Trailhead Tools for Trail Runners: A Gift Guide

Here’s the gear you need for a weekend of car camping at your favorite trailhead.

By and on November 21, 2022 | Leave a reply

Trail running and car camping go hand in hand. What’s not to love about a weekend of camping at a trailhead, getting out for a couple of training runs, and relaxing in nature in between? And why not enjoy that car camping as much as we can? Fortunately, it’s easy enough to stay comfortable before and after trail runs while you relax and recover at the trailhead. We hope this gift guide makes such adventures easier for you and your loved ones.

We’ve pulled together some of our favorite gear to warm you up, keep you comfortable, and make life just a little bit easier while you’re out in the woods. Take note that these products are geared toward car-camping trailhead life, not #vanlife, not for #overlanding, and certainly not the stuff that goes in a huge, kitted-out truck. If you’re headed to the trailhead with your sedan, Subaru, or your midsize SUV, then this gear is for you.

Be sure to check out our other gift guides, too:

Feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 Sleeping Bag ($590)

Feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 Sleeping BagiRunFar awarded the Feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 Sleeping Bag the Best Hooded Sleeping Bag in our Best Ultralight Sleeping Bags guide, and it was the warmest of all the sleeping bags we included in the guide. It’s no wonder, as the bag contains 16.8 ounces of 950-plus fill down and a full set of snuggly features.

We tested the bag at temperatures between 22 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but we definitely think the sleeping bag would keep us warm in colder temperatures than these.

For all this warmth, it’s still very lightweight at 27 ounces in the regular length, and includes a storage bag and stuff sack for easy packing.

The sleeping bag comes in two lengths, regular and long, and the standard width of the bag worked well for both our male and female testers, so we think the majority of your friends can fit into and enjoy this sleeping bag.

Shop the Feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 Sleeping Bag

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad ($170 to $220)

A Gift Guide - Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping PadThe Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad is an incredibly comfortable sleeping pad for all of your car camping adventures. Anything with “deluxe” in the title and one doesn’t normally think “adventure,” but this sleeping pad is absolutely for both. A good night of sleep before and after a big training run is crucial, and a good sleeping pad will help with this.

This recently redesigned pad comes in a variety of lengths, widths, and colors, and you can even choose between a top that’s quilted or with vertical baffles.

This is listed as a three-season sleeping pad, though for the rougher among us it could certainly work for four if you have the right sleeping bag: the R-value is rated at 4.5. It ranges from 25 to 40 ounces, depending on the size, and that’s a bit on the heavy side, but if you’re aiming for comfort, you’ll often have to sacrifice weight.

For those headed out for fast and light backcountry missions, we’ve got a full Best Ultralight Sleeping Pads guide.

Shop the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad

REI Co-Op Flexlite Camp Chair ($60)

REI Co-op Flexlite Camp ChairThere are a number of low-sitting camp chairs in this style out there, but the REI Co-Op Flexlite Camp Chair is one of the most affordable of all of them. The iRunFar team has owned ours for a half-decade and they are still going strong.

This a great chair to bring to a trailhead, to set up at a race awards ceremony, or even at a backyard BBQ or campfire. It packs down tiny and weighs nothing. On that note, if you’re leaving it unattended at a trailhead while you’re out running, we recommend you lay it down with a rock on top so it can’t blow away since it’s so light — ahem, not that we’ve had that experience.

Shop the REI Co-Op Flex Lite Camp Chair

REI Co-Op Camp Roll Table ($80)

REI Co-op Camp Roll TableTrailhead practicality with modern-day minimalism, this table wears both hats. The REI Co-Op Camp Roll Table is an excellent option to bring to camp if you don’t want to eat out of the trunk of your car or put your pots and pans on the ground.

Made mostly of aluminum, the table breaks down into a few pieces — the top which rolls up, the legs and crossbars which fold together, and two pillars that go underneath the tabletop itself. The whole thing packs up small and weighs 8.5 pounds.

It’s a pretty short table, measuring 27.5 inches tall, as well as long and wide, so you may end up hitting your knees on the crossbar if you’re sitting in a regular-sized chair, but it’s the perfect height to pull up the aforementioned REI Co-op Flexlite Camp Chair.

We first saw this type of roll-up table 20 years ago among our river-rat friends who love it for its ability to pack into rafts and canoes while still being super stable, and we totally agree. This table is perfect for the trail running trailhead life, too.

Shop the REI Co-Op Camp Roll Table

Coleman Classic Propane Gas Camping Stove ($75)

Coleman Classic Propane Gas Camping StoveAlmost everyone has one of these — or has had one at one point in their life. If you haven’t, you need one. This Coleman Classic Propane Gas Camping Stove is just what it claims to be: a classic.

A favorite of backcountry adventurers and backyard dads everywhere, this two-burner stove is affordable, simply designed, easy to use, and effective. A pop-up top and side panels keep the wind out for efficient cooking, and all you have to do is attach the fuel canister to the side, light the gas with a match or lighter, and get cooking. I’ve had one of these that has lasted me well over 10 years.

