When it comes to trail running you are much more exposed to the elements. Be prepared - you are going to get muddy and wet. Your clothing will snag on low-hanging branches and will get covered in a fine layer of dust. You could possibly getting caught in a downpour, so you need to accept that your clothes will possibly not come out looking the same as they went in. This is not your local gym, where you need to dress up and look the part to get noticed. You are out in nature on the trail, building up the kilometres. No one is going to be checking out what you are wearing and apart from your running partner you are unlikely to see a lot of other people. And if you do I think they will rather be checking out the scenery.
Having the right gear means you will always be ready for what the trail may decide to throw at you. Below are some of the necessities when heading out on the trail.
Trail-specific running shoes: The obvious first item that you will need are some shoes. There are many kinds out there and you need to find the ones that best suit you. Trail-specific running shoes have deeper lugs which will offer better grip and stability on the trail. A stiffer sole and hidden plates will offer more foot protection and avoid your feet getting bruised when running over rocks and roots.
Padded tail-running socks: These are an absolute blessing and will ensure your feet nice and padded in all the right places. Don't get me wrong your feet are still going to be sore after your run, however these socks will reduce that soreness.
Clothing: So when it comes to choosing the gear that you will be hitting the trail in, choose something more durable and snag-resistant. Like I said you will be running through water, mud and getting snagged on branches etc. so choose some items of clothing that are made from some tougher fabrics.
Layer it up. Even though you may be starting out your run when it is icy cold, you are undoubtedly going to warm up. The worst thing is when you reach this point and have nothing to take off because you are stuck in a single, thick, long-sleeve top and the thought of staying in it makes you want to pass out. It's better to wear the long-sleeve top with a short-sleeve top over. So that when you are out on the trail, the sweat is running down your spine and the need arises for you to remove an item of clothing you are able to do so. Even if it has warmed up dramatically and you are required to strip down to your sports bra (for the girls) before putting on the short-sleeved top you will learn to do the manoeuvre very quickly.
Lightweight jacket: Depending on whether you are hitting the trail in summer or winter, a lightweight jacket is definitely a necessity. Whether you stick it into your backpack during your run, to warm up if you get stuck in a downpour or if you leave it in the car to put on when your body starts cooling down after your run, it's definitely worthwhile bringing along.
Hat, sunscreen and sunglasses: Whether you are going on a long or short run, you are likely to be out in the sun for a couple of hours, so it is incredibly important to add these to items to the list. You can apply the sunscreen before you leave or if you are going to be out on the trail for a few hours, bring it along so that you can reapply after an hour or so.
Many trail runners spurn the use of sunglasses, however with increased information about the damage that UV rays can do, especially at higher altitudes (where us trail runners tend to visit) it is incredibly important to include with the mandatory gear.
Hydration pack: There are various types out there and you will be able to find one that suits you best. Not only will it keep you hydrated, with the ability to carry at least 750ml of water, but with it's extra pockets you can carry all your snacks and extra clothing that you end up taking off once you warm up.
In the cooler months: When running in winter, it's not only important to adapt your usual trail running clothing accordingly, but you may also need to add some extras to your usual gear. These can include gloves, to avoid your poor fingers from freezing, and a buff to keep your ears warm on those early, freezing mornings.
These are the necessities, however there are plenty of items that you can find out there that could possibly enhance your trail running experience.