The Gear You Need to Trail Run

Woman trail running through the woods

Our list of "must have" and "would be nice" items for every trail runner

Sure, running is a simple sport. One could argue that all you need is a good pair of shoes. And while that’s true (to some extent), once you venture off the roads and into the wilderness, there are several essential items you need to have (because they will make your whole experience safer and more enjoyable; we’ve listed those first and placed an asterisk next to them).

And then there is the ever-growing list of “would be nice” items (we’ve listed those second). We’re talking about creature comforts that make a great experience out in the woods, fantastic. … But we’ll let you be the judge. Here goes:

Trail Running Shoes*

Any fit expert will tell you: wear trail running shoes on the trail and road running shoes on the road. That’s because trail running shoes offer the right amount of grip and protection for off-road surfaces. But not all trail running shoes are created equal. If you’re running a soft, dry and mostly flat singletrack you’re not going to need a burly mountain runner with aggressive tread. When you’re just starting out in the off-road world, consider a middle-of-the-road all-around trail running model that has a little bit of everything.


This comes down to safety. Make sure you always tell someone where you’re going and also bring along an ID. While your driver’s license will do, consider something like the smart ID. It’s a snap-on safety bracelet with your name and contact information for $4.

Hydration System*

As we’ve said before, trail running miles are slower than road running miles. That’s because of elevation changes and trail obstacles to name a couple. So, if the same mileage takes a third even to double the time, there’s a good chance you’re going to need to hydrate en route. Carrying a handheld water bottle or a hydration pack could make all the difference between an enjoyable day on the trails or a total bonk (going to be out more than an hour? Bring along some nutrition and electrolytes, too).

Orange Mud Towel*

OK, fine. This is borderline “would be nice” … unless you live in the south where summer running feels more like swimming in hot soup. In the south, this is a necessity to get you from the trailhead to home, when you’re soaking wet after a muggy run. It wraps around your body so you can change with some level of privacy and then, perhaps best of all, it covers your seat, so your stinky, sweaty and/or muddy body won’t ruin your car interior.

Sun protection*

A combination of sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat (a trucker hat works!) and clothing that covers your shoulders for optimal sun safety.

Wind jacket

While this isn’t a necessity for your average trail run, when it comes to alpine and backcountry running that has you traipsing through exposed ridgelines, you’re going to need another layer. That’s because conditions change quickly in the mountains. Coming prepared with an extra layer could be the difference between hypothermia and a comfortable, safe adventure.

Water pump or purification system

This only applies to runs in remote places or long runs when you have little or no access to running water. Taking a Lifestraw is easy because it’s relatively small and you can dip it into a stream and drink straight from the source. A couple of downsides: it won’t help you refill the bladder of your hydration pack and sometimes it’s hard to use. A water pump, on the other hand, allows you to pump water directly into your bottle or pack and, most of the time, the resulting water is cold and delicious. On the downside: lugging it around the trail might feel bulky. The other option for the weight-weary traveler is iodine tablets. They’re as low pro as they go, but they also leave a metallic aftertaste in your water and don’t filter out sediment.