Trail running will almost always take you to places where you’ll have near-zero access to the basics - we’re talking about food, water and, the most important of them all, network connectivity! Moreover, even during trail races and events, there will always be situations where aid stations run out of food; or when you don’t want to wait in line for water and end up losing 3 minutes of race time.
The simplest solution to this is carrying a backpack.
Yes, they may seem like an added burden. In fact, they are indeed an added burden. But as cumbersome as it may appear to run with a backpack, the important point to keep in mind is that it’ll always get lighter throughout the run. In other words, the backpack will always be the heaviest before you start.
Running backpacks are equipped with space for storing clothing layers, water/hydration reservoirs, fuel and other necessary equipment like headlamps, trekking poles, whistles and the likes. For longer runs and races, they will also allow you to pack navigation aids, power banks and other items you might want to carry for safety and reachability.
And if you still don’t want to run with a backpack, a good belt with (at least) 1L hydration capacity, a few pouches for storing essentials and straps for tying in your trekking poles is a great alternative and lets you fly even lighter.
In this article, we share some important pointers on what you should carry on you or in your backpacks and to ensure self-sufficiency in trail running or while venturing outdoors.
There will be no food shops in the middle of the forest. There will also be no water supply there. Light snacks and water are, therefore, the most essential items to carry while out in the middle of nowhere.
Some good examples of fuel to carry on the trails are trail mixes (nuts, seeds and dried fruits), chocolate bars, running gels, nut butters, and even some cookies - because sometimes it’ll just be to get a different taste!
As for hydration, a combination of water and an energy drink (electrolyte) mix is what goes a long way. A good idea is to keep one flask (or reservoir) for water and the other(s) for electrolyte mixes.
While running on trails, you will certainly encounter areas without tree cover where the sun will shine hard and heavy. It is, therefore, always a great idea to expose your body as little as possible and prevent any effects around heatstroke, radiation and fatigue due to direct sunlight.
A cap, sunglasses and arm coverings should be seen as mandatory for any kind of trail outing. Additionally, for longer outings, some sort of UV protection (e.g., sunscreen lotion) and moisturiser is always recommended.
And what may seem contrary to common sense and belief, layering up is a great idea to minimise the effects of heat and humidity. Running in the heat wearing a base layer will actually keep you cooler in hot and humid climates.
Chances are high that you’ll get lost or end up wandering into villages or restricted areas in forests. Your ID is one of the most important things to carry while out on the trails.
All national identity records can be stored on your phone. Just keep them handy when asked and you’ll be good to go.
At the same time, try not to consciously go into restricted areas.
Depending on where the trails are, there are some optional but recommended items that should always find space in your backpack.
First aid - never a bad idea to carry some tape, bandaids, cotton, pain relief spray and some antiseptic.
Whistle - in dense forests, or when there is wildlife around, a whistle can help catch attention of fellow runners, and at the same time, be also used for warning animals that may be lurking closer to you than expected.
Lighter/matchbox - if you’re planning a trail outing in the dark, carrying a lighter or a matchbox is a safety requirement as it can not only be used to keep yourself warm in colder climates, but also be used as a signal in case you’re lost or want attention.
Compass and map - lots of trails may not have internet connectivity. While most GPS apps work without an active signal, it’s always a good idea to pre-load maps on your phone or wearable while venturing out. Additionally, carrying a paper map with a compass (yes, going old school) is also a great idea for added tooling.
Trekking poles - if you’re in the mountains, a set of trekking poles is a great companion to carry along. Most trekking poles are collapsible or foldable and can be tucked away compactly.
Extra clothing - carrying an extra t-shirt or an extra pair of socks is always a great idea, especially if you’re planning to run long or run in harsh weather conditions, e.g., high heat and humidity, heavy rains, slush-fests etc.
The Bottom Line
It’s never a bad idea to be extra prepared, even if you don’t end up using half your carry-along stuff. What’s more important is to develop a habit of being self-sufficient - whether it’s on trails, hikes, races, or even in marathons. Because self-sufficiency is one of the pinnacles of planning and project management when it comes to outdoor activities.