AMR GEARS UP: Trail Running + Hiking Essentials
By Sarah Bowen Shea
Whether you hike as a lower-impact cross-training exercise, as a fun family activity, as a way to scratch an adventurous itch, or as your main forward-motion exercise (hi, Dimity!), it’s critical to have the right gear. For comfort, safety, injury-prevention, and enjoyment.
Or maybe you hit the trail at a faster pace (although, Dimity does hike mighty fast!): We pulled together the gear for this review with both hikers and trail runners in mind.
Our BAMRbassadors took the trails to test a variety of dirt-ready pieces, from poles and shoes to apparel and accessories. Thanks to their input, we know this gear will serve you well, whatever pace you’re going off-road.
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles
Gotta lead with the raves these poles inspired from our BAMRbassador based in Switzerland (the Alps, come on!) “These poles inspire confidence. Confidence you will summit and confidence that you will traverse the winding downhill safely with the added touch points. You never have to worry about whether you should
bring them on a run or hike because they fold up so small and are so lightweight you can easily pack them away. I’ve even carried them in my backpack for friends who find themselves needing extra stability for sore knees.” Leki is a leader in the hiking pole world, and the brand’s know-how shines in these lightweight accessories.
Pros: Weighing just 195 grams (for us Americans, that’s less than 7 oz.) and made entirely from carbon, “the feather-light feel of the Micro Trail Vario is hard to beat.” The poles are available in 105 to 120 centimeter length. They use the same security system used by elite downhill ski racers, with half gloves labeled “left” and “right” that attach to the foldable poles with a small loop and a clip-in mechanism. To release the pole, simply press your thumb down on the handle and release. “Using half gloves meant pressure spread more evenly over my hand instead of relying on grip strength, which I appreciated,” said our Swiss-residing tester, who also hiked with them along the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland. (Can we be her, please?) The half gloves are soft and breathable and adjustable with a Velcro strap. “I don’t even notice I have them on,” she reported.
Cons: “The clip-in mechanism took some practice to get used to. But mastered, the thumb-press release becomes second nature.”
Take it from a mother runner: “Leki has truly thought of everything and reduced this model down to the bare minimum.”
Oiselle Runner Trucker
This hat puts the fun in functional: It looks ultra-styley while wicking sweat and shielding your face from the sun. This trucker serves up a flattering fit thanks to its unique, lightweight bungee-and-toggle rear adjustment, plus it’s sized for women. (Oiselle is a “by women athletes, for women athletes” brand.)
Pros: “This hat looks—and feels—cool,” reports our tester (okay, it’s me!). “The super-big-gauge mesh on the back allowed for loads of air flow, even on a sunny run in the mid-80s.” The soft front panel, sublimated with almost 10 different nature-related designs, is lightweight and breathes, too. A mesh sweatband draws sweat away from the brow—“and it sucked up cooling water when I doused the hat in a sprinkler I ran by!” The brim folds in half for easy carrying and storage: “I packed it for a cross-country trip, and it popped back to life perfectly.”
Cons: A few brighter-colored options would be welcome, but maybe that’s just me…
Take it from a mother runner: “I’m seriously jones-ing to buy this hat in numerous designs!”
Rab Women’s Nexus Hoody
This is the full-zip hoody you’d want on any long spring, summer, or fall hike: “The weight-to-warmth ratio is perfect.” It’s made from 100% recycled stretch fabric that dries in a flash. “It keeps the chills away during the early morning or late hours—or stops on the summit for a sandwich and lots of pics—but doesn’t take up a ton of room in your pack,” reports tester-Dimity.
Pros: “The fit is great. Not crazy tight, but it also gives form to your figure,” reports Dimity, who at 6′ 3” found the torso and sleeves long enough. Plus, the close-body fit means it sits well under a pack, especially with its low-bulk seams. It has two zippered, mesh-lined pockets, nice for stashing some tissues and a lip balm. This hoody comes in XS to 2XL, and it’s available in a Crayola-worthy color options. Dimity deems it “the perfect hoody for a Ragnar race: a warm layer to put on after you run, while you sleep on a gym floor, and hang in the van. I’d never take it off, except for when I was running.”
Cons: “I wish there were thumbholes, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker.”
Take it from a mother runner: “This feels like a hoody I will use for at least a decade—if not more. It has timeless style and is well designed to last forever.”
Nathan Sports TrailMix 7 Liter Race Pack
This unisex hydration pack lets you customize the fit with adjustable side straps and over-shoulder straps. “This is a great small-size pack perfect for running! I have a small-framed body and overall this fits really well,” says our tester, who uses the Trailmix for trail running, road running, and hiking. “It is very light and versatile because it holds all that I need, including the 2-liter water bladder.” And when our tester writes it holds whatever she needs, she means it: She even stashed a pair of Currex insoles in the pack in case her new trail shoes didn’t offer enough support!
