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The Race Day Checklist for Trail Runners

Trail running is a thrilling adventure sport that combines the beauty of nature with the challenge of navigating varied terrain. 

Whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or preparing for your first race, being well-equipped with the right essentials can make all the difference. Proper gear ensures your comfort and safety, while mid-race fueling is crucial for maintaining your energy levels and performance.

Here’s what you can expect to learn in this article:

  • Essential trail running gear for race day
  • How to stay energized and hydrated during trail running races


Essential Trail Running Gear for Race Day

The unpredictable nature of trails demands footwear that can handle rough terrains, hydration systems to keep you fueled, and appropriate clothing to adapt to varying conditions. Equipping yourself with essential gear ensures you can focus on the run without worrying about discomfort or unforeseen challenges. 

Read on for a detailed look at the must-have items to bring along for your next trail running adventure.


High-Quality Trail Running Shoes

Your choice of footwear is crucial. Trail running shoes are designed to provide the grip, support, and protection needed to tackle rough and uneven terrain. A well-chosen pair of trail running shoes can enhance your performance and keep your feet comfortable throughout the race. 

When selecting trail running shoes, consider the following:

  • Grip: Look for shoes with aggressive treads to handle muddy, rocky, and slippery surfaces.
  • Support: Ensure your shoes offer good support and stability to reduce your risk of injuries.
  • Comfort: Opt for shoes that fit well and provide cushioning to absorb the impact of long-distance running.


Hydration Systems

Staying properly hydrated is essential for maintaining your energy and performance levels. Select a hydration system that suits the race length and your personal preferences to ensure you can adequately manage your energy and hydration levels, as well as stay comfortable.

There are three common types of hydration systems to choose from depending on the length of your race:

  • Handheld bottles: Ideal for shorter runs, these are easy to carry and access, but don’t, hold enough fluid for longer duration events.
  • Hydration packs: Perfect for longer races, these can hold more water and have extra storage for other essentials, but they may be cumbersome during short races.
  • Waist belts: A good compromise between handheld bottles and hydration packs, providing easy access to fluids and some storage capacity.


Energy and Nutrition

Maintaining your energy levels is critical for trail running, similar to any other endurance event. Plan your nutrition strategy based on the race duration and your body's unique needs, and don’t forget to train with the exact same nutrition strategy you plan to use on race day to avoid any mid-race surprises. 

Here are three essential items to keep you fueled all race long:

  • Energy gels and bars: These are easy to consume on the move, provide quick energy and are easily digestible.
  • Electrolyte drinks: These replenish lost minerals and help you maintain your hydration status.
  • Snacks: Nuts, dried fruits, and other portable, nutrition-dense snacks offer easy access and sustained energy.


Weather-Appropriate Clothing

Weather can change quickly in the forests and mountains, so dressing appropriately is vital to ensure you’re never caught off guard. Layering up during trail running races is a smart, practical tactic since it allows you to adjust your clothing according to the weather conditions.

Consider these clothing items for race day:

  • Moisture-wicking shirts: Keep sweat away from your skin to prevent chafing, as well as stay dry and comfortable.
  • Lightweight jackets: Protect yourself against wind and rain without adding additional weight to your pack if your jacket is not needed.
  • Appropriate socks: Prevent blisters and discomfort by wearing socks that offer cushioning and moisture control.


Safety Gear

Safety is the number one priority when it comes to trail running and should never be overlooked, but your needs may vary depending on the size of the event and the presence of medical staff along the course. Being prepared for emergencies gives you peace of mind and ensures you’re capable of handling unexpected situations.

The right gear can be a lifesaver in an emergency, so consider packing the following supplies:

  • Headlamp: Essential for early starts or late finishes to ensure you can see and be seen in low-light conditions.
  • First aid kit: Carry basic supplies like bandages, antiseptic wipes and blister treatment in case you encounter minor injuries like cuts and scraps during your race.
  • Whistle: Useful for signalling for help if you get lost or injured.


Other Accessories

Carrying a few additional items can enhance your trail running experience depending on the conditions. Choose accessories that add comfort and functionality to your run to make the experience more comfortable and enjoyable without being cumbersome.

Consider the following accessories as you plan for race day:

  • Hat and gloves: Protect yourself against sun and low temperatures.
  • Sunglasses: Shield your eyes from UV rays and debris like dust, branches and insects.
  • Sunscreen: An additional layer of UV protection, which you may require if tree coverage is sparse along the race course.
  • GPS watch: Track your distance and pace, and navigate the race course with ease if a downloadable map is available.


How to Stay Energized and Hydrated During Trail Running Races

Maintaining energy and hydration levels is critical for a successful trail race. Proper mid-race fueling not only sustains your performance but also prevents fatigue and dehydration.


Pre-Race Fueling Strategies:

  • Beet juice shots: Nitrate-rich beet juice enhances blood flow to your muscles, which increases the delivery of fresh oxygen and nutrients, improving your muscle endurance. Consume a beet juice product like Beet It Sport Nitrate 400 shots about 2–3 hours before a race to maximize the performance benefits of nitrates.
  • Caffeine: A dose of caffeine before a race, such as a cup or two of coffee, can boost your focus and perceived energy levels, helping you start strong.


Mid-Race Fueling Strategies:

  • Carbohydrates: Consuming 60–90g of carbohydrates per hour during a race provides quick energy to keep you going. Carbohydrates are essential for maintaining your glycogen stores, which are your body’s primary energy source.
  • Electrolytes: Sip an electrolyte drink like Hydra+ to quench your thirst and maintain your hydration status, prevent cramps and fatigue, and ensure your muscles function optimally throughout the entirety of a race. 
  • Caffeine: Small doses of caffeine during a race can boost your focus and perceived energy levels, helping you stay alert and able to make strategic decisions.

For more detailed guidance about staying energized and hydrated during your race, check out our mid-race fueling guide for endurance athletes.


Key Takeaways

Trail running requires proper preparation to ensure your optimal performance and safety. Equipping yourself with essential gear like high-quality trail running shoes, hydration systems and weather-appropriate clothing is crucial for tackling varied terrains and unpredictable conditions. 

Additionally, maintaining your energy and hydration levels through strategic pre- and mid-race fueling is critical for sustaining your performance and preventing fatigue, and don’t forget to bring along safety gear and useful accessories to ensure your well-being while hitting the trails. 

By following this checklist, you’ll be well-prepared for your next trail race, so you can focus on enjoying the adventure.

If you learned something new from this article and are curious to know more, head to our growing list of weekly research summaries where we help you further improve your athletic performance by keeping you up to date on the latest findings from the world of sports nutrition.


— That’s all for now, train hard!


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