As I write this it’s mud season here in Vermont. Despite the warm temperatures, our trails are still quite vulnerable as the ground thaws out and the melting snow at higher elevations creates a persistent state of sloppiness lower down. But, what better time is there to talk about trail running than while we’re all eagerly awaiting the reopening of our beloved trails!
Also, please remember that gear recommendations only provide a starting point. One person can’t possibly speak for the masses, and as always comfort and fit trump everything else. Also, if you’re relatively new to trail running try not to get too caught up in gear specifics. Just get out there! Grab any old shirt you have laying around… clean or not. Grab some running shorts, and whatever shoes you’re currently using, and go for a run. The small amount of required gear is what’s so great about this sport.
That said, we’re going to nerd out a bit below, so continue reading for some of our favorite items that will help ensure you have the best possible experience on your next run whether your tackling a 5k or 50 miles.
We’re going to cover the basics… Shoes, socks, shorts, shirts, and hats. These are our go to items when it’s time to hit the trails.
With so many shoes out there, picking the right shoe can seem near impossible. Also, remember not to take any recommendation to seriously as the shoe has to fit your feet, and feel comfortable to you. If you don’t like a shoe it doesn’t matter how many great reviews it has. With that, there are some shoes we’re super excited about.
The S/Lab Ultra from Salomon replaces last years S/Lab Sense Ultra which ending up being one of the best received and most popular shoes Salomon has ever made. For 2018 Salomon worked with ultra runner Francois D’haene to refine and update the original. Some of the significant changes include a more durable rubber insert under the forefoot to provide longer lasting protection on those long runs. They also updated the upper material to a finer mesh combined with a rubbery overlay. This material is very similar to the S/Lab XA Amphib and is super durable while remaining flexible. It should also hold less water and dry faster. Overall, this is one of the shoes we’re most excited about for running here in the Green Mountains and is worth a look.
If you’re looking for a shoe on the more cushioned side look no further than the Hoka Speedgoat 2. The Speedgoat offers Hoka’s signature thick midsole which just swallows up rocks and roots and completely insulates your feet from the ground. Version 2 has a slightly more generous upper which we believe will agree with more people and the midsole is a touch firmer and offeres a bit more stability while still being very plush. The colors are a bit wild for us, but if you are into that type of thing definitely get your feet into a pair. We’re pretty sure your feet will thank you.
Socks are often overlooked, and are actually very important. A good sock disappears on your foot and lets you focus on enjoying the experience. A poor fitting sock will be annoying and could leave you hobbling along with silver dollar sized blisters miles from home. So don’t ignore this crucial piece of equipment.
We love Darn Tough socks and not just because they are made here in Vermont. They are well made and are some of the most durable socks you can purchase. They’re soft and smooth which helps keep unwanted friction to a minimum and if you ever have an issue their lifetime guarantee has you covered.
For trail running we prefer a slightly higher cut sock. This helps keep debris and other junk out, and if you opt to wear a short gaiter a higher sock will help protect your lower leg. The Vertex Micro Crew checks all of our boxes. It’s super light with just the right amount of cushioning, feels great on the foot, and is the perfect height.
If you have a low volume foot, struggle with blisters, or just like a really well fitting sock check out the options from Feetures. They use targeted compression to create a sock that fits like no other. They’re tight, they hold onto your feet, and they don’t move. One place they really shine is on wet runs. When things get wet they often start to sag and loosen up. This creates unwanted movement and friction which can lead to blisters. Feetures socks are our goto socks for conditions like these because they hold onto your foot so well. The Elite Mini Crew with it’s 5” cuff is our goto. It’s lightly cushioned, stays put no matter, what, and looks great!
Just like a good pair of socks, a good pair of shorts reduces or eliminates unwanted friction and allows you forget they’re there. We prefer shorts with an compression short liner and a variety of pockets that can accommodate keys, a couple of gels, and possibly a phone. The internal compression short does the best job at minimizing chafing, and well designed pockets allow you to carry essentials and the some without relying on a waist best or vest.
