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Trail Running Gear Checklist [Everything You Need to Start]

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.

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Find everything you need for your next off-road run with a trail running gear checklist, from a fellow trail runner. Includes shoes, accessories, and apparel.


Headed out for a trail run but realize you have no idea what trail running gear you should have?

Yeah, I know that feeling. When I first started trail running, I felt like a complete noob. I didn’t know what brands were good. I wasn’t sure what I actually needed vs. what was just preference.

And it took years of me running and racing on trails to figure out what’s necessary and what isn’t. I also got to run while traveling, which allowed me to test all types of methods and gear. So, that’s why I made this trail running gear guide.

So, whether you’re just starting to run or you’re experienced, I hope showing you what gear I wear helps you nail down your own trail running equipment. Let’s dive in.

Disclosure: Just a heads-up, The Travel Runner earns a little commission if you buy through some links here, but it won’t cost you anything extra. Thanks for your support!

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Best trail running gear checklist

Trail running essentials

Trail running shoes

Top choice: Salomon Ultra Glide 2

Salomon, Brooks, Hoka, Saucony, Altra, Nike, Merrell, Topo — stop me if you get dizzy reading all these names.

Testing out different trail shoes and finding what’s right for you means you’ll get the most out of your trail runs. But, look for a shoe with good grip and foot protection to keep your feet save and free of injury.

Trail running shoes are the most essential piece of trail running gear

I prefer Salomon and Brooks shoes. I like the way I can feel the ground still but get some padding. 

The Salomon Ultra Glide series offers a nice balance between these two areas, which is why you’ll find me running in them most often. And I prefer the Brooks Cascadia series as my second.

Hydration vest

Top choice: Salomon Active Skin 8

Your running pack is essential because it carries everything you can’t. Hydration pack, nutrition, safety gear — just to name a few things.

If you’re running ultras, you need something with more storage space to store more nutrition and gear. But, if you’re running shorter distances, something with a smaller capacity will do just fine.

A Salomon running vest on the back of a woman

I like the Salomon Active Skin line and have used the Active Skin 8 for the last two years. Besides the fact that I like Salomon’s products, it’s a breathable pack and is also lightweight. And their cinching cable design to keep the pack from bouncing is my favorite on a pack.

GPS watch

Top choice: Coros Apex Pro 2

If you don’t track your run, did it really happen?

Having a GPS watch is almost mandatory. Not only does it track your run, but many watches have extra features to even keep you safe!

There are tons of brands out there, like Garmin, Coros, and Suunto. Personally, I prefer Coros for its amazing battery life and accurate GPS. I currently have the Coros Apex 1st edition. I’ll upgrade to the newest model whenever this one stops working.

A Coros Apex watch sitting on a running pack showing the time, batter status, and other information

But I’ve also used Garmin and it works equally well. Like the running pack, this is a personal preference, so I recommend doing your research. Especially because they can get super expensive 🤑.

Trail running accessories

Hat/visor

Top choice: Sprints hats

I’d say most trail runners have a favorite hat lying around somewhere. Even if they don’t wear it often.

A woman wearing a hat with multi-colored donuts on it with Sprints written on the side

Whether it’s the sun, rain, bugs, or you’re just trying to hide a bad hair day, a hat is a must-have. And, truthfully, there’s not much else to say. I love my Sprints Donut hat you can see my fiancee wearing in the picture above. It’s one of my go-tos.

Get a hat or vistor. Period.

Running poles

Top choice: Still searching!

Running poles aren’t mandatory, but they’re definitely a useful piece of outdoor gear.

There are arguments over whether they actually work or not, but I personally feel they do. I’ve used them in races and on training runs, and I do notice a difference in my endurance and leg fatigue. And if you’re someone who’s tackling hills a lot, they’ll be a nice friend to lean on (literally) when things get tough.

I’ve used a few different brands in races, and they’ve all worked relatively well. I haven’t found a favorite yet, though.

Headlamp

Top choice: Still searching!

It may sound scary at first, but running at night is actually a ton of fun. Sure, there may be critters and other things lurking in the shadows, but there also may not be! You can’t see ’em, so it’s better to act like they’re not there.

A man runs through a forest in the dark with a headlamp on

A headlamp is necessary to keep you from flying headfirst into the brush. And that’s the last thing you want to do when it’s the middle of the night and you’ve no idea what’s lurking. Probably nothing, but it doesn’t seem that way when you fall.

