Man practicing trail running and leaping in a path in the coast

Trail running is about as basic as a sport can get. But that doesn’t mean it’s free of expenses.

Constant need for new gear. Increasing race prices. Travel to trails and races.

That’s just a few of the expenses trail runners have to budget for each year.

When my wife and I moved from a regular, well paying 9-5 jobs in Washington, DC, to peruse our dream jobs in Asheville, NC, we both knew it might be awhile before we felt as comfortable financially as we used to.

And that we might have to make cuts and sacrifices while we figured everything out.

So the past 6 months have been one giant experiment in how to run and race like I want to, while doing it on a budget.

It hasn’t always been easy. I pulled my name from a race I hoped to run with some buddies, and I’ve missed out on a few other cool opportunities to run new trails, but I’ve learned a lot about how to cheat the system.

And be the trail runner I want to be all while saving money.

Today I want to share a few of the tricks I’ve implemented over the past several months that have saved me money on everything from races to gear.

How Trail Runners Can Save Money

1) Find the Hidden Gem Races

There are more big  name trail races and ultramarathons with big name sponsors and hosts than ever before, and for the most part, this is great for the sport. Top notch races means easier access for runners.

But it’s not always great for the wallet, as many of those top notch races come at a premium.

Fortunately trail runners still have access to numerous small, local races, hosted by trail running clubs or ultrarunners in the community.

These races are typically no frills, with basic aid stations, and pizza and a cooler full of beer as the post race meal, but they’re also a ton of fun and incredibly welcoming. Often times, they’re also some of the best managed and most scenic races around (a perfect example is my most recent race, the Cumberland Trail 50k).

And they’re always cheap.

Search UltraSignup or ask around your local trail community for races in your area.

2) Sign Up Early

While small, hidden gem, races are fun and inexpensive, sometimes you just want to run one of the larger events.

The appeal of big crowds, loaded goodie bags, and overstocked aid stations, is nothing to be ashamed of.
Unless they sell out immediately, races like this will often have discounts for runners who sign up early.

To best utilize this strategy, plan out your race calendar well ahead of time, and set reminders on your calendar to sing up as soon as registration opens.

3) Get Your Shoes at a Discount

Shoes are the most important and often expensive piece of gear a trail runner has to purchase. Most experts agree that shoes should be swapped out every 300-400 miles, which means that if you’re running high mileage weeks frequently, you’ll run through several pairs of shoes throughout the year.

To save on shoe costs, I always check discount online retailers first. The Clymb is one of the best, with a nice selection of trail running shoes at a discount. (Full disclosure, The Clymb is a Rock Creek Runner sponsor)

When I find a shoe I like at a good price, especially if it’s a sale price, I’ll go ahead and purchase multiple pairs. Even if I don’t touch one of the pairs for a few months, I’ll have them ready when I need them.

4) Cut Back on Food Costs

The workout nutrition industry is massive, and your go-to bars and gels can add up quickly. Here are my favorite tips to cutting back on training food costs:

  • Make your own energy gels and bars
  • Find cheaper alternatives to gels or bars that offer many of the same benefits
  • Buy in bulk instead of one gel at a time, either through your local running store, directly from the company (Greenbelly bars are one of my favorites), or through discount sites
  • Avoid post workout smoothie/juice bar trips and make them at home

5) Camp at the Start/Finish

I have camped, or had the option to camp, at just about every non-local trail race I’ve run. That’s in sharp contrast to road races, where I’ve never even considered the option.

Many races offer camping at the start/finish line, or at a nearby campground. It’s cheap, usually has showers or a creek to clean off in after the race, and almost always makes race morning logistics easier than traveling from a hotel. Camping is also a lot of fun when the sites are overrun with runners.

6) Carpool to Races with Fellow Runners

When I told a friend I couldn’t make a trip to a non-local race because my wife needed the car, he suggested I find another runner in the area and carpool together. For some reason, this had never crossed my mind.

If a race doesn’t publish the entrants ahead of time, email the Race Director to see if anyone from your area is also signed up for the race. Chances are they’d be willing to carpool with you, so you both can save on gas money, and have someone to debrief the race with.

Plus you’ll get bonus points for being a good steward of the Earth!

7) Hunt for Discounted Gear

Just like shoes, clothing, hydration equipment, and other accessories get worn out quickly on the trails.

Take a similar approach with gear as you do shoes, and hunt down great deals online. When something you like goes one sale, like trail running shorts or tops, jump on it and purchase more than you need. You’ll be glad later down the road.

I also like to follow the stores and brands that I like on social media and subscribe to their newsletters (again, The Clymb is a go-to here). As a perk, they often post discounts codes and announce sales through those outlets only.

With gear, it’s important to buy quality, not cheap. I used to get all my running shorts at Target, but they would fall apart after season. Now I hunt down the brands I know fit me well and hold up mile after mile.

8) Join Your Local Running Club

Running clubs are not only a great training tool and good way to meet people, but they are also a good way to save money. Even if they do have a fee.

Larger clubs often hold their own races and events, have race specific training groups for members, and offer demo days on different gear. All of which will save you money.

Being more connected with your local community also gives you more people to share rides with, like I mentioned above.

Putting These Tips Into Action

The beauty of saving money is that you don’t have to do everything at once. Making the choice to camp here or shop there can make small differences that add up.

Now it’s your turn. How do you save money on gear and races?


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.

Support Rock Creek Runner by shopping at:


One thought on “8 Money Saving Tips for Trail Runners

Leave a Reply