Trail running can feel like the ultimate freedom. When you’re really in the zone—floating through the forest and bounding over obstacles like a sweaty, Strava-synced deer—your mind and body join forces in that easy flow state where everything feels natural and right. Of course, it doesn’t take much to knock you out of that runner’s high and bring you back to reality—a too-tight shoe or scratchy sock is usually enough. You certainly don’t need a lot of gear to have a stellar trail run, but if you’re going to be out there pounding the dirt, what you do bring along matters. The stuff here is so comfortable and worry-free that it lets us focus on the scenery, the terrain, the race competition, or even just nothing at all.
Check out quick reviews below of five of our favorite pieces of trail gear, then scroll deeper for longer reviews of these and other top options, plus buying advice.
What Type of Gear to Bring
More than when engaging in any other type of running, it pays to be prepared on the trail. When you’re alone in the wilderness, facing an unpredictable forecast, or even just tackling terrain that keeps you on your feet longer than your usual city loop, you’ll be glad you’ve got a weatherproof jacket and headlamp tucked into your pack. Depending on distance, carrying your own water and fuel will be more important than on the road, too, as your chances of encountering a mystical vending machine in the heart of the forest are pretty slim.
We’ve kept this list to the basics—shoes that provide the best mix of performance, comfort, and lugged traction; hydration packs so bounce-proof you forget you’re wearing them; and hats and jackets to protect you from the elements. (You might want to consider bringing more gear, like a GPS watch, as you get more serious about trail running.) Runners accustomed to staying on the pavement should expect their paces to slow down once they veer onto winding and technical trails; be prepared for this to alter your layering and hydration strategy, depending on the distance of your run. If you’re just trying trail running for the first time, here are some more tips for beginners.
How We Selected These Products
Every piece of gear on this list has been evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience racing at distances (up to 100 miles—yes, some of us are insane) in these shoes, packs, and hats to determine the best gear for trail running. Our team of experienced testers spent a potentially excessive number of hours and miles exploring local trails in this stuff. We evaluated this gear on performance, price, comfort, technical features, and style to come up with this list of the best gear for your next trail run.
Saucony Peregrine ISO Shoe
Known for its deep lugs and stellar traction, the Peregrine has long been a favorite among our test team. Mud, snow, ice, and slippery rocks are no match for the shoe’s burly outsole. This iteration of the shoe adds Saucony’s ISOFit upper, which straps down tight to the foot via wings connected to the laces. The midsole strikes a nice balance between soft cushion and connection to the trail.
Merrell Antora Shoe
How fast can you go on technical trails? The Antora is a trail-running shoe for runners who want to get a little crazy in the woods, with a soft ride but lightweight and responsive feel that makes navigating rocks and roots at PR pace a heck of a lot less terrifying and more fun. The shoe uses Merrell’s new Q-Form 2 midsole, which is made from compression-molded EVA engineered specifically for women’s feet. The design places softer zones of cushioning in the heel and forefoot that keep form true when fatigue sets in, while extra air pods at the heel maximize shock absorption. Our testers found that the water-resistant upper protected their feet through rain and puddles while maintaining breathability and lightweight flexibility.
Salomon Ultra Pro Shoe
Faster runners gunning for a trail PR bust out the S/Lab Ultra. But for the rest of us? The more cushioned Ultra Pro, built for everyday runs and epic distances, is our go-to Salomon trail runner. Neither the softest nor firmest shoe, the Ultra Pro strikes just the right balance of padding and responsiveness for going long on uncertain terrain. A Premium Wet Contagrip outsole with deep lugs provides excellent traction on dicey, wet terrain without sacrificing comfort on packed dirt.
Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 Shoe
The Speedgoat 4 builds on its predecessor’s legacy as a fast and furious trail monster known for sticky lugs and soft landings. But this time around, the shoe adds a little extra foam in the heel and updates the mesh upper to breathe and drain better. Some of our testers found the 4’s cushioning to be too pillowy and less reactive, but most found it to be an overall comfortable and protective trail runner that feels much lighter than its stats would suggest.
Salomon Adv Skin 8 Set Hydration Pack
This women’s pack is a godsend for smaller runners—finally, a hydration pack that hugs a narrow torso with zero bouncing and zero digging in at the chest. With pockets galore for all your essentials, an internal bladder sleeve, and two included soft flasks, up front, the pack manages to unite function, form, and comfort in one well-designed package.
