Off-Road Running: What to pack
Whether you're heading out for a long day on the trails or you're competing in an ultramarathon, having the right gear is vital to keep you safe and to make sure you're well prepared for the miles ahead. This guide will provide an idea of what you need to pack and there's a checklist to download at the end.
Running on trails is much slower than running on road so you can expect to spend more time on your feet. Good trail shoes shoes are a necessity.
Trail shoes have a tougher upper mesh to protect your feet from branches and stones and they provide more grip on the underside. The amount of grip you need will depend on how technical the trails are.
If you want more information about running shoes check out my guide here. My favourite trail shoe is the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat.
Hydration vests are what allow you to carry everything you need on the run. There’s loads of options out there. In terms of size consider how much water, food and extra layers you need to carry. It is likely that the more extreme the run, or the less supported your run, the bigger the pack will need to be. If you're at a small event with support tents every few miles then you are unlikely to require as much space for carrying water and food.
Another thing to think about is the type of water storage. Some vests fit both flasks and a bladder, others may not. The flask volume they fit may differ and the way to get water from the flask may also differ, i.e. from a straw or directly from the cap. I think this comes down to personal preference. Finally, also consider the fit. Some brands offer female-fits which are more designed to the female body shape.
I’ve personally always used Salomon hydration vests. Depending on the model you can fit them with two soft flasks (500ml) and/or a bladder (1.5L). I can comfortably carry 2.5L total water in mine as well as snacks and an extra layer.
Key points to consider:
- size and carrying capacity
- shape or fit
- water system type, i.e. bladders, flasks, straws
- water system volume, i.e. 1.5L or 3L
- pocket size and placement
Always be prepared. If you want to invest in one item this is the one. Off-road running is the best way to explore mountains and coastlines but these areas can see unpredictable weather changes. Having a reliable but easy to foldaway jacket is vital as it can offer protection from the wind and rain and provide an extra layer of warmth. I have a bright pink Salomon jacket that I’ve been very happy with, and I chose a bright colour so that if there is bad weather I’m easy to spot.
So some things to think about:
- weight and ability to be stuffed into a small space
- bright colour or reflective strips for visibility
- elastic hems to keep the jacket tight against your skin
- water resistant vs water repellant vs waterproof
- breathability and vent system
Protection from the elements is important but challenging! In terms of the sun protection this includes sunscreen, sunglasses, a cap and ideally UPF clothing. UPF clothing reduces the UV radiation reaching your skin so if you're signing up to a desert ultramarathon this would be a good thing to look into.
If you're going on a long run then sunscreen is advisable no matter what the weather as you will be exposed to UV radiation for a long period of time. The amount of protection you need will depend on your skin type. I always put on a good layer of sunscreen before a run. I then take a small amount of sunscreen out with me. I really like the Piz Buin mountain stick as it's very small but has sunscreen at the top and an SPF lipbalm at the bottom - 2 in 1!
Other things you may want protection against, depending on where you are running, will include ticks and insects. Consider wearing insect repellant and packing a tick remover, but most importantly, familiarise yourself with what ticks and their bites might look like!
- always think about sun protection even if it's not sunny
- reapply sunscreen every few hours, especially if you're sweating a lot
- beware of running kit that has mesh inserts or cut outs where you might burn
- take a small sunscreen out in your hydration vest to top up with along the route
- remember your lips and hairline, these are easy spots to miss
Having a reliable light source is important for long runs going into the night or for runs in bad weather where visibility is reduced. For shorter runs when I don't need to carry a hydration pack I use a chest light. Chest lights strap on around the waist and over the shoulder and provide a big light source both front and back. They provide lots of light but they are a bit bulky for long runs.
For a long trail run or ultra event I take the Petzl E+Lite as it is the opposite of bulky. It has a white light to guide me, a red light if I need to be seen and the added bonus of an attached whistle. It’s only 27g and folds into a small container so is extremely easy to carry in a hydration vest and doesn't take up space like a chest light would.
Some key things to remember with lights:
- make sure the light source is fully charged
- make sure you have a back up battery
- make sure you have enough light sources as stipulated by the event (many races state you need to have two separate light sources)
Dry bags are super useful because, as the name says on the tin, they keep things dry! There is no point in packing a baselayer to keep you warm if it ends up wet.
Dry bags come in lots of different sizes. I use a 1.5L one as I just put in a small baselayer - nothing else I carry really needs to stay dry. For longer events, or events where the weather is known to be bad, a bigger dry bag might be needed.
Another good use for dry bags is to put all your emergency kit in them. If you are going to have a kit check during a race it's nice to have everything in one spot so you can easily show it to the race marshall.
There are so many things that you may want to consider taking on a long off-road run. The items needed will depend on location, terrain, climate, distance and experience. Many races will also have a mandatory kit list. I've created a checklist of items you may want to consider packing on your trail runs or races which you can download below.
All the advice here is based on my own personal experience of long trail runs and races. If you've signed up to an event make sure to check their recommendations and always do your research. Equally, the products mentioned are things I've tried and tested that work for me, they are just ideas to help you pack your own running bag! For more running-related content, you can follow me on instagram @marathonmedic