The Ultimate Trail Running Gear Guide

Last Updated: June 2020

What Type of Gear Do You Need for Trail Running?

Your trail running gear should ensure that you’re prepared for every obstacle, whether you’re tackling intense backcountry terrain or hitting the trails just beyond the city

Accessories such as a headlamp and a weatherproof jacket can make all the difference. At times you may need to carry your water and fuel, depending on how long you intend to run. After all, your chances of encountering a magical food truck in the middle of the woods are rare. 

We’ve determined that the following items are essentials in the world of trail running. From shoes that provide the ideal combination of support and protection. Hydration packs that are bounce-proof. And running hats that protect your skin from the sun’s rays.  

If you’re accustomed to running on the pavement, expect running a little slower on the trails as you battle winding roads and technical terrain. 

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Trail Running Ultimate Gear Guide

Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoe

Featuring deep treads and excellent traction, Altra’s Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoes are the latest and greatest model from the company’s growing trail shoe lineup.

The durable outsole is made from MaxTrac Rubber with TrailClaw technology. While the upper features a quick-dry air mesh fabric that repels water and mud but still provides enough permeability to help your feet breathe. 

As with every Altra shoe, the Lone Peak 4.5 is a zero-drop shoe. Meaning your entire foot is flat and level with the ground to reduce pain in the waist, lower back, and knees. 

Altra’s zero-drop sneaker technology isn’t for everyone. So that’s where Saucony’s Mad River trail running shoe comes to the rescue.

They feature grippy traction and responsive cushioning for all-day comfort. The Mad River trail shoes use a PWRFOAM midsole that shapes to your foot. And the PWRTRAC tacky rubber that grips almost any surface. 

Other benefits of the Mad Rivers include a gaiter-compliant D Ring, an elastic lace keeper. Also, it has durable uppers for enhanced protection in high-abrasion areas.

Hoka One One is well-known for manufacturing plush, cushioned shoes that provide increased levels of comfort and support. And their Speedgoat 4’s are no exception.

They are made with a breathable mesh upper that integrates seamless synthetic overlays. The Speedgoat 4s are a comforting option as your feet battle harsh terrain. A removable cushioned insole provides extra arch support. While a durable Vibram Megagrip sole with 5mm stepped rubber lugs offer optimal grip.

Trail runs tend to carry you miles away from nearby food and drink. So you’re going to need a hydration pack that can store liquids and snacks. 

Salomon’s Adv Skin 8 Set hydration pack features a woman-tailored fit.  That’s ideal for smaller runners with a narrow torso.

Mesh chest pockets, accessory pockets, side pockets, and a back compartment provide plentiful opportunities to store your gear and goods for days on the trail. Reflective paneling makes you more visible in dimly lit conditions should you find yourself running into the night.

While most of us know CamelBak for their indestructible water bottles. The California-based company also produces worthwhile adventure and hydration packs. Built for days on the trail.

The Aurora pack features an ergonomic fit due to its small profile and lightweight design. A breathable air mesh back panel reduces sweat from soaking your shirt.

While a magnetic tube trap keeps your hydration tube secure and accessible for the moments you need it most. External hooks provide storage options for more gear. And a stretch overflow compartment makes for the perfect place to stow a rain shell or an extra layer. 

Bringing a headlamp isn’t necessary if you find yourself running trails in the middle of the day.  But many trail runners prefer being a member of the dawn patrol—that is, running before the sun rises.

Should you find yourself running trails in the dark, you’re going to need a headlamp that can light the way as you avoid obstacles and treacherous terrain underfoot. 

There are many headlamp brands in the market, so figuring out which one is the most effective can be hard. Black Diamond produces some of the most durable options on the market. They offer bright light and sustainable battery life. Also, the Ion headlamp is one of the smaller lights in the company’s lineup. 

But the 100 lumens emitted by the DoublePower LED are enough to provide plenty of glow as you go. While some headlamps need a consistent charge to function properly, the Ion runs on two AAA batteries that should remain capable for weeks or months at a time. 

