If you’re heading out trail running for more than an hour or two, or perhaps you are researching ultra marathon gear and what you should include in your ultra marathon survival kit, then putting together a trail runners emergency kit, including some first aid supplies is a good idea.
In this post we’re covering what you may want to include in your trail runners emergency kit to use in the case of you, or another trail user, having an accident and need some basic first aid, or finding yourself in a situation where you need to protect yourself, for example an animal encounter, get stuck out on a remote trail in bad weather conditions or even another person who poses a danger to you on the trail, however unlikely that may be. Some of these survival items are also intended to help you navigate and find your way in case you get lost or injured when trail running and need to find your way back or off the trail and back to a road or town as quickly as possible.
How do you decide what to include and carry with you in your trail running survival kit?
The contents of your trail runners emergency kit will vary depending on how remote the trails are, how far you intend to go, whether you’re familiar with the area and whether you’ll be running alone… as well as your tolerance for risk-taking! If you are planning to run an ultra marathon race then that race may also specify what mandatory running gear and first aid supplies you must carry with you during the race, or at least certain stages of it, so it’s worth buying what you know you are going to need, and carrying it with you on some of you ultra training runs, to get used to the added weight in your running hydration pack.
If you’re planning bigger trail running and lightweight hiking adventures, for example going fastpacking and staying out overnight, then you may also find our fastpacking gear guide useful reading.
Runners Emergency Kit – Table of Contents
I have grouped our recommended runners emergency kit into categories – click the links below to head to the relevant sections, or scroll down to read the full list:
- DRAWING ATTENTION – in the event of any emergency
- PROTECTION – Ensuring you have protection from the elements
- HYDRATION – Staying hydrated and reducing nutrition and electrolyte deficiencies
- NAVIGATION – Reducing your chances of getting lost
- OTHER RUNNING SURVIVAL KIT – other gear to consider taking
Drawing Attention to Yourself in a Running Emergency
I like to run without drawing attention to myself. But you’d better bet that I want everyone to know where I am if I am lost, injured or feel endangered! Here are the three best ways to get in contact with another trail user if you need to draw attention to yourself when trail running or hiking:
1. Carry a mobile phone when trail running
While not reliable in remote areas with limited or no signal, it would be a mistake not to carry a phone with you on your long runs. A phone can be used to track your location and you can obviously use it to work out where you are, if you have signal and do not have a map or GPS watch with navigation features to help you out (read on for our suggestions if you’re looking for a GPS watch for running).
As I’m prone to letting my sleek iPhone slide out of my grip (and pockets), I use a protective case such as this Rokform Crystal Case to keep it protected (pictured below) – [USE OUR EXCLUSIVE ROKFORM COUPON CODE ‘TRAILANDKALE25’ FOR 25% OFF YOUR ENTIRE ORDER]
2. Emergency whistle
I don’t mean a feeble little micro-whistle or just the one that comes with your race vest (although that’s better than no whistle). Invest a little bit more and get a super-loud and reliable whistle which will do the job in an emergency.
We have these whistles, which are handy for scaring off larger carnivores that may show too much of an interest in me, like the local coyotes who can find me a bit too interesting.
You can also use a whistle to draw attention to yourself and anyone near you if you attract unwanted attention or if you’re injured and need assistance.
3. Personal Alarm for Runners and Hikers
Another great option for being heard in an emergency or when you need to draw attention to yourself or your location, is this product – the Ripcord Siren Personal Alarm from Nathan Sports. In my opinion, this is a better option than a whistle, for reasons explained below – but it’s worth having a whistle as if you do any major trail running races (at least, in Europe), they require you to carry one in your emergency kit.
This personal alarm is designed specifically for people out running and adventuring alone, and weighs hardly anything.
The advantage of the ripcord siren over a loud whistle as a deterrent safety device is that it doesn’t require you to get a whistle to your mouth to blow – you can attach it to your clothing or race vest and the alarm is triggered by pulling a ripcord, so it’s easy to grasp in an emergency, especially if you’re out of breath.
I particularly like this design, as I find myself stowing my whistles in pockets to stop them bouncing around, so it takes longer to get to them (you have to get the whistle out and then be able to put it to your mouth).
On the other hand, a ripcord attached to my race vest should be easy to grab quickly in an emergency – and at less than $20 it’s a good investment!
Related Reading: Is Trail Running Dangerous? How To Stay Safe on the Trails
Protection from the elements when running
4. Lightweight windproof or waterproof jacket
Especially if you’re in the mountains or somewhere with changeable weather, make sure you have the right clothing and are prepared for a change in temperature and precipitation with a good waterproof jacket. I get cold when tired, so I also find a jacket useful towards the end of a long run, especially if I am running downhill or into a brisk breeze.
Also, without being too negative, imagine if you hurt yourself and have to wait for help or hobble slowly back to civilization… a jacket could really help reduce your exposure to cold and wet weather, and also sunburn if that’s a risk.
Related Reading: 5 Best Waterproof Running Jackets for Trail Running & Ultrarunning
If you need rain protection, make sure you have a fully waterproof jacket, not a windproof or water-resistant jacket. If you don’t have one, or need to upgrade your running jacket to something that is fully waterproof, visit our ‘Best Waterproof Running Jackets for Trail Running’ guides:
5. Emergency foil blanket for running
If you’ve run many long trail races then you probably own one of these already. These emergency foil blankets weigh next to nothing and are mandatory for many trail races.
