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Trail Running Gear Guide

Trail running’s popularity has exploded over the last few years, making it one of the most prominent sports in the outdoor community. Trail running’s growth has stemmed from its mass appeal to people of all shapes and sizes, as well as its quick and easy accessibility for many. For those who enjoy road running, trail running allows you to get off the hard pavement and onto a soft trail with beautiful surroundings.

Jay Prater running the StumpJump 50K Trail RacelThe boredom and monotony of running roads is quickly lost as you skip down a trail, leaping over logs and dodging rocks and roots. Trails range in difficulty and technicality and offer something for everyone. So if you are tired of pounding the pavement, go hit the trails!

Whether you are new to the sport or you’re just looking for some tips on the latest gear, here are some suggestions to get you on the trail in comfort.
Trail Running Shoes

Montrail’s mantra is “you can’t fake fit,” which is what prompted them to create the revolutionary Integrafit system for their footwear.Montrail used data collected from nearly a million pairs of men’s and women’s feet, measuring the three dimensional shapes and considering how feet move, to design footwear that fits up to 80% of the population. Go to any trail race and you’ll be sure to see a sea of Montrail shoes on runners’ feet. If you are getting into trail running, look into the Montrail’s Continental Divide or Hardrock. Both are a lightweight, explosive shoes geared not only to protect your feet from the rigors of trail running, but also to guarantee unyielding comfort on any trail condition.

Salomon is another great choice for trail running shoes. Well known for its solid support on rugged terrain, the XA Pro 3D trail shoe works well for all levels of trail runners and adventure racers alike. The XA Pro 3D has breathable mesh uppers, Kevlar Quickfit asymmetrical lacing, triple-density EVA midsoles, and 3D Advanced Chassis technology. These shoes are sure to keep your feet happy, even in the event that the rest of your body is not.

La Sportiva offers a wide selection of solid trail running shoes. If you’re looking for a racing flat, check out the Slingshot. The Slingshot is a technical trail racing shoe focusing on stability, traction and lightweight cushioning. Geared towards efficient runners who perform shorter faster-paced races, the Slingshot is an excellent performer in short trail races and fast backcountry excursions.

SmartWool Socks for Trail RunningWet feet and blisters are a quick way to bring an excellent trail running experience to a screeching halt. Many people don’t realize just how much their feet sweat. Hit the trail in a pair of cotton socks, and you’re asking forsoggy feet which can lead to blisters and all around discomfort. We always recommend a well-fitting pair of merino wool or synthetic socks to wick away moisture and eliminate the chaffing that often comes with wet cotton.

No one is more knowledgeable in this area than Smartwool. Smartwool socks are made of soft merino wool fibers, which have the unique ability to absorb moisture as a vapor but repel it as a liquid, thereby transporting sweat away from the feet and out of the sock. But wait, you say, wool in the summer? Yes, yes, and yes. Merino wool fibers help to regulate your body’s temperature, keeping your feet cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold, so they are perfect for any season. Smartwool socks will also withstand the rigors of everyday wear and tear, and anything that a trail run could through at them. We recommend Smartwool’s Adrenaline socks as a great choice for trail running. Lightweight and comfortable, the Adrenaline line offers a customized fit that will keep your feet happy.

If it is too late and a blister has already formed from those old cottons, check out the Blister Medic First Aid Kit by Adventure Medical Kits. These first aid kits will provide you the means to repair your feet on the run.

If you are having trouble finding the right fitting shoes or the shoes that you have are not offering enough comfort, look into getting insoles. A good pair of insoles will consistently balance and support your feet and keep them from collapsing inward, which tends to tire and stress the surrounding muscles, joints, and ligaments. Superfeet makes some of the best insoles on the market, good not only for trail running shoes, but also for hiking shoes, ski boots, or eventheloafers you wear to work.
Hydration Packs

Camelbak Rogue Hydration Pack For longer runs, hydration is a must. Low profile, well-fitting hydration packs will help you maintain optimum hydration and carry those small essentials, like an energy bar or wind shell. The Camelbak Rogue Hydration Pack is a super lightweight pack that carries 3 bottles worth of hydration. An external reservoir access means refill is easy, plus, a secure pocket holds your essentials. Patagonia and North Face also make some sleek new hydration packs that are worth checking out.


