The Beginner’s Perfect Trail Running Quiver
Gear to help you focus on your surroundings, not your blisters
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Picking up a new sport is exhilarating, but corralling a new crop of gear can be expensive and intimidating. Fortunately, dialing in your trail running kit is a hassle-free proposition. All you need: a good pair of sneaks and a few choice pieces of lightweight technical apparel to head out the door and hit your stride. Here are the best options—for men and women—to help you transition from the road to the trail.
Patagonia Houdini Pullover ($89)
Spring is the season of the windbreaker, and whether you’re running an exposed trail along the lakefront, traversing a high ridgeline, or jamming through your weekly hill intervals, the super-streamlined Patagonia Houdini will keep the chill at bay without slowing you down. Made from lightweight ripstop nylon with a wind-blocking DWR finish, this hoodless snap-top stuffs into its own pocket for easy stowage and weathers light drizzle respectably. Four snaps offer ample ventilation, and a stealth chest pocket stows a key, gel, or your iPod Nano, a nice companion when you’re ramping up your miles.
Lululemon Inspiration Tank ($58)
This colorblock racerback top does double duty as technical trail tank and post-run athletic chic. Mesh T-back paneling lets in the cool breeze, while the smooth Light Luxtreme panels in the front and sides wick sweat as fast as you burn it. We love the long, lean fit that won’t ride up and the wide straps and back coverage that keep sunburn and chafing at bay. It’s a sweet piece you’ll want to wear even when you’re not running.
Hoka Challenger ATR Trail ($130)
In the past couple years, the shoe design pendulum has swung from minimalists all the way to fat and foamy maximalists, pioneered by Hoka and favored for the cushy yet lightweight ride that softens the impact but tends to be too high and squishy for steep, technical trails. Now Hoka seems to be easing ever so slightly into the middle with the Challenger ATR Trail, a slightly pared-down model with a 5 mm toe-to-heel drop and a 4 mm lug sole. At 7.4 ounces per shoe, the Challenger is just as bantam as the minimals but isn’t stacked so high that you’ll roll your ankles on roots and rocks—ideal for newbies looking for great grip and a little extra cushion.
UltrAspire Quantum 2.0 Waistbelt ($32)
For training days when you want to carry a few extra gels and supplies but aren’t ready to shoulder a pack, the UltrAspire Quantum 2.0 is an ideal bridge between too little and too much. The stretchy, barely there mesh fabric is unobtrusive and gently hugs your waist like a pair of yoga pants. Instead of a clunky belt attachment, the ingenious waist cord attaches easily via a small hook and locks down as snug or as loose as you like, eliminating bounce and the love-handle effect. Three pockets, including a zippered sleeve in back that’s long enough for your phone, stash a surprising amount of gear in a sleek, no-fuss package.
Brooks Infiniti Capri III ($68)
The only capris you’ll need in your quiver, the Brooks Infiniti III has a precision fit, with a hidden-drawstring waist that lies flat and stretchy compression that adds lightweight muscle support without constricting your stride. A sneaky zippered back pocket and subtle reflective details on the lower calf make your trail-to-road transition after dark a little less dodgy, and the snazzy patterns provide a welcome break from boring black.
Balega Blister Resist No Show ($13)
The unsung hero of every runner’s kit, the right pair of socks can make the difference between limping home with blisters and flying free. Balega’s stellar lineup of South African–made performance trail socks features superfine wool polyester and wool yarns for lightweight coverage and natural air-conditioning as they transport moisture away from your skin. The Balega Blister Resist is one of the softest, snuggest socks on the market, with its reinforced heel and toe, mohair-blend footbed to ward off unwanted friction, and ample elastic heel tab to prevent the dreaded bunch-up behind your shoe. Happy dogs, happy running.
Running Skirts Ultra Swift ($49)
People love to hate running skirts. Too girly, too amateur, just plain silly. But I grew up playing tennis and lacrosse in skirts, and I never once felt like less of an athlete for it. This Running Skirts Ultra Swift is the do-it-all piece, with a sleek mid-thigh length that guarantees total leg freedom when you want to crank up your stride, a wide yoga-like waistband that won’t ride up, and a breathable built-in mesh liner that never chafes or droops. But the skirt’s real coup is its three savvy pockets: one on each hip and one in back, all with Velcro closures, for keeping essentials like fuel and tunes handy. Serious trail cred meets backcountry style.
SportHill XC 3SP Zip Top ($155)
The half-zip is a staple of your running wardrobe because of its three-season versatility. Wear it against the skin on cooler days. On colder days, layer it over a base layer, and on the coldest days, with a wind-blocking vest. But even without a vest or base layer, the proprietary fabric in this SportHill XC 3SP shelters skin from gusts up to 35 miles per hour. The top’s long sleeves, with their generous thumbholes, work in a pinch if you’ve misplaced your gloves. A pocket on the shoulder holds essentials or media devices.
Lululemon Surge Tight ($98)
While all tights may be formfitting, the Lululemon Surge Tight somehow fits a guy’s form better than other options we’ve tried. The Full-On Luxtreme fabric has a slippery sharkskin feel, but it turns away a stiff breeze well. Ventilated panels on the back of the knees dump excess heat and moisture. Though you’ll still need to wear a brief, Lululemon did include an additional inner panel over the groin to blur the outline of your man bits. Two side pockets and one back zip pocket let you stash energy gels and car keys.