A heat-reflecting foil blanket can be invaluable as a means of keeping warm if you find yourself stuck out longer than planned, for example, if you’re injured and can’t move (or move fast). It’s also light-reflective so makes it easier for emergency services to spot you if they’re out searching and you have the blanket out.
6. Buff headgear / neck gaiter
A Buff is a scarf, hat and tourniquet! Anything you want it to be – a pandemic-era face-mask, perhaps? You can also use a Buff as a water filter to filter out bigger particles and dirt before purifying your water to drink. Again, a Buff doesn’t weigh very much but it’s very useful as clothing or in an emergency situation.
7. Running cap or warm sweat-wicking hat
A technical running cap or hat (even just a trucker cap) will help keep your head warm while also protecting you from the elements. I can’t run in sunny weather without a running cap, as I get a burned head!
Wearing a running cap also helps stop me squinting in bright conditions which, I hope, means I am preventing too many forehead and crows-foot wrinkles from forming.
Although not technically running hats, we have designed some exclusive Trail & Kale caps in our online store if you prefer trucker caps – visit it via the link below 🙂 alternatively, REI has a great selection of running caps and truckers. Here’s our pick of the 5 best technical hats for running.
Staying Hydrated when Trail Running
8. Water in a soft bottle that doesn’t slosh around when you run
Nobody wants to run out of water on the trails – suffering from dehydration is one of the highest-probability risks facing most people when they go trail running – it’s easy to run out and find yourself a few hours from a clean water source. So I carry one or two soft-flask water bottles with me, with at least one full when I start.
Soft flasks are great because they are pretty light, don’t slosh around and fold down small when empty. Here are some options from a few brands, in different sizes:
9. Water purification tablets
It’s worth carrying a Lifestraw personal water filter with you if you plan on going for a serious ultramarathon training run in wild places. A filter straw like this will give you the much needed ability to crate safe drinking water even from the most questionable water sources. For more information on filtering and purifying your water in the backcountry, definitely read our guide to creating safe drinking water while backpacking, you never know when this information may come in handy!
10. Salt capsules or tablets
Especially when running somewhere hot, salt capsules are great to take to prevent issues such as cramping when running or hiking. Read more on how salt tablets can help reduce or even prevent you from regularly experiencing muscle cramps here.
11. Emergency food to take trail running
It’s miserable to run out of energy when all you need is a little snack and you’ll feel much perkier. I take a variety of food and snacks on my long runs, depending on what I think I’ll feel like eating. Read this post for some ideas for great real food to carry trail running.
Navigation when running – void getting lost (or know how to get on-track if you do get lost)
12. Map and compass
Especially if you’re trail running somewhere new, remote and / or with difficult terrain, having a map of the area with key landmarks, including peaks, rivers, ranger stations and roads marked will help you avoid getting lost (or find your way if you go off-track). We like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps and Silva compasses like this one.
13. A GPS running watch
While not a substitute for a map, having a GPS running watch that tracks your location, altitude and position in relation to where you started, can be an invaluable asset for helping you find your way, including features that help you retrace your steps back to the start of your run, or follow a pre-planned route that you can upload to the watch before heading out on your trail run.
For one of the best GPS running watches guides, specifically designed for trail runners, head over to our best GPS for running buyer’s guide which includes information on the GPS watches we rate highly for trail running.
Other Runners Emergency Kit / Survival Gear
14. Small runners first aid kit
I don’t go around carrying a bag of first aid kit on my runs, which would be useful but a bit excessive. But I do take a small waterproof pouch containing a gauze pad, tape, a pin, disinfectant wipe and a couple of plasters. This small running first aid kit enables me to patch up minor issues such as blisters or a minor cut, and I carry the Buff headgear mentioned above, which can be used as a tourniquet or bandage in case of an emergency.
15. Small lightweight emergency headlamp
If I’m not planning to run in the dark then I won’t carry my running headlamp. But I stash, in the same pouch as the first aid kit, this perfect little emergency headlamp, just in case I get stuck out in low light or darkness falls (it happens!).
PETZL e+LITE - 50 Lumen Emergency Headlamp
Ultralight (27 g) and very compact. Always ready to use, it can be stored with its batteries for 10 years in an emergency kit. Its white or red, continuous or strobe lighting allows you to be seen and to signal an emergency.
13 new from $28.41
out of stock
16. Pepper spray for trail running and hiking
Depending on where you are going, and assuming it’s legal in your country, it may be worth taking a small can of pepper spray for the unlikely but serious event of encountering an aggressive wild animal (or person, for that matter) that isn’t put off by your use of the super-loud whistle or personal alarm.
For the spray to be useful, it needs to be stored somewhere you can get it out and open quickly and easily.
You can also get bigger cans of bear spray, which travels further when sprayed, but a small can of pepper spray is what I would be more likely to take with me if I felt a need for it.
In summary – Trail Running Emergency Survival Gear
While nobody expects emergency situations to occur when going out for a lovely trail run, they can happen and it is good for your own safety and that of others if you can be prepared with some lightweight essential emergency kit that’s suitable for taking trail running.
I hope this list has helped you consider what you may want to take with you on your next long run out on the trails. If you have any comments or questions about staying safe trail running, or what emergency survival kit to take with you, drop us a comment below.