Essential Trail Gear

Essential Trail Gear

Trail running can be an epic adventure. Traversing rugged paths, ascending mountains with changing climates, and exploring miles of nearly untouched earth can bring many pleasure and satisfaction. However, achieving such feats requires some essential gear to make sure you safely succeed. We outline the essential trail gear you should have with you to protect you when out in the wild without weighing you down. 

More likely than not, most trail runs cover long distances over extended periods with little human interaction or access to basic needs like water and first aid. The top priority when beginning a trail run should be prudent completion. Most importantly, if you are taking in some fresh air on your own time or with a couple of friends over a weekend outside of racing, just letting someone else know where and when you are going on your trail run is a helpful yet simple safety precaution. For many races, they will hand out a detailed list of what you should bring with you but if you are a novice to the sport then the following categories will help you to break down your essential trail gear needs:

1. Apparel

Clothing - You want to choose athletic wear made from light materials that you can layer. Ideally, the material should be that which helps to wick sweat away from the body and is quick drying. This includes wearing high-quality socks. You will want to avoid clothing with thick seams or tags which can cause skin irritation. Be sure to pick articles of clothing that are weather appropriate and bear in mind the elevation or weather changes that may occur throughout the run. Bringing a lightweight, wind, and waterproof jacket is always a good idea for the changing elements. 

Shoes - Trail specific running shoes are incredibly helpful when dealing with rocks, boulders, and debris. Trail shoes provide better grip and traction while running along uneven terrains. The protective materials of trail shoes also help to keep your feet dry, protect your feet from impact, and keep annoying pebbles out. Additionally, running gaiters are a simple fabric attachment that can be placed over the top of your shoes to reduce sand and rubble from getting into your shoes.

Hats & Gloves - Wearing a quick-drying, rimmed hat to keep the head from losing excess heat in colder weather or to keep cool during warmer weather is beneficial. Additionally, a Buff wrap along with light running gloves are nice when the temps start to drop. 

Sunglasses - Bring a lightweight pair of sunglasses to help against glare from sun or snow. Photo-chromatic lenses can also help during the evening to make the terrain clearer.

Backpack or Vest - Wearing a light running backpack or vest is a valuable way to help you carry all your essentials and/or hydration bladders, as needed. Proper fit and form are a must to minimize skin irritation. 

2. Fueling

Hydration - One of the most important essential items is of course water and/or electrolytes. Check out our latest article on Hydration for Trails on the different options for carrying your hydration on trail runs.

Food - Endurance running requires access to sugars, salts, and calories for energy and fuel. Trail running may take hours so bringing gels, bars, dehydrated meats and fruits, trail mix, boiled potatoes, and salts which are all healthy alternatives but feel free to also bring your favorite candy bar as well. Just be sure to test foods earlier to the event to make sure they don’t upset your stomach. Expect to bring enough to cover 100 to 200 calories an hour.

3. Electronics

Cell Phone - A cell phone is a must to assist you in the case of an emergency such as with a fall or injury or when getting lost and needing navigation. It is also a handy device that can be used to record memorable moments with its camera or video. 

Smartwatch - Many runners nowadays have a smart fitness watch for many reasons. Wearing one on trail runs makes sense to help with navigation, recording your pace, distance, and elevation.

Body Lamp - Wearing a headlamp or crossbody chest strap lamp is necessary for dawn, dusk, or overnight races. Body lamps will provide lighting to help you navigate through the night and see the path a few meters ahead of you to avoid falls from tripping over debris, rocks, or branches. 

Portable USB Charger - A portable USB charger and cord are good for day or multiple day trail events when electronic devices may need a quick recharge. There are even chargers that are specifically designed for outdoor activities that can be solar charged while attached to the outside of your backpack.

Navigation Tool or Map - Your cell phone or smartwatch may already be equipped with GPS, however poor service could cause disruptions at inopportune times. An additional handheld electronic GPS device or even just lightweight paper maps may be advised for such instances. 

4. Emergency Items 

First Aid Kit - A small pouch filled with pain pills like Ibuprofen or Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, antibiotic ointment, and bandages are helpful on long trail runs where minor cuts or blisters could occur.

Fire Starter Kit - A small flint kit that can fit on your keychain and a pocket knife for long trail runs could be life-saving items in case of an emergency.

Safety Blanket - In any instance that you need to stop on a long trail run, safety or space blankets are vital during an emergency. They are lightweight and help to keep you warm and ward off hypothermia in those emergencies.

5. Optional Accessories

Walking Sticks or Trekking Poles - Foldable walking sticks or trekking poles can be helpful tools to help with balance and assist in effort on challenging and long paths. 

Sunscreen & Insect Repellent - Sunscreen should be put on daily for skincare protection, but an additional application may be necessary if you are out for prolonged periods or sweat a lot. Additionally, insect repellent may be applied before a race but may need to be reapplied on long trail runs in the woods. 

Anti-Chafing Cream - If your clothing or backpack rubs the wrong way, your skin will let you know after hours of constant friction. Besides skin breakdown, this can be also painful. There are different brands of anti-chafing cream or sticks that can help to protect skin breakdown by reducing the friction that can be applied before and during the run. 

Money, ID, and Keys - These items should go without saying, but having a little bit of cash, a piece of identification and your keys to get home are common sense items that could be helpful following the trail run or in an emergency. 

These are advised essential gear and items that may be useful during a trail run or race. The idea is to have what you need when you may not have immediate access to it. However, you don’t want to be weighed down. So be sure to take inventory but edit the items you will take with you as needed depending on the details of the run. Ask yourself questions like: How long will I be out? What will the weather be like? How will I get home in case of an emergency? 

Trail runs can be fun but can also bring with them an element of danger. Being prepared can help to eliminate risk and help to get you home safely. From clothing, nutrition, navigation, and protection, this comprehensive list should protect you even in the most extreme conditions so you can make the most of your adventure.