So, you LOVE running but hitting the tarmac is getting a little… monotonous. You’ve ticked the 10, 12 and 21km race box already and now you’re after something a bit more challenging.
Enter trail running.
I, like you, got a bit bored with pounding the pavement and was looking for a new challenge. I was a little clueless when I got into trail running but soon found my “trail running feet” so to speak when I joined my husband who was training for the UTCT — Ultra-Tail Cape Town — 100km at the time. Fast-forward two years and I’ve decided to take on UTCT as part of my Women’s Health #WHGetsFit challenge (side note: you can follow my journey here).
Needless to say I’ve picked up a few tips when it comes to running off-road, so if you’ve been toying with the idea of venturing onto the trails for some time, but aren’t quite sure where to start when it comes to all that off-road gear (like do you really need special shoes?!), then you’ve come to the right place. Keep on scrollin’.
I’ve put together my “lust-list” of gear essentials that’ll help you to get started on your journey this winter.
Listen, we all know that solid sneakers are a must for all runners. When you add rocks, branches, steep ascents (hello, Platteklip Gorge!) and some seriously mean declines into the mix you REALLY do need a sturdy pair of shoes that’ll keep your feet comfortable — and you upright.
The Salomon Trailster W (R1 299) shoe is perfect for those who are just getting into trail running. It’s lightweight without compromising on durability, which means no ‘heavy’ legs for you. It also has great grip all round thanks to the unique lug pattern. Most important…it is super comfortable on the foot. You could easily run short distance races — like the Winter Trail Series — in these shoes. Did I mention that they happen to be on sale right now? Score!
If you’re looking for something that can handle more rugged terrain, then the Salomon Speedcross 5 W (R2 199) is a solid bet. This iconic shoe is built for uneven, soft (read: sticky, muddy) and soft surfaces.
If you’ve ever had a bilster before, you know full-well that it totally sucks. Don’t make the newbie mistake of thinking that those old, thin socks with the hole are going to get you through a trail run. Trust me, they won’t and you will be sorry. When you run off-road your feet can move a bit inside your shoes, so it’s really important to keep them cushioned and comfortable.
Repeat after me — “protect those precious toes at all costs!” The FALKE Performace Advance ATR All Terrain Socks (R179) are reinforced with mesh insets in the heel and toe cap so your tootsies can breathe. They’re cushioned for comfort (hello, gentle arch support) and are made with a special moisture-wicking Dynamix Yarn, which is a total life-saver when you hit that rockier terrain.
Another good option is the Salomon Sense (R89) — they have a ventilated mesh panel for breathability and are made from quick-drying fabric so seriously sweaty feet on a long run definitely isn’t a problem. If you’re worried about getting scraped or cut up by that mountain vegetation, then go for a slightly longer sock — like the ankle-length Salomon XA Sock (R120) or the knee-length FALKE Performance Long Vitalizer Socks (R200).
Running without a water reserve is one of the biggest rookie errors you can make! I’ll admit that I made this mistake when I entered my first trail race. Mountain weather can be unpredictable at the best of times and the last thing you want is to find youself in a tricky situation without any water. This is one of the reasons why hydration packs are compulsory for all the big local and international races, like UTCT for example. Always respect the mountain.
The Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set W (R2 399) vest has been designed specifically for women and has a unique shape that eliminates pressure on the breasts. The hydration flasks have been specifically positioned below the chest so you won’t experience any chafe.
Two other great options are the Camelbak 2018 Octane XCT Hydration 2L Pack (R1 549) and the Thule Vital 3L (R1 519) hydration pack — both have hands-free hydration systems so that you don’t have to stop to get that H2O in. They’re lightweight and have enough space to store your snacks, your phone and essential clothing like a waterproof jacket. Note: The Thule pack is technically for cycling however you can use it for trail running, too and it also happens to be on sale right now!
If you’re not keen on going the whole hog with a hydration pack, then a hydration belt — like the First Ascent Ultralight Wasp 600 Running Belt (R799) — is a good alternative.
I mean, this is a no-brainer really — it gets wet (and windy!) out there in winter. Trust me, you’ll be ever so greatful if you have a solid waterproof jacket on hand, because nothing ruins a run faster than hypothermia!
The adidas Terrex W Wandertag 2Layer Hooded Jacket (R1 699) has been designed to withstand some seriously nasty weather conditions. It’s made from Climaproof material which helps shield you from wind (not that you’d really want to be running in gale-force winds mind you) and it’s 100% waterproof so you won’t get competely drenched.
Another great option is the First Ascent Women’s Xtrail Jacket (R1 499), which has underarm ventilation so your skin can breathe, plus it is feather-light and fits easily into your hydration pack (even if your pack is at max capacity with water).
The equally light Salomon Lightening Race Waterproof Jackets (R1 699) has been specifically designed to handle ultra races (and whatever the elements throw at you) — just keep in mind that the design has been streamlined for racing so there are no pockets or pouches for storage.
If you’re planning on going for early morning or after-work runs, then you’ll need a proper headlamp (ie. not the torch on your smart phone). Why a headlamp? Well, running in the dark without a light would not only be a logistical challenge, but it would also be downright foolish.
Personally, if you’re a trail running newbie go for something simple like the Black Diamond SpotLite160 (R519). This little headlamp is the definition of “dynamite comes in small packages”. It’s light and compact yet powerful for its size, with a max illumination distance of 60m (160 lumens of brightess). The casing is also waterproof, so if you are caught in a downpour your light will keep on going strong. Plus, it won’t break the bank!
Another affordable option for a little pre-dawn or post-dusk action is the compact Petzl Tikka Headlamp (R499), which has three simple but effective lighting modes (on the highest setting, the beam will reach up to 80m).
If you’re really looking to invest in your time on the trails, then opt for a light which has at least 300 lumens like the Black Diamond Icon (R1 750). This powerful 500 lumen headlamp is waterproof, dust-proof and shines bright for up to 70 hours!