There is one downside, but it can be managed. I have it packed into a drawer of my camper van, and it rattles like nobody’s business. While the grate and fuel connecter pack into the box, those and the side panels make so much noise. Do yourself a favor and put a few pieces of cardboard inside while it’s packed away, and this will prevent almost all of the noise.

Shop the Coleman Classic Propane Gas Camping Stove

Jetboil Flash Java Kit ($130)

Jetboil Flash Java KitJetboil kits have maximized their ability to efficiently do one thing: boil water — in just 100 seconds, the company says. Having the Jetboil Flash Java Kit among your trailhead gear makes making your morning brew, your after-run hot recovery drink, and a bowl of pasta a total cinch.

Trying to get on the trail quick before a pre-dawn run? Just boil your water, dump in your favorite grind, use the included coffee press, and serve from the same cup you just boiled it in. Honestly, this gig is fast and the coffee actually tastes decent.

A thoughtful element is the logo on the side: it turns from green to red when the water is ready, and the wide tri-legged stand is great for stability when it’s windy.

One of our team members was lucky to be able to use one of these during two seasons as a wildland firefighter. And we’ll tell you, good java is a lifesaver when you’re up at 4:30 a.m. and all there is to drink is watered-down bulk camp coffee. Never again be the victim of weak brew: invest in one of these and you won’t be sorry.

Shop the Jetboil Flash Java Kit

Stanley Classic Trigger-Action Travel Mug ($25)

Stanley Classic Trigger-Action Travel MugWhile the iRunFar team has received a number of free metal drinking vessels over the years, the one we’d buy again if we lost ours is the Stanley Classic Trigger-Action Travel Mug.

Yep, this is the modern version of the classic travel mug your dad took out on early morning fishing trips and that sat up front in the car during long family road trips. This time-tested gem has had a few tweaks over the years for easier use and keeping your beverage either hot or cold for longer, however.

It has a one-hand push-button operation that’s simply the best option for drinking coffee on the go. It’s just as good for water, beer, tea, juice, and whatever else you are imbibing.

This mug keeps drinks hot or cold for hours, and breaks down into two pieces for easy cleaning, even if you’re washing it at camp.

Also, $25 for something that may very well outlast you?! This mug is so affordable.

Shop the Stanley Classic Trigger-Action Travel Mug

Jameson Coffee Speedgoat Karl’s 100 Mile Blend Coffee ($14)

Jameson Coffee Speedgoat Karl's 100 Mile Blend CoffeeHere at iRunFar, we often get up early and stay up late, not only for our own athletic endeavors, but also to bring you the best race coverage around. For the past decade, our mornings and nights (and afternoons and overnights) have been fueled by Jameson Coffee Speedgoat Karl’s 100 Mile Blend Coffee, named after Karl Meltzer himself.

Jameson Coffee lets you choose your grind: auto drip, espresso, French press, or you can keep it whole bean, and you can purchase in a 12-ounce or three-pound bag. As much as we know excessive caffeine is not good for our hearts, it would break our hearts to break ties with this dark brown deliciousness.

This coffee is great for a pre-dawn jaunt or for warming up after climbing a nearby peak. Managing Editor Meghan Hicks’s favorite is sipping an espresso shot of this after a morning run while sitting down at the computer to edit what you see on iRunFar each day.

Shop the Jameson Coffee Speedgoat Karl's 100 Mile Blend Coffee

Yeti Roadie 24 Hard Cooler ($250)

Yeti Roadie 24 Hard CoolerYeti coolers are expensive, but they are the best option out there for keeping your food cold, dry, and secure. This is a one-and-done kind of purchase: buy one Yeti cooler and use it for a lifetime.

The Yeti Roadie 24 Hard Cooler is the smallest in their hard cooler collection, and it fits perfectly in the trunk of your car to hold enough food for an overnight or weekend endeavor, or enough beer for an evening of drinking.

This cooler is solidly constructed, with great grips on the side, a carrying strap, and front clasps that ensure the cooler stays closed. If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, the next size up is 35 liters and goes all the way up to 350 liters if you’re bringing home a huge salmon catch or something like that.

This 24-liter size is just perfect for a couple of people or a group of friends looking to share snacks and bevvies after a day on the trail. Also, these coolers double as either a camp chair or table, if you’re in need of extra flat surfaces.

Shop the Yeti Roadie 24 Hard Cooler

The North Face ThermoBall Eco Jacket 2.0 ($200)

The North Face Thermoball Eco Jacket 2.0ThermoBall. What a great name. It brings to mind a ball of fire hurtling through space. Well, with The North Face ThermoBall Eco Jacket 2.0, you will feel just as warm as one after your run. We loved the original version of this jacket, and the new update promises even “more effective and long-lasting insulation, even in damp conditions.”

This beautiful puffy jacket comes without a hood — try The North Face ThermoBall Eco Hooded Insulated Jacket ($230) if you want a hood — in a multitude of colors, and in sizes XS to 3XL, so you can gift this cozy layer to just about anybody.

