What to Wear for Hill, Trail and Fell Running

In recent years rules in the UK have tightened for safety reasons around the compulsory kit that should be carried with you. Since kit checks began, the term 'full body cover' was the general rule for hill races. This was then applied with common sense by race organisers, depending on the length/height of the hill and the weather conditions on that day.

However, now this has now changed with the rules stating full WATERPROOF cover. This means your jacket and trousers must be a waterproof fabric, with taped seams, and your jacket must have a hood. You don't have to wear it, but if it's not in your bag when a kit check takes place then you won't be allowed to race :-( Best advice if it's a very short summer hill race is to check with the race organiser, as you may be let off with less. But if you are regularly racing in the hills or trails, then it's time to invest in waterproofs, so you can carry on enjoying your amazing sport :-) This isn't driven by running shops trying to sell expensive kit (honest!) it's for everyone's safety and enjoyment.

This article covers clothing. You can find advice on what to carry here, and choosing fell shoes here.

Combining Clothing Layers

Choosing how to combine these layers will vary for different runners, and also can be dependent on how far you are going and at what pace. It's also crucial to remember that the higher you go the colder it gets! Also if I am going for a longer slower run I will dress warmer than I would if I was racing or doing a faster run. If you are going into the hills it is generally advisable to take a jacket with you, even if you don't wear it. With a jacket as part of my kit I then choose my base layer according to the temperature – in summer that's a t-shirt, the rest of the year if it's not too cold then I'll use a lighter thermal. If it's down under 5°C or so, or is very windy, then I'll choose to wear a warmer thermal top and fleecy tights – and carry waterproof trousers. Also if you are going for a longer run to higher hills or mountains then it's wise to pack an extra layer – more than you think you'll need – for safety.

Clothing for Hill and Trail Racing

Most hill and trail races in the calendar will now require you to carry / wear fully waterproof kit. This is getting stricter for safety reasons, so although you don’t need to toe the line fully waterproofed, you generally do need to carry it with you somehow. For some trail races and short summer hill races you may not be required to carry it, so please check with the organisers what is on their kit list. Weather on the day could also play a part in some races decisions, so it can be wise to take options with you.


Running Tops

In the summer months a short sleeved tee or vest is most runners' choice of base layer: layers can be added if need be! Gore make a great X-Running Zip Short Sleeved Tee which has pockets to store things if you are trying to travel lighter on a good summer's day, and the 1/2 zip is useful for controlling temperature. Or the Salomon Agile is a great women’s option with a fold-over back pocket.

Moving towards long sleeved and thermal baselayers, the longest standing favourite has to be a Helly Hansen! 'Hellys' aren't overly warm so they make an ideal baselayer on changeable days under whatever other layer you have on. There’s also been a couple of style Helly Hansen updates recently which are linked below. If you want a little more warmth there's the Ronhill Merino 1/2 Zip, or Montane Primino ½ Zip. Once it's super chilly my favorite is the Helly Hansen Warm Freeze 1/2 Zip. The inner side of the fabric is Helly Hansen's traditional Lifa fabric, which is great at wicking away sweat, while the outer is a merino wool blend, which offers great warmth.

An extra wonderful touch with any merino layers is they're odour free! I tend to favour cleanliness and have a fairly large washing pile at home, but if you're away on a trip and need to wear a baselayer back-to-back days then with a wool top you can hang it up overnight, wear it next day, and not smell like you are doing so ;-) The Odlo Cubic baslayer is a wonderful non merino option if you don’t want such a ‘cosy’ top you can wear day after day. It uses ‘effect’ which is a silver anti odour treatment, and is also lighter than the similar Helly Hansen lifa option.


Running Jackets

Montane, OMM and Ronhill all offer great lightweight waterproof jackets that will pass a kit check, plus windproof options that you can use for training.

If you want to go super light in a windproof it's hard to beat OMM Sonic smocks – they’re 60 grams and fold away into the collar. It won't keep you completely dry, so it doesn't suit everyone's comfort levels for the rain. Salomon’s Agile jacket is great value at £60 and offers a little more jacket with full zip and pockets.

