What to take with you on a trail run.
Your trail running pack should include everything you need for your run plus some things that hopefully you won’t need. When I started trail running, I searched the Internet for advice on what to take. I couldn’t find a list specific to trail running, but I found some hiking advice that got me started. My current list strikes a balance between practicality for running and emergency safety.
I have thought about what it might be like to be injured on the trail or get lost enough to unexpectedly spend an evening or even all night in the forest. I carry a couple of basic emergency items such as a headlamp, knife, and a windbreaker – all very miniature. It’s tempting to ditch the windbreaker on a beautiful Tahoe day, but I know that the most beautiful day in the mountains generally ends up with a pretty cold night.
I carry a few other items that are seldom used, but it sure is nice to have them when needed. These things include bandaids, wet wipes, and a little stash of toilet paper in a plastic baggie. (The baggie is so that you can pack it out.)
Plastic baggies are wildly useful – to protect your stuff against not only rain, but also sweat, accidental spills, and oozing gel. The snack-size zip bags are my favorite. They are useful for: use as a running wallet, cell phone protection, gel packets (full and sticky empties), and map protection. Put everything that you don’t plan on using (i.e. your emergency items) in a quart-size zip bag. This will keep them organized and dry.
I use a Nathan hydration vest, so I like to consider which items I’ll need accessible during the run and put the rest in the back. I can carry everything I need for a 4-5 hour run, including water, depending on the heat. Five hours is about the longest unsupported run that I’ve done, so that is the limit of my experience here. I do omit some items when I head out on shorter trail runs where I’m very familiar with the route.
- Phone (in baggie if necessary)
- Full water bladder
- Food for during run
- Food for picnic stop
- Electrolyte capsules
- Lip balm
- Trail maps (in baggie)
- $20 cash
- Credit card
In Case of Emergency
- Light shell / windbreaker [Update 3/25/2013] Or mylar emergency blanket
- Headlamp / flashlight
- [Update 3/25/2013] Emergency fire starter with built-in whistle
First aid items
- Wet wipes
- TP in baggie
I keep a morning checklist alongside my packing list. I use this mainly on race day – it’s pretty easy to forget your sunglasses at O’Dark-Thirty on race morning.
- Apply sunscreen
- Use bug spray if necessary
- Lubricate skin as necessary
- Don’t forget sunglasses!!
- Running cap
- GPS watch
- Heart rate monitor?
- Road ID (if you don’t have one, order your own Road ID here)
Also consider loading up the car with these post-run necessities. You’ll especially need these if you have a car shuttle or longer drive home. If you are doing a car shuttle, don’t forget to put these items in the shuttle vehicle that will be at the end of your run.
- Recovery food
- Water (preferably kept cold)
- Calcium+magnesium supplement
- Dry clothes
- Flip-flops or other footwear
If you have a GPS watch, learn how to use it. Many can give you a wealth of information beyond pace and distance, including compass direction and even arrows pointing you back to your starting point. Ditto for your smart phone. If you carry an iPhone, get this great app called GPS Kit and learn how to use it. The app allows you to pre-load terrain so that you can access map data even when you are out of signal range. Just be careful not to rely solely on devices that can run out of battery. Always carry printed maps if you are not completely familiar with your route.
I hope this article helps you start a trail run packing list of your own. What do you carry that’s not on my list? Or is my list way overkill for your tastes? Please leave a reply below!