|Somewhere over Chamonix, France|
Of course not, you can certainly wear any old running gear for your trail runs, but clothing designed specifically for trail running may provide benefits you never knew you were missing. Specific design features, plus cuts and fabrics catered to trail running, can make your experience off-road more comfortable than ever.
But first you need to consider what your needs are. Do you run where it is hot and humid? Then light, quick-drying mesh fabrics may be best. Are you out with a backpack for hours or days? Then multi-functional gear that packs down small would be a priority.
Here’s some tips what to look for:
Pockets – pockets are a trail-worthy upgrade that allow you to stow things with easy accessibility from snacks to sunscreen, lip balm and, of course, trash. A designated pocket for trash that can be emptied at the next aid station is a smart idea as dropping a gel packet on the trail is not only an environmental concern but it can also come along with a fine or ejection from the race. Look for a combination of open and zip pockets for optimal carrying.
Straps and skin coverage – if you are wearing a hydration pack on a hot day then be sure the straps on your tank are plenty wide to avoid chafing. When wearing a backpack for the long haul, even in the heat, it may be advisable to wear a top with a rounded collar, which protects your neck and shoulders from not only chafing, but also from the sun. If wearing shorts make sure they stay put on the inner thighs and don’t ride up.
Mesh – perforated materials allow for better breathability which is especially beneficial on your back when wearing a backpack.
Taped Seams – taped seams provide extra protection from the elements by adding an extra touch of waterproofing.
Packability – When choosing a wind- or waterproofing layer, consider the tradeoffs between waterproofness and packability.
And what about trail running shoes? Unlike road running where you keep to a straight line on an even surface for miles, on the trails you encounter switchbacks, rocks, mud, slopes, puddles, streams, roots and more. So your shoes not only need to be more rugged on the soles, with more traction and a bit thicker, having midsoles that are firmer to provide support and stability on softer surfaces (think carbon plating), but also the shoe upper needs to be more robust. Since you may be running through underbrush, climbing over rocks or fallen trees, the fabric should be sturdy and protective, not thin or mesh-like which can be prone to tearing.
Finally, if you’ve got all these aspects of functionality covered, then the only thing left to consider is, ‘Do the clothes make you feel good/look good/run fast?’
And if the ASICS logo is on your gear, then you know you’ve got all the boxes checked. All the photos in this post are from the ASICS Trail Collection 2023 and they were the inspiration for this article because they really do check all the boxes for comfort, fit and functionality. The clothing is perfect attire for a summer mountain race, with a mesh back on the shirt which keeps me cool under the backpack. The high collar on the shirt as well as the inner layer ‘tights’ on the shorts gave chafing no chance. There are zip and slot pockets on the shorts. The material is lightweight and breathable. But do they make me feel/look good and run fast? Well, I finished the race over 2 hours faster than planned and yea, I think I look pretty good in them too. ;)