Let’s hit the trail! Our trail running gear essentials include our favorite shoes, socks, apparel and gear that we’ve worn and loved on our adventures in the South.
Sure, we love a hike just as much as anyone… what’s better than a heavy dose of natural beauty to clear the mind and burn some calories? But sometimes we just want to go a little faster and a little further than we can by hiking. And that’s what kicked off our love of trail running. The South’s terrain offers some incredible trails perfect for a trail run, like North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea Trail and the southern end of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
Through trail running, we’ve loved being able to see new things, push our physical limits and experience new places under the power of our own two feet. Sure, you could (technically) run barefoot if you wanted to. But we’re big believers that solid running gear you can enhance our runs and add to our experience. (New to the trail? Check out our trail running beginner’s guide for tips on getting started.)
We’ve tested our favorite running gear on hundreds of runs that total several thousand miles. We’ve been running consistently for the last 20 years, and while we’ve tried some gimmicks and wasted cash on superfluous gear in the past, only our favorite, time-tested gear makes this list. There’s nothing worse than being out on a long run and something causes a problem (or worse, completely fails) – and these favorites have scored a spot on our list for almost every single run, and have stood up to all kinds trail conditions over the years, from nasty weather to gnarly trails.
Trail running shoes
HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 3
We’re currently wearing our sixth pair of the HOKA ONE ONE Clifton running shoes, the Hoka Clifton 3’s, and seriously couldn’t be more in love with them. While the Clifton is technically a road running shoe, we wear them on all but the most technical trails, and they’ve transitioned really well from asphalt and concrete to soft surfaces and gravel. We love the Clifton’s marshmallow-ey cushioning and light weight, seamless construction. The Clifton features a neutral stability ride and absorbs blows from the trail, including sharp rocks and roots, so that our feet don’t bear the brunt of the workout. Check out our full HOKA ONE ONE Clifton review for more details on this fantastic shoe that’s trail-worthy for just about anywhere in the South.
Quality running socks
Feetures Elite Ultra Light, no show tab
We’d never given socks much of a thought until we got our hands (or our feet) on a pair of Feetures. These socks are game-changers. Their anatomical construction and Perfect Toe construction make for a perfect fit: finally, our socks no longer slide into our shoes mid-run. And Feetures wicking fibers keep our feet cool and dry long after the miles have started to pile up. As if that wasn’t enough, they have a lifetime guarantee – AND they’re locally owned in North Carolina.
Trail running hat
Patagonia Duckbill Visor
I first started wearing a visor years ago after I had a scary trip to the dermatologist. Fortunately, the biopsy results were negative, but I’ve stuck with the visor ever since to help limit my exposure to the sun. This visor from Patagonia is my favorite for running: it keeps the sun off my face and keeps the sweat from rolling into my eyes. The Duckbill Visor also features a flexible bill, allowing me to fold it or roll it up for stashing in a pocket, or when packing space is limited.
Available at Patagonia
GPS running watch
Garmin Forerunner 235
This GPS running watch also functions as a heart rate monitor, without the dreaded heart rate chest strap. It’s one of our favorite training tools because, in addition to distance, pace, time and heart rate, it also can track steps, calories and sleep! It’s water resistant to 50 meters and records up to 200 hours worth of workouts. It’s also thin and light and comes in three different colors. We think it looks just as good off the trail as it does on the trail and frequently wear it all day. Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 235 review for more details on this fantastic training companion.
Nathan HPL #020 and Nathan Intensity Hydration Backpacks
I purchased my first Nathan hydration system in 2006 for my first marathon, and it is still alive and kicking. It’s been on countless runs and I have no plans to retire it anytime soon. I wear the HPL #020, and though it’s designed to fit a male torso, I love the fit – though Nathan also offers a women’s specific style, the Nathan Intensity. The pack features two main compartments perfect for storing energy gels, credit cards, keys and other small gear. The system also includes a 2L water bladder, hydration tube and bite valve to make hydration quick and easy when I’m on the move. This pack has been my lifeline, literally, in runs that have lasted for several hours.
A common rule of thumb that a lot of runners follow is to eat or drink 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate for each hour that they run longer than 75 minutes. I personally love any excuse to eat, so when I heard this I went on a taste-testing frenzy to figure out what I wanted to carry on long runs to help meet my nutrition needs. After lots of experimenting, I reach for Sport Beans – Extreme Cherry. They deliver 50 mg of caffeine, offering a little extra energy boost that I really appreciate during the last few miles of a long training run or race. They come in a small, easily-stashed packet and taste just like candy! When I’m out of Sport Beans, in a pinch, I’ll pack Starbursts or pretzels and granola for my runs. I’m lucky because my stomach can handle pretty much anything on a run: for some, it takes some practice and trial and error to train your gut to eat on the run – but it’s necessary if you want to go longer and further.
Running gear maintenance: keeping it all clean and performing well
Quality running gear can get expensive – but if you take care of your gear (and start with quality, well-designed gear), it should last for years to come. Take a look at our outdoor gear cleaning and maintenance guide for easy tips on caring for some of your running gear essentials, and some tips on cleaning and waterproofing camping, backpacking, and hiking gear, too.
Please leave no trace
Wherever your adventures take you, please remember to run, backpack, camp, and hike responsibly by following these simple tips to Leave No Trace. Always remember to pack out everything you pack, in and practice good trail etiquette so everyone has a great time on the trail.