Trail Running Clothing Buying Guide
When trying to figure out what gear you need for trail running, it's important to consider weight, breathability, and protection. As a high-output activity, finding this balance is important, and the emphasis will vary according to the conditions you run in, the terrain, and personal comfort. Naturally, winter trail running kit is geared towards weather protection, while your summer trail running wardrobe’s focus will be on wicking sweat to avoid overheating.
This buying guide highlights a few key aspects that are worth looking out for in order to get the best clothing for your trail ambitions.
Trail running jackets are super lightweight and pack down small. They’re designed to offer protection from the elements but at no expense to breathability, so brands will usually use a 2-layer system consisting of an internal waterproof, breathable membrane, and a very lightweight outer face fabric. This minimalist construction allows manufacturers to create jackets that are inherently very lightweight and very packable in comparison to jackets designed for walking or mountaineering.
In order to keep the weight to a minimum, hems and cuffs tend to be elasticated, this negates the need for adjustment features and excess weight. Some running jackets feature a low-profile hood to offer extra protection for your head on particularly blustery, rainy days. Like the hem and cuffs, a hood is likely to have an elasticated trim to ensure a perfect fit without the need for adjusting. Many jackets feature a pocket that doubles as a built-in stuff sack in order to negate the need for a separate one that will add extra weight.
Base Layer - Top
A quality trail running top will have a close, performance fit and soft fabric that wicks away excess moisture and dries quickly, it will likely be made from fine merino wool or polyester. Minimal, low profile, flatlock seams are comfortable next to the skin and reduce the chance of any chafing. They should also be slightly offset from high wear areas such as the shoulders or hips.
In winter conditions, it’s worth thinking about long sleeves, a high neck and merino fabrics for excellent temperature regulation, while summer conditions bring about the opportunity for minimal vests made with synthetic fibres that are merely there to wick away excess moisture.
Trail Running Shorts or Leggings
When choosing trail running bottoms there is always plenty of options. You’ll likely try out a few different types before you figure out what you are most comfortable with. Super lightweight shorts are great for warm conditions but offer no support and minimal coverage unless worn with a pair of liner shorts. On the other end of the spectrum, running tights with full leg coverage offer a degree of support making them perfect for cooler, wintry conditions. For all those in-between days you might opt for ¾ length tights or twin-skin style shorts.
Whatever you do opt for, make sure your underwear choice is compatible - you can get the most technical bottoms ever but if you continue to wear everyday cotton as a next-to-skin-layer, you’ll likely suffer from considerable discomfort.
It’s also worth bearing in mind pocket space and whether you need it. If you always run with a pack of some sort, then you likely won’t have any use for a pocket. If you prefer to run without one, it’s important to have somewhere to stash your key, phone or an energy gel.
Your feet go through considerable trauma when trail running and should be cared for diligently, so trail running socks are more important than you might think. The right pair will keep your feet feeling good with every stride, the wrong pair can leave you pulling out mid-race. Running socks with a merino wool blend, are excellent at regulating temperature, while synthetic socks are particularly great at wicking away excess moisture. Cushioning through key areas will help to reduce impact in the forefoot and heel.
Wearing a visor or ventilated cap while running in the sun is a great way to keep the rays off your face without retaining too much heat on your head. It will also stop any excess sweat from your head running into your eyes causing aggravation. In wintry conditions, a close-fitting beanie will offer more insulation and these can be found in luminous colours to keep you more visible to others in low light conditions.
Running with gloves is probably only something you are going to do in really cold conditions but even a thin, lightweight pair will make a difference to how much you enjoy your time on the trail. Running gloves tend to be made from wind resistant fabrics, and offer a high level of articulation to make handling accessories or energy gels as easy as possible.