With an IPX8 water resistance rating, the Ion can withstand up to 1.1 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. So there’s no cause for alarm if you find yourself running in the rain. Weighing less than two ounces, this headlamp is so light that you’ll barely notice its weight on your head.

Worn by hikers, climbers, miners, and others that endure the world’s harshest conditions. Petzl manufactures headlamps built to withstand the tests of time.

Their Tactikka headlamp features a 300-lumen spotlight that runs for up to 240 hours, as well as a red light that preserves night vision. There is an emergency whistle in the back of the adjustable headband. This is a great resource to have should you need to signal for help. 

A CORE rechargeable battery is sold separately should you wish to recharge your batteries rather than using standard batteries. 

A rain jacket may seem overkill if your goal is to simply go for a run in the woods. But long runs can easily incorporate a rain shower or two that may leave you soaked on the trail. This can be refreshing on those hot summer days, but it can quickly spell disaster should the temperatures drop.

Weighing just 11 ounces, Marmot’s Precip waterproof rain jacket features NanoPro fabric that easily shakes off moderate rain, snow, and wind. The elastic waist provides a secure fit as you move and groove on the trail.

Zippered pockets keep your snacks and valuables from being misplaced when you need them most. And if sweating in a rain jacket sounds less than ideal, fear not as this one’s machine washable. 

If you’re going for a run, then you’re going to need some reliable shorts that last for miles. The North Face’s Ambition Shorts feature a standard fit and drawstring closure to keep everything secured

A brief liner holds everything in place. While a secure-zip pocket on the right hem stores credit cards, keys, or other small belongings. 

For women, we recommend The North Face Women's Aphrodite Motion Short.

Depending on your sock of choice, many options exist that are designed with trail running in mind. Smartwool’s PhD Outdoor Light Mid-Crew Socks feature a 4 Degree Elite Fit System for a dialed, performance-oriented fit.

Indestructawool technology offers exceptional durability and comfort.  And the lightly cushioned bottom allows you to wear these socks on various trails and road terrains without discomfort. And the insulating materials provide warmth should your feet and toes get a little cold on the trail. 

A performance running hat should be a little stylish. But it should also be capable of withstanding the elements no matter where the trails may take you. 

The 5 Panel Performance Hat from New Balance features an adjustable clip in the back that makes the hat incredibly easy to adjust. And premium moisture-wicking fabric and vented sides help you stay cool and dry during those intense runs.

Reflective 3M material increases visibility at night while the super breathable and lightweight material soaks up sweat without trapping excess heat.

About Trail Running Gear

Trail running represents the ultimate freedom when you’re deep in the zone. Floating through the trees as your feet dodge roots and rocks.  

Much of the world beyond the trail tends to fade away. Soon your body enters a blissful state of flow, and the miles seem to roll by.

Of course, it doesn’t take much to bring you back down to reality. A shoe that’s too tight, a sock that keeps falling, or a hydration pack that leaks can pull you from the coveted runner’s high. What began as an inviting trail run can devolve into a stressful outing. 

You don’t need an extensive list of gear to hit the trails and enjoy your run. But if you decide to hit the dirt, you’re going to need a few essentials to make your run a success.

The list of gear above  is comfortable, helpful, and worry-free. So you can focus on the scenery, the terrain, the race, or float off into a state of bliss.

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Trail Running Gear Comparison Table

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In Summary

From headlamps to running shoes to shorts and beyond, trail running gear has improved extensively as the sport has increased in popularity over the past few decades.

Finding the right trail running gear for your needs takes time and is often a process of trial and error. You’ll need to understand the terrain, the conditions, the obstacles, and most importantly, your abilities as a trail runner.

Whether you’re new to the sport or a longtime veteran, take some time to find what gear works for you and makes your experience on the trail an unforgettable one. Once you’ve found the gear that suits your needs, it’s time to suit up and hit the dirt running.

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