Ever feel like you get hit daily by a tsunami of product and gadget promotions?

Me too. All. The. Time.

Product launches from running brands and ambassadors fill my social media feeds, and my inbox receives daily requests to review or promote some new gadget or piece of gear. When I go into a running store, I’m overwhelmed by all the options.

Do I really need a foam roller I can freeze? Or a $200 jacket? Or a head-to-toe compression suit?

They promise to help me run faster and prevent injuries, so… maybe?

Just this week I got a message from a runner friend who heard I use a certain product that helps with running form. He asked,

One runner to the next, is it worth plopping down the $100 on one?”

My answer, of course, was…

“Depends,” and I launched into a long response on his specific needs and what I use it for.

When it comes to running gear, nearly everything falls into that “depends” category. It might be helpful, but it might not.

There are, however, a few things where the answer is almost always a big fat “yes.”

Products Worthy of Your Hard-Earned Cash

1. Trail Shoes ($100-180)

Running shoes are the one thing that runners really need (I know, I know… some people will argue with that), and it’s worth spending money on the perfect pair. Actually, it’s worth spending money on a few perfect pairs if you’re confident in their ability to grip the trail and give you the ride you’re looking for.

I run in Altra Lone Peaks on trail (Altra Ones on road) because they feel great on my feet. Only you can determine which shoe works best for your needs, but make sure you can trust it, mile after mile.

2. GPS Watch ($100-400)

A GPS watch can save a lot of up-front planning time, keep you from getting lost (when you upload and follow a route), and provide priceless information mid-run. If you go home and use that data, it can help you understand your training and make adjustments accordingly.

I use Suunto Ambit 3, mostly because of the battery life, but there are plenty of cheaper options that cover all the basic needs.

3. A Pack ($150-200)

The hydration pack opens up possibilities for routes, races, and adventures, and if it fits your body correctly, it’s a no-brainer investment.

I currently run in the Ultimate Direction SJ Race Vest (review), and I’m also a big fan of the Nathan VaporKrar.

The Problem With Running Gear

Good gear — like the items listed above — are designed to take your running experience and make it better. Maybe more comfortable, data driven, safer, or fun. These tools really can improve your training.

But here’s the hard truth: they will only take you so far.

I’m a gear guy. Fancy new gear gets me excited, and I can ride that excitement for a few runs. But I have a ton of running stuff, and I still go through my fair share of nasty slumps.

As runners, we too often hide behind the “if only I had this” excuse.

I’m here to tell you, while the things listed above can be a great investment, new gear will never solve your running excuses.

3 Better Things to Invest In

So what should you invest in instead?

1. Time

Training takes a lot of time. It takes time that you could be using to sleep or hang with your family. Trail running along cool routes often means traveling to a distant trailhead on the weekend.

The best thing you can do for your training is to run more, and running more means committing to more time on the trail.

2. A Plan

Running for the love of it with no plan works for some people, but for many it does not. A good training plan will keep you progressing and working towards a specific goal.

It should also provide the structure and motivation you need to get after it.

3. Adventure

After all, adventure is what this trail running thing is all about, isn’t it?

Earlier this week a coaching client who’s been desperately fighting a training slump gave me a ring. He was thrilled to share that a recent trip to the Grand Canyon (not to run but to hike) has completely reinvigorated his training. The adventure sparked new dreams and goals, and you could actually see the motivational boost in his logged runs.

Plan a big, exciting route. Go on a trail running vacation. Engage with your trail community. Sign up for some absurd race.

Invest in What Matters

The friend who asked for my advice ended up buying the $100 product, and I’m glad he did. It’s a great tool for what he needs.

But that’s all it is, a tool. That’s all any new piece of gear or gadget is.

Runners get out what they put in, and it’s the investment you make into your actual training and adventuring that makes a real difference. Not the tools.

Invest in what matters. Invest in your running.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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2 thoughts on “Trail Runners: 3 Things Worth Investing In

  1. Hi Doug,
    Thanks for your post. I was hoping to see something like this. You’re probably quite busy but I’m hoping you can give me advice on this. My legs are prone to edema, stretching the skin thin. If I get even the tiniest of cuts, like from a twig for example, it can develop into cellulitis. Do you know of running pants that are thin enough yet strong enough to resist outside impacts, something like a kevlar vest for the legs I guess? I live in Maine so there are four seasons. Anyway I love your blog and appreciate your commonsense advice.
    Regards,
    Joe Roquebecil

  2. Great way of presenting the post, focus on the bare necessities, then if it actually fits with helping you reach your goals more efficiently then go for it, otherwise it is a nice to have!!!😁

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