Mountain running takes the best of trail running and ultrarunning but adds adventure, some mystery, and a lot of variety. Mountain running is a game for your imagination — you can find inspiring places, dream up routes, and discover ways you might navigate them.
The skyline of a local range can be just as exciting and inspiring as running in beautiful mountains in far-off places. Many Americans have been lured to the Chamonix Valley of France by mountain running dreams, while non-Americans prize U.S. mountain running ranges like the Teton Range of Wyoming and the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Travel and adventure go together with mountain running, and physiology and tactical considerations can be elevated beyond that of routine trail running. Higher elevations, volatile weather, route-finding, often spotty cell service, and many more factors make mountain running more gear-specific.
Best Mountain Running Gear
- Best Mountain Running Shoes: La Sportiva Cyklon
- Best Mountain Running Shoes – Runner-Up: Saucony Peregrine 12
- Best Hydration Pack: Salomon Adv Skin 12
- Best Waistbelt: Naked Running Band
- Best Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking /Running Poles
- Best Rain Jacket: Patagonia Storm Racer Jacket
- Best Windbreaker Jacket: Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket
- Best Shirt: Rab Sonic LS Zip
- Best Wind or Rain Pants: Patagonia Wind Shield Pants
- Best Gloves: Black Diamond Wind Hood GridTech Gloves
- Best Insulated Jacket: Dynafit Radical Dwn Rds M Hood Jkt
- Best Headband: Crazy Idea Band Fast Cut Thermo
- Best Headlamp: Petzl Nao RL
- Best GPS Watch: Garmin fēnix 7 – Standard Edition
- Best Brimmed Hat: Black Diamond Dash Cap
- Best Sunglasses: Julbo Aero With Reactiv 0-3 Lens
- Best Water Filter: Katadyn BeFree 0.6L
- Best Traction Device: Black Diamond Distance Spike
Best Mountain Running Shoes: La Sportiva Cyklon ($185)
In 2002, La Sportiva trademarked the term “mountain running,” so it’s fitting that the La Sportiva Cyklon makes the cut in this guide. It is snappy enough for fast ascents and has a lug configuration that shines on loose descents.
Taking the Cyklon to the mountains, the focus is on footwork and agility. Despite the aggressive lug pattern, the Cyklon lacks a rock plate and provides a lot of ground feel. The shoe feels very snappy and downright springy when jumping and landing over jagged rock and other obstacles. The incredible ground feel helps ensure solid footing over loose terrain in the mountains.
The Cyklon is a burly shoe indeed, and its upper is more durable than meets the eye, but it’s worth considering the duration and type of mountain running you expect. It’s not a cruiser for long runs, nor is it the most comfortable on hard ground. But when it comes to picking a short line to ascend and descend with reckless abandon, it is incredibly secure and confident.
If you love technical trails but have been put off by too-narrow La Sportiva shoe models in the past, you’ll be happy to know the Cyklon is very accommodating in the midsole, and the shoe works for many different foot shapes. The BOA Fit System dial works expertly to lock in the fit but may come detached from the shoe if jammed against a rock. It’s happened to me a few times, but the BOA reattaches easily with little issue.
Read our La Sportiva Cyklon review to learn more.
Best Mountain Running Shoes – Runner Up: Saucony Peregrine 12 ($130)
One of our testers called the Saucony Peregrine 12 a “simple” shoe. But this is not a criticism; it’s a compliment! Compared to many modern trail running shoes, it’s missing some things. The Peregrine 12 doesn’t have a carbon plate, maximum cushion, or a rocker. Refreshingly, it’s just a trail shoe. It’s targeting a corner of the market that’s lacking a lot of other options.
What makes this shoe one of our picks for mountain running is its versatility and ability to take whatever terrain you can throw at it. Saucony has put a lot of time and effort into improvements for this 12th edition. In the last couple of iterations, the Peregrine has returned to the initial model — a trail running shoe that is kind of light, kind of fast, kind of luggy, and serves a large market by working for a variety of conditions.
The Peregrine 12’s improved tread compound, which is much stickier than the Peregrine 11, excels on and off-trail and through muddy or sloppy conditions. The shoe weighs less than 10 ounces and boasts some “fast” characteristics but provides enough cushion for long-distance.
