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The Best Trail Running Gear

Our favorite shoes, packs, headlamps, and more for running and racing off-road.

best trail running gear
Staff, Courtesy of Nathan

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.

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 Evaluated These Products

I’m a longtime trail runner who has lived (and trail-raced) in the Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest, so I know how important good gear can be for a wide range of terrain, distance, and weather conditions. To make this list, I used my own test experience, as well as the extensive experience of the Runner’s World staff—some of whom have completed trail races up to 200 miles in these hats, packs, headlamps, and other items. We evaluated everything on performance, price, comfort, durability, technical features, and style to come up with this list of the best gear for your next trail run.


Saucony Peregrine 11

Weight: 10 oz. (M), 9.5 oz. (W) | Drop: 4mm

Saucony Peregrine 11
$90.00 (25% off)

  • Packed with traction
  • Comfortable fit
  • Smooth ride

  • Not enough cushion for some testers

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 this grippy neutral shoe’s burly outsole. The 11 has a smooth ride and firm but supportive Pwrrun midsole that strikes a nice balance between performance and cushion, with a glass-slipper fit from its comfortable mesh upper. It also comes in three weather- and terrain-specific varieties—the standard 11; the 11 ST (“soft terrain”) with longer, more spaced-out lugs for better handling mud; and the 11 GTX with a waterproof Gore-Tex upper.

Buy Men's Buy Women's Full Review

Salomon Ultra Glide

Weight: 10.1 oz. (M), 7.8 oz. (W) | Drop: 6mm

Salomon Ultra Glide

  • Softer than previous Salomon trail shoes
  • Excels on easy trails and technical singletrack
  • Quick-lacing allows for fast adjustments

  • Slips a little on flat, wet rocks

Salomon’s shoes are long beloved by the veteran trail racers on our staff for their fast, firm, and aggressive rides. But the Ultra Glide might be the brand’s first shoe to welcome even casual trail runners to the party, with more lightweight EVA and Olefin cushioning than previously seen from a Salomon shoe. Despite its high stack—38mm in the heel and 32mm up front—the Ultra Glide feels plush but planted, even on rocky technical terrain. Compared to most Salomons, the shoe has a more accommodating, roomier fit with more padding through the upper, while still retaining all those traditional Salomon elements we love, such as the S/Lab Ultra 2’s Sensifit wing and Quicklace systems, which expertly lock your foot down and keep your laces from breaking loose. Salomon also packed lots of extra protection into the shoe without adding weight, as evidenced by additional overlays in the upper and a burly, full-length rubber outsole underfoot.

Buy Men's Buy Women's Full Review

The North Face Vectiv Enduris

Weight: 11.15 oz. (M), 9.81 oz. (W) | Drop: 6mm

The North Face Vectiv Enduris
The North Face

  • Grippy
  • Fast
  • Excellent energy return

  • Some reported the bounce gave out too soon

We gave the Vectiv Enduris a 2021 Gear of the Year award for its winning combination of grip, comfort, energy return, and speed. Like many modern road racing shoes, this trail runner incorporates a plate at the midsole to increase responsiveness and propel you forward. The difference here is that the Vectiv Enduris uses a TPU plate instead of stiff carbon fiber for better compliance over long distances and on rough terrain. As a result, the shoe feels comfortable from top to bottom, with plenty of plush cushion underfoot that feels soft but propulsive, beneath a wide, roomy upper made of breathable air mesh. The 3.5mm-lugged SurfaceCTRL rubber outsole has some of the best grip of any trail shoe we’ve tested recently, but it still transitions fairly smoothly to pavement.

Buy Men’s Buy Women's

Hoka Mafate Speed 3

Weight: 11.1 oz. (M), 9.5 oz. (W) | Drop: 4mm

Hoka Mafate Speed 3

  • Responsive
  • Vibram outsole with deep lugs creates good traction

  • Heavier than the Evo Mafate 2

The EVO Mafate 3 is one of the best examples of how to update an already-excellent shoe without dropping any of the features that made previous models so great. The max-cushioned trail racer has a noticeably roomier, more comfortable mesh upper that breathes well and better accommodates tired, swelling feet. A thick EVA midsole provides miles and miles of soft landings with surprising energy return, given its plushness. The Vibram Megagrip outsole provides excellent traction on every available trail surface, from slick rocks to loose mud.

Buy Men’s Buy Women's


Salomon Sense Pro 10 Hydration Vest

Size: XXS to L | Gear Capacity: 10L | Liquid Capacity: 34 oz. | Weight: 5.8 oz.

Salomon Sense Pro 10 Hydration Vest

  • Lots of storage
  • Women-specific fit
  • Long straws for easy accessibility

  • Takes some breaking in

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 at the front, the pack manages to unite function, form, and comfort in one well-designed package.

Nathan VaporHowe/VaporKrar Pack

Size: XXS to XL | Gear Capacity: 12L | Liquid Capacity: 1.8L | Weight: 9.9 oz.

Nathan VaporHowe/VaporKrar Pack

  • Insulated bladder
  • Lots of pockets

  • Pricey

When you want lots of bonus space in your pack for longer runs and ultra races, the women’s VaporHowe and men’s VaporKrar vests have you covered. Both packs are riddled with pockets galore for easy access to your gear. Big weather-resistant chest pockets at the front of the vest can hold your smartphone, while side pockets hold even smaller sub-pockets so you can better organize the smallest essentials. Both vests have soft-flask compatible front pockets and an included insulated 1.8-liter bladder.

