My favorite gear for trail running (in the dark)

I am a bit of a gear nerd, and a bit of a perfectionist, and it is hard for me to settle for gear that isn’t pretty close to doing its job really well. These days there are so many options! Surely, the perfect pair of running tights exists. And the perfect mountain biking pack! When I worked in the outdoor industry I was always trying to find a way to finagle pro-deals with smaller, perhaps European, somewhat obscure companies to broaden the search and maybe make it cheaper. These days, though, I have no deals and am not limited to companies that will give me one. I pay retail for my gear, which, I guess, is liberating!

Mack on a trail run
Dogs are great companions on any trail run!

A few of my friends have asked about gear for running in the cold and dark. Knowing that every person and every body is different, my faves may not work for you. BUT, if you need a place to start, this might help.

I am a big fan of things made in the USA — I don’t like my gear having to travel across the ocean for me, what can I say? I am willing to pay more for something that is the right thing, if it is truly perfect and high quality. I take very good care of my gear and it tends to last. (One major exception, noted below.) These suggestions will work for runs up to ten or so miles. After that… more and different things may be needed.


Probably the most important thing for running in the dark is a decent headlamp. What I love about the Black Diamond Iota is that it is small, lies flat on my forehead, and charges with a USB. The beam is appropriately long and bright, it fits easily in my pocket when the sun rises, and it doesn’t bounce on my head when I run.

Running Tights

There are many kinds of tights to suit your style and body type. I have a selection, and I have a mental inventory of which pair works in what temps and conditions. I’ve also been known to wear capris with ski socks to extend their season.

My current faves are made by Rabbit. I discovered that Rabbit made the perfect running shorts over the summer (and bought a couple pairs for RK, who is equally happy… or as happy about running shorts as he is willing to be), and the capris are just as amazing. They fit well, are supernaturally soft and comfortable, have thoughtful pockets, fun, non-pink colors, and are light. I was worried that the lightweight Conejo would not be enough below 40 degrees, but they have kept me comfortable from 30s to 50s. And, they are made in the USA. They do have a runner referral program, and if you use this link you will get 10% off your order and I will get a small credit. No offense will be taken if you just go their website, google style. I just want everyone to experience the awesomeness of Rabbit running gear.


When it is merely chilly I wear a lightweight half buff over my ears. When there is a definite winter edge to the air I move to a thin smart wool headband. And when it is seriously cold I have an older fleece-lined wool headband. Hats don’t allow any heat to escape and I quickly overheat. But I have hair to keep the top of my head warm, which helps.

Wool Tops

I have a decent stash of Icebreaker clothing from the days of pro-deals and it lasts. When it starts to wear out, I have my sights set on Voormi, a small merino company in Colorado that makes it’s clothing in the US. For now, I layer short and long sleeve medium weight wool shirts (depending on the temps). They are thin for how warm they are and do not stink like non-wool shirts I have tried. I can typically wear a wool shirt for a couple of runs before washing.


Beware the vest! If you overheat in a vest there are no arms to tie it around your waist. Luckily there are a lot of great jackets out these days that have a warm or windproof panel over the front (to keep the core warm) with ventilating fabric on the arms and back. I have a couple, of different weights, depending on the temperature. Also beware of a regular windbreaker, as they tend not to ventilate and you can end up a soggy mess.

This rest of this gear is not specific for the cold or dark, but in case you are interested…

Best Sports Bra

Am I the only one who struggles with the perfect sports bra?? I have a drawer full of rejects and just luckily happened on Handful, which is easily the most comfortable running bra I have ever put on. Obviously, also great for mountain biking and whatever else you need a sports bra for.

Please read Hilary Oliver’s hilarious essay about the Alpine Death Sponge.

Trail Running Shoes

As you all know, as soon as you find a running shoe that works, they change the style and it never quite works again. I thought I had found a favorite shoe in the Saucony Peregrine (great traction on the loose, steep hills where I run), but while healing from a ankle sprain I discovered the magic of the super cush Challenger ATR from Hoka One One.

These shoes make me a little crazy: they are so comfortable that every other shoe now feels like I am running barefoot. But they are not proving to be very durable. Especially for a trail shoe. Maybe my rocky trails are especially tough on shoes, but in 30 years of trail running, I have never blown out shoes like I blow out Hokas. Nothing compares to the comfort, so I am on my fifth pair with high hopes for the latest version. Until some other company comes along to make the same shoe but better, I’ll probably keep shelling out the cash.

That’s it! Do you have any gear favorites?

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