Best Hydration Pack: Salomon Adv Skin 12 ($160)
The Salomon Adv Skin 12 is one of Salomon’s larger vests, with 12 liters of space to fit many layers and all the essential gear you need for long days in the mountains. It even includes loops on the base of the pack so you can stash a pair of collapsible trekking poles. However, despite the capacity, it remains a light and low-profile pack that fits the body well even when it’s nearly empty. This low-profile design allows you to wear the pack both over or under a shell jacket in the winter to keep your water, food, and phone from freezing. Salomon does a great job at keeping its hydration packs light, even those that have ample storage like this one. The Salomon Adv Skin 12 was our top pick for 12 to 15L packs in our best hydration pack for running buyer’s guide.Shop the Salomon Adv Skin 12
Best Waistbelt: Naked Running Band ($55)
The stretchy, breathable, tube-style running waistpack has three deep pockets encircling the entire belt, with the largest one in the back, suitable to fit even a full-size soft flask. The Naked Running Band has large elastic bands in which to conveniently slip your running poles, though you might be able to feel them on the small of your back.
We have found the Naked Running Band to have the most precise fit of all the tube-style running waistpacks out there, thanks to its 12 available sizes. Some, but not all, testers found the tall height of the band caused it to scrunch up around the abdomen. This depends on your body shape and how little you may be carrying in the belt.Shop the Naked Running Band
Best Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles ($190)
Collapsible, adaptable, and durable, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles have become a ubiquitous piece of equipment for mountain runners and were the top pick in our best trekking poles guide. These poles come in sizes that accommodate a broad range of heights and boast a relatively light weight — the carbon-fiber construction amounts to 9 to 10.5 ounces per pair, depending on size. These are an excellent investment for runners tired of pushing on their knees with their hands to power up the steeps.
Some people hate using poles, and others swear by them. While most terrain doesn’t necessitate their use, if you’re going out for a multiday mountain adventure or just a very steep one, using poles can provide some energy preservation by reducing strain on your legs and by keeping your body in better posture while moving uphill.Shop the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles
Best Rain Jacket: Patagonia Storm Racer Jacket ($270)
A neighborhood running rain jacket this ain’t. The Patagonia Storm Racer Jacket is designed for the unpredictability of the mountains when it’s not only uncomfortable to be caught out by wind, rain, and snow but also potentially dangerous.
Designed to be worn over your running vest, the entire front panel of the jacket can be zipped down and folded over to provide breathability and access to your hydration pack. This brilliant design does what virtually no other running rain jacket does: allows a runner to keep moving without having to stop to put it on or away. This is particularly important in the mountains when conditions can turn quickly and when body heat and safety are at a premium.
The jacket weighs 7 ounces, and in Colorado, where we tested it in rainstorms and blowing snowstorms, we found the jacket impenetrable to the elements. It’s as protective as a Patagonia ski jacket but made for a mountain runner.
To learn more, check out our Patagonia Storm Racer Jacket review.
Best Windbreaker Jacket: Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket ($140)
With lots of features, an ultralight weight of 2.6 ounces (73 grams), and an affordable price, the iRunFar team named the Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket the best overall wind jacket in our best running windbreaker jackets guide. It’s no doubt that it’s the one wind jacket we bring to the mountains then, too.
For a wind jacket this light, it has an array of features, including a full-length zipper, two zippered hand pockets, a hidden inner pocket with a Velcro closure, a bit of elastic at the waist, tiny underarm vents, and a drawstring hood with front pull tabs for adjustment.
The wind jacket also features microfiber material on the elastic wrists for comfort, additional length in the back for increased coverage and warmth, and reflective panels. And it’s treated with a DWR finish for water resistance.
Best Shirt: Rab Sonic LS Zip ($60)
Rab is a traditional alpine climbing company from the U.K. In recent years, they have opened their line to trail running specific pieces, no doubt to capture some of the magic of the rounds and fells running scene found in their own backyard. Their effort to create ultra-lightweight shirts with the latest, lightest fabrics comes by way of the Rab Sonic LS Zip, a lightweight half-zip shirt with features specific to mountain running.
