Combining the cardio aspect of regular road running with the dirt, roots, and rocks of hiking, trail running is all about swapping pavement for trails and reaping rewards like stunning views from mountain peaks and a healthy dose of Mother Nature.
Curious about trail running? Here’s what you’ll need to save for to take up the sport.
Trail running shoes
Leave your regular runners at home, because when it comes to trail running, you’re going to want trail-specific shoes. Trail running shoes are sturdy, provide better traction, and are key for preventing missteps, slips, and ankle twists while you’re out on the trails. These are arguably your most important piece of equipment, so take the time to find a pair that fits you perfectly.
Just say no to painful blisters and invest in a few pairs of socks specifically made for runners. Trail running involves lots of ups and downs on uneven surfaces, and your feet inevitably rub up against your shoes on long trail runs. Good-quality socks made of wool, synthetic materials, or a blend of both will keep your feet happy.
You won’t have the luxury of rehydrating at water fountains on the trails, so you need to take your water with you. While there are a few different ways of doing this (including fuel belts, which hold small bottles for you, or just holding a water bottle in your hand), hydration vests are hands-free and many consider them to be the most comfortable option.
Running bottoms made of technical fabrics will keep you dry, comfortable, and, most important—chafe free.
Shorts are a good option for those who run in the warmer months or who run along well-maintained trails. Running pants or tights are ideal if you’ll be running in the cold (and remember, it can be cold on mountaintops any time of year!) or if you’ll be tackling trails that involve some bushwhacking.
A breathable, moisture-wicking shirt is a must for keeping dry and happy while running on the trails. Expect to fluctuate temperatures often as you work up a sweat running up a mountain, cool down quickly at the top, then get hot again as you scramble back down.
If you’ll be running in bear country, it’s a good idea to carry a can of bear spray with you when you’re out in the backcountry. No bears where you live? Do your research to determine whether there are any other dangerous critters you need to look out for, and know how to protect yourself in case you have an encounter.
You definitely don’t need to register for trail running races, but many trail runners find that they’re a lot of fun and a worthy investment. Races provide great motivation for hitting the trails (even when you don’t feel like it), they’re a good way to meet future running buddies, and you’ll often get to discover places you’ve never been before. Whether you register for a local race or make a trip of it, it’s worth trying at least one to see if racing is your thing.
If you’ll be spending any time in the backcountry where cellphone service is spotty, consider picking up a satellite messenger. These devices work from practically anywhere on Earth and are useful for tracking your location and calling for help in an emergency.
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