A lot of shorts with a compression short liner are heavy and can be too much on a hot summer day. This isn’t the case with the Strider Pro which is available in both 5” and 7” lengths. We like the Strider Pro because of the lightweight materials, and the unique pocket design. There is a center zippered pocket in the rear which is great for keys or a credit card (not a phone), and 4 envelope pockets that run around the sides. The envelope pockets are super stretchy and have a very well executed security flap. They will easily accommodate gels, blocks or gloves, and even a lightweight windbreaker or vest.
Salomon is doing some pretty cool things with shorts. If you’re a no compromise kind of person take a look at their S/Lab short system. They use the best materials available and you can mix and match components to create your perfect short. But, they don’t exactly give these pieces away, and that’s why we really like the Trail Runner Twinskin Short.
The Trail Runner Twinskin Short is a lightweight short with 2 unique design elements. The first is Salomon’s “twinskin” outer/inner combo. Salomon uses a compression short liner wrapped in a lightweight nylon shell, but they eliminate extra material in the crotch by cutting away part of the outer shell and sewing it into the liner. It sounds strange, but it’s super comfortable, looks good, keeps you cool, and keeps friction to a minimum. The second cool feature is a wide, stretch mesh pocket that wraps around the entire waistband. This pocket is subdivided into a couple of zones, but can hold a soft flask in the front and/or back, gels, wind jacket, phone, etc. If you’re not a fan of hydration belts, but wish you had that kind of gear capacity available…. This short is for you.
We won’t go as far as saying that a good running shirt isn’t important, but if you participate in the occasional race you probably have a variety of technical shirts already. However, not all technical shirts are created equal. Generally, you want something that fits well, moves with your body, dries quickly, and doesn’t chafe. Below are two favorites.
One of the “cooler” shirts to come to market recently has been the Titan Ultra. This shirt uses a technology called Onmi-Freeze Zero, which is a sweat activated cooling mechanism that helps keep you a little less hot during those warm training days. It’s uses a physical process to enhance the cooling effect when you sweat and has been snow to reduce your temp by up to 10 degrees. While it’s hard to tell exactly when Omni-Freeze’s enhanced cooling effect takes over; on those hot days we’ll take any advantage we can get.
If you’re looking for a shirt that has a little more style, but can still keep up over many miles check out the Astroman from Outdoor Research. This shirt is a collared, button down shirt made to keep climbers cool on long exposed climbs. However, we find it works just as well for running. The fabric is super light, stretchy, and smooth. It dries quickly and the snap closures allow you to increase or decrease ventilation as necessary. The collar provides some additional coverage for your neck and protects you from the sun and from running vests that sit close. Lastly, it just looks good, and no other shirt transitions as smoothly from finish line to free beer line as the Astroman.
A good running hat is an item often overlooked, and most runners use whatever old trucker hat happens to be lying around. If that works for you, go for it. However, in recent years a number of more technically oriented hats have become available that we believe are worth a look.
Whether you go high-end or low, a hat has many advantages. You can use it to keep sun, rain, snow, and wind off your face. It provides a place to put your glasses and prevents you from sweating up your lenses. And, for those of us who are follically-impaired a hat provides, not just sun protection, but additional sweat absorption capacity.
Both the Gorge Cap and Loowit Cap are technical trucker hats. The Gorge Cap is unstructured, while the Loowit has your typical foam front panel. They both made of wicking materials all around and have crushable visors that are themselves quite absorbent. The fit is just right being neither too tall nor too low profile. The Loowit, with its structured front panel, looks the best and stays looking good for longer. However, for running, we prefer the unstructured Gorge Cap as it feels cooler and takes longer to become saturated with sweat.
These are some of our current favorites, but there are many other companies out there making great running gear. If you’re interested in purchasing any of this equipment listed here, please first check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community. Also, don’t forget to ask them for their advice. They know your area and what works there better than anyone.