The Best Trail Running Gear of 2021

From head-to-toe the must-have gear for every type of trail run

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Nothing beats a good run through the woods. The smell of pine trees. Majestic mountain views. Flowing freshwater streams. It’s as much therapy as it is exercise. Whether you run short or long, East Coast or West Coast, a pleasant day out on the trails starts with the right trail running gear. “The right trail running gear maximizes your confidence, comfort, and enjoyment of the terrain and your surroundings. Dialing in what you wear and bring with you on easy trails and epics empowers you to stay out longer, go faster, or explore more, whatever your goals may be” says Lisa Jhung author of "Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running.” No matter what your day out on the trails brings, here's the best trail running gear of 2021-2022.

The Rundown
Best Trail Running Shoes:
Salomon Sense Ride 4 at Backcountry.com
Salomon Sense Ride 4 is one the best performing all-terrain trail shoes you can buy.
Garmin’s Fenix 6 is the premium outdoor sports watch for any activity in the woods or mountains.
Best Trail Running Long Sleeve Shirt:
Patagonia Airshed Pro Pullover at Backcountry.com
No other long sleeve shirt offers better weather protection.
This DWR treated jacket packs down small enough to fit in your short’s pockets.
Best Trail Running Sunglasses:
Julbo Furry Sunglasses at Amazon
Large wrap-around style sunglasses give you a wider unobstructed field of vision and full sun coverage, even peripherally.
Best Women’s Running Shorts:
Vuori Clementine 4-Inch Shorts at Nordstrom
So comfortable that I kind of forget I’m wearing these shorts.
Best Trail Running Hat:
BUFF 5 Panel Go Cap at Amazon
The soft brim visor is comfortable against your forehead.
Featuring targeted ventilation zones in higher heat areas for the best moisture control.
Tailwind’s Endurance Fuel provides everything you need in one simple solution.
Best Men’s Running Shorts:
Smartwool Merino Sport Lined Shorts at REI
No other running shorts have a liner better suited to ward off chafing.

Best Trail Running Shoes: Salomon Sense Ride 4 Trail Running Shoes

Salomon Sense Ride 4 Trail Running Shoe
What We Like
  • All-terrain versatility

  • Excellent value

  • Comfortable

What We Don't Like
  • Quicklace garage too low

Proper footwear is undoubtedly the most important piece of gear for trail runners. This means matching the type of trail running shoe to the kind of terrain you’re running. Whether you’re taking on rocky and technical or smooth singletrack trails, the Salomon Sense Ride 4 is one of the best performing all-terrain trail shoes you can buy. There’s really no terrain on which these won’t excel. Salomon’s Optivibe midsole foam delivers a comfortably cushioned ride without sacrificing technical performance over rocky and rooted ground—a true jack-of-all-trails shoe. If you’re looking for something with a little more cushioning for those ultra-marathon days on the trails, check out the maximum cushioned Salomon Ultra Glide. These shoes are available in men's and women's sizes.

Best Trail Running GPS Watch: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Multisport GPS Watch

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Multisport GPS Watch
What We Like
  • Garmin app & ecosystem

  • Long battery life

  • Navigation

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Heavy

It’s easy to get lost trail running. One wrong turn could turn a one-hour run into an all-day outing. The best way to guard against unwanted detours is to have a GPS watch with navigation abilities. Garmin’s Fenix 6 is the premium outdoor sports watch for any activity in the woods or mountains. It takes every standard GPS watch feature such as distance tracking, pace, and heart rate and adds on elevation data, navigation, and the ability to pre-program routes so you’ll never get lost again. It also offers nearly triple the battery power of most GPS watches with 36 hours of power in GPS mode and up to 28 days in max battery-saver mode. Just a heads up—the watch face is quite large. If you’re looking for an outdoor watch suited for formal affairs as much as dirty days on the trails, the sleek-looking Suunto Peak 9 is for you.  

