outdoor research switchback hat running gear women outside
Outdoor Research's Switchback hat packs easily and has a handy little pocket for keys or gels. (Photo: Matt Hage/Courtesy of Outdoor Re)

What’s the Best Running Kit?

The only gear you need for long hauls, tested over who-knows-how-many miles.

outdoor research switchback hat running gear women outside

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When you run long miles in tough terrain, you don’t want to worry about your shorts chafing or your technical T riding up. That’s why it’s so important to find apparel that works and then stick with it. If your signature look wins you style points—like these six tried-and-true winners below—all the better. Trust us, you’re going to love them so much you’ll run them into the ground.

Athleta Reflective Stride Tight ($98)

athleta reflective stride tight womens running gear

Warm enough for cold mornings or chilly coastal afternoons but not so thick you’ll roast during speed workouts or hill climbs, the Stride is that rare full-legged Lycra/Spandex tight that doesn’t feel like overkill midway through your run. And if you do push through your sweat threshold, mesh panels and the ingenious Polygiene material keep the stink at bay. Caught out after dark? The ample reflective piping will see you home safely, and in style.

The North Face Ultra Trail Shoes ($110)

the north face ultra trail shoes womens running gear
(The North Face)

A competitive ultrarunner, I’ve run through the gamut of trail sneaks, from super-minimal, zero-drops to foamy, high-rise maximals. Each served me well for a while, but when my Achilles and ankles began complaining, I found my way back to my sweet spot. With a lightweight upper, grippy but low-profile Vibram sole, and 8mm of rise, the Ultra Trails are the Goldilocks of trail sneakers: just right. Equally sure-footed on rugged, 20-mile high-altitude adventure runs, easy road-to-trail recovery days, and 100K mountain races, they’ll end your search for the perfect, do-it-all pair of trail kicks.

Smartwool PhD Run Divide Vest ($160)

smartwool phd run divide vest womens running gear

I tend to get warm fast when I run, even on sunny, 15-degree Santa Fe mornings, so jackets usually leave me peeling layers as soon as I pick up the pace. That’s why my go-to piece for winter running is the Run Divide Vest, a bantamweight cold-weather fix with a brushed, windproof front panel and smooth, no-itch merino lining that layers smoothly over a mid-weight T. Perks include a front chest pocket that’s so discreet I didn’t even know it was there, a back pocket for cell phone or fuel, and reflective trim for those nights you’re running late. 

Lululemon Race Your Pace Half-Zip II ($98)

lululemon half zip womens running gear

Too often running tops have a slippery, nylony feel which works well in summer but doesn’t exactly beckon on shivery days. Not the Race Your Pace, a buttery Luxtreme half-zip that’s soft enough to wear next to skin yet plenty stretchy for streamlined, no-bunch layering. This piece is crammed with clever details, including racer-back vents right where you need them most, a two-way zipper that lets you cool off while keeping your collar snug, and the most hyper-designed wrist in the biz, complete with thumbholes and “Cuffins,” fold-over finger warmers in case you forgot your gloves.

Patagonia Strider Shorts ($45)

patagonia strider shorts womens running gear

Shorts just might be the pickiest, most personal piece in your running kit. The quest ends here with the 3 1/4-inch inseam Striders, a flattering, ultra-light short-short that’s built for speed but doesn’t sacrifice style. The low-rise, flat-knit waistband sits right on the hips without riding up, mesh vents on the notched side panels keep you cool while adding a hint of retro gym-short flair, and the built-in crepe-like liner is so light you barely know it’s there. The small internal key pocket at the back hip handy, if a tinch hard to reach; an external pocket would make these a bomber choice for race day, too.

Outdoor Research Switchback Hat ($27)

womens running gear hat outdoor research
(Outdoor Research)

It’s easy to stray into geek territory with running caps—hence the proliferation of trucker hats on ultra podiums in the past year. Unless you want to wind up with a face full of crow’s feet, you’ll want to invest in a lightweight lid that you can put on and forget about. Easily the best I’ve ever worn is OR’s Switchback, a minimal nylon cap with a brim that’s already creased down the middle for easy stashing when the sun goes down (because how many brims have you trashed trying to cram in your pack?). The brim’s not too duckbillish, the cap’s not too deep, and there’s even a brainy little key-or gelpocket for days when you’re going super light. UPF 30 sun protection keeps your tender scalp safe.

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