First, the long sleeve allows for thermoregulation. Roll the sleeves up when it’s warm on ascents and pull them back down again for descending. Second, the front zip adds a massive amount of breathability and sweat control that you don’t get from a crew neck.
The shirt has open-knit mesh panels under the arms, at the cuffs, and in the lower back to create exceptional moisture management and airflow right where you need it. Despite feeling notably lighter than most other long-sleeve shirts, it’s been warm enough for us on runs in the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit.
We reviewed the Rab Sonic LS Zip in greater detail in this Rab trail running apparel review.
Best Wind or Rain Pants: Patagonia Wind Shield Pants ($169)
When it comes to running in cold, windy weather, we found that the Capilene Cool fabric of the Patagonia Wind Shield Pants kept us warm when temperatures dropped, and the wind picked up. These softshell pants are lightweight and stretchy, and they work well for temperatures hovering on either side of freezing. Breathable panels strategically located along the lateral legs and behind the knees help with temperature regulation. Because these pants have a bit of a generous cut, it’s possible to add some thin layers underneath for running in really low temperatures. A set of tall socks and a pair of tighter running shorts can do a lot for added warmth. The cut of the pants allows for a full range of motion, and they’re comfortable to wear, providing the little bit of extra warmth that can make all the difference during a mountain run.
The waistband is wide, soft, and stretchy, and an external drawcord is easy to cinch down. With a small pocket on either side, these pants are ready to carry small items like keys, a headlamp, or extra gloves.
These pants are far from waterproof, but they do a reasonable job of shedding light moisture. The DWR coating helps water bead, but they will soak through in heavy precipitation. But when it comes to doing what they’re designed for, cutting the wind, they perform admirably. At only 9.3 ounces, they’re easy to carry in a pack when you don’t need them.
Best Gloves: Black Diamond Wind Hood GridTech Gloves ($50)
For many of us in the mountains, happiness starts and ends with our hands. There’s little that can disrupt the pleasure of a beautiful run in the mountains more than cold or numb fingers. It’s important, even on days forecasted to be mild, to keep a pair of high-performing gloves in your pack.
Black Diamond is a glove specialist with numerous options, but our go-to is the Black Diamond Wind Hood GridTech Gloves. They are windproof and water-resistant, and the high-performance overmitt covers all your fingers and thumbs. Even in ferocious wind conditions, the inside of the mitt is a calm and warm haven.
For mountain running, it’s also important that gloves don’t hinder the use of other important gear, such as the wrist straps on your trekking poles. The sleek profile of these gloves works very efficiently, allowing us to fit through the straps of our favorite poles, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles, without requiring us to take the gloves off and put them back on.
To learn more about why we chose the Black Diamond Wind Hood GridTech Gloves as one of our favorite convertible gloves, read our best running gloves guide.Shop the Black Diamond Wind Hood GridTech Gloves
Best Insulated Jacket: Dynafit Radical Dwn Rds M Hood Jkt ($300)
The Radical Dwn Rds M Hood Jkt has one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios on the market, making it an ideal warm layer for mountain running that packs away quite small when not in use.
The outer layer is water-resistant, but the shape of the jacket is streamlined enough to fit underneath a dedicated waterproof jacket. With 800-fill goose down, the jacket should provide adequate warmth in a range of temperatures.
Extras include zippered side pockets and a hood shape that fits closely to your head, minimizing movement in the wind while also comfortably accommodating a running hat or a headlamp. The horizontal shape of the baffles helps keep the down from moving or migrating around. The high-use areas, such as the armpits, feature a soft shell fabric to minimize abrasions or wear from your pack.
Best Headband: Crazy Idea Band Fast Cut Thermo ($26)
“Crazy” is the shorthand way fans of this brand refer to it. The full name “Crazy Idea” is accurate; they do things differently — much differently! From the incredible environmentally focused packaging to the prints and patterns of the fabric — check out their jeans for ski mountaineering! — this Italian brand offers a fresh perspective for mountain runners.
A headband, as opposed to a Buff-style tube, is great for sun protection, hair control, and as a sweat absorber or ear warmer — all the things you might require during a single day in the mountains. The 14-gram Crazy Idea Band Fast Cut Thermo is even bacteriostatic, meaning it is soft, moisture-wicking, and bacteria-resistant. It’s available in many different patterns, and you’ll certainly find one that suits your style.Shop the Crazy Idea Fast Cut Thermo Band
Best Headlamp: Petzl Nao RL ($170)
The Petzl Nao RL is an updated version of the Nao+, which ultrarunners have loved for many years.
