Comfortable footwear, clothing and accessories for running and all-round outdoor exercise
1. Trail running shoes
The single most important kit choice is shoes. If you buy nothing else, it’s worth investing in decent trail running shoes – a good pair will help your grip on slippery surfaces, keep your feet comfortable, and even protect you from injury.
So here are some outstanding pairs or runners for men and women in search of off-road adventures…
Peregrine 11 ST
Saucony’s long-running Peregrine running shoe has been through many evolutions (see our review off last year’sPeregrine 10 below). Among the latest is the 11 ST, designed specifically for soft and wet surfaces – mud, bog, sand and snow.
The uppers have a distinctive, streamlined appearance – because the laces are concealed beneath a stretch-fabric pocket that helps keep dirt and debris out.
But the real bonus on waterlogged ground is the chunky outsole, especially the lugs – deeper than those on its sister shoe, the plain Peregrine 11… 7mm on the heel, by my measure, and about 5-6mm on the forefoot. The lugs are arranged in zigzags to promote grip in all directions – and are well spaced, shedding even cloying clay quickly to bite cleanly on each step. The slightly tacky rubber of the outsole was also pretty grippy on wet rock.
The shoe feels stiff and substantial, thanks partly to the rock plate in the midsole, and the heel counter (the stiffened structure your heel fits into) is robust too; The outsole is a full 10mm wider across the forefoot than the Long Sky MTL (below). This all gives you a pleasant sense of security and stability in potentially slippery or sloppy conditions.
A well-cushioned midsole keeps you feeling comfortable even after miles on the trail. There’s even a little D-ring for hooking on lightweight gaiters (sold separately), to keep grit and other bits from straying into the shoe.
On drier surfaces, though, the Peregine 11 ST felt a little over-engineered. When the rain finally stopped this spring and the soil in the Countryfile test ground out back slowly turned bone-hard, that substantial outsole seemed beefier than necessary, and the effect became a little sluggish.
Nevertheless, if you want to change down a gear and wear them for a fast-hike, they would make fine walking shoes, albeit with waterproof socks to keep your feet dry in wet weather.
- Weight: 652g (men’s pair)
- Drop: 4mm (heel/toe: 27mm/23mm)
VERDICT: Superbly grippy and reassuring on soft and muddy ground, but at some cost to versatility – on drier trails you might prefer something more responsive and lower-profile. JP. 7.5/10
MTL Long Sky
The Long Sky MTL is an impressively balanced offering – light and responsive enough for dry surfaces, stable and secure even in very soft and muddy conditions.
The Vibram Megagrip outsole has 5mm lugs, well-spaced in a chevron pattern. These bit well on waterlogged ground, shed mud rapidly – and also gripped tightly on wet limestone, where they outperformed the Peregine 11 ST.
The ‘internal bootie’ Merrell describe is a breathable lining neatly sewn to midsole and tongue, not dissimilar to the Peregrine 11 ST (above). I found it very comfortable and an excellent fit on my regular-width and low-volume feet. (If you have wide or full-shaped feet you may find the fit too snug.)
At 560g a pair they are only 60g or so lighter than the Peregrine 11 ST but they feel significantly brighter and more responsive, helped by being narrower in the forefoot (by 10mm in size 11.5).
The central part of the midsole (the ‘medial post’) is stiffened for support and stability. While there’s less cushioning in the EVA foam midsole than the Peregrine 11, there is nevertheless enough to keep you comfortable for spells on hard ground – though an hour on Tarmac or concrete might be pushing it; these are definitely an off-road shoe.
The mesh uppers are highly breathable, so you won’t overheat in summer, and have a rubbery plastic (TPU) coating over toes and heel to protect you from bumps and scrapes.
- Traditional laces
- Heel to toe drop: 8mm
VERDICT: Grippy on wet rock and in soft and muddy conditions, comfortable, responsive and versatile. JP. 8.5/10
Hoka One One, £125
• NOTE: Since we wrote the review below, the ATR 5 has been superseded by the ATR6, which is substantially similar, but introduces a yarn made from recycled plastic in the mesh uppers – plus new and far more zingy colour ways.