We love this jacket so much at iRunFar, we ordered them embroidered with our logo specifically for race coverage.

The baffles hold the insulation where it should be in the jacket, there are easily accessible inner and outer pockets, and the jacket packs down completely into one of those, impressively small for a puffy. Finally, with its polyester insulation, it’ll still keep you warm even when it’s a bit wet.

The jacket is made of 100% recycled materials, so it’s good for the environment while keeping you cozy and warm.

Shop the Men's North Face ThermoBall Eco Jacket 2.0Shop the Women's North Face ThermoBall Eco Jacket 2.0

Goose Feet Gear Down Socks (From $70) and Waterproof Over-Booties ($50)

Goose Feet Gear Down SocksOnce you get your first pair of down booties for camp life, you will never go back to anything else. Whether you’re at Everest Base Camp or just have really cold feet at night, the Goose Feet Gear Down Socks and Goose Feet Gear Waterproof Over-Booties are a godsend.

Use them in combination to walk around camp, and then strip off the over-booties and climb into your sleeping bag, and you’ll never sleep with cold feet again. The down socks are ultralight as well, so they’re an easy addition to your next fastpacking trip.

They are customizable in nearly every color combination imaginable — you choose the color of both the inside and outside — and you can add in up to 100% extra stuffing to make them extra plush.

One word of caution: Use care when sitting around a campfire to protect your over-booties from stray sparks! They are waterproof and pretty darn durable for trailhead life — but they aren’t fireproof!

Shop the Goose Feet Gear Down SocksShop the Goose Feet Gear Waterproof Over-Booties

Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp ($55)

Best Running Headlamps - Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp - product photo

The Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp was voted as a Top Trail Running Headlamp in our Best Running Headlamps guide and it will have endless uses around the campsite as well as on the trails, and is a steal at that price point.

The highly adjustable strap was one of the most comfortable headbands we tried and the whole set is nice and light at just 3.2 ounces. It comes with a rechargeable battery, but if it’s more convenient to change the batteries when away from a power source, the lamp can also be powered by three AAA batteries and it’s quick and easy to change them.

The lamp itself is plenty powerful, with 500 lumens and three brightness settings. It can be adjusted to floodlight — super useful when wandering around the camp or looking for something you need in the dark — or spotlight, for when you need more focused light. While it’s also a great headlamp for running, we had some concerns about the durability of the Boa-style dial on the strap, and we think that this lamp might require a bit more careful treatment than some of our other, more rugged pieces of kit.

Shop the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station ($200)

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power StationWant to charge your phone, watch, headlamp, laptop, or pretty much any other gadget at the trailhead this weekend? The Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station has you covered.

There’s an input for AC (a regular wall plug), USB, and 12 volts, allowing you to charge multiple devices at once. When fully charged, it will re-up your laptop once or twice, a smartphone nine times, and a headlamp 25 to 50 times! Rather than relying on smaller battery packs that seem to always get lost, invest in this 12-pound power station, charge it before you head out for the weekend, and you’ll be set.

It fully recharges in four to 10 hours, depending on if it’s plugged into your wall at home, a car converter, or a solar panel.

This power station is also good for power outages, like we occasionally see at iRunFar’s headquarters in Silverton, Colorado, during a winter storm.

Shop the Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station

Goal Zero Nomad 100 Solar Panel ($400)

Goal Zero Nomad 100 Solar PanelPairing perfectly with the power station above is the Goal Zero Nomad 100 Solar Panel. The Nomad is the medium size and price of all Goal Zero’s portable solar panels, ranging from the Nomad 50 at $250 to the Ranger 300 at $800. The Nomad 100 is perfect for the trailhead, folding down to 20.5 x 15.5 x 2 inches, and opening to nearly 60 inches wide when unfolded. It’s a great size to put on top of your car or picnic table and connect directly to the power bank.

Shop the Goal Zero Nomad 100 Solar Panel

Call for Comments

  • What are some extra pieces of gear you use at the trailhead before and after your runs, to keep you warm, dry, fed, charged up, and ready for a new adventure?
  • What does your ideal weekend of car camping and running look like?
Alex Potter
Alex Potter is a contributor and former editor at iRunFar. Following a nearly decade-long hiatus from running after college, she has found a new love in trail running. As a photojournalist, Alex has reported throughout the Middle East and East Africa for publications like 'National Geographic,' 'The New York Times,' and 'The Washington Post.' She lives in Alaska with her partner Pete and her two cats.
Alex Potter

Sarah Brady is Editor at iRunFar. She’s been working in an editorial capacity for eight years and has been a trail runner for almost as long. Aside from iRunFar, she’s worked as an editor for various educational publishers and written race previews for Apex Running, UK, and RAW Ultra, Ireland. Based in Dublin, Ireland, Sarah is an avid mountain runner and ultrarunner and competes at distances from under 10k to over 100k. When not running, she enjoys reading, socializing, and hanging out with her dog, Angie.