Trail running takes the act of jogging and adds all the joyful glee you felt when you saw a patch of woods when you were a kid and decided to run toward it. Unlike treadmills or road running, the trail provides elements that keep your synapses firing—roots, rocks, dust, dirt, loose gravel, the occasional fallen tree—and the gloriously nonlinear trajectory of a meandering path, never mind the occasional gut-wrenching, unforgiving uphill slog. And, unlike running on pavement or at a track, having the right gear is vital to surviving a day out in the wild. To whit, a handful of go-to items that should appeal to both first-timers as well as ultra-runners. Oh, and get a good pair of socks while you’re at it, like the running line from by Darn Tough
1. Columbia Montrail Series, From $55; 2. Lululemon Surge Shorts, $68; 3. Outdoor Research Gauge T, $59; 4. MSR TrailShot, $50; 5. Leki Micro Trail Vario, $230; 6. Osprey Duro 6, $110; 7. Salomon ME:SH, $TBD.
Main image: William Scott /Flickr CC BY 2.0
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Sportswear giants Columbia made a big push into trail running this spring, revitalizing the once dormant Montrail brand into a new line of sport-specific products—quality gear at an approachable price point. If you anticipate running in wet conditions, the Caldorado II OutDry Extreme ($155) make for a solid 365 option. It's the first piece of footwear to employ their waterproof/breathable OutDry Extreme membrane, which breaths far better than most other waterproof shoes on the market, with an aggressive sole to generate superior traction. The Titan Lite Windbreaker ($120) would also be at home in most trail running gear arsenals, the moisture-wicking layer cuts the wind and provides sweat-activated cooling tech that can noticeably drop things down a few vital degrees.
Photo courtesy of Columbia
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These lightweight shorts keep things streamlined and simple, with a sweat-wicking liner that keeps everything comfortable under the hood, modest reflective detailing on the lower seam, and a touch of Lycra for added stretch and shape retention. Its weave construction lets it shrug off occasional nicks from arrant branches, and a zippered pocket at the small of the back is big enough to haul all your essentials—keys, cards, and smart phone—without thing shifting around mid-jaunt. The seven-inch-length inseam hits the right spot between modest and uncluttered.
Photo courtesy of Lululemon
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Working with Polartec, Outdoor Research has made perhaps the best running shirt for extreme heat. The secret lies in the Delta fabric, which both repels water and absorbs moisture; its honeycombed structure pulls the sweat to the surface of the garment, but it holds it rather than letting it evaporate, leaving you slightly (comfortably) damp, which actually increases your body's natural cooling ability. The trim-fit shirt includes a touch of stretch Spandex along with Tencel, an eco-friendly fabric constructed from bleached wood pulp.
Photo courtesy of Outdoor Research
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This pocket-sized water filter makes it easy to rehydrate on the go. Much like the Lifestraw , you can safely drink directly from a water source, but you can also use the TrailShot to refill your water bottle. The easy-to-operate one-handed filter cleans a liter of water in 60 seconds, and it meets U.S. EPA drinking water standards. And at only five ounces, it won't weigh you down.
Photo courtesy of MSR Gear
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Trail running comes with variable terrain, but if you fancy seriously variable terrain (read: exposed ridgelines, copious river crossings, encountering redwood-sized deadfalls), then the Micro Trail Vario poles are a lifesaver. The all-carbon folding pole can extend to lengths of 130 centimeters, and come with a breathable strap, speed locks for quick length adjustment, and a tip built for precise planting when navigating a rock garden—or just taking some of the weight off your knees on a steep descent. When not needed, they collapse into an easy-to-pack 36 cm.
Photo courtesy of Leki
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Going greater distances beyond a quick jaunt in the woods means taking a full kit with you—not just a water bottle—to handle variables like hydration, fuel, shifting weather patterns, and navigation. The Duro 6 is basically a pack/vest hybrid that hugs your body, breathes well, and doesn't bounce around. It comes with a 1.5-liter reservoir for fluids (enough for a half-day outing), along with front pockets for food as well as space for extra layers, a way to secure your trail running poles, and a whistle at one zipper pull in case you need to signal for help. Osprey also makes solid trail running belts for shorter jaunts, and bigger packs for seriously long runs.
Photo courtesy of Osprey
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Much like the coy use of a colon in the new ME:SH product name, Salomon is playing the specifics of this new line a bit close to the chest until it launches on May 29. But if the products stand up to the hype, ME:SH could be a significant leap forward in customize running. They've reduced the number of operations needed to construct a trail running shoe from 180 to 30, making it easier to create fully customized performance footwear. Yes, you can choose your colors (from a reported 768 options, no less), but the upper itself is tailored to your foot shape, knit in 3D and then fused to the other layers before you decide on other elements like drop, cushioning, and outsole construction.
Photo courtesy of Salomon