Trail running is a beautifully simple sport. Over the past 15 years, I’ve refined what I think is the perfect kit for summer mountain running. This is what I take for half-day adventures, whether I’m in the UK or the Alps
Words Sarah Stirling
Trail running is a sport filled to the brim with quirky heroes. Take Catalan Kilian Jornet, who sometimes waits for friends to catch up in races and then still seems to win everything. Kilian’s actually just jogged up Everest in 17 hours too, making the fastest-known ascent to date.
Or Nepali Mira Rai, who escaped poverty by signing up to be a child soldier, then accidentally entered her first 50k and won it, despite having no water and never having run that distance before. She is a massive inspiration to women in a male-dominated society.
Sarah takes to the hills | Photo: Rob Grew
The British trail running scene is a particularly special branch, populated by a lineage of folksy, under-the-radar heroes, described aptly by writer Robert Macfarlane as a cross between Greek Gods and Marvel Superhero comic stars. When Bob Graham ran his legendary round of Lake District tops in 1932, for example, he did so ‘wearing a pyjama top and plimsolls and eating mainly boiled eggs.’
In modern times, we have modest Steve Birkinshaw, who ran 12 mountain marathons – four times the height of Everest – in under a week to raise money for charity back in 2014. He’s incredibly quiet, but get him in a nightclub and he turns into a dance floor demon on fell-running legs.
And 49-year-old breast cancer survivor Nicky Spinks, who earlier this year became the fastest person to run a DOUBLE Bob Graham round: 132 miles and around 54,000 feet of ascent in 45 hours and 30 minutes, mostly fuelled by rice pudding, fruit salads and baked beans.
So I’m proud to call this my sport. Not just because I have this bunch to look up to, but for many reasons. Like, it’s such a portable hobby: all you need is shoes! And it’s a fun way to explore as much or as little terrain as you like. There are loads of races around the world, from vertical Ks to ultra marathons. Trail running is also a great way to ‘compost your thoughts.’
Having been a gear editor for years, other women often ask me for trail running kit advice, so here it is.
Top trail running kit for women
Salomon Ultra Sense Shoes
These fit even narrow feet like a comfy glove, and the lacing system is brilliant: they never come undone. It’s particularly hard to know what shoes to wear trail running in the British hills, where you get such a mix of rocky, technical terrain and boggy wet stuff, but these offer a good compromise in terms of the size of the lugs.
I prefer minimalist shoes as I like to be close to the ground to prevent ankle twisting, and I find they help me run more sensitively. I think these have the perfect cushioning for even long days out.
Patagonia Strider Skort
I love a good skort. It’s basically a pair of stretchy shorts covered by a short skirt, which allows you to speed past others with the ultimate in brief modesty — the lycra shorts prevent anyone seeing your pants, while the skirt is flattering and adds a bit more coverage.
Salomon Advanced Skin Belt
Salomon recently updated this bumbag. Honestly I preferred the old version, which I totally wore out, but the new one’s still good! I can fit everything I need for a half day’s running in the mix of zipped pockets and extremely stretchy mesh pockets. I pack into it: a merino base layer and Inov-8 jacket, water in a soft flask, a couple of snacks, a phone, and depending on conditions maybe also suncream, a buff and light gloves or a rollaway peaked cap.
The North Face No-Bounce Bra
I like the no-nonsense styling and good level of coverage of this cropped bra top. I can take off my t-shirt and run in this if it gets hot, without worrying about startling anyone with my lack of decorum as I trot past. I’d say it’s no-bounce promise holds true for A-B cup ladies. I chuck an extremely light synthetic vest over the top.
Inov-8 Windshell Windproof Jacket
This jacket keeps out wind and showers, weighs less than a couple of muesli bars (96g), and is designed specifically for running. There are vented zones under the arms and back, the hood rolls away and doesn’t flap, and there are thumb loops to keep your hands a bit warmer. It also packs into its pocket for easy storage in the bumbag.
Icebreaker Quantum Long Sleeve Zip Hood
This Merino base layer offers the perfect balance of comfort and mobility. I chuck it on for summit pushes and evening descents. Specifically designed for running, it has mesh under the arms for breathability, a shaped hood for warmth and protection, reflective details and a zipped chest pocket with a media cord port, plus a dropped hem for added coverage.