As with its predecessor, this headlamp offers both regular and Reactive Lighting options. The Reactive Lighting grows dimmer when there’s more ambient light or brighter as needed. This can save a lot of battery and optimize the lighting for any ambient light conditions. The battery is not light, but it will give you a whole summer night of decently lit trail running. Switching batteries in the field is a relatively easy process.
The Nao RL also has a red light in the back that can either be solid or a strobe to keep you visible to approaching cars or other runners. The reflective headband also improves the runner’s visibility to others.Shop the Petzl Nao RL
Best GPS Watch: Garmin fēnix 7 – Standard Edition (begins at $700)
We lauded Garmin’s fenix 6 for its outstanding mapping abilities, the best, in fact, among any GPS watch designed for ultrarunners. Could it actually get better? The answer is emphatically “yes” because, in addition to the same preloaded, offline-enabled mapping capabilities as the “6,” the Garmin fēnix 7 – Standard Edition is now touchscreen compatible. This means you can jog around the screen with your fingertip rather than the 6’s laborious click-click-clicking around with “zoom in, zoom out” and “side-to-side” functions.
This is a major upgrade because whether you are following a route in the middle of the mountains or even when doing a new city route (at home or traveling) and just want to get your bearings easily, the simple swipe helps you pinpoint your location and destination in a flash.
The fenix 7 adds a higher-performing battery — up to 57 hours using GPS only and 40 hours using all satellite systems. On that note, the fenix 7 doesn’t quite compete with the new Coros Apex 2 Pro, with its access to all five globally recognized satellites, but the Garmin fenix 7 does use GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo to reinforce location accuracy in challenging environmental conditions.
No other traditional GPS watch we’ve tested (that is, non “smart” ones) can access wi-fi to transfer information and files. The integration between your home wi-fi and the Garmin Connect app means you can sync music and podcasts via Spotify. When this is combined with its huge battery life (which the Apple watch simply can’t compete with) means the 7 is as close to a phone replacer as you’ll find.
Bottom line? This is not just the best GPS watch for the mountains. It is our daily driver.
You can read more about this watch and why we named it the best GPS watch for running in our best GPS running watch guide.Shop the Garmin fēnix 7 - Standard Edition
Best Brimmed Hat: Black Diamond Dash Cap ($40)
Shielding your face, eyes, and lips from the sun saves energy over a full day in the mountains and prevents a tough recovery later. Beyond overall comfort, the Black Diamond Dash Cap has a full-coverage bill that is slightly wider and longer than other hats designed for running. We’ve found this subtle detail means a lot.
The material is a lightweight polyester dobby weave, which adds texture without losing flexibility — and provides airy and breathable comfort. Some effective sun-blocking hacks, like tucking the tops of your ears into the sides of your hat, help reduce your sun exposure. The Dash Cap allows this with robust material and a sweatband that is smooth without any itchiness or abrasive seams.
We love this hat so much that we named it the best overall in our best running hats guide.Shop the Black Diamond Dash Cap
Best Sunglasses: Julbo Aero With Reactiv 0-3 Lens ($230)
Photochromic lenses get darker or lighter to match changing light conditions, and the Julbo Aero With Reactiv 0-3 Lens sunglasses are our preferred model. Because the weather in the mountains is fickle, a pair of photochromic sunglasses are particularly useful for mountain running where you often encounter a range of light conditions — for days that begin with alpine starts, progress through sunny conditions, and end with alpine finishes. Sunglasses also provide excellent protection in variable conditions, like wind.
At their darkest, the lens is dark enough for bright days in the sun, even with glare from snow, and they’ll transition to absolutely clear during the dark of night (we tested this during many early starts over the past year). The super-lightweight Julbo Aero Reactiv really sticks to your face, and the breathability of the Aero frame shines during long and slow uphill slogs when we’ve had other glasses fog up.
