Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new picks for 2017. Last year’s picks can still be found on page two, but some older styles may not be available currently.
So your cardio regimen has gone stale. The local loop is no longer interesting, motivation is low and split times are high. Maybe those aching knees and swollen ankles need a break from all those man-made surfaces. Maybe it’s time you ditched the sidewalks and asphalt in favor of some dirt and roots; maybe it’s time you hit the trail.
Sure, trail running has its critics — they’ll say it’s a poor way to train, or that the variable ground and incline make it hard to measure pace and times. We hear you — but we’re not convinced. Trail running can improve your technique, and the softer ground surfaces make you less prone to injury. Plus, the hills you’ll encounter in the wilderness will only make you stronger.
But those things can be studied and debated back and forth ad infinitum. If you only need one reason to lace up your runners and head out to the trail, let it be exploration. Let it be the fresh air, free of car exhaust — or at least the fact that you’ll only pass a handful of other people instead of having to dodge pedestrians every third stride. And once you find that reason, realize that trail running apparel has finally caught up to the style and tech of all high-end activewear.
If you’re hesitant to really commit to trail running, you don’t want to buy a dedicated kit, or you simply don’t live close enough to a trail system to go all in, don’t worry. This kit, while optimized for the trail, will work just fine for runs anywhere. Though Saxx is an underwear brand at its core, the Kinetic Run Shorts give you the performance of lightweight polyester athletic shorts with the comfort of its proprietary (and incredibly embracing) Ballpark Pouch liner, all in one piece. The Tri-Blend Crew is also an impressive tee for trail and everyday use. First timers prone to blisters will appreciate the separate toes on Injinji’s Trail Mini-Crew, and the shades by District Vision will help adjust to glare and shadows when running in and out of trees.
You’ve heard the call of the wild and you’re ready to go farther from the parking lot and higher up the mountain. Some technical materials will help. Ibex designs much of its clothing with sweat-wicking, naturally antimicrobial merino wool, and that’s what makes pieces like the OD Heather T and Pulse Runner Short a good base for your trail kit (the tee is 100 percent merino while the outer shell of the shorts is nylon and the liner is 96 percent merino). If you are going to go out further, you’ll also want to be prepared for the elements, so an extra layer is important; Cotopaxi’s Tolimán Pullover is a smart insulating piece for colder temps and higher altitudes.
Anchored by the original outdoor brand, this is the kit for those who have turned their polyester-clad backs on pavement and never looked back. Worn individually, Patagonia’s Windchaser Sleeveless, Nine Trails Shorts and Airshed Pullover are ultralight yet tough garments made with responsibly sourced and recycled materials. Together they form a purpose-built kit made for long stretches of wilderness running. Polygiene-enhanced anklets from Hilly are optimized to block dirt and debris from getting in your shoes, and Garmin’s multisport Fenix 5 offers built-in route planning (and finding) features such as a GPS, altimeter, barometer and compass.
The Best Running Shoes of 2017
From road to trail to gym. Read the Story
If you’re just getting into trail running, or making the transition from road to trail, your split shorts and singlet won’t be able to come with you. Trail running requires more coverage to protect you from the elements, and Stio makes some quality trail-running gear that does just that. The Divide Tech Tee is mostly polyester for sweat-wicking and breathability, but also features a 15 percent cotton blend to help with the fabric feel. Both materials make for a durable blend in case you get caught on any errant branches. Paired with the Second Light shorts and Darn Tough Vertex socks, it all adds up to a beginner kit, with high performance, minus the intimidation factor.
For the enthusiast, Ibex makes a kit worthy of long days on the trail. The Pulse Shorts feature a stench-resistant merino-wool liner paired with a technical face fabric for all the benefits of both wool and synthetics. The W2 Sport shirt uses Ibex’s Weightless Wool and is the lightest wool tee they make. It breathes well and won’t weigh you down out on the trail. Smartwool‘s PhD Run Ultra Light socks offer just enough padding while still being highly breathable. And to top it all off, Patagonia’s Duckbill cap keeps the sun and sweat out of your eyes.
When most people think of Tracksmith, they immediately think of heritage road running, but some of their pieces are perfectly suited to high-performance trail running as well. They Grayboy puts your standard t-shirt to shame. It’s made from cotton blended with rayon to stand up to tree branches, rock and any other abuse that the trail can throw at you. The Magnolia shorts are an updated version of the lauded Falmouth shorts, with a 6-inch inseam that is short but not too short. Stance’s Fusion Run crew socks are comfortable enough to wear for 10+ mile runs and they resist getting soaked through with sweat. The perfect trail running accessory comes in the form of Suunto’s new Spartan Ultra GPS smart watch. It does literally everything you could want a GPS smartwatch to do and tracks all of your metrics so you can watch your improvement over time.