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Trail & Mountain Running Gear: What you need to know!

Written by Pieter Steyn Monday, 17 November 2014 Posted in Articles

Gear tips from the ultrarunner

Trail & Mountain Running Gear: What you need to know!

For any longer training run, you will want good trail running shoes and comfortable clothing. Comfortable clothing will ensure that chafing is minimized and also help to regulate your temperature.  I will give my recommendations but you have to essentially find your own perfect recipe using trial and error. This is a fun process don't worry!





If you are not going on rough or uneven trails then standard road running shoes will suffice for beginners. If you are planning on hitting the rough stuff, though, you will notice the extra rigidity and support of a proper trail running shoe will come in handy time and time again.  This will allow you to run faster with more control.  Some things to look for in good trail running shoes are:

  • Good grip pattern on the outsole for both uphill and downhill running
  • Good protection for the feet around the toes and the side to cope with sticks and stones encountered on the trails. If at all possible when running in the mountains get a shoe with a rock plate this will just help with that extra protection. I use the Salomon Mantra’s and they seem to do the job when running in very technical rocky terrain. But everyone should test what works for them.
  • Snug around the ankle to avoid grit entering the top of the shoe.
  • Comfortable lacing system which holds the foot securely, I love the Vivobarefoot and Salomon lacing systems.

You should also ensure that whatever shoe you choose, it suits your foot. I tend to take half a size bigger because over long races your foot will expand naturally with all the running, so in order to avoid any nasty business make sure you do this.


These come in variety of types and at a range of prices.  There should be some stretch in the sock so that it fits snugly to your foot and doesn't bunch or slip on your feet which can lead to blisters.  Ideally, your foot shouldn't slip or move in your shoe, but due to the terrain, there will be more movement of your foot in the shoe when trail running than road running.  This combined with the fact that socks and shoes can often be wet means that there are more demands on your socks.  Snug fitting of the sock even when wet is the main requirement, but some people find that double layer socks are useful to avoid blisters.  Whichever socks you use, ensure that you test them with your shoes to verify that the combination works for your feet.  My personal favorite sock is the Injinji Trail 2.0, I have never had a blister again after switching.


Your favorite running shorts can be used.  However, when wet many running shorts can chafe the legs.  For this reason, some people prefer wearing lycra shorts which move with the leg rather than chafing.  Alternatively, a lubricant to avoid chafing can be used. There are many products out there! Make sure you test them before racing! I always rely on my CompresSport Trail Short.

Tip – Use anti-chafe in your long runs because no matter how good the product, things will eventually start rubbing.


These can be a variety of weights, styles and arm lengths.  Modern synthetic fabrics are very good at being cool in the heat, warm when wet and comfortable to wear.  The thickness and style that you want will depend on the weather conditions and temperature.  Light mesh fabrics are very good in the heat and heavier thermals are good in cold and wet conditions.  Long sleeved tops are good when it is cold, and in particular long sleeved lightweight fabrics are good to protect from the sun and if going through scratchy vegetation.

If in cold wet or windy conditions, layering techniques should be used.  The base layer next to the skin should be a synthetic thermal or wool fabric which moves moisture away from the skin to avoid cooling through evaporation.  The next layer should be a thin insulating layers such as another thermal or windstopper vest which trap body heat in.  The outer layer should be windproof, waterproof and breathable, so as to protect from wind and rain without trapping in moisture.  Gore-Tex fabrics are typically used for this and are now available in very light weights.  However, a variety of other wind and water resistant fabrics are available which can be used as the outer layer, particularly in less extreme conditions.

Tip – Wearing multiple layers is useful. Over a long run – 60km plus, you may find that there are occasions when you cannot generate enough body heat and you start to cool down. That is the time to put on an extra layer. Think about Salomon Skyrun 2013? Be prepared!

Buff / Caps

Can be useful for keeping the sweat out of your eyes. Peaked caps are useful for keeping the rain off your face and providing shade, for summer trail running look for a lightweight hat preferably with a neck flap to shade the neck.

Tip - Keeping sweat out of the eyes – if this is likely to be a problem, then smearing a small amount of vaseline on your eyebrow works wonders for making sweat run away from your eyes.  Alternatively, a wristband can be used to wipe the eyes. I have never tried the Vaseline trick but many people say that it works.

What to wear / take on a training run

Clothing (male/female)

  • Socks
  • Tops
  • Underwear / tights
  • Shorts
  • Shoes J
  • Hat
  • Watch
  • Sunglasses


You will want to carry a small pack with the following gear.  Depending on the temperature and how much gear/water you need to carry, you can either use a small hydration pack using a bladder for water storage, or a hip belt.  Backpacks are more comfortable if you are carrying heavier weights, but are hotter in warm weather. The following items are a must in your pack for your longer runs:

  • Jacket (dependant on weather /seasonality)
  • Hat / gloves (dependant on weather /seasonality)
  • Food
  • Whistle/map/compass
  • 1st Aid kit – a roller bandage and some blister repair items would be recommended as a minimum.
  • Vaseline/Silicon Cream
  • Emergency money
  • Mobile phone
  • Toilet paper
  • Equipment for a longer run as a training exercise
  • Waterproof bag to keep everything dry

Also, don't forget to have a change of clothes in the car plus water, food and a towel.

What to wear / take on a Longer run

  • Backpack – A variety of lightweight backpacks are available.  I love the UltraSpire Packs.I use the Omega
  • Water bottle/bladder
  • Waterproof Jacket with hood (dependant on weather /seasonality)
  • Hat /beanie/ gloves (dependant on weather /seasonality)
  • Emergency space blanket/bag
  • Food, food and more food / Gels and Powdered drinks
  • Spare Clothing – in particular an additional warm top or 2
  • Whistle/map/compass
  • 1st Aid kit – a roller bandage and some blister repair items would be recommended as a minimum.
  • Vaseline/Silicon Cream
  • Any required medications
  • Emergency money
  • Mobile phone
  • Toilet paper
  • Torch

Again, don't forget to have a change of clothes in the car plus water, food and a towel.  A stove, tent and sleeping bag could also be worthwhile if in a remote location. 

Tip - Do not use anything new before or during the run!!  Try a long run a few weeks before in exactly the same gear as you will use for the event

About the Author

Pieter Steyn

Pieter Steyn

Founder & Blogger at www.ultrarunner.co.za. Ultrarunning enthusiast by nature!

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