Summer Running: 3 Must-Have Gear Essentials to Hit the Trail

You need some summer running gear...

You know...so you can lace up and cruise all the miles on your favorite trails.

Soak up some sun.

Churn dirt.

Cool off in the water.

That kind of adventure makes summer running memorable.

But to make your adventures even better, having the right summer running gear will help you go the distance.

Want to know what a veteran trail runner Brynn Cunningham uses to tick off all the miles?

Check out her summer running gear recommendations for: 

  • Handheld water bottles
  • Hats
  • Headphones
Using the Amphipod (in the left hand) in the 4.7-mile trail running portion of the XTERRA off-road Triathlon. (Photo/SwimBikeRunPhoto.com)

My favorite summer running gear...

It's the peak of summer running here in southwestern Pennsylvania. And I love it, especially trail running.

Let me tell you why in just two words...

Running. Shorts.

First and foremost, in my opinion, running in shorts as opposed to any other bottom is simply the best. I long for summer for the joy of running shorts.

On that same note, it is easier to throw on a running outfit with very little thought, because we’re not managing layers as we do in the fall, winter and spring.

Subsequently, our laundry baskets aren’t piled high with thick, sweaty layers and outerwear. 

Additionally, the long days lend themselves to more hours to enjoy running.

What could be better than that?

With more daylight, it is less complicated to squeeze training sessions into busy schedules. There is something oh-so exhilarating and rewarding about starting a double-digit run at 5 p.m. and finishing at sunset. 

On the other hand, summertime running has its downsides, too. In fact, I hear more runners complain about summer running in the heat than any other season. 

I am not of the same camp, but I understand what they’re saying...

  • Challenges do exist.  
  • Sweat pours into our eyes.
  • We dehydrate and cramp more quickly.
  • Bugs bombard us.
  • The glaring sun zaps us of energy.
  • The humidity bogs us down. 
  • Thunderstorms erupt at a moment's notice. 

Despite these annoyances, we can add small touches to keep the downsides at bay. 

Here are a few of my favorite things for managing the heat and making summer running more enjoyable...

Handheld water bottles: The Amphipod, Nathan Quickshot and Ultimate Direction Fastdraw. (Photo/Brynn Cunningham)

1. Handheld water bottles

While I don’t mind wearing a hydration vest most seasons, I do not like them for summer running. 

Yes, I still wear them for long runs, but I prefer to keep them at home.

That’s where handheld water bottles come into play. I favor the hard plastic style for a handheld bottle rather than the soft flask styles that flop around in the hand. 

I also prefer to drink ice-cold water regularly even during the shortest of runs, especially on my hometown summer running trails where you’re gaining 100-200 feet of elevation per mile.

This is my favorite, by a landslide, because...

  • I barely have to hold onto it
  • It’s easy to switch from hand-to-hand
  • The wide mouth allows me to put in large ice cubes, and the insulation around it feels nice to the touch. 
  • The small pocket is enough for my car keys and a small knife.

I take this one on most 60-90-minute runs, and the 20 ounces of fluid is just right, as I tend to drink a lot. I would love this handheld in the 12-ounce version as well.   

This one is nice for very short runs that last 20 to 45 minutes. 

If I were to go back, I would have purchased the above Amphipod in the 12-ounce size, as stated above, rather than this one, because I like the Amphipod so much.

  • This one fits securely onto the hand.
  • But it's difficult to switch from hand-to-hand while running because of how secure the hand strap is. 
  • Still, it is a keeper, and I am putting it to good use.

I purchased this one for it’s phone case feature, because sometimes I feel safer if I have my phone.

I’ve been in emergency situations before, and the phone has been a savior. Yet, I find myself using the Amphipod and Nathan Quickshot the most.

The UD bottle does not contour to the hand as nicely as the Amphipod or the Nathan Quickshot. Still, it is convenient to have around.

Recently, a friend visited from out of town, and I lent her this bottle on a trail run together in order to carry her phone so we could take some photos.

A hat can completely change the experience of a rainy run, keeping the rain from beating into the eyes. (Photo/Brynn Cunningham)

2. Hats

The ideal summer running hat: 

  • Wicks sweat
  • Adjusts at the back
  • Keeps sweat from pouring into the eyes
  • Has a short bill, so as to not obstruct the view of low-hanging branches
  • Allows for air ventilation from the top of the head.
Wearing the Janji hat in the Laurel Highlands 50k during an epic and unpredicted thunder, lightning and rain storm that left the trail with shin-deep rushing water mid-race. I wore the hat on race-day to keep sweat out of my eyes, but it ended up shielding my eyes from at least some of the blinding torrents of rain. I was very grateful to have it on my head! (Photo/Mike McNeil)

I own two of these and wish Patagonia would make more. It is my favorite of all four styles pictured above.

I have worn it in a trail marathon, off-road triathlon, runs of all lengths and especially love the short brim and wide mesh holes for keeping cool. 

It also folds up easily to stash into a hydration vest pocket if need be.

I like the versatility of the light gray, neutral color. 

Plus, it is uber lightweight and comfortable. 

The brim could be a bit shorter for trails but has not been a problem.

If I come across orange running apparel, I buy it. Staying safe in the woods during hunting season is a top priority for me, so it was a no brainer to add the Brooks hat to my collection.

I want to love this hat as much as I love Janji’s AFO running shorts

Yet, the material is a bit thicker than any of the other hats listed. I prefer hats that have a mesh top, such as the:

  • Patagonia
  • Buff
  • Brooks

If Janji made this hat into a mesh-style, I would buy another. 

AfterShokz Trek Titanium Mini Wireless Headphones (Photo/Brynn Cunningham)

3. Headphones

Music amplifies that happy go-lucky summer running vibe. Combine the three...

  • Trails
  • Music
  • Running
  • And a smile is sure to result.

I have always loved cruising through the woods with music in my ears.

  • As a teen, I wore a walkman clipped to my waist. 
  • Then I advanced to a discman in a hip pack. 
  • In my late 20s, my boss gave me an iPod shuffle. It was tiny, and I took it everywhere - trail running, mountain biking, on flights and road trips, and even to fall asleep. 

Music, like running, is medicine, one might say.

I find myself craving music on runs in the wintertime, when it’s often so dark and dreary. But because I don’t want to freeze my ears off, I sadly leave the headphones at home.

I first purchased the AfterShokz Trek Titanium Mini Wireless headphones in 2019 to sync to my Garmin fenix, which syncs with my Spotify account. 

Now that’s technology at its finest...

  • Simple
  • Easy
  • Weightless
  • No wires to hide in my shirt

The headphones sit on the outside of my ears so that I can still hear the sounds around me, a crucial feature for trail running.  

Furthermore, in 2017, my husband bought me JayBird earbuds. But they did not fit inside my small ears, so his gift became his own. 

Even during the iPod mini days, those earbuds often fell out. The Aftershokz have eliminated that by placing the headphones upon the outside. They sit securely and comfortably. 

Bonus: they even fit well while wearing a hat.

Now, for your listening pleasure...

Here’s a 56-minute yoga-inspired running playlist I made for an uplifting, feel-good trail run:

Whether you love summer running, don’t give it a second thought, or detest it, perhaps a handheld, hat or headphones will give you some pep in your step so that you can enjoy the upsides of the season.

Happy, summer running!

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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