Tested by TripSavvy

The Garmin Fenix 6 is the do-all GPS watch for all-mountain sports athletes, weekend warriors, and recreationists, alike. For runners, it does all the basics—pace, distance, time—but also heart rate, recovery time, daily workout suggestions, and suggested pace. The face is big enough to get quick glances while navigating steep and techy terrain. And it's got gobs of bonus features like navigation, music, live tracking, and incident detection. It might be too heavy and overkill for the casual trail runner. But for those getting out on the trails often or combining other activities like cycling, mountain biking, climbing, surfing, or backcountry skiing, this is the do-everything watch for you. — Nathan Allen, Outdoor Gear Editor

Best Trail Running Long Sleeve Shirt: Patagonia Airshed Pro Pullover

Patagonia Airshed Pro Pullover
What We Like
  • Wind protection

  • Soft sleeves

  • Packs down small

What We Don't Like
  • No pockets

No other long sleeve shirt offers better weather protection than the Patagonia AirShed Pullover. This part long sleeve shirt, part quarter-zip jacket features an ultra-lightweight stretchy nylon material through the body that gives you the added protection of moderate wind and water resistance. It’s loaded with features to help temperature regulation, such as a fitted hoodie for those chilly runs. If you start running hot, dumping the extra heat is easy. The double-sided quarter zip allows for easy large-scale venting. The sleeves are made with a soft double-knit Capilene Cool from the elbows down, making it easy to roll up when you’re running a little warm.

Tested by TripSavvy

The AirShed Pro has rapidly become one of the go-to items in my trail running quiver. Early mornings have gotten chilly here in Southern California and I've loved putting this layer over a merino wool tee to start my runs. Oftentimes, that's the correct combo to get me through a 10-miler on the local singletrack. But if things do heat up, I've found it easy and comfy to roll up the sleeves or stash it in the hood pocket and carry it the rest of the run. Bonus: So far it's done a good job at masking stink. I haven't found anything I don't like about this pullover. If you do, email me. — Nathan Allen, Outdoor Gear Editor

Best Trail Running Wind Shell: Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell Jacket

Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell Jacket
What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Excellent wind protection

  • Packs down incredibly small

What We Don't Like
  • See-through

If you’re going to spend any time running in the mountains or variable climates, an emergency wind shell is a must. You’ll need one that’s easily packable, light, and offers good wind protection. Black Diamond’s Distance Wind Shell checks all those boxes and then some. As the lightest (3.5 ounces) wind shell on the market, this 100 percent nylon ripstop, DWR-treated jacket packs down small enough to fit in your shorts pocket. However, it’s not the most water-resistant. So, if you’re looking for something to ward off rain more than wind and can spare a little more space check out the Patagonia Houdini.

Best Trail Running Sunglasses: Julbo Furry Sunglasses

Julbo Furry Sunglasses
What We Like
  • Full sun coverage

  • Lightweight

  • Doesn't fog up

What We Don't Like
  • Lenses scratch easily

Oversized sunglasses may look a little ridiculous, but they serve a purpose. Unlike square flat-shaped sunglasses, large wrap-around style sunglasses give you a wider unobstructed field of vision and full sun coverage, even peripherally. These trail running and cycling hybrid sunglasses come in ten different styles with multiple lenses, including Photochromic REACTIV lenses that automatically get lighter or darker to match changing light conditions. Tiny spaces between the lens and frame allow for full ventilation so you won’t have to deal with fogged-up lenses. If the big and bold look isn’t your cup of tea, Knockaround Premiums Sport Polarized sunnies are a great alternative.

Best Women’s Running Shorts: Vuori Clementine 4-Inch Shorts

Vuori Clementine 4-Inch Shorts
What We Like
  • Unrestrictive  

  • Comfortable waistband

What We Don't Like
  • Lack of pockets

These are Jhung’s favorite shorts and she loves that “they’re cut to provide a full range of motion. They allow totally unencumbered mobility that I appreciate when I’m running a steep climb. Plus, the liner and flat, stretchy waistband are both so comfortable that I kind of forget I’m wearing these shorts until someone compliments me on them because they have great styling that crosses into casual wear. I love that I can also wear them to the gym, or to the beach.” The only downside is they only have one pocket. If you’re interested in shorts with more pockets check out the Patagonia Pro Strider or Black Diamond Sprint Shorts.