These excellent all-terrain running shoes are just as comfortable on the road as off it.
Well-cushioned and super-supportive, they look chunky – but feel low-profile and light (weighing 297g).
They are remarkably stable, giving you a sense of sure-footed security on stony ground. The deep lugs are extremely grippy.
There’s lots of cushioning in the midsole to keep your feet comfortable as you pound along on hard surfaces such as roads or pavements, but not too much – they remain responsive feeling, and not the least bouncy or sluggish.
The Challenger has been around for a while and this relatively new version has added Gore-Tex waterproofing to keep your feet dry. Personally I don’t think this is a huge gain in a running shoe – your feet are bound to get wet anyway. But waterproofing is useful to walkers. And these shoes are superb for walking, too.
The only drawback is that the all-black colour scheme is a little dull. (Note the new Challenger ATR 6 boasts much better colour ways.)
• Heel to toe drop: 5mm
• Traditional lacing
VERDICT: Stable, supportive and highly versatile shoe extremely comfortable on and off road, walking or running. JP. 10/10
Trailtalon 290 V2
These shoes have a distinctly lower profile compared to the Challenger ATR.
With less cushioning underfoot, you feel closer to the trail. What you lose in stability, you gain in responsiveness. The soles are more flexible that the Challengers, so you’ll find the arch of your foot flexing naturally, making you feel springier as you move.
There’s still plenty of support to protect your feet from beneath – though I wouldn’t choose these shoes to run for long distances on hard surfaces. Nevertheless, off-road, the Trailtalon excels in all kinds of conditions, from wet rock to mud, where grip is excellent thanks to 4mm lugs that shed debris with ease.
The Trailtalon’s uppers are made of a tough but lightweight fabric, beefed up a little with some rubber to protect your toes; and a more substantial ‘heel cage’ grips and protects beneath your ankle. I was very happy with the overall protection, but some runners might prefer more.
My only issue was that despite lacing tightly, I found the right insole slipped – albeit something easily solved by replacing with a thicker one.
But I loved the looks. When I catch a glimpse of them, something about them makes me want to pull them on and hit the trail.
VERDICT: Responsive, grippy, and pleasantly low-profile. JP. 9/10
NOTE: Since we write the review below, Saucony have released the updated Peregine 11, which features a new lightweight durable upper, but is otherwise similar to version 10. Available for men, women and children.
Designed to cope with anything the outdoors will throw at them, the Peregine 10 will take steep, muddy forest paths, rocky hilltops or scrubby heathland tracks in its stride. It is well cushioned on the heel, around the ankle and on the tongue, and the laces pull tightly across the top of the foot – this makes the shoes feel secure and comfortable, which is a real asset on particularly demanding trails. The forgiving inner also minimises friction and irritation, which, along with the well-ventilated meshed upper, reduces the chance of getting blisters. The outsole, lined with defined chevron-shaped cleats, gives the Peregrine excellent traction in both wet and dry conditions, and the thick midsole protects feet against sharp stones and sticks. Available in black/barberry and dusk for women, or black/red and steel for men.
VERDICT: comfortable, supportive and hardy, perform well in all weather and on any terrain. DG. 9.5/10
2. Clothing and accessories for trail runners
1000 Mile, £12.99
Comfortable socks are essential when you’re out on the trail – blisters are the last thing you want. These affordable socks keep your feet feeling dry thanks to a merino wool blend yarn that draws moisture away from your skin. The seams are flattened to reduce the chances of rubbing, and there’s also a bit of extra padding at toe and heel. JP
Tribe sports, £37
It’s important to wear soft fabrics that won’t slowly rub your skin as you move. This stylish, seam-free singlet is super-comfortable, and an antibacterial treatment keeps it fresh, too. The fabric is made from recycled plastic spun into nylon yarn.
