TOP 10 TRAIL RUNNING ESSENTIALS
Like hiking, trail running can expose you to a wide range of conditions. You’re often out for long periods of time and cover an eclectic variety of rugged terrain, so it’s crucial to be fully equipped. To help you get the most out of your off-road training, here are our top 10 trail running essentials:
Trail running shoes are built to take on rugged, uneven ground, and to protect your feet from debris and unstable terrain. Trail running footwear falls roughly into three categories, based on your running style and where you'll be going - here's the difference:
If your runs take you from roads to gravel paths, mud to grass and back again, you'll need a shoe that can keep up. That means the first thing it needs to be is comfortable, so that it will adapt with your foot to varying terrain, and it should be durable and quick-drying, too. These shoes are also great if you're just starting out, so you can try a range of different routes until you find your favourite.
MUD, ROCKS & ROOTS
If you're all about technical trails, leaping over rocks and roots and taking on heavy gradients, you need something extra tough with a high-grip sole - think large, well-spaced lugs and extra impact protection.
If speed is your thing, you'll be looking for a streamlined, responsive design which offers just enough protection and stability without adding weight or reducing flexibility. These are lightweight, low-profile, and have exceptional breathability.
Lightweight layers will let you adapt to changing conditions while you're out there.
A jacket or gilet helps maintain core warmth and protects you from the weather. You generate a lot of heat when you run, so your jacket needs to be light and highly breathable, as well as packable so you can stuff it in your pocket when you don't need it.
Your running top needs to be lightweight, quick-drying and moisture-wicking to prevent discomfort or overheating. Moisture-wicking fabrics draw sweat away from the skin to the outer surface of the garment where it disperses and quickly dries, preventing you from getting damp and clammy. Some technical tees have mesh panels for extra ventilation on long and hot runs.
Trail shorts tend to be longer in the leg for extra protection from plants and debris. You can also get shorts and tights which compress to boost performance and aid recovery by supporting the muscles, improving blood flow and reducing shock. Whatever your preference, you want something that is moisture-wicking and breathable with a couple of small pockets for storing essentials.
The pack size you'll need depends on the weather and the length of your route. If you're running in changeable conditions or heading out over an extended period of time, you will need a 5-10L pack to accommodate extra layers, nutrition and hydration - as well as your phone and keys, of course. Small, lightweight packs designed for high exertion activities have a figure-hugging fit, good ventilation and often include a water reservoir for hands-free hydration.
You need to carry enough hydration to last your whole run. Dehydration can lead to cramp, muscle fatigue and impeded performance, so adding an electrolyte mix to your water will replenish vital salts and keep you hydrated all the way. If you're running long enough to start flagging halfway, you should keep some nutrition in your pack or pocket to boost your energy. Some types of sport nutrition sit better on some people's stomachs than others, so it's really a case of experimenting until you find what works for you.
When it comes to foot care, prevention is better than cure. It’s worth investing in a pair of technical running socks which keep your feet dry and comfortable and reduce the risk of blisters.
If it’s a hot day or you’re prone to developing blisters, try using a blister stick. This coats the skin with a light balm, lessens the friction caused by repetitive movement and prevents the blister from forming. If all else fails, make sure that you have some blister patches to hand. They can make the difference between finishing your run and limping home.
When you start venturing onto unmarked trails, a GPS watch can be invaluable. Each offers a unique range of features, from pinpointing your location to monitoring your distance, speed and pace and how many calories you’ve burned. That said, it’s still essential to carry a map and compass at all times.
Whether you’re happy with a plastic bag or prefer something more sturdy, your phone deserves some waterproof protection on the trails. If you have a phone on you during a run, the moisture you produce can seriously damage it (as can rain).
Walking poles aren’t essential, but they help aid balance on technical ascents and descents, help with load-bearing and energy conservation, significantly reduce stress placed on joints and minimise long-term impact on knee cartilage.
Whether you’re a fan of training on the roads or the trails, the head torch is a runner’s friend. Perfect for early mornings and gloomy evenings to light up your path and illuminate any hidden obstacles.
This is a post-run essential. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in wet and muddy shoes and clothes. Your body will also rapidly cool down again after a run. Whether you leave some comfortable, dry clothes and shoes in the car or in a pack at the race day bag drop, you’ll be grateful for them at the end of your run!
Heading off the roads and into the forest, the hills or the mountains is guaranteed to and turn every run into an adventure - but there are plenty of official challenges waiting to test your limits. Get on your trail shoes, and check out these UK trail running challenges.