In my hometown, it was nearly impossible not to become an avid runner. The supply of breathtaking trails nearby was endless. Most days, I spent the remaining hours of after-school daylight racking up miles on the historic NCR trail next to the gunpowder river or along country roads that contoured verdant forests and grazing pastures. I've always been an adventurer at heart, and running shoes were my first passport for exploration in my tiny hometown. A few continents and many cities later, an inaugural run (when possible) remains my preferred method of acclimating to a new place's pace and feel.
It's no surprise that my vagabond heart precipitated a minimalist mindset, and like traveling, I prefer to run with the bare essentials. Taking a run for me is all about dropping into my body and the experience of wherever I find myself. As long as I have, at the very least, running shoes, a running phone holder, or a running belt, I'm usually good to go. For longer runs or those outdoors, I also bring along a running vest to store water and snacks.
These bare essentials have taken me on incredible runs all over the world. Whenever I go for runs while traveling, I always aim to hit the pavement first thing in the morning. I've always been a morning person, and I find it magical to watch how the world wakes up differently around the world. I vividly remember traversing the mighty Danube river and lush public parks in Budapest as the smell of morning coffee emanated from cafes. On the other side of the world, a short two-miler took me to the beaches of Western Bali, where I watched fishermen push their boats into the water and embark on their day at sea.
One collection of treasured morning runs while traveling were those I took in Porto da Cruz on the island of Madeira. Madeira is a small Portuguese island about 2 hours away from Lisbon by plane. I traveled there because I had scored a free flight to Lisbon courtesy of a generous friend and saw how affordable flights were to the island via budget airlines. Needless to say, I decided to extend my Portuguese adventure.
I went to Madeira expecting exceptional hiking and surfing, as it is known for both, but I also found incredible running locations. Each morning, I would take a run through winding cobblestone streets and along jagged seaside cliffs – just me and my shoes, the bare essentials.
Madeira is an exceptionally rugged and mountainous island, so these runs, although short, were often serious undertakings. On one run, when I crested a hill breathless and dripping in sweat, the local church bells began to ring. I could have sworn they were congratulating me, not marking the turn of the hour. I descended the hill satisfied, hungry for breakfast from the local market and ready to refuel before a day of surfing with the exceptionally kind owner and fellow travelers staying with me at the guesthouse. There is something about the cadence of a run that engrains memories of them into my mind, unlike other experiences. Often, they linger longer and are so vivid that just thinking transports me back to the exact moment and feeling of each.
Running is a profoundly gratifying experience. Unlike other sports, it continues to bring me a great deal of joy in life without draining my wallet... I'm looking at you rock climbing. So whether you are a minimalist or you're just trying to hit the pavement without breaking the bank, below is a list of my running gear bare essentials to get you started so you can begin making those memories.
A runner would be nothing without their shoes. That is, of course, unless you're into barefoot running, but my minimalist desires have yet to take me down that path. Like any piece of beloved gear, I've formed an emotional attachment to many pairs of running shoes. I think the pair of Brooks running shoes that I broke a 7-minute mile in high school may still be hiding somewhere in my childhood bedroom.
Picking a practical pair of running shoes is probably the most important thing a runner does. When looking for a pair of shoes, it's crucial to think about the kind of environment(s) where you mostly run. When I moved to California, I went from running through the woods to mainly running on sidewalks, the beach, and dusty mountain trails. Safe to say, my worn-out Brooks sneakers were a severe slipping hazard.
Today, there are a plethora of running shoe styles tailored to each runner's preference. For the sake of simplicity, let's start with the most straightforward decision you'll have to make – road or trail shoes. Personally, I opt for road shoes because I mostly run on streets and gentle trails. Plus, I'm not a fan of bulky shoes, and trail shoes tend to have more cushioning and thus more bulk. If you are mostly running in mountains or technical trails, go with trail running shoes. If you have any injuries or bad knees, shoes with maximum cushioning like Hoka shoes could be a godsend for your joints.
Once you’ve decided on a shoe type that will match your running needs, these articles will guide you in selecting the perfect trail or road shoe: What to Look for in a Trail Running Shoe and What to Look for in a Road Running Shoe. It’s also essential to think about how much arch support and cushion you like in your shoes. There are cushioning shoes for high arches, neutral shoes for normal arches, and motion control shoes for flat feet. Here is an example of each:
Lastly, this might be debated, but I think it's essential to pick a pair of running shoes that you think look cool! Whether you're looking for sleek monochromatic sneaks or a colorful pair, make sure to express yourself when you hit the trails.
The second most important thing for me is making sure I leave the house with everything I need to get back in it. That means, first and foremost, my keys and cellphone. If you run without a phone, that's great. However, I run with a phone to track miles, listen to music, and in case of emergencies. Luckily, I've never had an "emergency," but once, I vastly overestimated my mileage ability for the day while training for my second half-marathon and had to uber myself home.
There are generally two options for this – a simple running phone holder or a running belt. I've used both, and which you choose comes down to personal preference. When I lived in the country, I used a Tune Belt armband as my running phone holder. Why? Because we never had to lock the front door, so the only thing I needed on the run was my phone. Now, living in busy Southern California, I prefer a running belt.
Running belts have more storage space for things like my keys and other small essentials. I also find running belts more comfortable because they stay put, unlike armbands that would sometimes slip around. Check out these high-rated running belt options:
From a young age, my Boy Scout/Indiana Jones-esque father drilled into my psyche the importance of preparation before heading into the outdoors. His teachings stuck. Twenty-five years later, I never run in the outdoors or unforgiving climates without making sure I've taken fuel and hydration into consideration. No one wants to get cotton mouth or, worse, start to overheat with no water a couple of miles into an empty trail. When I moved west and could no longer mooch off my dad's water supply on family runs, I decided it was time to purchase a running vest.
Running vests are fantastic. They are less bulky than a backpack but provide more storage options than a running belt. Running vests fit the shape of your body, are lightweight, and offer excellent easy access to necessities. If you purchase a bright running vest, they also provide you with added protection from increased visibility.
I prefer vests over backpacks because I don't have to take a break and take off my pack to grab fuel or water when I'm really in the zone. Depending on how I pack my vest, I can just reach into a pocket or take a sip from my CamelBak without stopping. Of course, you could get a hydration pack, like CamelBak's HydroBak, but they don't come with extra storage compartments, like running hydration vests. A happy medium would be purchasing a vest that can hold a water flask in the back. Here are some top-rated running vests for 2021:
So there you have it, my essential gear list for novice and minimalist runners alike. As I've said, running is a fantastic way to add joy into your life, from endorphins boosts to cherished memories. I hope this list of essential running gear helps get you off your laptop and onto the trails comfortably and safely.
For some, that might mean taking off with these bare essentials. Perhaps running shoes alone is all you need, while others may add some extra gear to the repertoire. Choose what works for you and have fun! Happy running!