What To Pack For Trail Running: The Essential Guide

What do you need to pack for trail running?

UPDATED 11 NOV 2018: When we wanted to start trail running we found there were not many comprehensive sources of information out there on what to take with you. Using years of trail running experience, we have put together the essential guide on what to pack for trail running.

While a lot of it is common sense, and what you pack for trail running very much depends on where you are going running, and for how long, this guide will help you if you are:

  • new to trail running
  • interested in starting trail running and not wanting to hit the trails under-prepared
  • already a trail runner but have been focused on running shorter distances to date, and are exploring what to pack for trail running over longer durations or distances.

Trail running race vest
Running the c.30k Routeburn Track in NZ, with a race vest packed full of the necessary kit for a long day out

Location

Where you are running, including the country, climate and terrain or type of trails you are planning to run on will all affect what you should consider taking with you in your pack for trail running.

The terrain, for example, may influence what shoes you take, and the technicality and climbing /descending will affect how long you are out for. If you’re running in mountain areas or somewhere particularly hot then you need to be prepared for the weather and temperatures you may get exposed to.


For a guide on which running shoes to use for different types of terrain:

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In the mountains

This could mean scorching hot weather and freezing cold rain and thunderstorms, all in the same day, so you need to bring kit for hot weather as well as warm layers and a waterproof jacket.

Running in Chamonix
Running in the Alps around Chamonix. A hot, T-shirt weather day can quickly change to a cold, wet stormy day: it pays to be prepared

In hot climates

Think about how you will access safe water sources to refill your bottle, if needed – and a cap / visor, sun cream and good sunglasses will be essential.

Running Transgrancanaria Marathon
Running in Gran Canaria (Transgrancanaria Marathon) was hot – definitely a day for a cap, sunglasses, cream and plenty of water

Planned (or potential) duration of your run

If you’re going out for an hour or so then you won’t need to carry the same amount of kit that you’d need for four hours or a full day out on the trails.

Having said this, it’s not unusual for a run to take longer than planned – prepare for the unexpected!

A run could take longer than planned  because you’re having such a lovely time than you choose to stay out longer, or it could be you get lost or end up making slower progress than expected, whether due to the terrain, weather, or an injury meaning you end up being out for longer than you expect.

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Essentials to carry on a trail run

On a trail run shorter than 1.5 hours, and assuming no mountains or extreme heat or cold:

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If going out longer than 1.5-2 hours (say 3-5 hours) but not all day, I would also take:

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Other items to consider taking:

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To read an in-depth list of what I take in my ‘blister repair kit’, read this post: Treat Running Blisters: a how-to guide

For all-day adventures I would normally add:

Depending on how many items I am taking, I’ll either stuff them in pockets or carry them in a race vest or pack – normally the latter.

A good race vest isn’t cheap (typically £70+/$100+) but a good one is worth the investment. You can wear it on every long run, hike or race for years to come!

There are a lot of brands out there offering race vests. We use two of the most popular, Salomon’s S-Lab Advanced Skin 5 litre, and Ultimate Direction’s Womens Ultra Vesta (c.4 litre capacity).

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UPDATE SUMMER 2018: My new go-to race vest is the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 (Women’s) – the new and improved version of the original Ultra Vesta, which can carry larger soft flasks and has more storage.

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 race vest - Trail & Kale-12-min

Examples of trail running packs & contents

We’ve put together a video where we run through all the items we considered or chose to pack for the Matterhorn Ultraks 46k/30k:

Also see below some kit pics we have taken before trail running races showing all the pieces of kit we pack for trail running.

Ultraks race kit
The kit I took on Matterhorn Ultraks 30k

Runners medical kit, plus headtorch, Buff, ipod and Salomon S-Lab windproof jacket
Runners medical kit, plus headtorch, Buff, ipod and Salomon S-Lab windproof jacket (note I decant the anti-chafe cream into the little lip balm pot)

Ultrarunning race vest
Packed race vest, full of essentials, including 2x water bottles, gels and folding carbon poles

I hope this post helps you pin down what to pack for trail running. If you have any questions just post them in the comments below and we will be happy to help answer them 🙂

Helen Dixon
Helen Dixonhttps://www.trailandkale.com
Trail Lover // Trail & Ultra Runner // Often found in the Mountains, Running, Hiking or Skiing // Seeking Peace, Beauty & Adventure.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Always carry a safety whistle. If you get lost and someone is searching for you, it is much easier to hear a whistle than a person yelling in the woods. And a headlamp, in case you do get lost and night falls.

  2. This has been helpful. I’ve never run with a pack but have entered a 105 mile race where I’ll need to carry one. Just need to find a comfy one. A plastic bag for the phone is handy & cheap but I agree that it’s a faff, I’d always recommend an Aquapak or similar – phone works fine through the pack & photos come out clear, I use them for kayaking with no trouble (attached photo taken on HTC 10 from within an Aquapak just the other day). https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/489b2f6ffc2dc45cd7264f99e8a01881a6c221e356ef71f5dd3c78d5c6cabf73.jpg

    • Hi Leigh, thanks for sharing! Great recommendation re the Aquapak for the phone, definitely less faff than keeping the phone in a plastic bag.

      Best of luck for the 105 mile race! The Salomon vests are very popular but I think it’s worth checking out the newer ladies Ultimate Direction Vesta, which has good-sized bottle holders, bigger than the pockets in my old vest shown above. I find both comfortable but prefer the fit of the UD one. Helen x

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