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'Trail Running Kit' Top 10

Trail Running Kit, Top 10

Pack light & right!

The Top 10 pieces of 'Trail Running Kit'

Spring is here, and so too the blossoming of another trail running season. To help you prepare for your longer days out we’ve made a short list of 10 essential bits of trail running kit.

The following kit is most useful for trail runs of more than two hours. It also features as part of the recommended equipment list for our multi day trail running trips. We’ve made some gear recommendations, but there are many more options available. Whatever you choose to buy, make sure it works for you and that you test it in a variety of conditions!

1. Running backpack

We’re fortunate to live in a time when running backpacks are the best they’ve ever been. 10 years ago, choice was much more limited with designs geared towards mountain marathons or simply day hiking. They got the job done but you somehow knew things could be better.

‘Better’ first came in the form of Salomon’s S-LAB series and their patented ‘vest’ style packs. They still feel like putting on some weird prototype, but they’re hard to beat. My 12l Advanced Skin sack doesn’t move (ie. no chaffing) whether full or empty, fits everything I need and allows food, drink and small stuff to be grabbed on the run.

Most other serious running sack brands have followed suit, so there’s now plenty of choice through Osprey or Ultimate Direction for example.

Recommended: Salomon S-LAB Advanced Skin 12l, Osprey Duro 15l

2. Drybags

These humble items ensure the rest of your kit stays dry and useable. They’re lightweight, available in a variety of sizes and cheap. You could of course use plastic bags, but being able to fully seal modern dry bags is worth a minimal outlay for peace of mind.

Sea to Summit, Exped, Osprey and many others are good choices. Get even more organised and have several bags to separate kit. Hats, gloves and a lightweight vest (see below) can be stored together, while spare thermals and tights can be left untouched until really needed.

3. Lightweight windproof vest

An essential part of my trail kit whether running long or short. It’s feather-light yet extremely effective. Plus, it’s easily removed and stashed to hand when not needed (without needing to take the backpack off!). Several brands offer a range of options, but stick to the most lightweight model since you don’t want to be suffocated in something too thick.

Recommended: Patagonia Houdini vest, Salomon Fast Wing vest

4. Waterproof jacket(s)

When conditions really deteriorate, you want something that offers good protection with breathability. Be warned: some ‘ultra’ lightweight running jackets are not 100% waterproof so choose carefully. This matters most if you are expecting a soaking, or when in more remote areas where you can’t find shelter quickly.

I have two different running jackets depending on conditions. For light rain, murky days or cooler, windy weather I use the lightweight Salomon Bonatti jacket (not 100% waterproof but very breathable). For heavy rain or snow, I opt for a thicker 3-layer shell. This keeps water out and more warmth in so it’s sweatier, but this compromise is worth it.

Recommended: Salomon Bonatti (thin), Patagonia Storm Racer (thick)

5. Trail shoes

The literal foundation of your trail running. A good pair of well-fitting trail running shoes will make all the difference after several hours on your feet. Again, there is a good argument for having several different pairs to suit a variety of conditions.

Depending on where you live, winter vs. the rest of the year may be a factor. Snow and ice underfoot will require Goretex or similar shoes with either built-in spikes (eg. Innov8 Oroc280’s) or removable cleats (eg. Yaktrax). For other seasons, you might want aggressive treads for muddier conditions (eg. Salomon S-Lab Speedcross) and something mellower for dustier runs (eg. Brooks Cascadia). If you’re just getting into trail running then it’s worth some research time and testing to choose the shoe for you.

6. Soft flasks (vs. hard flasks)

One of the major developments over recent years is with drinks bottles. Soft flask bottles are increasingly replacing the rigid, hard-wearing (heavier!) ones. It makes sense on several levels. Soft flasks are lighter, malleable, scrunch down to almost nothing and don’t slosh about. Sure, they are less robust, a bit fiddly to refill when tired and can look almost obscene when flopped over at breast height.

But once you’ve tried them it’s hard to go back to the more cumbersome and very noisy hard bottles. From a racing perspective, you can pre-fill several soft flasks with drinks powder and carry them with you to save time. The larger bladders also work well, but I personally prefer bottles to monitor my fluid intake as I go.

7. Watch

Depending on your desires you can either opt for a simple watch or a deluxe GPS sports watch that does it all. If you’re aiming to do any mountain trails, then it’s at least worth investing in a watch with an altimeter and barometer. You can then navigate and weather monitor more effectively.

The more advanced smart watches record your tracks and heart rate, which creates an easy running diary and can help with your training plans. The options keep on expanding, but there is something to suit most budgets and data needs.

Recommended: Garmin Fenix 3 (feature rich but pricier) or Forerunner 235, Suunto Ambit, Casio Trek series (no GPS, but altimeter, barometer, compass and solar powered)

8. Poles

We have already extensively reviewed trail running poles for Trail Running Magazine, but it’s worth repeating their benefits.

Trail running poles are particularly useful for mountain trails, especially when going uphill. After a long descent or flat, runnable section, it can be a relief of sorts to deploy your poles and settle into an uphill rhythm. They protect your back and ease breathing by keeping you upright, take some strain from your legs, keep you balanced, and propel you forwards.

Thanks to their lightness, once you’ve crested that col or peak you can either collapse and stash them or just carry them hunter-style in your hand. They also help balance you on steep, technical descents if you’re walking. However, if you’re running downhill they can be a major hazard!

Recommended: Black Diamond Distance poles (carbon models are pricier)

9. Phone/camera/map

Modern smartphones can be a great aid for trail runners. In an emergency, you can call for help (if there’s signal of course!) or be located via your phone. You can take good quality pictures quickly and easily, and you can use it as a navigational aid.

The mountain leader in me can’t quite commit 100% to a digital map without a paper backup stored in a waterproof map case. Technology can fail us at crucial points, and for more remote trails or when leading groups this isn’t a risk worth taking.

So a happy medium is to have both, mainly using the phone when on the move. You can either take a picture of the area you’re travelling in or use a topographic app that can locate you. In any case, ensure you have the necessary skills to locate yourself and navigate accurately if conditions or your phone deteriorate. It could be lifesaving!

Recommended: Gaia GPS app (iPhone and Android), Map cases

10. Running tights

Amongst all these developments is the largely unchanged running tight. While the fabrics have improved, they continue to be close-fitting, stretchy, light, conspicuous and reliable. If it’s cold outside we can set out running in snug comfort. If we get caught by foul weather in our shorts then they can be quickly thrust on for added protection. Plus, they pack down small and weigh very little.

There’s an enormous choice available, often at very reasonable cost.

Also for consideration:

  • Beanie/sunhat
  • Sunglasses with suitable UV protection
  • Base layer

I hope this helps you with your packing, planning and purchasing options for this summer of trail adventures!

For a comprehensive week of trail running, performance guidance and education so that you can go home feeling confident and informed to explore the trails on the run join one of our Chamonix based Alpine Trail Running Camps this summer.

Bon trail! Julia