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Best Trail Running Gear in 2021

 

If you’ve discovered the joys of trail running, then you’ll understand what I mean when I say trail running gear and road running gear can be quite different!

Of course, trail running shoes tend to be a bit more robust and grippy than road running shoes, to deal with the environment you’re running in. But shoes aren’t the only thing you might find yourself needing if you run both road and trail.

Today we’re reviewing the best trail running gear you can get, including shoes, clothing, and accessories. Of course, many of them you can use on the road too. But all of these products have features that make them great for hitting the trails.

If you need an upgrade to your gear, these products are a great place to start!

Top 3 Best and Favorites

 

Salomon Sense Ride 4

 

  • Contagrip rubber outsole
  • Quicklace tightening system
  • Multi-foam Optivibe midsole
CHECK MEN’S PRICECHECK WOMEN’S PRICE

 

Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0

 

  • Easy adjustment
  • 2 500ml Body Bottles included
  • 4-way stretch fabric
CHECK MEN’S PRICECHECK WOMEN’S PRICE

 

Patagonia Nine Trails

 

  • Inner lining for extra support
  • Zippered pockets
  • Drawstring closure
CHECK MEN’S PRICECHECK WOMEN’S PRICE

Best Trail Shoes

1. Salomon Sense Ride 4

If you’ve done any amount of searching for trail running gear, no doubt you’ve come across Salomon products. They put the rugged in … well, rugged!

Their gear, from shorts to jackets, is high-quality and durable. But their trail running shoes are among the best on the market, and we recommend choosing a pair of Salomon Sense Ride 4s to keep your feet safe and speedy on any terrain.

The Sense Ride 4 is actually one of their less hardcore-looking shoes. It’s sleek and lightweight, made for impressive grip on any surface thanks to the Contagrip rubber outsole.

Working our way up from the outsole, you’ll find a harmonious balance of soft comfort and propulsive springiness in the Optivibe midsole. Salomon uses two types of foam to provide the best of both worlds. One dampens the impact of foot strike on your joints, and the other bounces you forward with less effort and more speed.

A single layer of mesh forms the upper, staying close to your foot for a comfortable locked-in feel. Underneath, an EndoFit internal sleeve conforms to your foot and a ProFeel film protects the foot from sharp rocks and other potentially dangerous obstacles.

Salomon’s shoes are designed to slip on and off easily, with their Quicklace system. No more fighting with loose shoelaces mid-run! You can adjust the tightness of the shoe with just one pull, and it’s secure enough to not loosen as you run.

Be aware that these shoes run a little narrow (even by Salomon standards), so you may need to order a half-size bigger to get a comfortable fit.

PROS:

  • Contagrip rubber outsole
  • Quicklace tightening system
  • Multi-foam Optivibe midsole
  • EndoFit internal sleeve for best fit

CONS:

  • May run narrow
 

Top Waterproof Trail Shoes

2. ON Cloudventure Waterproof

ON is a lesser-known brand, but their Cloudventure Waterproof trail running shoe is definitely worth a look. We’ve chosen it as our best waterproof trail running shoe, as it has some great features, even on top of the waterproofing.

An engineered mesh upper is paired with an ON waterproof membrane, to provide a happy mix of comfort and dryness in any weather. The Missiongrip outsole just looks properly grippy, and features high-abrasion rubber layered on multi-patterned lugs to increase your control and safety on any surface.

Other than the impressive waterproof abilities and the superb traction, a Speedboard (Swiss-engineered for supreme precision) built into the shoe’s sole enhances your ability to keep your foot stable on slippery and rocky terrain without compromising your speed.

ON’s EVA CloudTech cushioning softens every step and reduces the jarring effect on your joints. It also has great energy return, which will help to spur you on to greater speeds.

PROS:

  • ON waterproof membrane
  • Missiongrip outsole
  • Swiss-engineered Speedboard
  • EVA midsole

CONS:

  • The manufacturer states that the shoe runs small
 

Best Hydration Vest

3. Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0

Trail running adventures can take to pretty remote areas, and you need to be able to bring all your supplies with you: water, gels, extra layers, etc. Many trail runners rely on a hydration vest or backpack for this. If you’ve always relied on a water bottle to keep you hydrated on your runs, this vest could change your running world. It’s a step up from a running belt, which is just a fancy (but convenient) waist pack for your bottle.

One of the best things about this vest is the amount of water it can carry. When you purchase the vest, you’ll get two 500ml water bottles with it, which fit snugly into the front pockets, whether full or empty.

If you need more than a liter of water, you can add a reservoir to the rear compartment. You’ll need to buy this separately unless you have one at home already. It can fit a hydration bladder of up to 2 liters.

