Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Gear Needs of a Trail Runner

The needs of a trail runner are few. Namely, shoes, socks, shirt (optional), and underwear. Another optional gear item includes gaiters. They keep all major debris out of your shoes and are a blessing in disguise. However, some trail runs require a bit more logistical planning. My typical weekday morning trail runs are usually no longer than 5 – 6 miles long and really doesn’t require much more than the list above. My long runs however require a bit more thought as they can range anywhere from 10 – 30 miles. We’re talking water, fuel (food, gel, etc.), rain-gear (if you prefer to stay somewhat dry on your run), headlamp(s) (if you plan on running in the dark), etc.

 Here in East Tennessee, we have the blessing of all four seasons. Sometimes spring can be just a couple of weeks, and others it could be a full season complete with warm and cold temperatures. Fall can be the same way here too. Regardless, a trail runner’s needs in each season can and will change.

In the early spring it is still cold as the winter chill lingers in the air. Usually I wear long sleeve running shirts, shorts or sometimes running tights or base layer bottoms (such as Terramar Smart Silk), wool quarter crew socks, and good trail running shoes (currently Brooks Cascadia). Additionally, depending on how cold it is, I might wear a beanie and possibly even gloves but it’s rare as we all know, running generates heat. It’s also important to regulate that heat by dressing in layers because you never know when you might get stuck out there and you want to mitigate the risks of hypothermia.

For short and long runs alike, I always have my Camelbak Marathoner’s Vest. If it’s my weekday morning runs, I will usually have my headlamp and only a liter of water in the pack. Sometimes just to make runs a bit tougher, I’ll carry a full bladder of water to add weight. The headlamp is usually necessary in the early spring for at least half of my run due to it still be dark or just turning dawn. For my long runs however, I will have a full bladder of water in my vest, and the pockets are stuffed with gels, chews, and other food items that are easily consumed during the run. If I’m going to run more than 15 miles, I usually find a route that loops so I can store extra water and food in my car. By doing this, I can refuel at the halfway mark. Depending on the weather, I might also bring a rain jacket or a half zip top in case it gets really cold or rain is looming.

In the summer, clothing choices change drastically. Usually it’s just shoes, socks, shorts, and short sleeve shirt and a running hat. I usually also carry a bandana for wiping sweat and spider webs from my face and arms. Speaking of spider webs, I also spray myself with deet so as to avoid chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes, and other nasty little insects.  Again my vest is always on and water is in the bladder much like in the spring. It is crucial to always make sure you stay hydrated on runs in the summer. The heat can do a number on you if you are not careful. Short runs again require no extra fuel. Long runs are much the same in the spring; however I usually like to ensure I have fueling options that are high in sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, calories, and protein.

Gear needs for a trail runner in the fall are very much the same as they are in the spring. In early fall, it can still be pretty warm so the normal summer garb is usually required. Additionally it gets dark earlier, and it’s later in the morning before the sun comes up so lighting may need to be addressed depending on what time of day you are running. In the later part of fall, there is a nip in the air and I usually tend to drift more to an early spring type of running garb, long sleeves is usually all that’s needed but occasionally a base layer bottom might be put on and a jacket put in the pack depending on precipitation chances. As for fuel in the fall, they are very much the same.

If it’s a short run, usually nothing is brought along, but on longer runs, the same food and gel combos are put in the vest pockets. In the winter, the game changes for a trail runner. Warmer clothes will be needed and definitely clothes made of a wicking material (wicking materials are used year round really). Base layers are a must. On top of that a shirt (long or short sleeve, it’s really individual preference as usually your base layer is long sleeved). I usually wear shorts over my bottom base layer but again this is optional. Wool socks are best for warm dry feet as wool is a natural wicking material. If the terrain is covered in snow and/or ice, you may want some added traction to your shoes such as Yaktraks, Stabilicers, or the like. I’ve not really had the experience of running on ice and around here it hasn’t snowed enough since I’ve started running to require anything other than my regular trail running shoes. You’ll also want to carry along a fleece or some other type outer layer covering for your torso. I also usually wear a beanie or a fleece ear muff/face/head cover of sorts. Not quite a balaclava but something that is multipurpose. Depending on how cold it is, I might also wear running gloves or glove liners. Considering the amount of heat one produces while running layers are definitely the key and having a pack or running vest will allow you to stow layers as you warm up. As for fuel I always have my water and regardless of length of the run, I carry food and/or gels. You never know when you might need the extra energy or in the event you get stuck out on the trail longer than planned, you’re going to get hungry.

One last thing about running gear, there’s been plenty of debate about compression sleeves. Personally, I always wear calf sleeves. In the late spring, summer and early fall, I find they serve well to protect against poison ivy. I also think that they serve well for blood circulation, prevention of lower leg cramps, and recovery time after long runs seem to be shortened for me as well. Again this is more of a personal preference sort of thing so take it as you will.

Overall, the gear needs of a trail runner are few, especially if you are only doing short runs. For an ultra marathoner, it gets a little more complex when managing the logistics of long runs. However, if you are just starting out, the minimal you need in the warmer months are a good pair of running shoes, comfy breathable socks, shorts, a shirt and a desire/will to run and something to keep you hydrated. One last piece of advice before hitting the trail: always let someone know where you are running and when you expect to be finish. If you end up stuck on the trail they will know when to alert authorities and the general vicinity to start searching. If you are like me you always have a smart phone with you so you can easily be tracked by GPS signal if necessary. Otherwise get out there, have fun, and run.

Happy Trails,