If you’re shopping for a trail runner this year, you may be stumped about what to buy him or her. It’s probably pretty easy to wonder how much gear a person really needs to do something as straightforward as going for a run. It’s not as if we’re talking about backpacking in remote wilderness areas, right? Well, you’d be surprised. So, we’re going to help you out with these 10 great gift ideas for trail runners.
If you’re not a trail runner — or if you’re not a runner at all — you may feel out of your element shopping for gifts for trail runners. While it seems so basic to just get up and run, there are a lot of nuances to running successfully, and each runner has a whole lot of little tips, tricks and gear preferences to make their outing as much fun and worthwhile as possible. If a piece of gear helps a trail runner shave time off a run, run safer or generally run more efficiently, it’s probably a good gift idea.
Although there are a lot of gifts for trail runners listed below, we’ve actively chosen to steer clear of shoes. Yes, we love shoes as much as the next runner else does, but shoes are hyper-specific to the individual (not to mention trying to get the correct size). All you have to do is go to a running forum or ultrarunner Facebook group to hear people debating the merits between Hokas, Salomons, Topos or Altras, and how zero drop or certain stack heights might be better for training vs. race day. We definitely have our favorite shoes, but our favorites are not guaranteed to be your favorites — or worse, the ones we like might not be right for your body’s biomechanics and could do more harm than good. So you won’t see a shoe suggestion on this gift list.
Along those lines, we’re also not going to delve into fitness watches, despite the fact that every runner loves to have a great fitness watch. People’s preferences on which is the best GPS watch vary tremendously, but it’s almost important to note that there’s really not a best overall watch — only a best watch for your situation and needs. Some people are runners only, others are runners as well as cyclists or triathletes, some people want music while others simply focus on nature. Even though the Garmin Forerunner 245, Coros APEX Pro or the SUUNTO 7 are all much-loved and well-regarded in the trail running community, we can’t really single out a best one to buy for the trail runner in your life.
Our Picks for the Best Gifts for Trail Runners
Despite those aforementioned caveats, there are several clever and useful gifts for trail runners guaranteed to be a home run — or whatever the trail running equivalent of a home run is. Here are our top 10:
1. Nathan TrailMix 7-Liter Hydration Vest
Hydration vests are preferred alternatives to backpacks, which are often cumbersome while running. And a vest is going to be particularly valuable on longer runs, where aid stations are fewer and farther between, and you’re stuck needing to carry more gear with you. Like many other pieces of gear, there’s some personalization that can be applied when choosing a vest, like whether to have a bladder in the back or bottles up front. No matter what, a great vest should be highly adjustable to avoid chafing and other discomfort. (Read our Guide to Choosing a Hydration System for Running.)
Bearing all this in mind, we’ve landed at the Nathan TrailMix model, which is ultra-lightweight (just 7 ounces empty!), has tons of secure storage pockets and an extremely adjustable fit, and doesn’t chafe. The mesh material does well to wick away sweat and water, and the vest has reflective features built into it for visibility.
2. BUFF Multifunctional Gaiter
When you’re shopping for gifts for trail runners, a neck gaiter is basically perfect. They’re a lot like shoes — there’s no such thing as too many (especially in a COVID-19 world). Gaiters keep dust, sand, and insects out of the mouth, protect the neck and face from sun and wind, and are surprisingly breathable.
BUFF’s multifunctional headwear come in a variety of materials (and some of the newest ones have replaceable filters built into them), but it’s hard to not gravitate toward the Merino wool models. The fabric is soft, wicks moisture, insulates and resists odors naturally, and, of course, wool provides excellent insulation even when wet. With built-in stretch that offers the versatility to be worn 12 different ways, we love BUFF’s products!
3. Rockay Hybrid 2-in-1 Shorts
Say hello to some of the best new running shorts to hit the market, having been released in fall 2020.
We know that being comfortable while trail running is extremely important — right behind being safe — and these shorts deliver on the whole package. These Rockay shorts, available in men’s and women’s versions, are outrageously comfortable and functional. They’re made of breathable recycled material (which we’ve detailed in this article before) and have adjustable waists, plus a genius secure inner pocket and two outer pockets — though we wouldn’t mind to have seen a zippered pocket in these shorts, too.
4. Running Journal & Planner
We’re going to say something that’s downright blasphemous: There are LOTS of things that happen, even if they don’t make it onto Strava … lol. Yes, yes, we love Strava, too, but there are many runners for whom running is a more personal and introspective experience rather than a communal or social one. And that’s where having a journal that’s personal to your experiences comes into play.
