One of the best things about taking up running as a sport is the fact that it’s simple, it’s natural, and it requires minimal investment. And if you’re thinking about taking up trail running – and therefore investing in the proper trail running gear – the same principle applies.
While it may be the goal of manufacturers to sell you as much as they can by convincing you that you need more than you do, we’re here to tell you to put away your wallet. You probably already have what you need for trail running already.
In this article, we’re going to go over what those things are. We’ll also go over some of the stuff that’s marketed for trail runners, but are really unnecessary – and even counterproductive.
Let’s get started.
The Trail Running Gear You Need
Yes, there is a difference between trail running shoes and road running shoes.
And the difference isn’t minimal or merely aesthetic. It can mean the difference between a successful run and a disastrous.
Your typical road running shoes just aren’t designed to withstand the stresses of steep gradients, rough, jagged, uneven terrain, or trails that are wet or muddy or covered in snow. They just aren’t.
But trail running shoes are designed specifically for that purpose.
Here are some of the key differences between trail running shoes vs road running shoes:
- Trail running shoes have thicker outsoles with big, soft lugs (this is for increased grip and traction). Road running shoes, on the hand, are smoother and flatter, making them durable on paved roads. If you run on paved roads with trail running shoes, you’ll find that the lugs on the outsole get worn out and lose some (or all) of their ability to lend you better traction.
- The midsoles of trail running shoes are also absolutely necessary when out on the trail. They’re much stronger. Some shoe models even have what are known as “rock plates” added to the midsole – this is to give you added protection against jagged rocks, sticks, and whatever else you’ll encounter on a trail. On the contrary, road running shoes have midsoles that serve to cushion your feet from the impact of hitting pavement. You can probably see for yourself why this would cause problems out on the trail.
- The uppers on trail running shoes are reinforced to give you further protection against trail-specific hazards like rocks and roots and whatever else. Road running shoes don’t need protection from these things and as a consequence are generally much lighter and more breathable.
Bottom line: if you’re going to be road running, road running shoes are above and beyond the better choice for you. But if you’re thinking about getting into trail running, then you actually need trail running shoes.
Also, remember to choose the right type of trail running shoe for the kind of trail you’re going to be running on. For rockier or wetter or more uneven terrain, you’ll want to opt for a shoe with bigger lugs on the outsole. That way you’re sure to have the traction and grip that you need.
You may not think about them much, but the type of running socks you choose is important. They come in different sizes and shapes and are made from different materials for a reason. Your run-of-the-mill athletic socks have their place: if you’re road running or on a treadmill, they’re your best bet. If you’re looking to really up your game on the pavement and improve your speed and mileage, you could use a little boost with compression socks, which can boost your blood flow and reduce soreness (therefore decreasing recovery times).
In the same way, when it comes to trail running, your choice of socks matters. You need a sock that can protect your from the rocks and dirt and everything else. You’ll also want a pair of socks that can keep your feet dry on the trail by wicking away sweat. Our performance trail running socks do just that.
Proper hydration, of course, is essential to all runners, not just trail runners. But it’s even more essential if you’re out on the trail for an extended period. There are no stores to stop at out in the wild; there are no water fountains. So make sure you bring enough fluids to keep yourself from getting dehydrated. How you choose to carry your fluids is up to you. If you want to spring for a hydration vest or pack or just stick with a handheld water bottle, that’s up to you. The important thing is that you’re getting enough hydration. Make sure to read our article on everything you need to know about hydration and running.
Simply put, proper nutrition helps ensure that you have enough energy to complete your runs, as well as enough energy to recover after them. It also helps you keep your electrolyte levels in check, which helps prevent, among other things, calf cramps and side cramps while (and after) running. This is especially important out on the trails – you don’t want to find yourself fatigued miles away from civilization.
For more on proper nutrition for runners check out the following articles:
This is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re going to be running in the night in the wild, common sense will tell you that you’ll want to be able to see. There are no lamp posts out on natural terrain, so you’ll have a hard time avoiding obstacles if you don’t bring an artificial light of your own.
Invest in a good headlamp.
Running in the sun has its benefits, but also a plethora of dangers. Be sure to protect yourself if you’re going to be running on a trail that has the sun beating down on it. Protect your eyes from UV Rays with sunglasses; protect your skin with sunscreen. Also, wearing running arm sleeves is a good choice. If it’s really very sunny, you might want to think about wearing a hat too. Remember, your health is your wealth, so don’t neglect it.
Optional Trail Running Gear
All of the above is the trail running gear you actually need – the gear you can’t (or shouldn’t anyway) step on a trail without. But there are also a ton of stuff marketed to trail runners that, while helpful in some way, isn’t actually necessary. This is especially true if you’re a beginner to trail running; if you’re a beginner, you probably won’t be running too many miles (you should be measuring your progress by time, not distance), and so you probably won’t have a need for any of the trail running gear below.
Some of these are super expensive.
But you don’t need them at all if you’re running with others, if you have a map (or know the area), or aren’t planning on veering off the marked trail.
The one cool thing about having a GPS watch though is that you can veer off the marked trail and do some exploring without worrying about not being able to find your way back and ending up living out in the wild forever. But other than that, they’re not really worth the investment, even if their accuracy is on-point.
Still, if you want one, they won’t hurt.
Now these are potentially life-saving. If you’re out in the wild, sometimes wild things can happen. You can find yourself injured and unable to go on. For one reason or another, you might find yourself having to spend the night out there. In cases like those, having a space blanket is a huge boon.
The thing is if you’re not planning on running for too long or for too far, you can probably skip this one. The same thing applies if you’re running with other people.
Again, if it makes you feel more comfortable, have at it – if it offers you peace of mind, why not?
Heart Rate Monitors
This one really depends on how serious you are about running. If you’re looking for perfection, if you want to get your tempo pace at a precise target, get yourself a heart rate monitor.
But if you’re just looking to get stronger, generally, mentally, and physically, then you don’t need this at all. Save your money.
For most of us, music is a big no-no out on the running trails. Your level of focus has to be higher when trail running vs road running. You have to be paying attention to the trail ahead of you, or you might find yourself face down with a scraped knee (or worse). Music only serves to distract you and you might find yourself daydreaming instead of seeing that big root jutting out a foot ahead of you.
Besides, one of the best things about trail running is that feeling of being at one with nature. Why ruin that with technology?
And there you have it: everything you need to know about trail running gear.
If you have any questions or concerns, make sure to leave them in the comments below.