We also named the Julbo Aero With Reactiv 0-3 Lens the best photochromic lens sunglasses in our best running sunglasses guide.Shop the Julbo Aero With Reactiv 0-3 Lens
Best Water Filter: Katadyn BeFree 0.6L ($47)
When the Katadyn BeFree 0.6L launched five or six years ago, I called it the most innovative new product released in my entire running career. Its release happened during the most productive mountain running period of my life, and the overlap could not be more poignant: carrying all of your water for an entire day stinks! The BeFree let me run wild in the mountains with just a bottle and filter, luxuriously filling up from that oh-so-satisfying summer snow melt, creeks, and alpine lakes.
Using the filter is simple and speedy: you fill up the soft flask with water in the backcountry and drink straight from the attached nozzle, only stopping for as long as it takes to fill the soft flask with water.Shop the Katadyn BeFree
Best Traction Device: Black Diamond Distance Spike ($100)
You might find snow and ice while mountain running, either traversing or ascending steep snow fields and snow gullies (or even moderate couloirs) or crossing glaciated terrain. Even a summer run in the high mountains might require a traction device to make movement more efficient and safer.
Our best-rated device, used by many on the iRunFar test team, is the Black Diamond Distance Spike, a crampon-like, chain-and-metal-spike style of traction device. Unlike most other traction devices with such a stout description, the Distance Spike cuts the weight of a traditional crampon roughly in half without losing any grip.
This is an easy-on, easy-off traction device built for mountain running. It stores easily in your pack — perfect for the moments you need it and not very noticeable when stowed.Shop the Black Diamond Distance Spike
Considerations for Mountain Running
Whether you’re heading out for a day run in your local mountain range that you’ve done dozens of times or tackling a multiday mountain traverse that you’ve been dreaming about and planning for months or years, running in the mountains is a special experience. Unlike many more traditional trail runs, mountain runs expose runners to the elements, take them to remote locations, and test both their physical and mental fitness. Mountain running often requires an extra skill set beyond that of normal trail running or ultra running. There are endless routes for mountain runs in ranges around the world. Whether you’re looking for a short and steep romp up the mountain behind a city or aiming to get days away from civilization during fastpacking trips, there is a multitude of options to choose from around many regions of the world. Having the right gear, and the ability to carry it in a pack like the Salomon Adv Skin 12, can make a run much safer and enjoyable.
Safety Considerations for Mountain Running
Because many mountain runs take place in more remote locations, taking the proper safety precautions is even more important than if you were just going for a run on your local backyard loop. Regardless of where you’re running, it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. In addition to this info, it’s a good idea to tell your safety person when and how to raise the alarm if you’re not back within a certain amount of time from your expected return. Carrying an extra jacket, like the lightweight Patagonia Storm Racer Jacket, can increase your margin of safety in many situations.
Many mountain runners choose to use a satellite communicator like a SPOT or a Garmin InReach to be able to communicate even if they are out of cell service. Not only are these devices critical for summoning help if something happens, but they’re useful for alerting a loved one if you’re running late so that they don’t have to worry about you.
Mountain running often occurs at high altitudes, and this can lead to safety concerns. As altitude increases, there’s less oxygen in the air for your body to use. If a body isn’t acclimated to a certain altitude, it won’t have the physiological adaptations to exert itself at normal levels. While in most circumstances, this just results in slower movement, altitude sickness can occur and be deadly. You can learn more about altitude-related issues at iRunFar’s Trail First Aid: Altitude Illness. The best way to avoid severe altitude issues is to allow your body to adjust to high altitude slowly by not going from sea level to the high peaks of the Colorado mountains without spending some time at moderate elevations in the process.
Essential Mountain Running Safety Gear
Because of the more technical terrain and often variable and potentially dangerous weather, the risks of mountain running are often greater, and the ability to access help and/or medical attention is more challenging. Anytime you find yourself going into more rugged terrain without easy access to services, it’s also worth considering packing some of the following items.
- Navigation app for phone
- Compass when needed
- Paper maps when needed
- Emergency blanket
- Wound dressing
- Medications (such as Benadryl or an EpiPen)
- Bathroom kit (includes two ziplocks and a couple of pieces of paper towels)
- Light source
It’s often a good idea to pack the safety equipment you’ll need for an unexpected night out. You don’t necessarily need to be comfortable if you get stuck out — you just need to be able to stay alive if you’re forced to hunker down for a while. Having a headlamp like the Petzl Nao RL will get you home in the dark if a run has gone longer than expected and save you from a night in the woods.
