Start Trail Running Now

Use this checklist to cover the gear and basics you need to begin making miles safely and enjoying your nearest trails.

Maybe you’re a road runner interested in expanding to trails for their more forgiving surface, variety in scenery, and more direct connection to nature. Or maybe you’re drawn to running on trails because you’re a mountain biker, rock climber, or hiker already versed in the value of singletrack. Or maybe it’s that trail running is the activity that’s just calling your name, soon to change your life. (At least your athletic life!)

Good news: Trail running is awesome for body and mind. More good news: You don’t need a bunch of expensive new gear to get going. You can run trails in any old shoes, but the benefits of running in shoes made specifically for the job are substantial. And you can run trails in whatever active apparel you wear to do any sort of exercise, but there are certain trail-specific features that can make your experience that much better…and help get you hooked.

The Basics


The number one item worth investing in is a pair of trail running-specific shoes. Whether you plan to run smooth dirt, gravel pathways, or more rugged terrain, having a pair that’s made for trails will help keep you upright. Trail running shoes are built with more durable materials to withstand the rigors of the trail. They’re “lugged” on the outsoles to provide traction that keeps you surefooted. And they generally have more supportive “uppers”—the part of the shoe that encases your feet—to prevent feet from slipping and sliding on uneven terrain.

Hydration system

While “hydration system” sounds super techy and makes most people think about wearing a hydration bladder on their back with a hose around the front, this really just means “a way to carry water/liquids.” A whole host of small, lightweight, easy-to-carry “systems,” like collapsible soft flasks, can carry all the liquid you need for a short trail run. For longer runs, running vests with dual soft flasks, or waist-mounted packs made for running, make carrying liquids comfortable.

Phone carrier

For safety, it’s a good idea to carry a phone on a trail run, especially if you’re running alone or with a dog (who obviously can’t make a call for you). Some running apparel has pockets meant to carry phones comfortably. Some hydration systems have phone pockets, especially the larger ones, like running vests. If you’re running with just a small handheld hydration system that can’t carry a phone, and your shorts or tights don’t have a phone pocket, consider a running belt meant just for a phone and other small items.


You can wear short socks on a trail run, but longer-cut socks that extend at least past your ankle bone will keep out trail gunk—like small, annoying pebbles—from getting between your feet and socks and causing irritation.

Sun protection

Like when road running, hiking, or doing anything outside, wearing sunblock is a good idea. Also, wearing sunglasses and/or a hat or visor while running shields your eyes from glare, which can allow you to focus on your run. And sunglasses can even help protect your eyes from tree branches on overgrown trails. Hats, on the other hand, can cause blind spots on trails with low branches, so be aware.

A shoe detail of a trail runner along a wooded path

Apparel for Warm Weather


In warmer temperatures, you’ll want to wear tanks or short-sleeve tops that wick moisture, dry quickly, and don’t have any irritating seams.


You can wear any pair of running shorts while trail running, but shorts made by trail or outdoor companies, specifically for trail running, have features like additional pockets for gels and other fuel, more durable fabrications, and sometimes, longer cuts than traditional road-running shorts.

Apparel for Cool, Cold, and Inclement Weather


In cool to cold temps, it’s easy to overdress, but don’t. It’s okay to be a little cold at the beginning of a trail run; you’ll quickly heat up. Still, dress in layers. Consider wearing a sweat-wicking, quick-drying long-sleeved shirt over a short-sleeved top in cool temps. (Wool blends work great.)


In cold or inclement weather, you’ll need an insulating midlayer (like a very thin fleece) or a soft shell or hardshell jacket to shield you from wet or snowy weather. Plenty of lightweight, breathable options exist, and many pack down to stash away in a small pack when not in use.

Safety Extras

First-aid kit

Due to the remote nature of trails, it’s prudent to carry a simple first-aid kit—even one you put together yourself. Items you might need on the trail include: blister care, ibuprofen, antiseptic, etc. Pre-packed first-aid kits are available.


Lightweight, collapsible poles for trail running can help with balance, and with distributing the pressure on legs over long distances. They come in very handy on extended climbs, and can be folded and packed up when not in use.


In snowy, icy conditions, you’ll want traction to attach to your running shoes. These toothy additions will keep you sure footed on winter trails and keep you enjoying trail running all year long.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.