The vest itself is lightweight and made from ripstop mesh to increase durability. The 4-way stretch material allows you to move freely without feeling restricted. A Comfort Cinch 2.0 system has been improved to help you adjust easily on the go.

You’ll also find a handful of zippered or stretchy pockets and pouches for storing other race essentials like energy bars, electrolyte tablets, or other valuables.

PROS:

  • Comfort Cinch 2.0 system for easy adjustment
  • 2 500ml Body Bottles included
  • The rear compartment can hold a 2.0L reservoir
  • 4-way stretch fabric

CONS:

  • 2.0L reservoir needs to be purchased separately
 

Top Trail Running Shorts

4. Patagonia Nine Trails

Of course, you could run in any old pair of shorts (just ask Courtney Dauwalter and Jamil Coury). But these have been designed specifically to keep you mobile, free, and protected on the trails.

Both the men’s and the women’s shorts have built-in briefs for just a little extra support, which can be welcome when you’re bouncing around on trail terrain. Each one also has a comfortable, wide, and soft waistband that uses a drawstring to get a perfect fit.

The men’s shorts feature 3 pockets – one on either hip plus a back pocket. The women’s version only has one, which is in the middle back and is zippered for extra security.

Both pairs are treated with a DWR finish (durable water-repellent). As well as keeping outside moisture away, the lining of each is moisture-wicking and quick-drying, to keep you as comfortable as possible.

PROS:

  • Inner lining for extra support
  • Zippered pockets (different placement on men’s and women’s)
  • Drawstring closure
  • DWR (Durable Water-Resistant) finish

CONS:

  • The women’s shorts only have one pocket
 

Best Trail Running Shirt

5. Salomon SENSE (men), Salomon XA (women)

A shirt is a shirt, right? Right, but Salomon just seems to make better trail running shirts than others!

We’ve chosen the Salomon SENSE as the best for men, and the Salomon XA as the best shirt for women. They’re slightly different in both style and features, but both are made specifically for the trails.

Both shirts are made of moisture-wicking fabric. The men’s uses 37.5 technology, while the ladies’ is AdvancedSkin ActiveDry technical fabric. They’re also both made with an Active Fit cut, designed to allow freedom of movement. Flat seams virtually eliminate chafing, and reflective detailing on both shirts makes you more visible.

The only downside is that the men’s shirt seems to be available in one color only, and the women’s in two. Also, some women may find the design of the shirt to be uncomfortable, as it has a round neck in the front and a V-shape neckline at the back.

PROS:

  • Flat seams
  • Active fit design
  • Reflective detailing
  • Made from recycled polyester

CONS:

  • Some women may find the design of the shirt strange or uncomfortable
 

Top Trail Running Jacket for Men

6. Arc’teryx Aptin Zip Hoodie

The Arc’teryx Aptin Zip Hoodie is perfect for staying protected on the trail in any weather.

It’s made with Polartec Power Dry technology that wicks moisture away from your body easily, keeping you dry and your temperature regulated. Akrose reinforcements at strategic points make this jacket wind and weatherproof.

In cooler weather, the attached hood provides even more protection, although there’s a conspicuous absence of a drawstring for a custom fit. If you need to let off some heat while wearing this hoodie, simply unzip the chest zipper to allow hot air to escape.

PROS:

  • Polartec Power Dry technology
  • Three-quarter chest zip
  • Arkose reinforcements
  • Attached hood

CONS:

  • The hood doesn’t have a drawcord
 

Top Trail Running Jacket for Women

7. Arc’teryx Norvan SL Hoodie

The jacket we’ve chosen for the ladies is the Norvan SL Hoodie, also made by Arc’teryx. It’s light, well-ventilated, and uses GoreTex ShakeDry technology to keep you dry and warm.

The front zipper is watertight, so nothing will get in from the outside. Elastic cuffs and hem mean that no wind can sneak into gaps, either. The hoodie has a convenient drawstring located behind the neck, so you can get a close fit in cold weather.

There are reflective bits on the sleeves, and when it’s not in use, this jacket packs down to the size of an energy bar so you can take it anywhere you go!

PROS:

  • Gore-Tex ShakeDry technology
  • WaterTight front zip
  • Elastic hem
  • Reflective elements on cuffs

CONS:

  • The jackets run small and you may need to order a size up
 

Best Hat for Trail Running

8. Salomon Waterproof Cap

It’s not easy to find waterproof caps, but if anyone’s got you covered, it’s going to be Salomon! This cap is light, simple, and features a waterproof membrane that means you’ll literally be dry from head to toe on the trail if you add it to your other waterproof gear.

