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Essential gear for trail running

Part of what makes trail running so awesome is its simplicity. You don’t need a 65L pack or a trunk-load of gear to surround yourself with fresh air. But you do need a few things, most of which you likely already own if you’re a road runner.

Learn the basics about trail running gear:

Do you need trail running shoes?

Close up of trail running shoes hopping over a log

If you’re already a runner, you can definitely use your current road running shoes for flat trails and stable surfaces (like crushed gravel). But on trails with pointy rocks, slippery boardwalks or tight corners, you’ll appreciate the extra grip and protection from trail running shoes. Other benefits from trail-specific shoes include gusseted tongues to keep pebbles out, lugs to shed mud, waterproofing, and protective toe bumpers or rock plates.

Learn how to choose trail running shoes and how gait analysis at the MEC Run Lab can help you find a great pair.

“Try to match the outsoles of your shoes to the terrain you’ll be on most. If you’re running in lots of mud or snow, look for big lugs. If you’re mostly going to be on dry, smooth trails, look for only slightly bigger lugs than a typical road running shoe.” – Nick Elson, MEC Running Ambassador

What to wear trail running

Group of trail runners wearing trail running vests walking up a ridge

Once your shoes are sorted, it’s time to focus on the rest of your body. When you hit the trails, make sure to wear:

  • Breathable, moisture-wicking layers: Ditch the cotton and opt for quick-drying synthetic layers. One tip: if you’re wearing a tank top under a running pack, make sure it provides enough coverage so your pack won’t rub directly on your skin.
  • Good running socks: Merino wool or synthetic running socks are key. Wear dark-coloured socks for muddy runs.
  • A way to carry water: A waist belt or handheld water bottle is good for short jaunts on easily accessible trails. A hydration pack or vest gives you room for more water and the safety must-haves for longer runs on the trails.

“A light, minimalist backpack that doesn’t move around when you’re running is a must for me. It’s important to feel comfortable on the trails, so you can focus on technique instead of being distracted by a bouncy pack.” – Annie Jean, MEC Running Ambassador

What to bring trail running

Four trail runners eating snacks and taking a break

On the trail, you can’t pop into a corner store for an emergency band-aid, so you need to be prepared.

For runs in a popular urban park, short runs under an hour, or at race with lots of aid stations, you likely won’t need much more than ID and your phone. On longer runs or on any run beyond easy reach of people, being self-sufficient with the 10 essentials is key. Learn how to plan for a long-distance trail run.

When you get ready for your run, consider the distance, remoteness and weather (which can change quickly in the mountains). A wrong turn or extra-long stop at a viewpoint might mean you’re out longer than expected.

Things to pack for trail running:

Optional items:

“If you drive to the trailhead, leave a set of dry, comfortable clothes in your car so you can strip off the sweaty clothes for the drive home.” – MEC Ambassador Roz Groenewoud