Nathan Men’s VaporKrar and Women’s VaporHowe 12L 2.0 Race Vests
Need lots of easy-access cargo space in your run vest? This 12-liter pack has a dedicated pocket for seemingly everything and enough storage for all the layers you want to haul for your run commutes or longer trail adventures. The vest comes with an insulated 1.6-liter bladder and has four weather-resistant front pouches that can hold additional soft flasks or a smartphone.
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp
Few things derail dawn-patrol mojo as abruptly as reaching for your headlamp and discovering that its rechargeable battery is dead. That won’t happen with the Icon, which runs on four AA batteries that seemingly never go dead. The lamp didn’t put out its brightest light for a full 70 hours—we found it dips to medium intensity after the first 30 minutes—but was still shining brighter after three hours than nearly every other lamp here at their brightest setting with fully charged batteries. When the batteries do eventually start to run low, a small light on the bottom of the lamp changes from green to yellow or red, indicating how much juice is left. Black Diamond smartly positions the battery pack on the back of the head strap for a more balanced load, so you’re more comfortable. But if you’re the type to run in a Polar Vortex, you can use the included extension cable and move the battery inside your jacket so it won’t die prematurely. Because of that dependability, Pat Heine, our resident ultrarunner, packed the Icon as his light of choice for UTMB this year—and kept it burning brightly throughout the 100-mile race in cold and wet weather.
Black Diamond Sprint 225 Headlamp
We love this sleek, compact headlamp for running because of its performance and features, combined with its comfortable fit. The slim headband doesn’t look all that sturdy but does a great job at keeping the small light from bouncing, and the easy adjustability makes it dead simple to change brightness. Instead of clicking a small button to dim or brighten the lamp, simply swipe up or down past sensors on the side of the light to change intensity—it even works with gloves and sweaty hands. A note about the “2 hours on high” battery claim: Our testing found the Sprint 225 dims considerably during the first five minutes on high power—a far faster drop-off than most lamps on this page—and then settles into a medium intensity that Black Diamond says is intended as a “power-saving feature.” We found that medium intensity is plenty bright for both trail and road running, and it remained steady for the next three hours. But just know you won’t get a full 225 lumens for more than a few minutes at a time.
Patagonia Houdini Jacket
So compact that it disappears into its own pocket, the Houdini jacket is a magic trick of weather-resistant clothing design. Bust it out when the rain and wind set in, or stuff it into your vest or shorts pocket when the sun breaks out—there’s no downside to having a protective layer this packable and lightweight with you at all times.
Arc’teryx Incendo Hoodie
Jackets with weather resistance that still manage to breathe well remain something of a holy grail in the running apparel world. This lightweight hooded shell is one of the best we’ve found. Mesh panels and vents throughout the jacket let out steam, while the DWR water repellent fabric beads off rain so you can stay dry in all but a downpour. When the forecast starts to look up, the jacket packs easily into a pocket or hydration vest.
Balega Blister Resist Socks
Made of soft mohair and moisture-wicking fibers, these cozy socks protect your feet from dampness, cold, and blisters or rubbing. They’ve got just enough elastic grip to stay put without digging in.
Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Socks
If you’re a believer in ultra-running R&D and sock doping, you’ll love the Rob Krar-designed Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance. They’re a combination of Merino wool, nylon, and elastane. In addition to the vibrant print, we love them because they keep our feet dry and comfortable during every season. We’ve worn them for winter runs and summer races: After five months of testing, they’ve excelled in all conditions.
Outdoor Research Moxie Shorts
This backcountry brand has been bolstering its performance stable, and this pair of shorts has become a favorite of ours for trail runs. The durable fabric has laser-cut perforations and bonded seams for distraction-free miles, and the boy short boosts comfort.
Myles Switchback Shorts
Myles Apparel makes casual wear that crosses into sportswear, and this is a truly fashionable runner’s short. Featherweight polyester stretches with your stride, while secure zip pockets mean you’re ready for a night run or a night out.
La Sportiva TX Cap
You’ll dig the short bill on this cap, which is big enough to block sun and rain, but doesn’t block your view of low-hanging branches when you have your eyes glued on the trail at your feet. The elastic band lets you quickly adjust the fit for maximum comfort.
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