The only think you need to start running is a pair of shoes, or so the famous saying goes. Well, sure, but if you start trail running you will definitely need more than just a pair of shoes. As a long time trail runner, I’ve done my fair share of testing and trialing trail running gear. Below, I’m sharing my ‘capsule trail running kit’- the absolute must-haves to hit the trails.
You might see some runners carrying almost nothing or even running topless. Pay them no heed. They may have been training for years, or perhaps they are elite athletes. While we recommend not going too gear crazy (you really don’t need much- save the specialty sunscreen and additional compression for later down the line), investing in the items listed below will help ensure your trail running journey is off to a smooth, supported start. All of the items mentioned are suitable for short and medium distance running in the daytime, are functional, and are the minimum you need to take with you so as to not slow you down.
1) Get yourself a trail backpack
A good trail backpack is the perfect gift for anyone moving to Hong Kong. Small, functional and comfortable, a decent backpack will save you energy and make your outdoor fitness experience pleasant! I got my first vest long before buying the right shoes and it made a big difference compared to conventional backpacks. Brands you’ll want to check out: Ultimate Direction, Oxsitis, Salomon and Osprey. Word of caution: it may take you a fair few trials and errors to find the right one for you, but hey, that’s part of the journey.
2) Hydration needs: soft flasks and reservoirs
Water is life, and proper hydration is key for us trail runners. Make sure you take at least 500 ml for a short run (up to 5km) and at least 1-1.5 litres for longer runs. Anything above 3 hours of running means you need to carry even more water or you need to plan your route so that you can stop and refill your water flask. Some backpacks come with 2-3 litre reservoirs already or you can get the reservoirs separately- soft flasks are smaller and easier to refill, while reservoirs give a lighter weight feeling as you carry them in a backpack.
3. Invest in a pair or two of excellent shoes
It took me 2.5 toenails to realize the importance of proper trail shoes. Do not, I repeat, do not use your casual sneakers, not even the road running ones. If you don’t want to get injured, invest in the right shoes with the right grip. How to choose the best shoes? This is the tricky part as everyone’s feet and legs are different – ideally, get 2-3 pairs from different brands and change them up: use one for easy runs, another for long distance, and a third for technical terrain. Excellent pro brands to look at include Hoka One One, Salomon, Topo, Altra and Brooks. Choose a shop where you can get a professional advice from fellow trail runners – Gone Running in Wan Chai, Lantau Base Camp in Mui Wo or Cam2 Sport in Yau Ma Tei are my picks for Hong Kong.
4. Functional apparel is worth it
You most likely have these at home already but just in case you don’t: you will definitely need a pair of shorts, socks, a T-shirt and a hat to protect you from the sun (plus a sports bra for women). I started off with what I had already but eventually, I wanted to get so-called “technical” clothing, meaning apparel made from materials that are breathable, anti-chaffing (very relevant for bras!), durable and light. The most favoured brands used by the runners I know in Hong Kong and across Asia are The North Face, 2XU, Uglow, Salomon, Nike and Lululemon.
The more you get into trail running, the more gadgets and items you will add to your capsule: a GPS watch, sunglasses, a head torch for night trails, different types of ‘power’ foods, compression socks, trekking poles…I still don’t have the latter despite having climbed 46,934 metres of elevation in 2020 alone- none of this is a must-have.
Famous last words: maybe the most important ‘gear’ to carry on the trails is your smile! We tend to overcomplicate things and the whole idea of this sport is to appreciate nature and enjoy every moment outdoors.
Lead image designed by Green Queen Media, courtesy of Salomon/Fitly/Osprey.