10 Must-Haves for Trail Runners

Because hitting trails requires different gear than running on sidewalks or streets

By Dina Mishev

May 8, 2019

A woman runs along a cliff with a Suunto watch on her left wrist

Yes, trail running is running. But for those who choose to tear along a trail rather than cruise around the neighborhood or a track, it feels like a whole other sport—as different from street running as scuba diving is from snorkeling. It's no surprise, then, that hitting rocky, slippery trails requires different gear than running on sidewalks. Shoes with toe protection and burly treads are only the beginning.


The SUUNTO 9 Baro GPS watch has a color touch screen and tracks routes, distance, speed, vertical feet, calories burned, sleep data, and heart rate. Plus, its battery can handle more than 100 hours of GPS. Pair the watch with Suunto's app and you can access routes around the world—just download tracks onto the watch, which will navigate you. $600, suunto.com


The repetition of shocks in trail running puts muscles, joints, and tendons to the test. Enter compression socks, which help absorb the pounding, leading to less traction and muscle oscillation. CEP's Ultralight Socks maintain the standard 2030 mmHg compression, increase circulation, and deliver a custom-feeling fit thanks to the company's techy fibers. $60, cepcompression.com


You'd think being superlight, stretchy, and fast-drying and including a phone-friendly zippered back pocket would be enough for one pair of running shorts, but no. MONTANE's Snap and Fang shorts (for women and men, respectively) overachieve with an inner liner treated with Polygiene, an antimicrobial odor controller. The company's Zip T-Shirt ($60) is also engineered to be stink-free. $60, montane.co.uk

head lamp

Just in case your run goes longer than planned, pack PETZL's USB-rechargeable, 200-lumen Bindi head lamp, which is about the size of a nine-volt battery and weighs less than two AAs. Its easily adjustable headband can also be worn around the neck. $60, petzl.com


Because few things can ruin a run faster than chafing, meet CHAMOIS BUTT'R's GoStik, a solid, fragrance-free, nongreasy lube that goes on like deodorant and won't stain clothing. Going on a really long run? Consider tucking the .15-ounce GoStik ($3)—the size of a ChapStick—into your pocket. $15, chamoisbuttr.com

running vest

SALOMON's Advanced Skin 5 Set running vest is constructed from stretchy, breathable, fast-wicking mesh, has multiple pole holders and pockets—including one that fits a 1.5-liter water bladder—and comes with a soft flask. Easily adjustable hooks across the chest keep everything from bouncing. $155, runningwarehouse.com


More and more marathon and mountain runners use poles, which can help with balance and power. BLACK DIAMOND's Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles weigh about 10 ounces—per pair—and when you don't need them, they fold into three sections and can be easily stowed in a running vest or a pack. $170, blackdiamondequipment.com

running shoe

With more trademarked features—a FootShape toe box, a Zero-Drop platform, a MaxTrac rubber tread, StoneGuard protection, A-Bound cushioning, and TrailClaw lugs—than most smartphones, ALTRA's Lone Peak 4 shoe could be called gimmicky. Except that all these features combine to make it awesomely comfortable, stable, and durable. It might take a while to get used to all the room in that FootShape toe box, but because of it, you'll likely never lose a toenail again. $120, altrarunning.com


After being smashed in a pack or waistband, OUTDOOR RESEARCH's Performance Trucker Trail Hat springs right back into shape. It also wicks and breathes and can be thrown into the washing machine. $30, outdoorresearch.com/us/en/country


OUTDOOR RESEARCH's Tantrum II Hooded Jacket makes running in less-than-perfect weather more comfortable. A mere 4.7 ounces, it protects from cold wind and light rain with internal thumb loops, an adjustable hood, and stretchy, ripstop 20-denier nylon fabric. $110, outdoorresearch.com/us/en/country