Best Trail Running Hat: BUFF 5 Panel Go Cap

What We Like
  • Breathable

  • Soft visor

  • Packs easily

What We Don't Like
  • Short visor

Hats help protect your head from the sun and can shield your face when running in the rain or snow. Given that your head expels heat like the rest of your body, you’ll want a hat made out of a breathable, moisture-wicking fabric. Buff’s 5 Panel Go Cap offers UPF 50 sun protection and is made with polyester and a small amount of elastane for added stretch. The soft brim visor is comfortable against your forehead and allows for easy compression stowing in your vest if needed. If you’re looking for a hard-brimmed hat, Trailheads makes a great product.

Best Trail Running Socks: Smartwool Run Zero Cushion Pattern Crew Socks

Smartwool Run Zero Cushion Pattern Crew Socks
What We Like
  • Supurb moisture wicking

  • Grips well inside shoe

  • Attractive styles

What We Don't Like
  • Poor durability

Wool is one of the best performance fabrics. It wicks sweat away from your skin better than any other fabric and your feet are by far the most important place to guard against excess moisture so blisters don’t form. Smartwool Run Zero cushioned socks feature targeted ventilation zones in higher heat areas for the best moisture control while smoothed out toe seams prevent hot spots. The only downside to wool socks is their durability compared to synthetic fabric, such as polyester. Most are willing to sacrifice durability for performance, but if wool just doesn’t sit well with you, we suggest the Swiftwick Pursuit Four.

Tested by TripSavvy

Ever since I put these socks on, I've had trouble taking them off. They're comfy. They dry quickly. And with 47 percent merino wool construction, they are good for multiple days between washes. On a recent trip to Mammoth Lakes, I wore these backpacking, hiking, and trail running for multiple days in a row. In total, I covered more than three dozen miles in them before swapping for another sock. And the only reason I did was to make sure I tested a different pair. — Nathan Allen, Outdoor Gear Editor

Best Training Running Fuel: Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel Drink Mix

What We Like
  • Not overly sweet

  • Stomach friendly

  • Dissolves easily

What We Don't Like
  • N/A

“It is important to fuel during trail runs (particularly those over 90 minutes) in order to sustain your energy levels and keep you light on your feet," says Maggie Guterl, professional runner and Tailwind's Athletes and Events Manager. "Tailwind’s all-in-one fuel, such as Tailwind Endurance Fuel, provides everything you need in one simple solution so you can focus on your training, not your nutrition." Offered in four decaffeinated and three caffeinated flavors, one scoop of Endurance Fuel powder mixed with water gives you 100 calories and 25 grams of simple and complete carbohydrates with electrolytes. Bonus: It’s vegan and gluten-free. If you’re particularly picky about flavor, check out the unflavored Naked for a mild taste that is not sweet. For post-run recovery and refueling, check out their Recovery Drink.

Tested by TripSavvy

One of my biggest problems with running and cycling is fueling. Or, lack thereof. The reason? Gut bombs. (I also like the occasional suffer-fest.) But one bonk too many made me reconsider my fueling. Enter Tailwind. I've been using Tailwind's Endurance Fuel for almost five years now. And while other companies and brands keep innovating new fuels, I keep coming back to Tailwind's Naked flavor. I've used it for multiple marathons and dozens of long runs and have yet to experience the dreaded gut bomb. — Nathan Allen, Outdoor Gear Editor

Best Men’s Running Shorts: Smartwool Merino Sport Lined Shorts

Smartwool Merino Sport Lined Shorts
What We Like
  • Supportive liner  

  • Odor resistant

What We Don't Like
  • Shell is heavy

  • Pricey

The most important part of any running shorts is the liner. If you’ve ever had chafing, you know this all too well. Moisture control is the best way to combat chafing. No other running shorts have a liner better suited to ward off chafing than the Smartwool Merino Sport Lined shorts. The lightweight merino blend liner offers exceptional temperature control and moisture management without feeling scratchy. The shell is made with a soft, stretch-woven DWR-coated recycled fabric. The only downside is the lack of storage with one side drop-in pocket and a rather small (not large enough for phone) rear zip. If you’re wanting more pockets, the Patagonia Pro Strider or Black Diamond Sprint shorts are two of the best.

