Winter Essentials For Trail & Ultra Runners

This guide is written primarily for my running club (Bristol Trail Runners) but is a useful guide to any athletes preparing to train through the winter in the UK. We are expecting lots of rain, mud, ice and snow in some parts making our gear choices important for the winter months.

Here is the gear that I use and recommend in the winter for safety, comfort and effectiveness of training. You don't particularly need it all for every run, and some of it you'll only need for extreme conditions or long days, but you can pick and choose what recommendations suit you.

I am not sponsored by any of the brands listed below.

A Good Head Torch

This is an extremely important piece of kit in your winter trail running bag. As the days get shorter, you may find yourself running in the darkness meaning you need a head torch you can rely on.

For a while, I used the Black Diamond head torches, and as much as I love their climbing equipment, their head torches don't live up to the standard. I went through three torches in two years and they all stopped working.

I now use the Petzl Swift headlamp because of its simple yet diverse usability. It has reactive lighting meaning it reacts to your surroundings and gets brighter or dimmer as a result. You can also turn this off when you want it on full brightness. I have been using this headlamp for a year and it is still good as new, meaning it is probably a lot more durable than the BD headlamps.

Another perk is that it comes with a Petzl battery, and you can order spare batteries to easily swap out on the go.

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Grippy Trail Running Shoes

For the past couple of years, I have always used the same winter trail running shoe. The Inov-8 X Talon range has aggressive grip to carry you through the muddiest situations. The lugs are a perfect size meaning they are also suitable for non-muddy trails.

What X talon shoe you use depends on the distances you are running and how much protection you want.

For short runs/minimum protection but a lighter shoe, choose the X Talon 210

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For longer runs/a little more protection and my personal favourite, choose the X Talon 255

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A Foil Blanket

You should always carry a foil blanket through the winter months on the trails. If you are running in a group, chuck two or three in your bag. If one of you gets hurt, it could be hours before you are rescued. The cold could therefore become a bigger emergency than the injury or accident. For the sake of £3.99, a good foil blanket could save your life or your running buddies life. I recommend keeping one on you at all times.

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My friend James made me very jealous when we were running in the Lake District in blistering cold rain. When it stopped raining, he pulled out a little dry bag which contained a dry hat, dry gloves and a dry buff, while I was drenched and cold. Since then, I have never gone out in the mountains without one. If you get a shower and the weather improves, you can swap your wet accessories for dry ones.

They are also handy if your phone or other gadgets are not waterproof.

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Waterproof Jacket

The quality requirements of your waterproof jacket depend on what you are doing. If you are running in the mountains or doing runs over two hours, it is important to stay warm and dry in the winter. My favourite jacket (by far) is the Gore Wear Shakedry jacket. I have tried many jackets by Montane, Inov8, Salomon and other brands and none of them come close.

The Shakedry keeps you bone dry, while it is also thin and breathable enough that you can wear it on warmer rainy days and not get too hot.

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Base Layer

Base layers keep you warm in the winter months, and I find mine coming out of the wardrobe most days. I usually wear the top half through most of the winter, while I only really use the bottoms when it's below 0oc.

As far as brands go, I find the Under Armour ones fine, although I have not tried many so feel free to experiment with this one.

Waterproof Gloves

Another lifesaver on super cold and wet days is a pair of waterproof gloves. The Sealskinz gloves are excellent for this. They are the perfect companion for any serious trail runner or mountain runner in the UK. Say goodbye to cold, wet hands.

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Warm Hat

Winter running hats are hard to choose. Some of them are too hot, some are too cold. There are two that I recommend for trail runners depending on what weather you are running in and the duration of your outing.

The Sealskinz waterproof hat is great for longer days or days in extreme weather, keeping your head warm and dry.

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The Inov-8 Train Elite Beanie is a great hat for shorter days or less extreme winter weather. It is not waterproof.

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Mini Flask

Another top tip from my wise friend James! This is another one of those things that made me jealous on our very wet and cold Lake District trip. You may have never considered carrying a flask on a run but if you're doing a full day in the mountains or on the trails and it's cold, you'll love a small soup, tea or coffee. These flasks are cheap, light and are 'bad enough' that they cool down just the right amount to drink after a few hours.

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Shoe Dryer

This is a bonus item that has to be my purchase of the year this winter! I was fed up with putting wet and muddy trail running shoes on every day, and did some research into shoe care. Now, I scrub off my trail shoes after every run under a running tap with a brush, then pop them on this awesome shoe dryer to dry in around 2 hours. Say goodbye to gross trail running shoes. Good shoe care also avoids deterioration.

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If you have any ideas that I have missed, please leave a comment below.

Have you considered hiring a running coach to improve your performance and reach your running goals in 2022? I al looking for athletes to sign up to my coaching roster in the new year. Find out more here.

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