Trail Running Clothing and Equipment
Trail running is a simple sport. It’s you, and the trail. Nature is the great external variable. This is where a small but critical selection of gear and clothing can help you maximize comfort.
Shoes - Not for the Road
Trail running shoes differ from “regular” running shoes in that they have bigger lugs on the bottom, to aid with traction on dirt, rocks and mud. Trail running shoes have more durable construction, to withstand scraping against rocks and branches. Finally, they tend to offer a little more protection under foot, as you’re not running on a smooth surface.
Hydration - hand-held vs. waistbelt vs. vest vs. backpack
These are the four main ways of carrying water and food while trail running. Each product has its own pros and cons, so do a little online research, visit stores to try on various models, and test out whatever your friends’ own. Personally, I don’t carry anything for a run of less than 45 minutes. For 45-90 minutes, I may carry a 1/2L water bottle in my hand and a bar in my shorts’ pocket. Beyond that, I’ll take my running backpack and two liters of water and a variety of small snacks, fruit, and a pb&j sandwich (on runs >3 hours).
A Watch - Time Keeping
Anything will suffice, just as long as it’s comfortable. After each run, record your exercise time in your Running Journal. You can also calculate your average mile-per-minute rate, which is a good, if basic, measure of your conditioning. However, trail running conditions are so varied that your mile-per-minute training time is not a good predictor of your race time.
Vaseline - The Hidden Helper
Companies make fancy anti-rub creams, but good old vaseline does the trick and you probably already have it in your medicine cabinet. Rub this on any chaffing spots immediately prior to your next run. Between the thighs, in the crotch, hips, seams from clothing, and armpits are common areas that benefit from vaseline.
There is no need to go overboard on tons of new clothing when you probably already have a lot of these items in your closet. I have one set of clothing for warm weather, a second set for cold weather, and mix-and-match them for anything in between.
My Trail Running Outfit Combinations:
Warm (above 60°) - short, t-shirt
Mild (50-60°) - 3/4 tights, t-shirt
Cool (40-50°) - 3/4 tights , t-shirt, thin wristbands, headband
Cold (30-40°) - 3/4 tights, long-sleeve zip-collar, thick wristbands, headband
Cool/Cold with rain - add an ultralight windshell (not necessary for warm rain)
A few notes of explanation:
- Clothing should be thin and made of fabric that is synthetic or synthetic/wool blend.
- Start out cold. These means that you are underdressed for the first 5-10 minutes of your run. Your body will warm up to a temperature that you can maintain for the remainder of the run. If you start out with too many layers, then you’ll either heat up too quickly and sweat, or be forced to stop and take off a layer, which must be carried for the rest of the run.
- Even when it’s mild outside, I wear three-quarter length tights because they keep my knees warm. I have noticed a correlation of knee pain and cold temperatures.
- A windshell should only weigh 3-4 ounces and be small enough to fit in a very tiny pocket. It is not waterproof, but makes an excellent emergency layer. I highly advise bringing a windshell on any long hike or run where the weather could change, or you might get hurt or lost.
- I prefer wristbands over gloves because I get too hot wearing gloves. I think the body is better able to self-regulate with warm wrists and exposed fingers.
- I often wear a sun hat to protect my eyes and face from the sun. Even when it’s not sunny, it protects my face from the rain and adds a smidgen of warmth without being too hot, like a beanie.
- I also wear sunglasses on almost every run. They protect my eyes from the sun, rain and bugs. For overcast of days, I switch out my tinted lenses for yellow ones, which heighten the contrast.
Where to Shop
A note of caution: it’s risky to wear anything new on your race day. Give yourself plenty of time to wear in your shoes, find out if a pack rubs you the wrong way, or realize you don’t like the taste of the water bottle.
That being said, we are very lucky to have a good selection of outdoor and running stores in the area. I think you’ll have the best luck finding trail running gear at REI in Concord and Dublin, Forward Motion Sports in Danville, and Sports Basement in Walnut Creek.
What about you - what local stores do you recommend? Where have you received the best service or advice?
[Danny Milks is a writer for Backpacking Light Magazine and blogs at Trek Together. This is the third article in a series about racing the Diablo Trails Challenge 50k. Read the and articles. The next article will discuss race-day preparation.]