Trail Running Clothing Buying Guide
When trying to figure out what gear you need for trail running, it's important to consider comfort, protection, convenience, pack size / weight and breathability. 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 worth looking out for to get the best clothing for your trail ambitions.
Waterproof Trail running jackets are usually 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.
To keep the weight to a minimum, hems and cuffs tend to be elasticated, this negates the need for adjustment features and excess weight. All mountain 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. A waterproof jacket with a hood and taped seams is usually the first item on any race kit list. This highlights its importance of protecting you in the mountains should conditions deteriorate.
Should you find yourself hill running all year round, you might discover that a lightweight running-specific waterproof doesn't quite offer enough protection. During the winter months, a lightweight climbing or hiking waterproof shell jackets can be used to great effect. You'll appreciate the increased protection, its stiffened peak, greater hood adjustments, and the ease of getting its sleeves over winter gloves.
Like waterproof trail running jackets, waterproof trousers are usually super lightweight and pack down small. They need to be because they will probably spend 99% of their time in your pack or vest. But when required, generally because your waterproof jacket isn't keeping you warm enough in the conditions, they are priceless. So don't scrimp.
Generally, waterproof trousers are the second item on any race kit list, again highlighting their importance in protecting you in the mountains should you find yourself in bad weather.
If you live in the UK, you'll probably wear this more than a waterproof. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, it's windy a lot and secondly, a good windproof will let you run more comfortably over a much wider range of conditions (including some types of light rain) than a waterproof will. They cope surprisingly well in changeable conditions, where you require additional protection, and will also benefit from improved breathability. It will also help you to avoid having to keep putting on and taking off a hard-shell layer. Plus they are much easier to wash and care for.
Made from very lightweight windproof fabric, like Pertex Quantum, and generally having fewer features than a waterproof such as a hood, storm guards etc, they have a tiny weight and pack size. Jackets like the Rab Windveil Jacket and the Arc'teryx Novan Windshell Jacket are good examples. The UTMB race organisation have recognised this garment's effectiveness as you are able to carry one accompanied with a lightweight long-sleeve instead of a heavier thermal layer in the mandatory kit list.
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 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.
In cooler conditions, it’s worth thinking about long sleeves, a high neck and thicker fabrics, while summer conditions bring about the opportunity for vests or t-shirts (for better coverage) made with synthetic fibres that are merely there to wick away excess moisture and offer sun protection.
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 with internal pant, are great for warm conditions but offer less support and less coverage. 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 short tights.
If you opt for tights it's completely a personal choice if you want to wear underwear. If you do, just make sure your choice is compatible - you can get the most technical bottoms ever but if you continue to wear cotton as a next-to-skin layer, you’ll definitely suffer from considerable discomfort at some point
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 like to run without one for shorter distances, any pockets on the waist only really work for keys or gels. If you want to take your phone, a waist belt will be a better choice.
Your feet go through considerable trauma when trail/fell/hill running and should be cared for diligently, so 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 the impact on 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 head and face. It will also stop any excess sweat from your head running into your eyes causing aggravation. In wintry conditions, a close-fitting fleece beanie will offer more insulation and breathability.
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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.
Trail Running Clothing