A Spring Inventory of Trail-Running Gear

March 27, 2018
Trail-running gear
Marc ChalufourWith the spring thaw clearing trails, it’s time to take inventory of your trail-running gear.

I like to think of myself as a minimalist. I hate carrying extra stuff when I’m running, whether in my hand or on my back. I still wear shirts, tights, and jackets that I’ve had for 15 years, and I’m one of those snobs who scoffs at wearing headphones on a run. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like gear! Here’s a roundup of basically every piece of trail-running gear in my closet.


Running shoes
I hike in trail-running shoes and run trails in road-running shoes. If I regularly ran on more rugged terrain, I suspect I’d upgrade to a sturdier, grippier shoe, but a standard pair of ASICS GT-2000s meets my Boston-area needs.

Not too high and not too low, not too thick and not too thin: These ankle-high Smartwool running socks are just right. They wick, keep dirt and muck out, and don’t slip around on my feet.

Shorts & Shirts
Like most runners, I favor lightweight microfiber clothing. Beyond that, I prefer shorts with a small zippered pocket to hold house or car keys and whichever free race T-shirt is cleanest.

Garmin Forerunner 230 GPS Watch
For ages, I estimated run distances based on time and perceived effort. Over years of running, I got surprisingly good at it—or, at least, I think I did. There wasn’t any way to know for sure. A Garmin eliminates all of that mystery, for better or worse. (Was I really going that slow?!) I like the data, I like seeing a map of my route, and I like being able to share my runs with far-flung former teammates through Strava. Read my review for more.

A couple of pesky horseflies can ruin a trail run. I’ve even resorted to carrying a branch in one hand, just to fight them off. A light baseball cap doesn’t provide total protection, but it helps, so wearing one is an absolute necessity for me during bug season. I’ll flip it around backwards to protect my neck and hope the flies eventually give up the chase.


Road ID
I rarely have a reason to carry my wallet or license on a run, so this Road ID Sidekick (available for a range of Garmin, Apple, Fitbit and other popular devices) is an easy way to make sure I always have ID, in case of an emergency.

If I’m wandering into new territory, I’ll try and find a decent map to print and tuck into my shorts. Not only does it help me stay found, but it also helps me find the best corners of a trail network. Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation offers particularly good (and free!) maps online. I’ve worn through several copies of its Blue Hills Reservation trail map in the past few years; the numbered trail junctions are particularly helpful.


When I began run-commuting a couple of years ago, I started running with a backpack out of necessity. No matter how small nor how many straps they have, traditional backpacks bounce and swing with every stride. They’re miserable to run in. Fortunately, the boom in ultramarathoning and trail running has led to an overwhelming array of running packs. The Nathan hydration pack I picked up has been great: I can stuff a couple pieces of clothing, a phone, wallet, and keys in the main pouch and strap pockets, and I barely notice the pack’s there. If I’m heading out for a longer off-road run, I use it for water bottles, snacks, and extra layers.

Water Bottle Belt
I picked one up years ago, when I was training for a marathon and found it easier to carry a bottle for 20 miles than to locate a functioning public water fountain. I don’t love having this weight bouncing around on the small of my back, but it’s a necessity when I’m not sure I’ll be able to pinpoint safe drinking water.

Ever go on a run and feel like your blood sugar levels are out of whack from the start? Rather than suffer through, I try to remember to pack a few Jelly Belly Sports Beans or Clif Bloks Energy Chews. More often than not, they go uneaten, but every once in a while, eating one or two saves me from a miserable slog of a run. Not the healthiest, most wholesome option, I know, but they travel well in a sweaty pocket.


I’ve rarely run off-road in the dark, but the Black Diamond Sprinter is one of my favorite pieces of gear, so I’m throwing it onto this list. The headlamp is bright, adjustable, and rechargeable. There’s a flashing red light on the backside, which is great when you’re running on roads in the dark; you can disable it when you’re not. A strap across the top of the head stabilizes the whole thing. It’s pricey for a headlamp, but it has never let me down.

Reporting Gear
OK. About being a “minimalist”: I do some of my best thinking on the trail, so if I know I’m going to write about a run, I carry extra gear to ensure I don’t lose any good ideas. A waterproof Rite in the Rain notebook helps me record any thoughts and observations I have along the way. I’ll also carry my phone so I can snap images for reference—or even publication—later.


Read the latest from “Running Wild,” AMC’s new trail-running blog.


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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, contributes to the trail-running blog Running Wild.