Tested by TripSavvy

These shorts check a lot of boxes for me. They're super lightweight (to the point you forget they're on). They wick moisture like the Mojave Desert. And they've got enough pockets for me. As with other merino wool products, the shorts mask the stink well, allowing for multiple runs in-between washes. I do take umbrage with one aspect of these shorts. And it is a big one for me. The 5-inch inseam is too much for me. I prefer shorter and a leg spit (can't shake my former cross country and track days). These shorts have become more of a loungewear or yard-work pair of shorts. If you're like me and prefer a shorter pair of shorts with the leg split, check out the Saucony Outpace Split Shorts. They've got a 2.5-inch inseam, a leg split, and a zippered back pocket. — Nathan Allen, Outdoor Gear Editor

Best Trail Running Waist Belt: Salomon Sensibelt

What We Like
  • Stays put

  • Large storage pocket

  • Velcro strap enclosure

What We Don't Like
  • No key loop

For shorter runs, hydration belts can be a less restrictive alternative to a full vest. The Salomon Sensibelt is one of the best we’ve tested. Its elastic waist belt with Velcro enclosure is comfortable and stable against your waist. It carries up to 20 ounces of fluid with a small pocket large enough for your phone and some fuel.

Best Trail Running Winter Running Jacket: Arc'teryx Trino SL Hoodie

Arc'teryx Trino SL Hoodie
What We Like
  • Warm

  • Breathability

  • Good weather protection

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Finding a protective running jacket that breathes well can be a serious challenge. Full waterproof hardshell jackets are great for downpours but lack adequate breathability for those who run hot. The solution—The Arc’teryx Trino SL Hoody softshell. This stretchy softshell jacket is made with Gore-Tex Infinium offering the perfect blend of foul weather protection and air-permeable fabric. Its strongest protection is against cold, high wind, and modest rain and snow days. As with all Arc’teryx pieces, the fit is tailored and unrestrictive. The four-way stretch woven textile is incredibly lightweight and comfortable. Like most Arc’teryx jackets, it carries a hefty price tag, but for everything short of heavy downpours it’s the only winter jacket you’ll need—and want to wear.

Best Men’s and Women’s Trail Running Shirt: The North Face Wander T-Shirt

The North Face Wander T-Shirt
What We Like
  • Comfortable

  • Soft material

  • Wicks sweat away from skin

What We Don't Like
  • Retains odor

Offered in both men’s and women’s styles, The North Face Wander shirt is a soft, stretchy lightweight technical t-shirt. It features North Face FlashDry technology for excellent moisture management with UPF 50 sun protection for the solid colors and UPF 15 for heathered colors. A lot of polyester or nylon tech-tees can feel scratchy against the skin—not the Wander. The polyester and elastane jersey knit fabric feels soft and silky. As a 140-pound, slim 5-foot, 8-inch athletically built man, the men’s small fit me perfectly. If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, the REI Co-op Active Pursuits is a great alternative.

Tested by TripSavvy

The softness of this shirt alone is worth the buy. The FlashDry is interesting. On a particularly warm day, I splotched water in multiple places on the shirt before heading out for a 10-miler. Instead of disappearing like other tech-tees, the splotches spread out before eventually disappearing. Other than that, the shirt does a good job of wicking sweat and keeping you dry. — Nathan Allen, Outdoor Gear Editor

Best Trail Running Hydration Vest: Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 Hydration Vest

Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 Hydration Vest
What We Like
  • Versatility of pockets

  • Adjustable fit

  • Lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Sternum straps are difficult to adjust on fly

This lightweight, breathable hydration vest is just what’s needed for storing all the gear required for those longer outings. The main body is made with durable mono mesh with fleece-lined seams to prevent chafing that works exceptionally well, even on the hottest of days. The vest comes with a surprising number of storage options for a five-liter vest.

