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.
Ultra Tri-Blend SS Crew T-Shirt by Saxx $50
Kinetic Run Short by Saxx $75
Trail Midweight Mini-Crew by Injinji $15
UV Multifunctional Headband by Buff $15
Kaishiro by District Vision $199
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.
OD Heather T by Ibex $90
Pulse Runner Short by Ibex $85
Tolimán Pullover Hoodie by Cotopaxi $140
Light Runner Low by Fits $17
TRLCap by Ciele $45
Nagata by District Vision $245
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.
Windchaser Sleeveless by Patagonia $49
Nine Trails Shorts by Patagonia $32+
Airshed Pullover by Patagonia $119
Ultra Marathon Fresh Anklet by Hilly $13+
Fenix 5 by Garmin $600
The Best Running Shoes of 2017
From road to trail to gym. Read the Story