Like hiking, trail running can expose you to a wide range of conditions. You’re often out for long periods of time and cover an eclectic variety of rugged terrain, so it’s crucial to be fully equipped. To help you get the most out of your off-road training, here are our top 10 trail running essentials:
Trail running shoes provide protection from debris, stability on uneven ground and a rugged sole that can handle a variety of conditions. Trail running footwear falls roughly into 3 categories based on running style and intended terrain, so you have to ask yourself: Do I want to munch through mud and technical trails? Do I need shoes with all-terrain versatility? Am I just focussed on speed and agility?
If you cover a wide variety of terrain, from roads and stony paths to grass, mud and everything in-between, you’ll need a shoe that is tough, comfortable and quick to drain and dry. These are also a great choice if you’re just starting. They provide the perfect amount of grip and plenty of support and protection from rocks and debris so you can try a wide range of different routes.
Mud, rocks and roots
If you enjoy getting down and dirty on technical trails and leaping over rocks, roots and tricky gradients, you need something super-tough with a bit more bite. 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 also offer extra impact protection and are highly flexible.
Built for speed
If you favour the responsiveness of barefoot running or are focused on boosting speed, you should look at a more streamlined design. Trail shoes like these give you just enough protection and stability without adding weight or reducing flexibility. They are incredibly lightweight (making them ideal for racing), highly breathable and have superb drainage and a cushioned low-profile sole.
A lightweight and packable layering system which is comfortable and breathable is important. This will allow you to adapt to changing conditions on the fly.
A jacket or gilet helps maintain core warmth and provides a windproof and showerproof barrier. You generate a lot of heat when you run, so your jacket needs to be extremely light and highly breathable to stop you feeling 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 discomfort or overheating. Moisture-wicking fabrics draw sweat away from the 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 mesh panels for extra ventilation on long and hot runs.
Trail shorts tend to be a little longer in the leg for extra protection from plants and debris. You can also get shorts and tights which compress to boost performance and aid recovery by supporting the muscles, improving blood flow and reducing shock. Whatever your preference, you want something that is moisture-wicking and breathable with a couple of small pockets for storing essentials.
The weight of your load will depend on the weather and the length of your route. If you’re running in changeable conditions or heading out over an extended period of time, you will need a 5-10L pack to accommodate extra layers, nutrition and hydration (not to mention your phone and car keys).
Small, lightweight packs designed for high exertion activities have a figure-hugging fit, good ventilation and often include a water reservoir for convenient, hands-free hydration.
It’s important to stay hydrated on your run and to carry some kind of nutrition in your pack or pocket in case you find yourself flagging.
Dehydration can lead to cramp, muscle fatigue and impeded performance. An electrolyte mix in your hydration bladder or bottle will replenish vital salts lost in sweat. A water reservoir or bladder allows you to carry up to 3L of water and easily rehydrate on the move. If you’re not planning on covering that much ground, take at least one bottle of water with you.
Whether it’s banana bread or energy bars and gels, you should 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. Experiment and see what works best for you!
When it comes to foot care, prevention is far better than a cure. It’s worth investing in a pair of technical running socks which keep your feet dry and comfortable and reduce the risk of blisters. Check out our blog on why you need technical running socks.
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, lessens the friction caused by repetitive movement and prevents 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 and limping back home with a frown!
When you start venturing onto unmarked trails, a GPS watch can be invaluable. Each offers a unique range of features, from pinpointing your location to monitoring your distance, speed and pace and how many calories you’ve burned. It’s still essential to carry a map and compass at all times.
Whether you’re happy with a plastic bag or prefer something more sturdy, your phone deserves some waterproof protection on the trails. If you have a phone on you during a run, the moisture you produce can seriously damage it (as can rain).
Walking poles aren’t essential, but they help aid balance on technical ascents and descents, help with load-bearing and energy conservation, significantly reduce stress placed on joints and minimise long-term impact on knee cartilage.
Whether you’re a fan of training on the roads or the trails, the head torch is a runner’s friend. Perfect for early mornings and gloomy evenings to light up your path and illuminate any hidden obstacles.
 A CHANGE OF SHOES, CLOTHES AND A WARM LAYER
This is a post-run essential. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in wet and muddy shoes and clothes. Your body will also rapidly cool down again after a run. 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 for them at the end of your run!