Friday, September 11, 2015

Wanna Hit the Trails? You Must Have This Gear!

My trail running programs are in full swing now and I couldn't be more excited about how everyone is doing. And even though I feel like we just got started, we are actually almost to race day already. There's just over 7 weeks until our goal race, the Lake Hodges Trail Fest. Which means there's plenty of time to try out new gear and be ready to rock on race day. In general, most of the "rules" of road running apply to trail running as well. But there are certainly a few tweaks here and there that will make trail running more enjoyable, and the gear you use along the way is no exception. Here are some basic items that really help improve your experience on the trails. Keep in mind, these are items for summer or warm-weather trail running, as well as the type of trails I typically run. Things change as the temps change, and the type of trail you run may require different gear. But for the warm-weather trail running we're doing, the below gear will help the most.

Trail Shoes

Many trails have tons of rocks, roots and other "items of nature" that line the path ahead. Sure you could get away with wearing road shoes. But these trail conditions can be very unstable and depending on your form, your pace and your shoes, can be very difficult. Remember, when conditions get difficult, shorten your stride, slow your pace and walk if necessary. But something that can help you are good trail running shoes. They differ from road-running shoes in that they're lower profile (lower to the ground), which reduces the chance of ankle rolls with a high heel. The rugged tread offers better traction on muddy, wet trails as well as on rocks. They should fit snug in the heel but have room in the toe box. There are tons to choose from, all with varying bells and whistles. Shoe brand aside, you should go with: what feels the most comfortable, has the best tread/lugs on the bottom to grip rocks, and toe protection so you don't stub your toes should you hit the rocks or roots oddly while running. Brands that make great trail running shoes are Altra, Montrail, Salomon and Brooks trail running shoes (the Cascadia is a good one). Most manufacturers like Hoka, Asics, New Balance and Saucony make trail running shoes.

Hydration System

No trail-running-gear list would be complete without the mention of a hydration system. You will need to replenish fluids and electrolytes on runs that are over an hour. And if you plan on doing an actual trail race, it's important to note that most races will require you to carry fluids with you. Trail races have far less aid stations than road races, which is why you need to bring fluids with you. Practicing your hydration system before the race is key. I recommend a belt or vest over holding something. Believe it or not, holding something while running can alter your form, especially on super long runs. It affects your arm swing, which can throw everything off. It also creates tension in the arms and hands, wasting valuable energy. Look for a belt or vest that is adjustable, holds the amount of fluid you need, has a pouch (for phones, gels, keys, etc) and any other features you may want. 

Personally speaking, I prefer a hydration vest to wearing a fuel belt. I have never been able to find a fuel belt that fits me just right. And when on the trails, I typically drink more fluids and need more fluids than what can be carried in a fuel belt (usually only 16-20oz in a water bottle). Usually there are no water sources out on the trails so you need to bring all of your fluids with you. That leaves a hydration vest as your best option. You can get one with a 1 liter bladder or a 2 liter bladder, depending on your needs. You can also get a vest that not only has a bladder but also has room for extra stuff. Some brands to try are:

Fuel Belt
Ultimate Direction
Orange Mud

Medical Supplies

Whether you're running 3 miles or 30 miles out on the trail, there is always a chance of a fall or other brush with nature. Throwing some bandaids, wipes, anti-biotic ointment, sunscreen and lip balm in your pack is a good idea. You can put everything into a plastic bag and keep it in the section of your pack that you don't need to access during your run. I also recommend adding some tissues or toilet paper. If you're lucky, there will be a bathroom at the trail head, or beginning of your trail. But typically, the woods are your bathroom. You never know when the need will arise and it's better to be prepared than not.


Of course you need socks for any run. But trail running, in my experience, requires a different type of sock. Socks that are thicker will help protect the feet from sand, rocks and other pieces nature that happen to get into your shoes on the run. Socks that come up higher on the leg are also helpful for protecting your feet. Personally, I wear trail running socks from Balega and Bridgedale.


If you don't want to wear high socks, or thicker socks for that matter, another option is to wear shoe gaiters. Gaiters attach to your shoe and add another level of protection to your feet. They not only prevent nature items from entering your shoes and causing blisters, but they can also prevent nature items from scratching your ankles and calves. Some trails have a lot of low brush that can get sharp in the dry conditions. When it scratches against you, it doesn't feel great. This pic shows my gaiters from Dirty Girl Gaiters and they have a ton of patterns and colors, not all of which are pink cougar (meaning, the guys can find some as well). Gaiter size is dependent on shoe size as they need to cover the shoe correctly in order to work properly. Also, you may find some really high gaiters, or thick water-proof gaiters, in your travels. Choose gaiters based on your conditions. Smaller ones will be better for typical SoCal trails but larger, thicker gaiters are better for trails with high brush, water crossings or snow/slush/mud.


Just like with the socks, you obviously need a hat or visor and sunglasses while running on the road. But they are essential when running trails. In our area, the trail systems are typically very exposed, meaning there is little-to-no tree cover. It gets hot and the sun is unrelenting. Protecting your eyes with sunglasses or a low hat or visor is very important. Not only do you need to protect your eyes from the UV rays, but it can also be very disorienting on the trails when the sun is in your eyes. And some trails, such as clay trails, tend to be blinding in the sun. Sunglasses make it easier to see.


A buff is a piece of fabric (look for technical fabric) that is in the shape of a tube. You can use a buff for so many things while on the trail: sun protection, scarf, sweat wiper (technical term ;-) ), headband and more. I personally have used my buff for ear warmers on cold trail runs and sweat wipers on hot. I have also completely saturated it with water and used it as a cool towel on especially hot runs. It's definitely a useful item to have. May favorite is my "I eat mountains for breakfast" buff from Run Pretty Far. They have the best stuff if you ever want to buy me a present :) 

My sweat-wiping buff! 
Happy trails to you!

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  1. Umm...Hoka Challengers are the best trail shoes ever! :-)

    1. Glad you like them! I sadly had to break up with Hoka as they're just not for me.