it’s made from recycled material that provides nice windproof performance.
💬 INSIDER TIP: for more warmth and still very little constriction, I almost always grab my all-time favorite Mammut jacket. Can’t find the exact one — got mine in an epic thrift store for $6!! — but this one is similar.
\\ Extra (Nice) Trail Running Gear to Have
GLOVES OR MITTENS
I actually hate gloves. The constrictive feeling on my fingers is just… ugh. So I always lean towards mittens, especially while running when I know my fingers are gonna get sweaty. This set by Outdoor Research is super light and made of a wool-synthetic blend that wicks moisture.
A year ago I never wore a hat, but now I can barely do a 3-miler without missing the sun protection and the comfort of it. When looking for a running hat, try to find one with a moisture-wicking ability and one that is light and comfortable on your head. Mine — while great — doesn’t fit juuuuust right and sometimes I just want to chuck it off the trail.
💬 INSIDER TIP: a hat might have just been the biggest game changer for me. I can start to get pretty bad headaches when out in the sun for long periods of time, but I never liked running in sunglasses.
RUNNING VEST OR BACKPACK
If you looking to go for miles and miles on the trail then you’ll want to have a backpack that can carry enough water to keep you hydrated, enough snacks to keep you energized, and maybe some space for a few necessary odds and ends (like a small first-aid or blister kit, and your phone).
When looking for a running vest, try to find one that will fit your body type snuggly and comfortably, and also that has easy-to-open pockets that’ll store all your snacks and gear without you having to take off the backpack (mine is neither of these and it wears on me toward the end of runs).
If your goal is to run far, definitely consider investing in a nice running vest or backpack. I got mine for a good price when down in Colombia and while it does the job, it doesn’t do it very well. Now that I am planning to run over 25 miles at a time more consistently, I am seriously considering dropping some money and getting a backpack that I actually like (and that works).
If you aren’t a hat person but still want something to help keep the sun out of your eyes then I recommend this set of polarized sunglasses from Sunski. These sunnies are not only cute and comfortable, but they come from a company that focuses heavily on making high-quality adventure goods in the most sustainable manner. A real win-win.
Always bring something with you to snack on while out running — especially if you are planning to do anything over 8 miles. A good rule of thumb is to consume 200 calories every hour of running. I personally love Honey Stinger waffles, Nature’s Bakery fig bars, and just simple jerky.
Trail running can be an epic way to get outside and explore your surroundings. The ability to push yourself and have an adventure, to me, makes all of the hard, tiring miles worth it. Hopefully, this trail running gear list helps you figure out what you need if you are thinking of picking up the epic adventure sport yourself.