Two zippered pockets are ideal for high-value items, while a large stretch side drop-in pocket is a perfect place for the largest of phones. Two sternum soft flasks hole 500 milliliters each, with an option for a 2-liter reservoir (sold separately) in the back that can also be used to store extra layers. The soft flasks sit high enough to drink from without removing them from the pockets—a huge convenience in my book. With a quick tug on two elastic cords, the fit is fully adjustable with Ultimate Direction's Comfort Cinch technology around the midsection and two chest straps.

Best Recovery Tool: Theragun Elite

Theragun Elite Handheld Percussive Massage Gun
What We Like
  • Powerful

  • Five attachment

  • Multi-grip handle

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Let’s face it—getting down on the ground to foam roll may seem like a small task, but when your muscles are stiff and achy it’s the last thing you want to do. Skip the dirty ground foam rolling and massage your muscles with ease with the Theragun Elite percussion massage gun. Ease muscle knots and sore spots by delivering a powerful deep muscle massage. The triangular hand makes reaching those hard-to-get regions easier.

Choose from five different speeds to personalize the massage intensity. Sure, you can find cheaper massage guns, however, they won’t have the power or massage head amplitude to reach those deep muscles. Buy the best, you won’t regret it. If you want the ultimate recovery package, check out the Roll Recovery R4 foam roller and R3 for a complete head-to-toe recovery kit.

Final Verdict

Part of the appeal of trail running is it’s always changing. No two trails are exactly the same. Some trails are technical and rocky, some smooth and curvy. Some are over high alpine passes, while others are through the humid lowlands of the Southeast. The longer and deeper you go into the woods or mountains, the more important having the right trail running gear for each environment and situation becomes. For short jaunts through the woods, a pair of shoes, moisture-wicking clothes, and a hydration belt will suffice. However, as your outings get longer and/or the weather becomes more complicated, so will your gear needs. This means a hydration vest, extra layers, and plenty of fuel. At the end of the day, as Jhung sums up so perfectly “the right trail running gear maximizes your confidence, comfort, and enjoyment,” so an investment in the right gear is an investment in your enjoyment.

FAQs

What's the big deal with trail running?

Trail running provides a sense of adventure. A chance to leave everything behind and escape out in the woods or mountains for a while. Every turn brings something new and exciting to experience—a jaw-dropping vista, crystal clear lake, or mountain flowers in full bloom. It’s exercise, but distracting exercise. Instead of focusing on how uncomfortable or out of breath, you may feel, you’re focused on things like your footing, the next turn, or inspiring views. 

How is trail running different from road running?

The main difference lies in the terrain you run over. With road running, the surface is relatively even and smooth. Trail running involves an undulating surface scattered with hazards to trip over, like rocks and roots. Trail running also tends to involve more hills than road running. 

Can I use my road shoes on trails? 

You can, but it’s not ideal. Trail running shoes are equipped with lugs on the bottom for better grip on dirt, loose rock, and mud. Some will also have something called a rock plate embedded in the sole to protect your feet from jagged rocks. These features make running off-road safer and more enjoyable. 

Why is trail running harder than road running?

Road running is a unilateral activity. Meaning you move in one direction—forward. With trail running the path is always changing (up, down, left, right) with obstacles to dodge. This requires not only forward movement but side-to-side and sometimes jumping, ultimately requiring more energy to cover the same distance on the road. 

Why Trust TripSavvy?

Cory Smith is a freelance journalist specializing in running, climbing, and fitness-related content and gear review. He’s been an elite-level runner for over 25 years and a full-time running coach since 2014. 

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