Trail running is one of the most exciting and fun ways to build endurance and strength in running. While most gear these days can transition pretty seamlessly from roads to trails, there are a few trail running must haves to consider before hitting the dirt. From the right shoes, to some extra storage, here’s all the trail running essentials you need to explore the great outdoors.
Trail Running Gear Essentials
For the Feet
- Trail shoes – This is an area where road gear and trail gear can be pretty different. If you’re running relatively smooth, even trails there are some road shoes that can transition well. The Altra Escalante or Brooks Catamount are a couple of shoes that can handle both roads and easy trails. Once you get into more rocky and technical terrain, though, you’re going to want to opt for a shoe with a little more grip and a rock plate to help even out impact points. I personally love the Altra Lone Peak as a more minimalistic runner, but brands like Salomon, Hoka One One, and Brooks carry other alternatives. My advice is to check out a local trail running store and get a professional fitting to guarantee your feet will be happy for many miles and hours.
- Crew Socks – Do you absolutely need different socks for trail runs versus road runs? Not necessarily. But running through grass and low plants can tear up those bony ankles like nothing else, and a little extra protection never hurts. I swear by my Injinji crew socks, which keep me blister-free and let my toes splay naturally. Balega also makes some great quarter crew options that have just enough padding.
- Gaiters – Running on softer surfaces can be a great break for your feet and joints. But the extra dirt, sand, and mud on trails has a unique manner of finding its way into your shoes, and we all know that one tiny little rock can cause some major issue. Enter gaiters. The handy little handkerchief for your shoes. They help to keep the trail on the ground and out of your shoes.
- Head Lamp – Because there are no street lights on the trails, and plenty of rocks and roots just waiting to catch your toe. While running on the roads in the dark might not require much illumination, if you are planning any runs that even edge on dusk or dawn, you need to carry something to help you see all those tripping hazards. The Black Diamond Storm can help give you a clear line of sight, while the Nathan Zephyr Fire fits perfectly in the palm of your hand in case you need to spot out anything out in the trees (gotta make sure you’re hearing a deer and not an axe murderer, right?)
- Hydration Pack – If you’re running in more remote locations, you going to need to bring a good amount of water with you. Fortunately, hydration packs have come a long way in the last several years. The Nathan Vaporhowe 2.0 has options for both bottles and a reservoir bladder, and has a unique t-shirt fit that I really like. The Salomon Adv Skin 12 set has a similar set up, and has a ton of options for customizing fit.
- Ear Buds – Trail running requires engagement from all five of your senses, but you don’t have to settle for listening to only your own internal dialogue for hours. I love the quiet of trail running, but in all honesty it’s just not super safe for anyone to have to listen to me for multiple miles, even myself. Aftershokz has you covered, though. The bone conducting, open ear design will allow you to enjoy music or podcasts, while still being able to safely hear the world around you. Truly the best of both worlds.
- Watch – Did you even really run if you don’t have anything to upload to Strava? The Garmin ForeRunner series can help you find your way back to your car with the new bread crumb feature, while the Suunto 3 gives you up to 30 hours of battery life; perfect for almost any distance of exploration.
- Jacket – Unless it’s August in Texas, chances are weather can be pretty variable on the trails. If there is even a chance that it might sprinkle or the temps might dip just a smidge, it’s always smart to pack a light jacket. If you slow down, and the weather changes, you’re going to want to have something light to throw over your sweaty self to keep you from hating life and cursing your poor planning. Brooks offers the perfect solution, in a lightweight, easily packable water resistant Canopy jacket.
- Hat – If it’s cold, you need to protect your head. If it’s hot and sunny, you need to protect your head. If you have a head, you need to protect it. From sunburnt hair parts, to snow matted braids, there’s plenty of reasons that you need a good hat if you’re going to spend your mornings out on the trail. But you definitely don’t want just any old Ashton Kutcher trucker hat. You want something that is breathable, UV resistant, and that won’t hold sweat. Oiselle has you covered on all fronts with their Runner Trucker, which is easily packed and has style options for every runner.
- Buff – The swiss army knife of running gear; a good running buff has approximately 87 different uses. These days, it serves as a great face mask that can be easily pulled up and down when needed for COVID precautions. It can also be dunked in ice water during extra hot runs, serve as an ear warmer during the cold months, and used to keep all that hair out of your face during windy days. This Meriwool option will adjust to any condition you could possibly throw at it.
- Gels – Running on the trails generally takes a bit longer mile for mile, and has a way of requiring a lot more energy than road running. For this reason, you might want something just a little more calorically dense than a typical gel. I’ve had great luck with Spring Energy gels, which come In varieties that can pack up to 250 calories of natural energy. Made with clean ingredients, and easily thrown into a running pack, Spring Energy gels can keep the trail bonks at bay.
- Liquid Calories – If your stomach has a hard time with all those extra calories, you might want to consider supplementing your nutrition plan with some liquid calories. Tailwind powder mixes easily with water, giving you calories that can be easily sipped throughout a run. Easier on the stomach than traditional gels, Tailwind flavors do not disappoint. Plus, you can choose between caffeinated, non-caffeinated, and even single serve options for on the go mixing.
- Electrolytes – All that extra work has another byproduct. Extra sweat. Running is glamorous. And sometimes, water just isn’t enough to keep the cramps at bay. If you don’t want to be rudely awoken by the harbinger of runners death (Charlie horse cramps), you need to replenish those electrolytes. Liquid IV comes in super convenient, single serve packets that are easy to take on the trail, and mix with water when you need them. This amazing powder potion has brought me back to life on more runs than I care to admit. I don’t know the magic behind the sorcery, but I stick with what works, and this stuff hits the mark every time.
- Real Food – If gels and liquid calories just won’t cut it for your outdoor explorations, you might want to consider packing some real food options. These incredible, no bake energy balls pack a punch in easy calories that taste great and travel well. Made with all natural ingredients, it’s a fueling source you might actually look forward to breaking out on the trail.
Now, do you need to run out to your nearest Fleet Feet to grab every item on this list? No, definitely not. But if you plan on spending more time on the trails in the next couple of months, slowly building your trail running essential stash is worth the investment. These running gear must haves will help to keep you comfortable, safe, and enjoying the trails for hours and miles.