The advantage of a longer trailshort over a traditional running short is that it will provide more protection from branches, underbrush, and other trail obstacles that might want toclaw up your legs. Be sure to choose a lightweight, quick-drying material to keep you comfortable and free from chafe. Some styles also have secured pockets to carry along an energy gel, keys, or other necessities. Check out our selection of trail running shorts to find a style that’s right for you.

Tech Tees for Trail RunningWhen you head out on a trail run, be sure to reach for your old trusty cotton t-shirt…NOT. Cotton has its place, but that place is not on the trail. A good performance wicking tee is as essential to trail running comfort as your shoes. Want to know why? See this article on Cotton v. Synthetics.

Many performance tees these days feature anti-microbials to keep them stink-free longer. Antimicrobials are even naturally occurring in merino shirts. Keep in mind that you may occasionally like some company on your runs.

A stink guard will ensure that your partner will still be your running mate at the end of the jog. Check out our trail running tee section to see a full selection of tops.

Softshell jackets are rapidly growing in popularity. They are generally made with stretch fabrics that move with you during exercise. While they’re not quite as impenetrable as hard shells, a good soft shell jacket will give you plenty of protection from precipitation while providing maximum breathability.

Breathable and quick to dry, a good wind shell can come in handy on the trail as well. Some models even stuff into their own pocket to make them easy to carry along for quick release in case the elements change.

Gloves are agood ideaif you are planning on running in chilly weather. It can take hours for your fingers to thaw out if you head out on a trail unprepared. The Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Glove is a great choice for trail running. It has a four-way stretch design to encourage finger dexterity without compromising comfort. This glove is extremely lightweight and can be easily packed into a pocket or hydration pack, a smart addition to any trail runner’s wardrobe.
Running the StumpJump50K on the Cumberland TrailHats

The right hat will keep your head cool and dry while you run. For warm weather choose the Patagonia Airius Running Hat, which is specifically designed for trail running. The Airius’ recycled polyester mesh side panels create effective airflow when you’re pushing fast under a blasting sun. With a crushable foam bill to fend off sun, a wicking Coolmax headband and an improved fit, the Airius is nearly perfect.


Oakley Fives 2.0 Proper eye wear is a must for trail running. Not only does it protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but it will also shield them from branches, bugs, and whatever else may be hovering over the trail. Choose eyewear that’s lightweight and grippy so it will stay in place as you run.

Whether you want to brighten up flat light conditions or you need full sun protection on an exposed mountain trail, Oakley offers top notch optics. The Half Jacket XLJ is Oakley’s first dual-lens eyewear with interchangeable lenses. This chameleon lets you adapt instantly to any light condition. When the sun fades or flares, just switch to a new set of lenses. The lightweight frame includes Unobtainium earsocks and grip anchors to keep them in place, even when you sweat. The open-edge design extends your vertical field of vision, and each set of optional lenses retains the peripheral clarity of XYZ Optics. Also check out Native Eyewear and Smith Sunglasses for more excellent trail running options.

SUUNTO T4 Watch For trail runners of all experience levels, a watch is a necessity. Suunto makes some of the best wrist top computers available. The Suunto t4 is one of our favorites; in addition to measuring heart rate, calories burned, speed and distance, along with dual time, date, alarm and stopwatch with split/lap, the t4 actually has an adaptive training advisor which makes recommdations for aerobic training based on your own profile and progress. It’s like having your own personal coach!
Water Purifier

If you’re heading out for an all day adventure, you may not be able to carry enough water for the long haul. Make sure that you are able to get water when needed by carrying a water purifier. There are numerous water treatment options out there, but none are more functional for trail running than MSR’s Miox Water Purifier. The Miox is ultralight, compact, and easy to use, with no pumping, maintenance, or iodine required. It’s perfect for trail runners and fast packers who like to keep weight and bulk to a minimum.

Related Articles:

Local Trails

Training For Your First 50K

Nutritional Tips For Trail Running

Hydration Advice For Trail Running

Cotton vs Synthetic

Rock/Creek Trail Series

Josh Wheeler running Cross Country at McCallie School About the author:

Josh Wheeler is an avid trail runner, cyclist, and swimmer who is currently combining his talents for all three and has begun a grueling triathlon training program.

Josh overcame brain cancer during his senior year at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, TN to become the number one ranked triathlete in the Southeast in his age division. He is currently training for the Collegiate Nationals and the age group Nationals; in hopes to qualify and represent the US at the Worlds in Germany. Josh also continues to excel as an honors scholar at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. In his rare spare time, he also works for

Photo: Mark McKnight

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