For many of us who have been running for a long time, the start of the school year and the coming fall mean one thing: cross country. There are many joys to getting your running off the road and into the fields and trails. Fall gives us the perfect opportunity to get back to it, or to try it for the first time. If you haven’t participated in cross country before (or if your kid hasn’t), you might be wondering what kind of gear you’ll need.
This article will cover everything that you absolutely need for the season, as well as what items might be nice to have if you’re willing to spend a little bit more.
Throughout the article, we’ll explain what gear you need and why it’s important.
In order to have a successful cross country season, this is the gear that you absolutely need. This is the category that is worth spending a little bit more money on to make sure that you get a high-quality product.
Running Shoes (aka trainers)
Running shoes are a no brainer. But you do have an option between road shoes or trail shoes. Just to make it confusing, cross country lands in a middle-ground between road and trail. Lightweight road shoes probably won’t cut it on the roughest cross country terrain. At the same time, trail shoes are usually a bit of overkill. A sturdy, grippy road shoe is your best bet. You can use road shoes on either the road or the trail. Trail shoes will give you a better grip on the trail, but they are not good on roads.
Thus, you’re going to have to decide if you’d rather have a versatile shoe or one that is really good on the trail. That’s why we recommend a solid road shoe, since most practices are done on roads or easy trails. If you know your team practices mostly on more technical terrain, then a trail shoe might be worth it.
Additionally, you’ll probably want one pair of trainers (regular running shoes) and one pair of racing spikes. We’ll talk about racing shoes later. They’re a nice add on – but definitely opt for the general running shoe first.
No runner likes chafing, and that’s why it’s important that you get a few good pairs of moisture-wicking shorts. Wicking shorts absorb sweat quickly instead of having it hang around. Anything that isn’t moisture-wicking may cause chafing.
Your shorts might be issued by your club or team. If they aren’t, you should at least make sure that they match your team colors. You may even want to ask the coach if a specific color of shorts is required.
Tights or Running pants
While you’ll be running in shorts, you’ll still want a pair of tights or running pants. These will help keep you warm during practices or before a meet when it starts to get colder outside.
Anything you can do to stay warm before you have to run is helpful!
Long Sleeve Tech Shirt
As it starts to get colder, a long sleeve tech shirt as a base layer keeps you from getting too cold.
Ideally, pick something that wicks sweat so that you’re not getting cold from your sweat. Keep it lightweight and breathable, too. The point is to stay warm until you’re warmed up – not to get hot.
Having a good pair of running shoes is a must, but you also need good socks. This is not the time to get cheap ones from the dollar store. You want several pairs that are moisture-wicking to prevent blisters.
Black or dark socks are ideal because white socks will show mud and dirt. They won’t stay white for very long. You might want to have a pair of socks that are thicker for colder days and a thinner sock for days when you want your feet to breathe.
You may also want to look into compression socks, which are designed to help aid in muscle recovery. Even if you don’t plan to wear them during a race or practice, they are great for recovering after a hard practice or meet.
Nice to Haves
If you already have all of the “must-have” gear, or if you want to have all the gear that will be helpful as a cross-country runner, check out this section.
You don’t absolutely need it, but having this gear will make your season more enjoyable.
Spikes are your racing shoes, and most runners wear them for meets. They are designed to be lightweight to help you run faster. And they will also provide better traction on dirt thanks to the tiny spikes on the sole of the shoe.
You can get round track spikes, which can be used for cross country and track (with longer spikes for cross country), or you can get specifically designed cross country spikes that are more flexible than track spikes. It just depends on what’s more comfortable for you.
Hat and Gloves
You might not need these at the beginning of the cross country season. It will get cold quickly, though, and you’ll want to cover your extremities. Thus, get a hat and gloves to keep you warm during practice and before meets.
It can be surprising just how warm a hat and gloves keep you. It’s not uncommon to race in shorts and a t-shirt with a hat and gloves. You might feel a bit cold at the start, but once you’ve run the first mile, it’s perfect. No need to shed a jacket midway through a race because you’ve gotten too hot.
We didn’t mean to disparage jackets just then. They are an important piece of kit. Layers are key to staying warm and comfortable when it gets cool out. If it doesn’t rain very often where you live, you might be okay with just a normal jacket that you can wear during practice or before a race to keep you nice and warm.
But you might also want to get a wind/rain running jacket for those days when it’s pouring down rain and you can’t skip a run. If you run cold anyway, you could even consider getting waterproof pants so that you’re not drenched when practicing.
Okay, so this isn’t gear in the sense of clothing, but it is still super important. You need nutrition to stay fueled before and after a practice or meet. This can range from amino energy to energy powder to energy bars to chews to gels to water bottles.
Just figure out how you’re planning to get the fuel that you need. Once you know that, the necessary gear to make sure that you’re staying hydrated and energized will be clear.
As you’re selecting the gear that you’re going to wear for the season, remember several things.
First, if you’re getting new shoes, try them on in the late afternoon or go running down the aisle of the store. Your feet swell during both of these times, and this will give you a better idea of whether the shoes are actually a good fit.
Second, you’ll definitely want to get gear that you feel great in. But remember that function is more important than fashion. Even if one pair of running shoes is slightly less colorful than another, if it’s the pair that fits better, get it.
Finally, keep in mind that the “must-have” gear is for this season. You will be using it a lot in the next several months. Get gear that is going to get you through this season and is going to be lightweight but also durable enough. If it doesn’t last until next year, that’s okay.
In the end, good luck as you’re thinking about gear and the upcoming cross country season. As we all know, having the proper gear can make all the difference. Make sure that you have the correct gear, and you will get off to the right start.