Whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or a newbie, you can benefit from knowing the essentials you’ll need for the trail. Don’t ever get caught with your pants down — both metaphorically and literally (we’ve all had to make a trailside stop, okay). From proper shoes to medical alert jewelry to snacks and water, here are some smart accessories you should keep at your side.
1. Trail running shoes
There’s more to trail running shoes than you may think. Soft-trail, gravel, mountains, arch support and ankle gaiters — the options are vast and, with a little research, you can find the perfect shoe for you.
2. Merino wool socks
Cotton socks lead to blisters, sweaty shoes and more. Gross. Merino wool is naturally moisture-wicking and comfortable, meaning your feet will be kept safe whether you’re out for 30 minutes or four hours.
3. Moisture-wicking clothing
Along with merino wool socks, you should consider getting some moisture-wicking clothing, too. Every runner has experienced chafed nips, and they know how painful they are — whether when taking off your shirt or jumping in the shower.
4. Outdoor layers
Out running in the mountains? Don’t get caught at the top of the ridge without a wind jacket and wind pants. Out on the trail and a sudden downpour strikes? Stay as dry as possible by bringing along a wind and waterproof jacket. (Note: Water-resistant is different. Trust us.)
You might think a trail run is shorter than it is. Then, all of a sudden, the sun is going down and you’ve still got miles to go. Make sure you have a headlamp stored away inside your trail pack. It will ensure that you have a light whenever you need one.
6. Trekking poles
Trekking poles go a long way to maintaining your comfort while out on the trail. This is especially true if you’re out running some aggressive, steep hills or the mountains. Steep downhills are especially tough on the quadriceps. After enough time, that can lead to serious fatigue that can make it difficult to run at all. Trekking poles add some additional support when you need it most.
7. Hydration bottles or pack
What’s the one thing you do while running? You sweat. Enough sweating will eventually lead to dehydration. You might think you’re as hydrated as can be, but you shouldn’t test your luck. The right water bottle or hydration pack makes it easy to stay hydrated while on the trail.
8. GPS watch
GPS watches are often preferred by runners as they make it easy to track runs, from duration to mileage to per-mile pace to elevation climbed. But they can serve another purpose. Family members and friends can track your whereabouts while you’re out in the woods, especially if you’re running long distances or spending a day in the mountains. That can be essential if you end up injured at any point along the trail and cannot reach out by phone.
9. Compass and trail map
What do you do if your GPS watch runs out of battery or loses its signal? Don’t be without a map. A compass and trail map will guide you along the trail, in the event that anything goes awry.
10. Solar charger
Find that your cell phone’s battery has drained without you ever noticing? Don’t be without a charge when you need to check a map or text a friend. A portable, solar charger makes it easy to carry a charge wherever you go. You can even attach it to the outside of your pack so you can collect a charge while out running on the trail.
11. Medical alert jewelry
Medical alert jewelry should be a must for any runner. If you don’t think you’ll be able to comfortably carry your state-mandated ID on you, you should wear an ID bracelet. It allows you to easily carry your personal and medical information in the event you have an accident or a medical emergency. Apple Watch medical alert bracelets are a great option for anyone already wearing a watch to track their mileage.
12. Carb- and salt-loaded snacks
You’ll never know how bad you should have brought along food until you’re without it and starving. Better yet, you’ll want to do all you can to avoid hitting the wall — the dreaded build up of lactic acid and fatigue brought on by lack of water, carbs and sodium. Store some easy-to-carry gels and snacks in your pack to always have something to chew on.
13. Anti-chafing cream
Just trust us on this one. It can be used on your feet, but will serve you far better when used on other personal spaces. Don’t let your skin get raw. You’ll thank us later. We swear.
A whistle might sound like a pretty simple accessory, but it can be essential in the event of an accident. Twist an ankle or fall and break a bone? Blow your whistle until someone nearby arrives to offer you help. Better yet, you can use your whistle to alert nearby animals of your presence, such as local bears. If you’re worried about the latter, you can even consider attaching a bell to your pack to make enough noise to alert wild animals.
15. Cash or credit card
Ever find yourself wandering off trail and ending up in a small town, far from the trailhead — and thus your vehicle? It’s no fun, especially if you’re without food and water. Make sure to bring along some cash or a credit card to provide yourself with the basics — sustenance and travel — in case you need it. Store your cards on your smartphone or Apple Watch if you don’t feel like carrying them along with you.