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Apparel & Accessories

What Makes Trail Running Gear Trail-Ready?

Take to the woods with functional features and style.

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Sure, you can wear the same clothes you wear on a road run when you head off-road. So what make trail running apparel trail running-specific? Some of what you wear off-road has to do with style — longer shorts instead of split shorts, for instance, or clothes from outdoor brands. But certain features in apparel make some gear more comfortable and functional on trail runs. Here’s a look at some of the best trail running gear of the spring 2021 season, and what about them makes them trail-ready.

RELATED: Handy Little Things for Trail Runners

Women's Patagonia Ridge Flow Tank

Patagonia Women’s Ridge Flow Tank | $45

I have this test I like to do with shirts that claim to ward off odor: I run in them three times without washing in-between wears. This tank, made from recycled polyester with an odor-control treatment, stood up to my stink test. (Granted, I live and run in dry Colorado and ran in March, so the sweat-level was relatively low.) Why does odor-control matter more for trail runners than road runners? It’s not that we’re more laundry-adverse. It’s more that we occasionally stay out on all-day mountain runs, or stop to run errands after driving to and running a trail. (Once in a long while, we may run to somewhere, spend the night, and run home.) This tank’s simple yet flattering cut and loose fit around the mid-section remains comfortable all day, to boot.

Tracksmith Off Roads Tee

Tracksmith Men’s/Women’s Off Roads Tee | $88

I did the same stink-test with this shirt as I did with the Patagonia Ridge Run tank. While the wool held onto scent (a euphemism, perhaps) more than did the recycled polyester of the Patagonia tank, this shirt still maintained my ability to socialize comfortably after three runs and no washes. Super-soft wool stretches with every arm-swing, and the fact that wool is a natural fiber falls inline with trail running’s nature-loving appeal. The shirt’s cut offers sun protection around the upper chest, and its slim fit allows easy layering for year-round usage. (Note: The wool feels great on cool to cold mornings when staying in pajamas is tempting.)

Men's and Women's Nathan Sports Rise Short Sleeve Tee

Nathan Sports Rise Short Sleeve Tee | W $45 / M $49

Trail runners often wear running packs for longer runs and adventures. That fact means that what we wear underneath our pack has to be comfortable, chafe-free, and able to avoid becoming a sweaty mess. The Rise Short Sleeve, from Nathan Sports’ (the hydration and safety equipment company) brand new apparel line, has an extra-ventilating back panel that allows heat to escape, which mitigates a sweaty pool underneath a running pack. Other pack-friendly features include flatlock seams to eliminate friction and skin irritation.

Women’s Rabbit Mountain Climbers 2.0 2.5" Shorts

Rabbit Women’s Mountain Climbers 2.0 2.5″ Shorts | $68

Runners tend to take more stuff with them on a trail run than when running roads. These shorts have two mesh side pockets that are open at the top, which means no fussing mid-run to get something out of them or put something in. The pockets are ideal for stashing gels or other small items, and for packing out your trash — or someone else’s. One zippered back pocket holds most phones, and/or securely holds a car or house key. The ability to secure a key is extra-important on a trail run, as you don’t want to return to a trailhead far from home to find you’ve lost your key on miles away on the trail.

Rabbit Men’s FKT 5” Shorts

Rabbit Men’s FKT 5” Shorts | $68

Runners tend to take more stuff with them on a trail run than when running roads. These shorts have two mesh side pockets that are open at the top, which means no fussing mid-run to get something out of them or put something in. The pockets are ideal for stashing gels or other small items, and for packing out your trash — or someone else’s. One zippered back pocket holds most phones, and/or securely holds a car or house key. The ability to secure a key is extra-important on a trail run, as you don’t want to return to a trailhead far from home to find you’ve lost your key miles away on the trail. The 5” inseam of these shorts also creates a more casual, trail-friendly look than a shorter split short.

Women's and Men's Ultimate Direction Hydro Tights

Men’s Ultimate Direction Hydro Tights | $129.95

Since trail runners often run hill and dale and back again, it’s nice to have the option to carry water. With the Hydro Tights, that option is built right into the waistbelt. Two pockets site at the outer hip and house a small (TK ouce) water bottle each. The bottles stay put remarkably well, with minimal bouncing, and the ability to wear them as part of the tights eliminates the need for a waistbelt for one less layer of gear. The tights on their own have a compression-quality to them (fitting tighter than most), which offers muscle support.

Women’s Ultimate Direction Hydro Tights | $129.95

Since trail runners often run hill and dale and back again, it’s nice to have the option to carry water. With the Hydro Tights, that option is built right into the waistbelt. Two pockets site at the outer hip and house a small (TK ounce) water bottle each. The bottles stay put remarkably well, with minimal bouncing, and the ability to wear them as part of the tights eliminates the need for a waistbelt for one less layer of gear. The tights on their own have a compression-quality to them (fitting tighter than most), which offers muscle support.

Men's The North Face Lightriser Futurelight jacket

The North Face Flight Literiser Futurelight Jacket | $300

It’s a good idea to bring a waterproof shell on every mountain run in order to be prepared for everything from a ripping wind on a ridgeline, a thunderstorm, or even just a cold fog rolling through. Having a waterproof shell that packs down to the size of a softball and shoves into the bottom of your pack, or into it self in a neat little pouch, means you’re not lugging a cumbersome piece of clothing up a mountain. This jacket from The North Face does the job and weighs just 6.3 ounces, thanks to its minimalist design (no zippered pockets, for one thing). It’s fully waterproof yet remains somewhat breathable, and the adjustable hood cinches down for added protection.

RELATED: 10 Trail Running Shoes You’ll Love To Run In