I love trail running. Especially in the mountains. I haven’t always been a runner, but I dabbled as a kid. I’d go through multi-week phases months (or even years) apart, but I remember often feeling the urge to move fast on foot. It’s a feeling that’s tough to beat, flying downhill with the wind in your face, sweat cooling as you move ahead faster than your feet should allow. You feel powerful, like Superman. And the liberating feeling you get when you break through the “runner’s wall” is contagious. But it’s not always fun. In fact, sometimes it really sucks and I swear I must be masochistic, but it’s always worth it in the end. No matter how hard it is to get out of bed and force your feet to move out the door, especially when it’s cold and/or dark, the final result is always worthy of the initial suffering.
It’s an underestimated mode of transport, moving by foot. You may not travel as fast as you would on a bike or in a truck, but you can access more terrain and you’re much more nimble. Spontaneous decisions are more accepted by feet than by tires, and it’s more fun, in my opinion, to use my own strength, balance and agility to propel myself forward over varied terrain, even if it requires exerting tons of energy. Actually, that’s one of the best parts.
I know there are readers out there who are relating to this. It’s those of you whom I’d like to address. I am going to list off the trail running gear I have grown to love the past year living in Lake Tahoe, and I will do so as a recommendation. Yes, I work in a retail environment, yes, my goal in the workplace is to move gear, and yes, Tahoe Mountain Sports carries several of these products. Still, this is not solely a sales pitch. It’s an honest review about the trail running gear I use on a regular basis. Still, I’m not exactly low on options, so this review is not to be taken lightly. I could use pretty much any products on the market, but if you see me running around Tahoe I’ll likely be wearing more than one of these items:
First off, the shoes. I rotate through several pairs of running shoes, depending on the terrain. My Salomon S-Lab trail runners are comfortable miles-on-end, thanks to their seamless upper construction, stretchy toe-box and plush cushioning under-foot. They hug the foot more securely than I’ve felt with other shoes, and the heel-cup holds your foot in place and guides it straight forward to save you energy you’d normally exert perfecting your stride. I’m somewhere between a minimalist and a heel-striker; over the past two years I’ve trained my feet to land more naturally. I love the comfortable medium the S-Lab provides. These Salomon trail running shoes are ideal for my preferred style of mixed terrain, except for overnight trips through Desolation Wilderness, which is mostly granite under-foot so the feet require more protection on longer runs. I love the Salomon lacing system because they’re efficient and they tuck away into the tongue so I don’t have to worry about snagging them on branches. Plus, bright red shoes are ridiculously loud and…awesome.
My midlayer fleece from The North Face is probably my favorite layering piece for winter, and it makes a great top in the spring and fall. When you sweat, FlashDry Technology works to spread the moisture out over a broader surface area so it evaporates faster. The “ninja hood”, as I like to call it, covers all but the eyes and the bridge of the nose, but the inner lining and the collar are soft and the zipper doesn’t chafe the chin, so it’s actually quite comfortable to zip this softshell up all the way. The stretch fabric used throughout the jacket moves with your body when reaching for rocks holds, pack straps or pockets, and the thumbholes in the sleeves help cover enough of the hands to keep you warm without gloves. When winter really hits, I wear Mountain Hardwear winter liner gloves that work with my smartphone’s touchscreen so I can use my camera and send texts/emails without freezing my phalanges.
Switch Lynx Magnetic Interchangeable Polarized Sunglasses – There are several reasons I am fond of my Switch sunglasses and I recommend them to so many people that I know, meet or talk to in the shop. 1) They stay on my face during the toughest, sweatiest workouts, 2) They look cool, and they’re lightweight and comfortable – on everyone I’ve had try them on, and 3) They come with an extra pair of low-light lenses in a compact carrying case! Having low-light lenses is crucial for even more reasons than having Switch sunglasses. Switch just makes it incredibly easy to swap your lenses on-the-move.
Why wear sunglasses when the sun’s not bright? The same reason you still wear sunscreen at altitude, even on grey days: protection from UV rays! But I have more reasons to wear low-light lenses when it’s not bright outside: 1) Bikes (and dogs) ahead of you on the trail kick up dust, making it difficult, and dangerous, to maneuver between trees and rocks, 2) Branches and bugs you encounter on the trail can ruin your run/ride. A scratched cornea was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, 3) I’m excited to use these for backcountry touring in winter. Before the sun rises, when the wind is howling and you’re working hard enough that wearing goggles means overheating, I know I’ll be stoked on my Switch low-light lenses. Then when the sun does come up I can quickly swap them out for the brights without having to stop skinning. Click here for more information about Switch Magnetic Sunglasses.