Although the cap is waterproof, it’s still breathable thanks to AdvancedSkin Dry technology. Your head is one of the places where it’s easy to overheat, but you won’t need to worry about that. Hot air escapes easily and won’t heat you up or slow you down.

At just 1.41 ounces, you may forget this is even on your head while you’re running. It’s super easy to adjust using the buckle on the back of the cap. Just be aware that those with larger heads may find that the buckle causes a pressure point if it’s tight against the head!

PROS:

  • Waterproof membrane
  • Adjustable strap
  • Moisture-wicking fabric
  • Reflective logo

CONS:

  • The adjusting buckle may cause pain for runners with larger heads
 

Top Trail Running Sunglasses

9. Oakley EVZero Blades

Sunglasses are a small but important part of the trail runner’s gear! If you can’t see where you’re going, you’re going to have problems. Dappled sunlight is the norm on forest trails, and contrasty shadows can make rocks and roots difficult to navigate. So clear vision is paramount.

The Oakley EVZero Blades may be your new best friend on the trails, and will have you looking stylish while your eyes stay well-protected.

The EVZero Blades feature a single-piece lens that offers a wide, unobstructed view. The frameless design makes them light, modern, and minimalistic. At only 0.7 ounces in weight, you’re likely to forget you’re even wearing them!

For comfort, the Unobtanium pads on the nose and temples keep the glasses secure without causing pain or rubbing.

The lens choice is one of the best parts of these sunglasses. You can choose from a variety of PRIZM lenses, including things like PRIZM road, PRIZM black, and PRIZM Sapphire. Each of these features slightly different light transmission, contrast, and base lens colors, but they’re all perfectly suitable for keeping your eyes safe on the trail.

If you’re hard on your sunglasses, you may want to choose a more robust pair, like the Oakley Jawbreaker. But if you like the light, simple design, you can’t go wrong with these.

PROS:

  • Prizm lens technology
  • Plutonite frame
  • Rimless design
  • Unobtainium nose and temple pads

CONS:

  • Some may feel that the rimless design makes the sunglasses less durable
 

Best Watch for Trail Running

10. COROS APEX PRO

COROS has been making waves in the world of smartwatches, due to its feature-packed but affordable offerings. The Apex Pro is one of their most well-known watches, and it contains all an avid trail runner would need to monitor their exercise.

One of the features that makes this a superb trail running watch is how light it is. You’ll hardly notice its 2 ounces on your wrist, but don’t think that makes it any less quality than others.

The screen features Sapphire glass for extra durability, with a titanium bezel so it can withstand pretty much anything. It’s also waterproof up to 100m, so if you happen to run through a puddle or get caught in a rainstorm (although your watch will warn you of those too), you don’t have to worry about it getting damaged.

If you don’t know already, trail running is the gateway to ultrarunning, and for that you need battery life in spades. The Apex packs a battery punch of 40 hours in full GPS mode, so no matter how long you’re planning on being out, you’ll be covered.

Some features that make it superb for trail running include full GPS, altitude advisory, and advanced training status and recovery metrics. You can also set nutrition and hydration reminders, which could come in handy while you’re in the middle of an intense run to remind you to fuel up.

PROS:

  • 40 hours battery life in full GPS mode
  • Altitude advisory
  • Touch screen
  • Multisport watch

CONS:

  • This watch is on the pricey side for its features
 

Top Trekking Poles for Trail Running

11. Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles

Mountain running is a sub-specialty of trail running. As you might be able to guess, it involves plenty of uphills on rugged terrain. If you’re serious about trail running and you’re planning on heading into the big mountains for a bit of a challenge, investing in trail running poles could be a good idea. Poles help you stay stable on tough terrain, and let you use your upper body for a portion of your climbing power.

The Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles are our pick here. They’re unbelievably light, so you can move them around nearly effortlessly.

The good news for trail runners of all statures is that these are adjustable in height. This is also a bonus for those moments where your pole doesn’t quite reach where you need it to. Simply adjust a little and you should be able to maneuver easily.

An extended Aergon Thermo handle grip, locking mechanism, carbide flex tip, and shock-absorbing Dynamic Suspension System make these fairly advanced poles that should be of help when navigating rough terrain.

They’re also foldable to fit easily inside a backpack. If you’re planning on getting the Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 that we spoke of earlier, it even has dedicated space for these!

PROS:

  • Adjustable range
  • External locking device
  • Foldable for easy transporting
  • Dynamic Suspension System

CONS:

  • These poles may not be as durable as others because of the lightweight construction
 

FAQs

Wondering what to look for in the best trail running gear? We’ve got you covered. Read through our FAQs, and you can always get in touch if we haven’t answered your question!

What Should You Look for in the Best Trail Running Gear?