Clothing Choices for Mountain Running
While running on well-established trails that are in cell service and well-traveled can require very little gear beyond a pair of shoes and a single layer of clothes, mountain running requires more preparation. Many mountain runs can take a person far from civilization and away from immediate help. While it might be tempting to run without extra clothing with the thought that you’ll be able to outrun changing weather, it’s important to consider the consequences of being immobilized and needing to wait for help in a remote area. A runner might be able to stay warm in a single shirt and shorts as long as they can move, but if they have to stop and wait several hours for a rescue, hypothermia could set in quickly.
Mountain running clothing needs to be breathable and wicking in order to keep you dry and comfortable. Our team loved the Rab Sonic LS Zip as a base layer for all types of running conditions. Your clothing choices also need to take into account the weather forecast and the potential for unexpected storms. Unlike local runs, where you can scurry home if the weather takes a turn for the worse, it’s a good idea to carry clothing that can protect you from the elements. At a bare minimum, it’s a good idea to at least carry a light jacket or shell, even for a short mountain run with a good weather forecast.
In most circumstances, you won’t find trail maps at the intersections of trails during mountain runs, and it’s important to have the navigation skills and tools to keep from getting lost. Gone are the days when paper maps were the only option for navigating an area. Now, there are many different navigation apps that can be used offline on a phone, such as Gaia and OnX. Both allow you to download maps of an area ahead of time and plot your route on them. When you’re out on the trails, they can pinpoint where you are and make navigation easy. If you’re using your phone as your primary source of navigation, you’ll want to make sure it has plenty of charge for the task, and you may want to carry a backup battery. Phones can also break, or the mapping apps can crash unexpectedly, so it’s always a good idea to have a backup navigation plan. Many GPS watches have a decent base map loaded on them that can be used to get home if your primary form of navigation stops working. And in the end, it’s never a bad idea to have a compass, a basic map of the area, and a general idea of how to use them to get you home. It’s easy to carry navigation essentials in a pack like the Salomon Adv Skin 12, and a Naked Running Band can fit a phone as well.
Lightning is a very real danger faced by mountain runners. Mountain weather can change quickly, and thunderstorms can pop up out of seemingly nowhere. In places that experience monsoonal weather patterns, a bluebird morning can quickly deteriorate into massive thunderstorms in a matter of minutes. Checking the weather forecast and paying attention to the sky is important before and during a mountain run, whether you’re going out for a few hours or several days.
Getting caught out above tree line during a thunderstorm is dangerous. Ideally, getting back into the trees as soon as the weather turns is the best chance to avoid a dangerous situation. Making good route decisions early can save a runner from a frantic sprint downhill. While lightning can strike below tree line, a runner is in much more danger if they are the tallest object in an open alpine meadow or on top of a peak. It’s possible to approximate how far away a lightning strike is by counting the seconds between seeing a bolt of lightning and hearing the clap of thunder that it creates. Every five-second increment between lightning and thunder is about equivalent to one mile. So a 10-second gap between the lightning bolt and the thunder boom means the strike was about two miles away.
If you are caught out in a lightning storm and can’t get to a lower elevation quickly, your best bet might be to get into lightning position and wait it out. Read more about lightning safety and how to treat lightning-related injuries in iRunFar’s Trail First Aid Series. A good jacket, like the Patagonia Storm Racer Jacket, can make it safer, easier, and more comfortable to wait out a storm.
Many mountain running routes run into snow, especially during the late spring or early summer. Early fall snowstorms can also cover an area in snow and impede travel if you don’t have the right skills and gear to safely move through a region. Three major snow hazards include avalanches, slips and falls, and difficult navigation.