Smartwool Men’s PhD Run Socks – I’m beginning to think I’m not alone in my opinion about Smartwool socks. I would wear them every day if I could. Not just running socks, either. They’re my favorite hiking socks, running socks and snowboarding socks. Smartwool just does it right. I’ve heard from competitors that they use lower-quality Merino wool, but those rumors haven’t phased me because of the experience I’ve personally had with them. They stay where they should on my feet and they don’t bunch up, they dry fast so I don’t have to worry about wearing waterproof shoes, and…they’re really comfortable. Plus, this year they came out with some sweet new color options like bright blue and green for guys and bright pink and baby blue for ladies. I only let the rim of the ankle show on my running socks because I like the feel of the micro run sock the most, but they still gives off a cool kind of flare down at your feet.
Calf Compression Sleeves – I have two pairs of these and I haven’t yet decided which I like more: Salomon or 2XU. Compression technology was new to me last year, but I’ve since become a big fan. They really help keep your body composition when you get tired and your form begins to suffer, they keep your legs warm in colder weather, and they help circulate blood to promote muscle activity as well as speed recovery times. Click here for more information about the benefits of compression clothing. The Salomon Calf Compressors have seen more miles and I’ve been stoked on them since spring, but the 2XU Calf Compressors I picked up a few weeks still feel new and are really snug around my leg. Lately I’ve been wearing the 2XU calf sleeves while running, then switched into the Salomon pair to aid with muscle recovery.
Mountain Hardwear Cool Q Zero Training Visor – The technology behind the fabrics in this headband aren’t insanely technical, but I’m still going to put them in a nutshell: it simultaneously dries and cools your sweat. I’ve yet to feel a bead of sweat escape from under this visor, so it’s doing its job in the moisture-management department. As for the cooling effect, I didn’t notice it the first few runs. In fact, the first run I took it on I was with a Mountain Hardwear sales rep, and when he asked about its performance I had to say I couldn’t tell a difference. But then I broke it in on some longer distances in higher temperatures, and it proved its worth in my trail running quiver. I was never a visor kind of guy, either. In fact, I can’t recall ever wearing a visor until I got this Cool Q Zero visor. And it was white when I first got it. Now it’s a combo of grey from dirty sweat and brown from actual dirt. But I’ll tell you what: it performs better than I thought a hat could, and when I put it on, it looks damn good.
Freestyle Shark Classic Watch – A basic waterproof black watch with stopwatch and timer. That’s all I wanted, and this one’s perfect. Well, I really wanted one the same size but with a pedometer and altimeter and within my price range, but as far as I know they don’t exist. This Freestyle watch is slim and unobtrusive, and doesn’t get caught in my sleeves like other bulky sports watches have in the past. And at $59.95 with a lifetime warranty, you can’t go wrong.
Saxx Underwear – If I had more money I would have one pair SAXX boxer briefs of these for every day of the week. No kidding – for workouts or for work, moving all day or sitting for hours at a time, these are the most comfortable underwear I’ve ever worn. They have great stretch and they work well to manage moisture, but the best part is in the name. They’ve got a sack for your sack. A pouch for your pouch. It’s a discrete, soft fabric lining in the crotch that holds your stuff in place. And it’s awesome. I never thought I could be so stoked on a pair of men’s underwear. I recommend you get some a.s.a.p. because once people catch on these products will fly off the shelves. My personal favorite SAXX for sports are the Kinetic boxers, and my everyday pairs for the office are the SAXX Blacksheep and Ultra Modern Fit boxers.
Terramar Gym Shorts – These basic black gym shorts are made of lightweight polyester so they don’t weigh me down, even when wet, and they dry fast. Two simple pockets hold my chapstick or other small items and a small hideaway key pocket inside the waistband is convenient, but usually only in cities or at popular trailheads where I don’t feel safe leaving my car unlocked. I believe I found these shorts at a thrift store for two bucks about four years ago. What a come-up!
Salomon 30-liter Backpack – I wish I could say more about this Salomon backpack, but it hasn’t come out yet and I promised I wouldn’t leak much. However, I will say this: at 30 liters of volume, it’s perfect for a lightweight overnight. Even when stuffed to the brim, the foam back molded to my shoulder blades and the hip belt kept the pack from swaying and putting me off-balance. Ultralight fans, be on the lookout for a new pack from Salomon that’s ideal for fastpacking and overnight runs. Check out everything I can fit in this badhawk and still carry a comfortable pack-load for running:
Thanks to Rick Saez of Rick Saez Photography for the killer shots taken on the Pacific Crest Trail just west of Lake Tahoe.