La Sportiva, €60
This superb base layer feels dry even when you’re hot and sweaty, and stays fresh-smelling thanks to the antibacterial Polygiene treatment – so you don’t have to wash it so often. The fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles. JP
Tribe Sports, £40
Comfort is everything on the trail, where miles of constant motion can leave your skin sore. These soft, stretchy and supportive shorts feel comfortable even after long runs. The fabric is made from recycled yarn. JP
Royal Robbins, £70
These knee-length yoga-style pants are great for running and summer hiking, too. Stow essentials in three pockets. The close-fitting, stretchy fabric is made from recycled PET bottles. CM
With a high waistband to keep you neat in the middle and super-soft fabric made from a viscose derived from sustainably harvested bamboo. For yoga or running.
Black Diamond, £75
If you like to run at the beginning or end of your day, this compact, ultralight (56g), rechargeable head torch helps you find your way safely in the darkness. JP
Now you’re home safe – extend the life of your sports gear by washing with this deodorising conditioner, which neutralises odours that normal washing powders won’t. JP
Running jackets make can make a jog in cold, wet or windy weather much more pleasant.
But don’t expect a running jacket to be fully waterproof . Really water-resistant fabrics tend not to be breathable enough to wear running. They get too hot and sweaty.
So most fabrics marketed to runners are designed to achieve a balance between water repellency and breathability. Nevertheless they protect you from light rain or a shower. They should also keep out cold winds.
Here are three we enjoyed running in…
This water-repellent and wind-resistant jacket is ultra-light at just 95g, it is made from breathable fabrics to keep you cool as you head uphill, and perforations under the arms and back to allow more air in too. If you overheat, it stuffs down to a tiny size. TB
R7 Partial Gore-Tex Infinium Hooded Jacket
US firm Gore has bestridden the waterproof fabric market for years now, and remains a dominant force in the outdoor gear world, despite the arrival of high quality competition. Now comes a new generation of fabrics from Gore, under the Gore-Tex Infinium brand.
The basic idea is to improve comfort levels by offering fabrics that sync more precisely with your activity. So Infinium fabrics are lighter and more breathable than conventional Gore-Tex in its previous permutations. They are water-resistant, too – although, importantly, not waterproof.
On this jacket, designed for running or fast hiking in cool weather, Water-resistant Infinium fabric panels make up the shoulders, arms and chest – the areas most affected by rain. The jacket feels extremely light, weighing just 155g. It’s also soft and slightly stretchy.
The fit is deliberately close, but panels of more stretchy fabric cover the lower torso and back, allowing free movement. The windproof Infinium keeps cold at bay – I ran at close on a freezing dawn with a merino wool base-layer and my temperature remained pleasantly even, through the ups and downs of the Somerset hills.
All the details are smartly designed. The close-fitting hood is very good, with a soft peak and good visibility. Reflective bits keep you visible by night, and there’s a small chest pocket big enough for your basics (eg phone and keys).
And it was, indeed, extremely comfortable. At £169 for a jacket only part-made Infinium, this new fabric may not be cheap. But even so I think you may not have heard the last of Gore-Tex Infinium, and the similar next-generation responses from market rivals.
This ultra-light (168g average) jacket keeps out cold winds, while remaining breathable, so you don’t get too hot on uphill stretches. It’s loose-fitting, with three internal pockets. Two zipped vents can be opened to keep you cool. The hood is excellent, and close-fitting, with a stiffened peak to keep rain or sun out of the eyes. And you can shut out cold air using the elasticated adjuster at the hem. The scooped hem at the back will appeal to cyclists.
While the fabric is treated for water repellency, the effect is short lived – expect moisture to creep in rapidly in heavy rain.
Buy as a standalone, or double up with the Ostro Fleece (£125) for matching garments that are designed to be worn with or without each other.
On cold days without rain or chill winds, you can wear the fleece without the jacket. It has the welcome property of remaining dry to the touch, even when wet with perspiration, and the close-fitting hood helps keep out prying winds.
While the fleece won’t win any style awards, the jacket is a good-looking thing, and together this pair of garments make a practical and versatile option. You will find yourself reaching for one or other – or both – anytime from cold winter days to chilly summer mornings.
And for women…
Tim Bates (TB), Daniel Graham (DG), Carys Matthews (CM), Joe Pontin (JP)