While most runners won’t find themselves traversing snow that is prone to avalanches, it’s good to know a few basics so that you can make good decisions if you find yourself out in the mountains and need to evaluate a snow slope. In the middle of winter, slab avalanches are most likely to occur on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. This is generally the terrain of skiers, but runners on snowshoes also need to be aware of their surroundings and not traverse across or below steep slopes. In the spring, as the snow starts to become firmer, runners may need to watch out for wet avalanches. These can occur on much shallower slopes when the sun has heated the snow and water has worked its way into the snowpack and destabilized it. In early spring, if you’re sinking past mid-calf in soft snow, you want to stay away from steeper slopes. Unstable snow can also be characterized by pinwheels of snow rolling down a slope. Both slab and wet avalanches can be deadly, and if you’re not sure about a slope, it’s probably a good idea to avoid it and find another route.
Slips and falls can turn dangerous when traveling on hard snow. It doesn’t take much of a slope to start sliding if you lose your footing, and a long slide that ends in rocks can be dangerous. If you’re frequently traveling on hard snow, it’s a good idea to have a pair of traction devices in your pack to assist with footing. Our team found the Black Diamond Distance Spike a great option for additional traction. A pair of poles, like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles, can also help with stability on the snow.
Snow can also obscure the trail and make navigation difficult. If you’re traveling in the mountains in the early spring, you’ll want to have a good handle on navigation and expect the trail to be covered in snow in some areas.
Why Trust Us
I am extremely fortunate to have mountain access close to home. As such, I’ve run in all of the most prominent mountain areas in Colorado: the San Juan Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and more. I’ve run 54 of the 58 Colorado 14ers and spent considerable time running abroad in the Alps, Dolomites, and Argentinian Patagonia.
I’ve learned many lessons the hard way about showing up unprepared for mountain running. I’ve regretted many decisions I’ve made, particularly starting runs in bad or windy weather and not paying enough attention to forecasts. Thankfully, I’ve become smarter and better prepared over the years.
The rest of the iRunFar editorial team has nearly 30 collective years of mountain running experience. We’ve climbed as high as 19,000 feet into the mountains and trekked as far as 200 mountain miles in a single adventure. We’ve completed the Nolan’s 14 line in Colorado — an iconic mountain running line — in under 60 hours. We’ve summited peaks in all seasons and weather conditions.
Together, we’ve learned lessons through our successes and failures up high, and we hope this guide equips you for what I believe to be the best style of running!
Please note that in the running world, product models are routinely discontinued, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing as well as research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. When we update any buyer’s guide, most of the products are likely to remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear that you’ll be using for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions about Mountain Running
What is mountain running?
Despite an obvious crossover with trail running, mountain running is a sport of its own. In the late 1980s, the World Mountain Running Association was formed, and mountain running became an official designation to distinguish the sport as a separate discipline. Since then, the annual international series has drawn top runners (and often crossover athletes like ski mountaineers) to its events.
This racing tradition has morphed into what most of us think of as mountain running today: variable terrain, often off-trail, and far from where the road ends. These events can be short, steep efforts or multiday adventures. Having a pair of shoes, like the La Sportiva Cyklon, that can handle an array of mountain conditions is incredibly important for successful mountain running.
Though many mountain runners will incorporate scrambling or easy rock climbing into their route, this guide is intended for runners who might only encounter basic scrambling, such as using your hands to pull up over some rock sections, and not advanced scrambling or climbing, where steepness and exposure add consequence.
You might also encounter hazards and conditions that require specific knowledge while adventuring in the mountains, like glaciated terrain or avalanche conditions. This guide doesn’t recommend gear for these more specific circumstances.
What is essential gear for mountain running?
In terms of gear requirements, mountain running can be relatively involved. Along a mountain run, one might encounter a range of terrain, from singletrack and talus fields to snow fields and glaciers, third-class rock, and more.
Additionally, mountain weather can be fickle, requiring a range of gear to provide safety and comfort. Mountain running often requires being prepared for winter, even in the middle of summer! Even a light windbreaker jacket like the Montbell Tachyon Hooded Jacket can make a big difference if the weather starts to turn bad.
You may check a mountain forecast beforehand and feel confident bringing just shoes, shorts, and a jacket. But, in most cases, you’ll have a much better (and safer) experience by incorporating some of the products we’ve selected here.
Do I need poles for mountain running?