In fully waterproof lightweight jackets again Montane, OMM and Ronhill all offer cracking options that are fully waterproof, have taped seams, a hood and are very lightweight and packable – all boxes ticked in a jacket to wear / carry in the hills! The OMM Kamleika is popular due to its soft stretchy fabric, making it a 'quieter' jacket to run in. Montane’s Minimus Jacket is the most packable and breathable option, and is also available in a super light smock. Whilst the Ronhill Torrent Jacket has had an update this season and is now lighter and cheaper than before.


Running Shorts

As with any running shorts, comfort is key here! But there are considerations for using off-road, such as pockets to carry things, or a longer length for a little more coverage on more exposed ground. 2-in-1 shorts have also become very popular with longer distance runners as the inner lycra shorts offer a little more support over the longer miles, plus limits chaffing. Ronhill make some well designed trail shorts that are continuing best sellers, due to their number of pockets to carry all manner of items!

The Trail Cargo Shorts (also for women) have an inner brief, good sized expandable zip back pocket and also gel loops. Then there's the new Trail Fuel Twin shorts, which have lycra shorts built in, with a clever easy-access pocket that holds soft bottles snug against your leg! Montane have trail shorts too with easy access side pockets and built in lycra shorts in cooling fabric.

Of course there’s still the classic runner's split shorts for a real feeling of freedom!


Lycra Tights

For cooler days you’ll be glad of some lycra! You can get tights which come in two weights. Something like the Nike Power Tech Tights or Ronhill Advance / Aspiration Tights are fine for the most part of winter if you are someone who doesn't feel the cold too badly once you are moving. If you feel the cold a lot, it's a very wet and windy day, or when it gets snowy up in the hills, then fleece tights like the Sugoi MidZero are great, or the Montane Cordillera are the cosiest with the added benefit of windproof panels. 3/4 length tights (capris) are great if it's a changeable day. Most runners find that their calves feel the cold the least.


Running Trousers

With the new rules, most decent length / height hill races now will insist on a waterproof pair being in your kit bag. Hopefully they can spend most of their life in your bag, but for wild and wet days you will be glad of them. Montane and OMM make great options that pack small and aren’t too ‘flappy’ a fit.

For girls Montane make the women’s specific Minimus Pants from a size 6! Otherwise the OMM are available in a unisex X-Small.

When you buy a pair of trousers, think about trying a larger size as well. You don't want them to flap about in the wind obviously, but consider that they will usually be over-trousers and you might need to fit them on in a hurry on a windy hill. If they are a tight fit this will be a bit more difficult! They also don't have the stretch of lycra, so make sure you can lift your knees comfortably in them.


Running Hats & Gloves

In winter, hats and gloves are a general must, while buffs or neck scarves are popular too. Again there are varying weights, so how thick to choose will depend on how much you feel the cold. Popular lightweight options are the Ronhill Classic Gloves. Or if you feel you need a little warmth, Montane Primino Gloves are a blend of merino and primaloft. The Gore Magnitude Windstopper Gloves – while twice the price of many of our gloves – are very popular with hill runners, as they block the wind and protect your hands more than your average running gloves will.

Waterproof caps are a wonderful alternative to a hood in a downpour, as they shield your eyes and you can still see where you’re going! On windy chilly days you can help stop a chill on your neck with a Montane neck gaiter or Buff, plus these can be wrapped a number of ways to keep your head warm! Headbands are also popular to protect your ears only if a hat gets you a little too warm.


Happy running, and don't forget to enjoy the views!

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  • Eric W MunsonDecember 10, 2016 at 2:56am
    Wait, you mean that in the UK runners are compelled to wear certain types of gear for certain types of running? Really? Seriously? Safety be darned; this is taking things a bit to the extreme, even in a nanny state. Reply
    • Shyamala StottDecember 15, 2016 at 10:56am

      Yes – it is indeed so that to take part in hill or trail running event you do need to CARRY OR WEAR fully waterproof clothing. You are only obliged to CARRY it during the race – the choice of wearing it is entirely yours :)

      However, due to some tragic loss of life during these kinds of events some guidelines had to be brought in by the folks that look after our sport. You may not agree with them, but they do have our safety in mind. The UK isn't always blessed with decent dry weather so if you get injured just wearing a baselayer, or thin wind jacket and you are forced to stop running to wait for help you will get cold very quickly. This is why you then will appreciate your extra clothing if you're not someone that would have chosen to run in it.

      Obviously these 'rules' only apply to organised events. While out enjoying your training runs alone, or with friends, you are totally free to make your own clothing choices!

      Reply
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