Navigating trail terrain can be a little more tricky than being on the road. Your gear needs to be able to keep up with you! Whether you’re shopping for shoes or clothing, here’s what you should look for when buying new gear.

Suitability

One of the most important things to consider, especially when buying trail running shoes, is if they’re the right shoe for your gait. If you overpronate, you’ll need a stability trail running shoe.

It’s also a good idea to consider the weather and common conditions. If you live somewhere with lots of rain, waterproof gear is a must. If you live in a hot, humid area, breathability is going to be extra important.

Durability

The trail can be harder on gear than the road. You have more chance of snagging your clothes on branches as you run by or scraping your shoes on rocks.

Choose a high-quality, durable product. Whether it’s a shoe or a shirt, make sure it’s made by a reputable brand and has features that make it durable.

For example, many trail running shoes will feature an anti-abrasion overlay to keep them going strong for longer. Trail conditions can be very variable, too. Rocky mountain trails demand more durable gear than flowy forest singletrack. Think about where you’ll be running, and buy for the toughest conditions you’ll regularly encounter.

Weatherproof

As much as running in the rain can be soothing and enjoyable, if you’re trail running on a regular basis you don’t want to get wet every time.

The gear you choose should be weatherproof. To what degree really depends on where you live in. If it rains often, you may want a jacket that’s water-resistant. On the other hand, if you stay in a desert area, you won’t need waterproofing but you may want something with a sun protection factor.

Breathable & Quick-Drying

No matter where you’re running, your gear should offer enough ventilation that you don’t overheat (whether it’s a shoe or a shirt).

Quick-drying is also a thumbs-up factor. Whether you tend to sweat quite a bit or you’re expecting to run through puddles, nobody wants to be weighed down with excess moisture during a run.

Grip/Traction

When it comes to trail running shoes, you need footwear with better grip/traction than road running shoes. You’ll most likely be dealing with slippery mud, loose gravel, bare rock, and terrain with more ups and downs than the road.

For your own safety, make sure the grip on your chosen shoes is decent. Trail running shoes should have a system or pattern of lugs on their soles. These are designed to grip the ground, whatever the terrain is like, and anchor you down so you have less chance of slipping and falling.

Trail Running Tips for Beginners

Are you new to trail running? It’s quite different than road running, but if you follow these beginner tips, you should be off to the best start possible!

Find a Good Trail

If you’re just starting out, it’s probably best not to tackle the most intense trail out there. Start with one that’s fairly flat, doesn’t have much loose sand or gravel, and won’t turn into a death trap if it rains a little!

It’s also a good idea to choose a trail close to home in the beginning. You’re likely to get dirty and go home aching in places you’re not used to feeling when you run on the road! The shorter the drive home, the better, until your body is used to the motions and movements.

Take It Slow

As tempting as it may be to leap into it with gusto, try to ease yourself in. Take the trails slowly at first.

This will help you to not overdo it in the beginning, and also give your body a chance to get used to this new form of running. Even when you are an experienced trail runner, expect your pace to be 25-50% slower on trails than on the road.

Take short, quick strides instead of long ones. Legendary trail runner Scott Jurek says that, when running trails and trying to decide whether you need to take one step or two, take three. This makes it easier for you to adjust your feet or steady yourself quickly if you happen to miss a step or land on an unstable patch of ground.

Walk When You Need To

Don’t be averse to walking if you need to catch your breath, especially on hills! Whereas a “steep” road might have a 10-15% gradient, trails can regularly exceed 25 or even 30%. Even if you’re an accomplished road runner, making the change to trail running can be tricky to adjust to. Elite ultra trail racers routinely walk uphills as a strategy to conserve energy.

Don’t expect to perform the same way you do on the road right from the start. Walk where you need to, run where you can, and you’ll find that you progress quickly and steadily!

Keep An Eye Out

You may already do this on the road. As you run, keep your eyes at a point about 5 to 10 feet ahead of you, on the ground. This will help you to spot potential hazards and decide which way you’re going to step in advance. In trail running, you WILL trip and fall. And when you do, it will be because of something the size of your thumb, not a fallen tree or big rock.

You’ll find that after a few runs it becomes second nature to see and avoid these hazards without even thinking. Most of the time.

Be Mindful of Hazards

Consider the weather and the environment when you’re out on a trail. If it’s been raining, expect mud and slippery rocks! If you’re in a wooded environment, expect gnarly roots to be a potential hazard. If it is or has been windy, falling branches can be a danger. And there’s always wildlife, too.

Have Fun!

Trail running may be similar to road running, but it brings an element of challenge that you don’t find on the street! Not to mention the fact that you’re likely to be surrounded by beautiful nature. No matter how you’re performing, remember to enjoy yourself!

The Wired Runner