Trail running, a bit like hiking can expose you to a wide range of conditions. You’re often out for extended periods of time and cover a variety of terrain so you have to make sure that you’re well prepared. To help you enjoy your time on the trails, here are our top 10 trail running essentials.
As with most outdoor activity, it’s essential that you have the right footwear. Trail running shoes provide impact protection from debris; stability on uneven ground and have a rugged sole that can cope with a variety of conditions. They fall roughly into three groups based on running style and intended terrain so you have to ask yourself these questions before you make your investment: Do you want to munch through mud and technical trails? Are you looking for something with all-terrain versatility, or is your focus on speed and agility?
If you like to cover a wide variety of terrain, from stony paths and stretches of road, to grass, mud and everything in between, you’re best to go for a good all-round shoe. They’re tough, comfortable and quick to drain and dry should you come into contact with some unavoidable puddles. They are also a great choice if you’re just starting out as they will provide the perfect amount of grip, plenty of support and protection from from rocks and other hidden bits of debris allowing you to try out a wide range of different routes until you find your niche.
If you enjoy getting down and dirty on technical trails; leaping over rocks, roots and tricky gradients, then you need something super-tough that offers a bit more bite than an all-round trail shoe. This kind of shoe has a high grip sole with big, rugged lugs that are well spaced to prevent mud and debris from building up. They offer extra impact protection to cope with the rougher ground and are highly flexible for greater manoeuvrability.
If you prefer the responsiveness of barefoot running or are focused on upping your speed, you should look at something a bit more streamlined. Trail shoes like the Merrell Trail Glove ( pictured) strive to give you just enough protection and stability without adding unnecessary weight or reducing flexibility. They are incredibly lightweight, making them ideal for racing; they’re highly breathable, have a low profile cushioned sole and superb drainage as you don’t have time to worry about water when you’re against the clock!
If you’re a seasoned trail runner, you’ll understand the importance of a lightweight, packable layering system, and if you’re just starting out, you soon will! Comfort and breathability are important factors when it comes to your trail running kit and a good layering system will allow you to adapt to changing conditions on the fly.
A jacket or gilet should be an essential part of your kit; it will help to maintain your core warmth, providing you with a windproof, showerproof barrier to protect you from the elements. You generate a lot of heat as you run so your jacket needs to be extremely light and highly breathable, allowing the moisture you produce to escape, rather than building up inside, making you feel hot and clammy. It also needs to be highly compressible so you can easily stuff it into a small backpack or pocket.
Your running top needs to be lightweight, quick drying and moisture wicking to prevent you from feeling uncomfortable or overheating when you’re working hard. Moisture wicking fabrics draw sweat away from your skin to the outer surface of the garment where it disperses and quickly dries, preventing you from getting damp and clammy. Some technical tees have strategically placed mesh panels, giving you extra ventilation where you need it most; ideal for hot weather or long, challenging runs!
There are lots of options when it comes to choosing your running tights/ shorts; a lot of it is down to personal preference. Trail shorts tend to be a little longer in the leg to offer a bit of extra protection from plants and debris. You can also get shorts and tights with compression, which help to boost your performance and aid your recovery by supporting your muscles, improving blood flow and reducing the effect of vibrations caused by impact. Whatever your preference, you want to go for something moisture wicking and breathable with a couple of small pockets for storing essentials.
The amount of things that you need to take with you will depend on the weather and the length of your run. If you’re dealing with changeable conditions or heading out over an extended period of time, you will need a 5-10 litre pack to accommodate extra layers, nutrition and hydration (not to mention your phone and car keys). You can get small, lightweight packs that are designed for high exertion activity. They have a figure hugging fit, are well ventilated and in many cases can incorporate a water reservoir for convenient, hands-free hydration.
It’s extremely important to stay hydrated on your run and it’s always a good idea to have some kind of nutrition in your pack or pocket in case you find yourself flagging.
Dehydration can lead to cramp, muscle fatigue and seriously impede your performance. Make sure that you have plenty of water close at hand and consider using an electrolyte mix in your hydration pouch or water bottle to replenish vital salts lost through sweating. Having a water reservoir/ bladder in your backpack is a really good idea as it allows you to carry up to 3L of water and easily re-hydrate while in motion. If you’re not planning on covering that much ground or don’t like the idea of carrying a reservoir, make sure that you take at least one water bottle with you.
Whether it’s some banana bread or specialised sports nutrition like a bar or energy gel, you should make sure that you have something in your pack or pocket to give yourself a welcome boost when your energy levels begin to drop. There are lots of different types of sports nutrition out there and you’ll find that some sit better in your stomach than others, so experiment with a few different types and see what works best for you.
Whether you’re happy to settle for a plastic bag or would prefer something a little more sturdy, your phone deserves some waterproof protection when you hit the trails. As well as a means of communication, we now use our phones for an array of other things including listening to music and accessing sports performance apps like Strava. If you have your phone on your person the moisture you produce can seriously damage it, as can rain or deeper bodies of water, so make sure you take precautions.
When it comes to foot care, prevention is far better than a cure. It’s worth investing in a pair of run specific socks. This isn’t just a gimmick, a good technical running sock will provide extra cushioning and support where you need it; thinner fabric on top of the foot to allow heat to escape and a flat seam construction to prevent blisters. If it’s a hot day or you’re prone to developing blisters, try using a blister stick. This coats the skin with a light balm, lessening the friction caused by repetitive movement and preventing the blister from forming. If all else fails, make sure that you have some blister patches to hand, they can make the difference between finishing your run with a smile on your face and limping home.
When you start venturing onto unmarked trails a navigation device like a GPS watch can prove invaluable. Each unit will offer a unique range of features, from pinpointing your location and turn by turn navigation, to monitoring your distance, speed, pace and calories burned, so you need to decide which best suits your needs before you make your investment. If you prefer something with a bit less technical, make sure that you have a compass and an acurate map of the area with you at all times.
Walking poles aren’t really an essential but you will see plenty of trail runners that use them, especially if you begin to get involved in ultra races. They can aid balance on technical ascents and descents; help with load bearing and energy conservation, significantly reducing the stress placed on your joints and minimising the long term impact on knee cartilage.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of road or trail, the head torch is a runner’s friend. Perfect for early mornings or gloomy evenings, it is the convenient, hands-free way to light your path and show up any hidden obstacles that could be nestling in the shadows.
This is an after run essential! There’s nothing worse than being stuck in wet, muddy shoes and clothes, and as warm as you might feel when you’re on the move, your body will cool down rapidly once you stop. Whether you leave some comfortable dry clothes and shoes in the car, or in a pack at the race day bag drop, you’ll be grateful of them at the end of your run.