Buy Women’s


Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp

Max Output: 500 lumens | Runtime: 3.5 hours on high or 4.5 hours on 3 AAA | Weight: 105 grams | Battery: Rechargeable and AAA

Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp
Black Diamond Equipment

  • Secure, no-bounce fit
  • Red taillight for increased visibility

  • External cable coil can be distracting while running

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 Sprinter, which runs on a rechargeable battery pack or three AAA batteries. The Sprinter 500 is similar to our previous pick, the Icon, but with more runner-friendly features. It has a lightweight rear-mounted battery pack and over-the-head stabilizing strap that don’t shift or wiggle while you run. The biggest difference with this model is the wattage—this one has 225 extra lumens for maximum brightness. If you want to save power to make the light last overnight, you can just dim down the intensity; if you want to run it longer on maximum brightness, you can easily switch to the disposable batteries.

Black Diamond Sprint 225 Headlamp

Max Output: 225 lumens | Runtime: High: 1 hr. 10 min / low: 20 hours | Weight: 56 grams (without batteries) | Batteries: Rechargeable

Black Diamond
Sprint 225 Headlamp
Black Diamond

  • Lighter than most headlamps
  • Adjust brightness with a swipe

  • Max power dims quickly

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 it 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

Fabric: Recycled ripstop nylon | Sizes: XS to XL | Weight: 3.4 oz.

Courtesy of Patagonia
Women’s Houdini Jacket

  • Packable
  • Lightweight
  • Water-resistant
  • Made of recycled nylon

  • Not waterproof

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.

Buy Men’s

Arc’teryx Incendo Hoodie

Fabric: Polyester | Sizes: S to XXL | Weight: 3.88 oz.

Incendo Hoodie

  • Ultralight
  • Packs down easily into a pocket
  • Ventilated

  • Won't keep you dry in a heavier rain

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.

Janji Rainrunner Pack Jacket

Fabric: Polyester | Sizes: S to XL | Weight: 8 oz.

Janji Rainrunner Pack Jacket

  • Breathable and waterproof
  • Lighweight

  • Runs a little small

Finding a shell that’s both waterproof and breathable can feel like a no-win scenario. The Rainrunner Pack jacket checks both boxes thanks to a laminated ripstop fabric with a 30K/30K waterproof and breathability rating, and full ventilation in the front and back of the jacket. Our testers raved about the jacket’s flattering, streamlined fit and ultra-lightweight packability, which makes it easy to stash in a hydration pack when a chance of rain enters the race forecast. The attention to detail in this jacket also impressed our testers: Even the smallest features, like the jacket’s cuffs, are cleverly designed to shed water.

Balega Blister Resist Socks

Sizes: S to XL | Fabric: 34% nylon, 32% Drynamix polyester, 32% mohair wool, 2% elastane | Height: No-show

Trevor Raab
Blister Resist Socks, $14

  • Soft yet durable
  • Don’t create blisters from friction
  • Seamless, anti-chafe toebox

  • Too pricey for wearing every day, much as we'd like to

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

Sizes: S-XL | Fabric: 57% wool, 38% nylon, 4% elastane,1% polyester | Height: 7.5in.

PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew Socks

  • Breathe well
  • Ultra-cozy
  • Great graphic

  • Pricey but worth it

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

Sizes: XS to XL | Inseam: 5 in. | Pockets: 2

Women’s Moxie Shorts, $61
Outdoor Research

  • Breathable
  • Comfortable, moving with us as we run

  • Pricey

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.

Brooks Greenlight 9-inch Short Tights

Sizes: XS to XXL | Inseam: 9 in. | Pockets: 3

Brooks Greenlight 9-inch Short Tights

  • Extra-wide waistband keeps shorts in place
  • Eco-friendly material

  • Some runners will want more compression in the thigh

These shorts are the perfect combination of comfortable and functional, due to all the pocket space. The long inseam is great for preventing the legs from rolling up, while the super-wide waistband—with what our testers described as “the perfect rise”—will stay put and hold you in without pulling at the crotch. Easy-to-access pockets on the side legs are generous enough to hold your phone and trail snacks, while a sweat-resistant pocket in the waistband stows your keys, cards, and other small essentials. The shorts’ eco-friendly DriLayer Horsepower polyester-spandex fabric keeps you dry and cool.

Ciele Athletics GoCap

Fabric: COOLwick and recycled polyester | Size: 58cm, adjustable | Weight: 62 grams

Ciele Athletics GoCap
Ciele Athletics

  • Breathable cooling fabric
  • Reflective hits

  • A little pricey for a cap

This Montreal-based upstart is infusing fun and playfulness into the sport. Make no mistake, these hip hats are made for performance first, but they have great style. The GoCap is one of the brand’s signature styles and comes in a wide range of colorful combinations. We like the fast-drying Coolwick fabric that keeps your head dry on hot days, plus the multi-panel construction that allows for a sleek, comfortable fit. The soft, bendable brim and reflective accents are bonus features that roadies and trail runners, respectively, will appreciate.

Garmin Enduro Watch

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+ | Battery Life: 70 hours; up to 200 hours in extended run mode

Garmin Enduro Watch

  • Industry-leading battery life
  • Solar charging extends battery

  • No music
  • No maps
  • No Wi-Fi sync

Essentially a Garmin Fenix with a bit less functionality, the Enduro is for you if your adventures lean toward the epic, with multiple days of running and few opportunities for recharging. In fact, our video producer Pat Heine wore it on his attempt to run the fastest known time of the Mid State Trail in Pennsylvania and had to charge it only once for three hours during the entire 327-mile run. And that’s with the watch recording his GPS every second throughout the run—the watch has extended settings for when you want to track less closely to make the battery last even longer. The only trade-off for all that run time? Garmin stripped down some of the bonus features its watches usually provide, like mapping and music.

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