What trail running emergency kit should I take with me?
If I’m heading out trail running for more than an hour or two then this usually means I’m going to be running somewhere where there are not many other people and there are likely to be more wild animals and potential trail obstacles. In which case, I take a running race vest (hydration pack) containing some essential emergency kit suitable for carrying while trail running – or hiking, for that matter.
I’ve listed out the emergency kit I take, which will vary depending on the climate and location I’m running in, together with links to gear that I recommend and use myself.
This list assumes that I’m not going out overnight or anywhere extremely remote, in which case, more equipment would probably be a good idea, such as a headlamp, spare batteries, warm clothes, and more food.
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. I save photos of trail maps when I am running new trails and may take a wrong turn if there is poor or no signage at junctions, and I like to take photos of beautiful wildlife and landscapes while I’m out.
As I’m prone to letting my sleek iPhone slide out of my grip (and pockets), we choose to use the Rokform Crystal Case to keep it protected (pictured below) – USE OUR EXCLUSIVE ROKFORM COUPON CODE ‘TRAILANDKALE25’ FOR 25% OFF YOUR ENTIRE ORDER!
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. I recently bought these whistles for scaring off larger carnivores that may show too much of an interest in me, after an encounter with a pack of coyote.
Fox 40 Sonik Blast Emergency Whistle
$17.99 in stock
The Sonik Blast CMG whistle is extremely loud and easy to blow. We bought this two-pack and have one each that we keep in our running race vests. The sound power is a crazy-loud 120 dB (don't test it indoors or near your pets)! We also like that the whistles are made in North America.
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. 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.
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.
If you need rain protection, make sure you have a fully waterproof jacket, not a windproof or water-resistant jacket. A great waterproof running jacket should:
- be fully waterproof.
- be lightweight. Avoid being weighed down by a jacket that absorbs water, even if it keeps you dry underneath.
- have some level of breathability. A breathable jacket will ensure you don’t overheat while running by helping moisture (i.e. sweat) pass away from your body.
- be form-fitting. Extra wind resistance while running is a real ‘drag’, especially on a wet and windy day. Make sure your jacket fits your body’s frame closely if that means you need to drop down a size, you should consider it.
Visit our 5 Best Waterproof Running Jackets for Trail Running Guide to find the best one for you.
Best Trail Running Shoes: The Ultimate Buyers Guide (Dec 2019)The Best Trail Running Shoes in 2019 (So far): The Ultimate Buyers Guide!
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 reflective so makes it easier for emergency services to spot you if they’re out searching and you have the blanket out.
A Buff is a scarf, hat and tourniquet! Anything you want it to be! You can also use a Buff as a water filter to filter out bigger particles and dirt before purifying the water to drink. Again, a Buff doesn’t weigh very much but it’s very useful as clothing or in an emergency situation.
Cap or warm sweat-wicking hat
A technical running 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 cap these days, as I get a burned head on my hair parting! It also helps stop me squinting in bright conditions which, I hope, means I am preventing too many forehead and crows-foot wrinkles from forming. We’ve designed some exclusive Trail & Kale caps in our online store – 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.
Nobody wants to run out of water on the trails. Especially when you’re potentially 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:
Water purification tablets
It’s worth stashing some of these in your race vest if there aren’t water fountains or clean water sources on your route. I’m spoiled by the state parks in my area which are well-stocked with drinking fountains (and toilets!) but these water purifications tabs are great to take on on trips elsewhere. Again, they’re very small and weigh next to nothing so there’s no downside to carrying them and being prepared.
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.
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. Read best GPS running watches for more information on the GPS watches we rate highly for trail running.
Small first aid kit for runners
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 little waterproof pouch containing a gauze pad, tape, a pin, disinfectant wipe and a couple of plasters. This small first aid kit enables me to patch up minor issues such as blisters or a minor cut.
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.
15 new from $29.39
Salt capsules or tablets
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. If you’re looking for a Vegan option, I recommend No Cow Energy Bars!
If you’re running somewhere unfamiliar, it may be worth taking the trail map with you. I have this excellent Mt Tamalpais trail map, that I sometimes refer to now, but was very helpful in learning about the mountain and its trails, and planning routes when I first moved to the area.
In summary – Trail Running Emergency Kit
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!
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