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Nothing beats running trails in the fall. Yellow, red, and orange leaves flutter in the wind and settle on the ground, creating a layer of softness. The sound of crunching leaves underfoot syncing with the sound of my steaming breaths on a cold, crisp morning is enough to make me raise my arms mid-run and yell, “Isn’t this amazing!?!” to whoever I’m running with, even if it’s just my dog. But, fickle fall weather means you have to dress right: warm enough to keep from freezing when you head out or when the wind blows in a snow squall, but breathable enough that you’re not overheating a mile into the run.
As a longtime gear tester, I have the luxury of running in some of the best shoes and apparel without wrecking my bank account. Armed with the knowledge from putting myriad pieces of apparel through their paces, I’ve pulled together my recommendations for the ideal fall trail running kit. These items all excel in their category and are great picks for assembling a fall running kit. They also serve as examples of what you should look for in fabrics, features, and silhouettes for running when the weather gets brisk.
Black Diamond Lightwire Tech Tee ($55)
In early October, I wore this tee on four long, stinky, sweaty days in a row running hut-to-hut on the Appalachian Trail. I’d air the tee out each night, then pull it on in the mornings. Once back home in Colorado, I continue to wear it regularly, on its own on warm days and under layers in cooler temps. It’s thin enough to layer easily, and I love its ability to breathe well and dry quickly—it’s made of stretch recycled polyester knit with a “Quick Dry” finish. I also love how it moves with me, whether I’m flailing my arms around on a wild descent or climbing a steep slope using trekking poles. I chalk that mobility up to the fabric’s four-way stretch construction and the gusseted underarms. And, about those four days in a row: the recycled fabric held off stink pretty dang well, as far as I could tell. (Hut-mates might disagree…but it must have been them, not me.)
Tracksmith Off Roads Long Sleeve ($98)
Merino wool is the coziest fabric to pull on for cool runs. Its natural ability to breathe while providing just the right amount of insulated warmth is fantastic. This long sleeve shirt from Tracksmith blends merino with Tencel. The combination of these two natural fibers creates an antimicrobial, sweat-wicking, durable top that works in a range of weather. I love the long cut of the sleeves, and the thumb holes, as I prefer to pull sleeves over cold hands at the start of a fall run instead of wearing gloves, which I have to ditch or stash when I get warm. This shirt is also cut with a dropped hem on the backside, which provides a little extra, much-appreciated, warmth and coverage over capris.
Stio Glide Crop Tight ($119)
I find capri-length tights ideal for fall runs when tights would make me too warm, and shorts might make me freeze. Those few inches of exposure on my legs are essential for regulating my body heat.The Glide Crop Tights’ price point may be higher than a 60-minute massage, but the soft, stretchy, not-too-thin nylon/spandex material feels fantastic against the skin. I also love the wide waistband that eliminates any discomfort around the midsection, and the spacious, horizontal pocket on the backside that allows me to stash everything from gloves to a headband and not have them bounce obnoxiously. Two side pockets along the upper thigh provide quick access to my phone, gels, or keys.
Janji Revo Rover Pullover ($124)
When I’m seeking a little extra warmth, I throw this piece over both the Black Diamond Lightwire Tech Tee and the Tracksmith Off Roads Long Sleeve. (In cool to cold temps with no precipitation, I often find layering shirts more breathable and versatile than layering a jacket.) The loose, mock neck styling provides coverage and warmth without strangling—or annoying—me, and the long-cut arms and thumbholes keep my hands cozy. The material is a blend of wool and volcanic ash-enhanced nylon, an advanced materials technology that helps remove sweat vapor before it becomes liquid and soaks the wool. The interior has a French terry face that is super buttery soft, feels fantastic, and wicks sweat admirably. This versatile layer will keep me comfortable through winter.
Patagonia Houdini Jacket ($109)
Patagonia’s Houdini Jacket has been a staple in trail running circles for years. The 100% recycled nylon ripstop shell is extremely lightweight and packable while providing a protective shield from biting winds and light precipitation. (Steady rain requires a more waterproof jacket.) I rarely head out on a long run without this jacket shoved in my pack, and I love how much warmth pulling the hood over my head provides on summits or descents—just by blocking the wind. This season’s Houdini is updated with a PFC-free durable water repellent (DWR) finish to minimize the use of chemicals.
Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew Socks ($27)
I wore these socks for days in a row while negotiating the giant granite boulders of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve also worn them on steep trails in Boulder. My point: They stay put no matter how off-camber or wild the footing, which, to me, means it’s a great-fitting sock. Smartwool’s fit system—with targeted areas of durability, breathability, cushioning, and seamlessness—works, as does its blend of merino, nylon, recycled nylon, elastane, and polyester. I also love the above-the-ankle length of these socks that keeps trail junk from irritating my feet while also adding a bit of lower-leg warmth when paired with capris or shorts. And the fun, vibrant prints rock.
Smartwool Thermal Merino Reversible Headband ($22)
I’m a big fan of wearing trucker hats on trail runs for sun protection and keeping brow sweat out of my eyes. But sometimes, cool to cold fall temps call for headwear that’s warmer than a trucker hat or traditional running cap, but not as warm as a beanie. This headband, made out of 100% soft merino wool, has been a go-to piece for early morning cold starts and outings in cloudy, foggy conditions or other low light. It wicks sweat, keeps my crazy hair from flailing about, and warms my ears while allowing heat to escape from the top of my head. When I heat up enough that I don’t want to wear it anymore, it stashes away easily, packing up to fit within the palm of my hand. Or, I can wear it (loosely) around my wrist. Bonus: It’s reversible.
Arc’teryx Soria Long Line Bra ($70)
I was skeptical that this bra would fit comfortably—at first glance it reminded me of a corset. It extends down to mid-torso and rises higher up on my neckline than most sports bras, and has crisscross back straps. As it turned out, the bra proved comfortable for hours on end. I ended up appreciating the high neck for its extra coverage from the sun or the cold when worn under a scoop-neck tank or shirt. The longer-cut torso also adds a bit of warmth around the core. I may be too modest to wear a sports bra on its own, but I’d be tempted with this one—it provides a good amount of coverage and looks good, to boot. Sweat-wicking, breathable material—a nylon knit with elastane for stretch and an anti-odor finish—and the thin, removable pads add to this bra’s functionality.