When it comes to moving fast over mountain terrain, many runners prefer using a set of running poles like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles. Having a set of poles can provide extra propulsion on uphills by engaging your arm muscles, increase stability on descents, and offer extra points of contact with the ground when traversing technical terrain. Most trekking poles are easy to store in a hydration pack when you’re not using them, and they’re light enough to carry, even if you’re not going to use them for the entire run.
Should I carry a first-aid kit?
If you’re running in remote locations, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the unexpected. A simple cut can ruin a run if you don’t have a way to stop the bleeding and keep it covered. Having a first-aid kit with a few bandages, antibiotic ointment, and some gauze can go a long way toward managing basic wounds. You can learn more about would management and some of the essentials to carry in a mountain running first aid kit here. A small first aid kit will fit easily into a pack like the Salomon Adv Skin 12.
What’s the best way to navigate during a mountain run?
There are countless ways to navigate through an unknown area, with most mountain runners relying heavily on phone apps that can hold maps of the area, a route, and pinpoint a location at any point in time. While phones are easy to carry, even in a small running belt like the Naked Running Band, they do have their limitations. If you’re using your phone for navigation, it’ll put a larger strain on the battery and deplete it more quickly than normal. The GPS function on a phone can also be off by several hundred feet and may fail to find a reliable signal if you’re in deep valleys or under a lot of tree cover. Lastly, none of the apps are bombproof and have been occasionally known to lose their downloaded maps. It’s never a good idea to rely solely on your phone to get you home.
Doing research before heading out for a mountain run can help you have a general understanding of an area. If you have a mental map of where you’re trying to go and various landmarks to navigate by, you should be able to generally work your way through an area, even if you’re doing an off-trail route. Having a backup paper map and compass can also get you home if your electronic navigation fails. The base maps on a watch like the Garmin fēnix 7 – Standard Edition can also help with navigation.
Do I need to filter water in the mountains?
While a mountain stream might look crystal clear and inviting to drink, it can carry a host of bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Giardia is the most common water-borne bacteria that can lead to diarrhea, stomach cramps, and dehydration. It gets into waterways from mammals in the area and is impossible to detect with the naked eye. Given how light and easy modern water filters are to carry and use, it’s often considered best practice to filter all wild water, even if you think it’s most likely safe. You can explore different options for water filters at iRunFar’s Best Water Filters for Trail Running Guide. We’ve found that the Katadyn BeFree 0.6L is a great option for most mountain running situations.
Do I need a satellite messenger to let people know where I am?
If you’re running in remote locations, especially if you’re running solo, it’s a good idea to have some sort of satellite messenger. Whether you carry a SPOT, which can send simple OK or SOS signals to family or summon search and rescue, or a Garmin inReach that will allow you to use the satellite network to send texts from your phone, these devices can provide you and your loved ones with some amount of peace of mind. They can also decrease the time and effort required by search and rescue if they need to perform a rescue. Most satellite devices are fairly small and can be easily carried in a pack like the Salomon Adv Skin 12. And even if you never have to use it for yourself, there are countless instances where someone carrying a satellite device was able to use it to call for help for someone else that they found injured on the trail.
Do I need to be concerned about bears, snakes, mountain lions, and other wildlife?
Whether you’re on the outskirts of a big city or deep in the wilderness, there’s going to be wildlife around. Statistically speaking, a negative wildlife encounter should be one of the least of your concerns while you’re out running. That being said, if you’re frequently running at dusk and dawn in known habitats for large predators, it’s worth knowing the proper steps to take if you do have an encounter. In most cases, negative wildlife encounters occur when a human surprises a bear, moose, or mountain lion. Making noise when you run, whether talking to a running partner or singing to yourself, can alert nearby wildlife to your presence and allow it to leave before you even know it’s there.
If you’re running in grizzly bear country, bear spray isn’t a bad idea to have easily accessible, but as always, preventing an encounter is much better than having to deal with one. If you’ve encountered a mountain lion that hasn’t immediately run away, back away slowly and maintain eye contact with it. If you have trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles, raise them above your head to make yourself look bigger.
In many desert landscapes, snakes can pose a danger. Rattlesnakes can be found throughout the American west, and their bite can be deadly. Keeping eyes and ears open while running in rattlesnake habitat is important as they will do their best to warn you before they strike. If you frequently run in rattlesnake territory, it’s worth freshening up on what to do if you get bitten.
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