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You’re going on your first trail running trip and you’re not sure what to pack. You’re afraid overpacking may add some extra weight but at the same time, you’re afraid of not bringing enough for the whole route.
I’ve been in both situations a couple of times. Luckily, I was able to learn from my mistakes and mastered the art of packing just right.
In this article, I’m going to give you a checklist of everything you have to pack for trail running. I separated them into 3 categories: the ones you need in your bag, the ones you need to leave in your car/camp, and those that are optional but may come in handy.
Must-Have Items in Your Bag for Trail Running
- Flashlight or headlamp
- First aid kit
Water is the most important item in your bag. The amount you need will depend on many factors, including your sweat rate, humidity, checkpoints, and running distance.
I like to put my water in soft flasks and hydration bladder so I don’t have to take it out of my vest when I need to drink. I can simply bite on the hose and sip water while I’m continuing most likely to run. But if you’re not up for it, you have other options like sports bottles and handheld flasks.
(Check out my article on how to carry your phone and water bottle while running).
You can also opt for electrolyte drinks like Gatorade, but I recommend you bring at least a liter of water on a 10-20km run.
Running on trails takes a lot more time and energy than running the same distance on the road. In addition, most trails don’t have stores along the route. That is why bringing food on trails is a must. Here’s a list of food that most runners bring on trails.
- Trail mix (mix of chocolate, nuts, and raisins)
- Performance gels and bars
- Chocolate bars
Bring whatever works for you. Just remember to keep it light and simple so you won’t make a mess in your bag.
Aside from taking pictures and posting Instagram stories, your phone will come in handy in many ways, including navigation and communication. Make sure it’s fully charged and placed inside a waterproof case in case it rains.
If you’re a little old school, a compass and map also come in handy if you’re not very familiar with the route Just make sure you know how to use them.
A lot of people forget the importance of a whistle. It allows you to find help without having to waste your energy yelling. It also has a longer sound range so more people can easily hear you.
Some bags and vests have a built-in whistle, but you can get a cheap one from Amazon if they don’t.
I usually keep a small flashlight in my running bag/vest when I go for a long run in a new route. This assures me that if I stayed longer than expected (in other words, I get lost) and lose sunlight, I’ll still be able to see.
Thankfully, I never experienced using them unexpectedly.
First Aid Kit
I don’t usually bring one for popular routes, but for routes that are far from help, I make sure I have a mini first aid kit in my bag.
A little cash
I always bring a little cash for every run just cause you never know when you need them.
In case you get in trouble or have been involved in a life-threatening accident, your rescuers will be able to identify you easily and provide the right care for you.
To leave at the car/camp
- Extra food and water
Extra Food and water
A bag of trail mix and another liter of water ready at the car will give you peace of mind knowing you’ll have something to munch upon or drink if you get hungry or thirsty on your way home. It’s also there for emergencies.
Always keep at least one of everything in your car. Trust me, you’re gonna want to change after spending a day on a trail.
Your shoes are gonna get muddy and dirty after running on trails. Keep the mud out by changing to your sandals before driving home.
Optional but you may need it
- Running watch
- Insect repellent
- Trekking poles
A running watch records several things including your heart rate, distance, elevation, pace, and time. That way, you can keep track of your training in great detail.
One of the best watches for running is the Garmin Forerunner. It gives you in-depth detail of your performance including ground contact time and stride length. It can even detect if you’re overtraining or undertraining.
When you’re running for hours on the trail, you risk getting sunburn. Protect yourself by applying sunscreen.
An insect repellent will keep the stubborn insects from feasting on you.
Not only will it make you look good, but it will also block the sun’s UV rays so you can focus more on the trail.
For muddy, technical trails, you may want the aid of trekking poles. Most of them are collapsible and can be easily attached to your running bag/vest so you don’t have to worry about holding them if you don’t need them.
It’s common for the weather to change rapidly without warning. Make sure you have a jacket handy in case you need an extra layer.
Should I wear a bag or vest?
I’ve tried trail running with all types of bags from backpacks to waistbelts. They’re great, however, I found some issues with them later on. Backpacks move a lot and waistbelts don’t have enough storage.
Running vests, on the other hand, are light, have enough storage, and are really snug on the body making them the perfect storage for trail running.
I like the Salomon active skin. They’ve got plenty of reachable storage and they feel really snug on the body. You can buy them on Amazon.
My Trail Running Checklist for a 50km Trail Run
For you to get a better idea of what to bring when you’re trail running, I’ll share with you my actual 50km packing list during my last race.
Note that the route has plenty of refilling stations so I wasn’t too concerned about food and water.
In my 10L running vest
- 1 liter of water
- 500 ml Gatorade
- 3 RXBar (protein bar)
- 3 Fruit bar
- 3 Nutrition Gel
- Wallet (with cash and ID)
- Blister pads
In my car
- 1 liter of drinking water
- 1 gallon of water for washing
- 2 shirts, 1 shorts, and 1 underwear
- 1 towel
What you need to know before you pack
Before you pack your things for a day on the trail, you need to know a few details about your route that will help you pack more efficiently.
Checkpoints – Checkpoints are common in trail races. It is where you can refill your water or grab food. Know the distance between checkpoints so you can bring just enough food and water to get through the next one.
Distance – Know how long the route will be so you can get a rough estimate of the time it takes to accomplish.
Terrain – Know what kind of terrain you’re running in so you can wear the right clothes and bring the right gear.
Time – Know what time you’ll start and what time do you estimate to finish. That way, you can decide if you should bring a flashlight or not.
Weather – Check out the weather forecasts so you can get an idea of what clothes to bring.
You may have slightly different needs and preferences, but your packing list will most likely be very similar to what I listed above. Pack your things according to your preferences, but never forget the must-have items I’ve outlined.
Whether you’re running on the road or trails, safety should be your number one priority. That’s why I outlined these 34 safety tips that will keep you safe when running.