There’s substantial evidence that writing things down helps people achieve goals, honor commitments and remember things, and we still love flipping through an old training journal to revisit eating habits leading up to a race or how much faster we’ve become. This particular journal is filled with inspirational prompts, motivational words and uplifting quotes — all with the aim to inspire you to start every morning with a run. It also includes 140 pages of daily log entries to track performance and running conditions, helping you to improve your overall fitness and running ability. It measures 7 inches by 5.5 inches.
5. Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles
It may seem like running with trekking poles would be burdensome, but it’s actually just the opposite. Trekking poles help trail runners conserve energy, keep their balance, and avoid obstacles.
The Distance Z poles are made of 100 percent carbon fiber and are ultra-light, weighing just 9 ounces per pair. They’re also collapsible, rather than telescoping like many other poles. They boast what Black Diamond calls SlideLock technology to improve ease-of-use when locking the pole, as well as a three-section foldable shaft. There is a variety of maximum sizing available, with poles that have a max size of anywhere from 39 to 51 inches and a weight of anywhere from 11.4 ounces to 13.4 ounces, depending which of the four sizing options you choose.
They also have nonslip EVA foam grips with foam extensions deliver excellent grip and handling on steep inclines.
6. Squirrel’s Nut Butter Anti-Chafe Sticks
Chafing is one of the only downsides to trail running. It can happen any time and to anyone, no matter what type of shape you’re in or how often you run. It’s like an unwelcome, painful ninja. Squirrel’s Nut Butter includes only all-natural ingredients, so it won’t irritate your skin. It’s also effective on eczema, blisters, and dry or cracked skin. Choose from a tub or deodorant-style stick, which we prefer because we find that it’s easier to apply.
7. La Sportiva Planet Long-Sleeve Pullover
Trail running is a four-season sport, which means the weather can be pretty much anything. And sometimes it’s a little of everything in the span of just one run! Wearing comfortable, breathable, moisture-wicking layers is crucial, and the La Sportiva Planet long-sleeve checks all the boxes that we’d hope to have from a baselayer. It’s super light and will keep you cool in warm weather and warm in cold weather.
The Planet Long Sleeve is also soft, stretchy and eco-friendly, and it has Polygiene anti-bacterial treatment and a front half zip to help keep you fresh and allow for quick dry performance and excellent breathability. Plus, it’s from La Sportiva, a brand that reliably excels in the trail running and mountain-sport communities.
8. Smartwool's PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew Sock
Remember when you were a kid and you hated getting socks in your Christmas stocking? Well, trail runners have the exact opposite reaction. Like shoes, socks are a fairly personal choice, since people have different needs and preferences in terms of cushioning, compression, height, stretch, etc. If you want to really capture the best in most of those realms, the Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew Sock is going to be an epic pick.
The PhD Pro Endurance was created with the help of ultra-runner Rob Krar, and his vision for it ushered in the minimal and targeted sole cushioning and a new malleolus ankle cushion. Smartwool puts a lot of effort into the flexibility around the ankle with its 4-Degree Elite Fit System, and it offers good movement without sacrificing the stability that we’ve gotten used to with other socks. The durability of this sock is partly thanks to Smartwool’s patent-pending Indestructawool construction method, a technology that has found its way into so many of the company’s footwear products. The sock is 49 percent Merino wool, and it’s blended with nylon, elastane and polyester.
Of course, great trail running socks don’t stop here, and Drymax, XOSKIN and so many others have great pairs too! Check out our list of Top 5 Trail Running Socks for 2021 here.
9. Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack
A dry bag is one of those items people don’t realize the value of until they actually need it. In the case of trail runners, that means getting unexpectedly poured on and having valuables get soaked. Having a small dry bag to quickly throw your phone and snacks into when inclement weather rolls in is well worthwhile.
The Sea to Summit sack is made of lightweight 70D nylon with a polyurethane waterproof coating. It measure a bit over 9 inches in length and weighs just 1.3 ounces.
10. Vert.run Trail Running Training Subscription
Going a bit off grid with this suggestion, but really, aren’t those the best kinds of gifts?
Vert.run is an online training platform for trail running and ultramarathons. Its unique “smart” training plans allow runners of all levels to train safely and sustainably. You can get personal tips, motivation and a training plan designed by world class athletes, and with the premium membership, you get regular feedback and customization to help you hit your goals. The programs include “Light speed for trail running,” “Train for an ultramarathon while living in the city,” “Build your physical + mental endurance” and so much more.
The training plan are 12 weeks long, and are designed to build your trail skills safely and correctly. ActionHub’s editor used one of the training plans for his first trail half marathon race and loved the program!
Taryn Shorr is an avid outdoor enthusiast, frequent traveler, and wannabe photographer based in southern Arizona. She lives for the opportunity to explore The Great Outdoors, both at home and in new destinations, and firmly believes that nature is a form of both therapy and religion.
Feature image courtesy of Vert.run
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