Pros: A big bonus is that the water bladder comes with it—with many other packs, you have to plunk down more plastic for the bladder. And this “water bladder is very easy to fill and secure—it’s never leaked.” Our tester finds the bladder and tube (capped by a quick-release valve) easy to clean and, “after two months of use, I do not have any mold issues,” reports our South Carolina tester. She appreciates the mesh lining on the back of the pack and straps: “It feels breathable.” The pack has two roomy back pockets, plus two quick-access front pockets. This pack is available in two sizes—One Size Fits Most and Expanded.
Cons: “I feel like the straps loosen a bit over time. Not tremendously, just slightly—but I do find myself tightening them on my runs.”
Take it from a mother runner: “ I bought this for trail running, but now also use it for road running. I like having water so convenient and not having to carry a bottle in my hand!
Brooks Cascadia 17 Trail Running Shoes
These shoes are a longtime, beloved member of the Brooks running shoe family. And each iteration—this is #17—keeps getting better. Although our Colorado-based runner has no basis for comparison, as she sheepishly confessed that despite often running in the mountains, she had, “never run in trail shoes,” only her regular road running shoes. We know we aren’t supposed to choose our shoes based on what they look like, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out these kicks come in five sassy colorways—including a badass, limited-edition black/grey/oyster geometric pattern.
Pros: Our new-to-trail-shoes tester immediately fell–in love, that is–with the traction the Cascadia offers: “The trails I run are often wet and muddy, and I have slipped several times before in my regular road running shoes but I didn’t slip once in these!” This sticky traction is courtesy of a new outsole made of 25% recycled content. Also offering underfoot protection: a protective plate in the lightweight midsole that helps the shoe adapt to varied terrain. Our Colorado gal also “loved how stable these shoes felt,” writing they kept her “ankles safe and tucked in by a lot of cushioning.” Available in an array of whole and half sizes 5-11 and 12.
Cons: Size 11.5 gals are SOL on this shoe…
Take it from a mother runner: “If you’re a trail runner, these are a must-add to your kit—I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without them!”
Handful Hello Sunshine UPF Long Sleeve
Let your clothes do some of the work out there: With a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating of 50+—the highest rating a fabric can be awarded—this top blocks at least 98% of the sun’s UV radiation. This light-to-mid-weight (depends on what you’re used to–our tester deems it midweight, but Handful calls it lightweight) top is “wonderfully versatile—I layered it over a tank top on sunrise excursions, and I plan on wearing it under a vest this fall.”
Pros: Made from eco-friendly recycled polyester, the fabric is super-soft with “a slightly brushed feel.” And it stopped burning rays well on an exposed, riverside trail run. If you hike or run with a hydration or other type of pack, you’ll appreciate the top’s drop-shoulder, meaning the seam isn’t stuck under a pack strap, waiting to rub you the wrong way! This top hits the hips, another bonus for pack-wearers. “I like that the cut of the neck is more open than a crew neck yet not too gaping.” Our tester also appreciated the sleeves were generous enough to be easily pushed up for on-the-move cooling. (Although, she does realize that negates the sun protection on the forearms!)
Cons: “The cut is a bit roomy—I considered sizing down.”
Take it from a mother runner: “This top can take you from a sunny afternoon hike to happy hour with friends without stopping.”
Price: $60 (currently on sale for $42)
Tracksmith Off Roads Shorts
Storage is the name of the game with these flattering, 2-in-1 shorts. (Deets to follow.) More sun-protective apparel: These shorts feature a quick-drying, UV-protective shell with a compressive short underneath. The outer layer is a stretch knit, meaning it moves with you yet has the drape of a more traditional running short; the inner short is also knit, yet it fits snugly like a compression short. Our Colorado hiker-tester reported, “They’re snug but not uncomfortable, and I found that I forgot about them once I began moving.” She also raved, “Just slipping these on you can tell they’re a high-quality product. The material and cut are superior to my usual gear.” (If these shorts sound familiar, good memory: We featured them in our May shorts review. Our tester loved them so much, we had to rave about them again—and they’re on sale!)
Pros: These shorts have “second-to-none” back pockets, according to our tester, who explains, “they’re more like stretchable pouches that can hold a surprisingly large amount of items. It easily held my ID, bulky car key, a few gels, and a sandwich! There was still plenty of room for additional items, like a collapsible water bottle or a portable charger for your phone if you were going to be on the trails all day.” (Say it with us: WOW!) The other notable feature is the removable belt: It’s specifically designed with an opening in the back of the shorts so you can tie your shirt to it if you get too warm, or lash on an extra layer if you’re worried about rain or cold.
Cons: Our tester hasn’t found any, in months of wear!
Take it from a mother runner: “Best of all, the pockets ride high, just below your waist and not on your butt cheeks so your gear never bounces. It’s heavenly.”
Did we miss your favorite trail running + hiking essential?
Let us know in the comments below!