I’ve had mixed luck with my headlamps, so I’m still searching for a trusted brand. If you have one yourself, drop it in the comments!

Trail nutrition

Top choice: Tailwind Nutrition

Longer distances require things to keep you going.

Whether it’s gels, bars, or real food — bringing nutrition on long runs is essential. For me, I opt to go as natural as possible…you know, Snickers, Coke, etc. Just kidding, but both of those do have their place in my run nutrition plan for long races to help motivate myself to keep running.

At shorter distances, I prefer Clif Blokz or Bars depending on the distance. And Tailwind is my go-to drink mix. It’s got a ton of flavors to choose from and I definitely notice a boost when I’m drinking it.

But no matter what you do, find what works for you and your stomach and stick with it.

Trail running safety

Small first aid kit

I don’t usually take this with me on runs (although I probably should). But adding this to your kit is one of my top trail running safety tips.

Either my fiancee brings it, or it’s in our car. But having some things to patch yourself up on-hand is always great. I’ve taken my fair share of spills mid-run and hurt myself. And it’s not fun hobbling back to your car with blood running down your leg.

So just take a basic kit you can find at Walmart or small grocery store.

Emergency whistle

Many running vests come with one of these, so you may not need this.

But if you’re venturing out into the backcountry or simply more remote places, an emergency whistle can be a literal lifesaver. You can use it to call for help or get someone’s attention if you’re in danger or need help.

Check your pack to see if it’s built-in.

Trail running apparel

Trail shirt

Top choice: Brooks Luxe Short Sleeve

You want a few things out of a running shirt: lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable.

That’s why I love the Brooks Luxe shirt. It’s perfect for runs during spring, summer, and fall to help keep you cool. And it can be worn during winter as a base layer to help keep you warm. Depending on your climate, the running attire will obviously change.

But a nice running shirt will always be these three things.

Shorts

Top choice: Janji shorts

The ideal pair of trail running shorts depends on preference.

Some people enjoy a shorter, classic runner-style pair of shorts. And others live and die by longer shorts (look at Courtney Dauwalter!).

The author stands with a friend during an ultra running race

My go-to brand now is Janji. I used to never care, but since having a pair of Janji shorts for over a year now, I can say they’re my number one choice. The mix of quality and comfort is perfect.

Tights or leggings

Top choice: Under Armour ColdGear leggings

If it gets cold out, tights or leggings are the best piece of running apparel to have.

Comfy, warm, and they don’t get in your way. There are tons of brands to choose from for a pair of running pants, but one I consistently go with is the Under Armour ColdGear leggings.

Ultimately just get something that doesn’t make you chafe.

Running socks

Top choice: Injinji toe socks

If you decide to get into longer distances, running socks become such a critical choice to protect your feet. Blisters are quick to develop, and a good pair of running socks helps keep them at bay.

Personally, I go by the motto toe socks or no socks. I like the way they keep my toes separated and keep them from rubbing together. You don’t need anything fancy here. And that’s why I go with the Injinji toe socks.

Sunglasses

Top choice: Goodr

Sunglasses are one of those accessories to keep on hand at all times. They make the sun easy on your eyes, protect your face, and you look cool. So how can you go wrong with that?

I go with budget options here because I’m likely to break them, and that’s why I choose Goodr. They have tons of options, and they’re relatively inexpensive. I especially like they’re national parks series, which works with the National Park Foundation.

Rain jacket

Top choice: Outdoor Ventures rain jacket

Nothing fancy here. A simple rain jacket is fine. When I lived in Thailand, people wore trashbag-like rain jackets and they worked fine.

For me, I have a New Balance jacket and this Outdoor Ventures rain jacket. And they’ve worked perfectly.

Now it’s time to hit the trails!

It’s exciting to start gathering all this gear, right?

You’re feeling like a real trail runner, and you’re eager to hit the trails I’m sure. But there’s one thing I’d recommend before you do that, and that’s check out my trail running tips for runners of all levels. The gear you get is the first step in the right direction, but there are definitely some “rules” to follow to help make your trail experience the best it can be.

And, if you want even more than that, join my mailing list using the form below. I dish out all the tips, tricks, and destinations in my monthly newsletter.

author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.