10 Trail Running Essentials for Safe Mountain / Backcountry Adventures
Alright. We’re going to start off by talking about the my trail running gear: a dog, some coffee, a wife or significant other that you love, trail running, good food, a fulfilling job, staying fit and healthy, family and friendships, living somewhere that you’d love to be, and going to be balanced between everything. These are not the 10 essentials at all as I just made that up off the top of my head.
I’m not going to talk about hiking boots as I’ve written a new post about the best hiking boots for flat feet.
My trail running gear
OK! let’s go again. Today I would like to talk about the ten essentials which is something near and dear to my heart because it quite literally could save your life and I’ve had the misfortune of being out on a run where not everybody came back. I’ve dedicated myself to making sure that myself, my loved ones and you, of course, are always carrying the necessary supplies. I just want to go through and show the things that I actually carry with me every time I go out on a lengthy adventure run and the things that I feel that everybody should be carrying when they head out. SO let’s get started.
So the ten essentials is not a set list, it’s not set in stone as there are some variations depending on sport and interpretation. But for argument’s sake, the majority of them are consistent across the board. Everything I’m going to show was actually in my pack for the adventure run that I just completed with some friends.
Within everything that I do carry with me, one of the main pieces that I carry is actually an emergency Bivvy which I also use to carry some emergency supplies (a kit that I’ve created). Everything I’m going to show all fit nicely into the Bivvy sack itself alongside the emergency Bivvy.
So we’ve got the emergency Bivvy, a fire starting kit, water-proof matches and a lighter, a 100+ lumens headlamp, a backup battery, a backup light device, a drinking source, a strap, a zap strap, some antibiotic, cleansers, wipes, band-aids, a signaling device (a mirror), a decent roll of duct tape, medical tape, bandage, another signaling device (a whistle), a flare and I’ve got a launcher pin for my bear bangers, a set of rope, some sunblock, emergency gloves (not just for attending to someone else but also for keeping yourself warm), a small knife, a safety pin, and some lubricants.
Now we’ll go through each item one at a time and I’ll add in a few more that I think are necessary to put on top of the ten essentials.
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I’ve got a headlamp that’s over 100 lumens and I make sure to put the battery in backwards so that way it can’t accidentally get turned on and I know I’m never going to lose the lamp. I also have a spare battery and a spare light source.
A signaling device
First and foremost, one of the most important pieces you can carry is a whistle. Most people do not realize this. If you’re in an emergency situation and you’re yelling for help, you will lose your voice. It’s actually difficult to discern a voice in the wilderness but a whistle will always pierce the air and you will never lose the ability to blow air into a whistle. So a whistle is a very key piece you need to carry with you.
If you need a rescue, a mirror to reflect the sun can go a long way towards helping people locate you. And beyond that, having an actual flare that you can fire into the sky by a firing pen which you also use for a bear banger is a must-have. These are the signaling devices that I carry with me.
A fire starting kit
The thing you should definitely have if you’re spending the night somewhere is the fire starting kit. For that, you can use some flints to assist you in getting started to begin with. You’ll also need water-proof matches and a lighter.
Do not short yourself on clothes when you’re out there. A lot of trail runners make this mistake and they dress when they’re moving and not dress if they’re forced to stop.
Something I’d like to say to people is …
“can you stay warm for 20 minutes in your environment if you were forced to stop moving?” That’s just the prime example. If you can’t stay warm for 20 minutes, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble really quickly if anything goes wrong. So in terms of spare warm clothes, I like these Salomon gloves because they’re bike gloves that are fingerless and have a waterproof stowable finger cover which is nice because they go across all weather conditions.
I would also carry a hooded jacket and a water-proof hooded jacket. I also carry arm sleeves so I can alternate the temperature of my body in that manner.
I carry a headband, a buff and a lightweight tuque. So these all the items that I carry around for my trail runs.
I have a small collection of knives just depending on how long I’m going and what I expect the conditions to be. A small locking blade emergency knife is the one that stays in and goes at all times. I also have a slightly larger knife if I feel I’m going to be in a more serious terrain and I may need to use it.
Emergency Bivvy VS Space Blanket
This is one of the most important items and it is a shelter. A lot of people will pack a space blanket and a space blanket will come with Salomon packs which is a great feature to have.
Having spent multiple nights under a space blanket and having slept in an emergency Bivvy multiple times, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that you’re really going to see the deficiencies of a space blanket pretty rapidly and the benefits of having an emergency Bivvy right away.
Emergency Bivvy will retail for $20 to $25 and it’s basically a stitched together space blanket that comes out like a sleeping bag and it will not only keep you alive but it’ll actually keep you quite happy verses sleeping under a space blanket. I cannot stress enough how much I believe in the emergency Bivvy and it’s a personal guarantee if you ever end up in an emergency situation.
You’re not packing for the duration you’re going to be out there, you’re packing for the duration you’re going to be out there along with some extra food just in case something were to go wrong.
Just to give you an example,
we were 13 and ½ hours on our run and I had a bag full of food. I actually didn’t come back with anything as I consumed everything. This meant it was the perfect amount of calories for the day but it also means that I made a mistake because I didn’t have any extra emergency calories if anything had gone wrong. I think it was about 4000 calories I was carrying with me for 13 hours. So, never underestimate food and always pack some just in case you may end up spending the night out there.
This is up to interpretation. Some people will carry more a mask and what not. But more important than the materials you’re carrying is actually knowing first aid. So I really encourage everybody to take a first aid course and get certified.
My first aid kit consists of emergency medical gloves which again will double as gloves to keep you warm in emergency. I also carry some antiseptic treatments, band-aids, bandage, duct tape, medical tape, a safety pin and a strap which I would use to put the headlamp on my head if necessary. It could also be used as a tourniquet or anything really in an emergency situation.
A compass is going to go a long ways but it will go further still if you know how to use it. I encourage all trail runners to learn how to navigate which is something I’ve been working on myself as of late. As soon as I arrive in my destination I buy the best map that I can find and it will allow me to know exactly where I am at all times.
On top of the navigation is sourcing the information you need in advance. I once downloaded a GPS route from someone’s Strava files and uploaded it to my Movescount and I put it on my watch. While we were out there, there was a couple of snow fields that were obscuring the trail and I could fire up the navigation feature on my watch and I was able to say the trail is just above and sure enough we found the trail. That saved us some time right there.
So navigation is a key one and it really boils down to mainly a compass and a map, some knowledge of what you’re doing but adding in every additional tool you can to increase your knowledge while you’re out there and make things safer for you and everyone else.
Your number one tool while you are in cell range is your cell phone. Everybody knows this, but very few people take their phones with them. A phone can save your life, just plain and simple. Whenever you know you’re going to have service or think you are, you should be carrying your phone with you.
When you’re not going to be in service, a spot tracker like the one below is vital. There are devices on the market that do similar and others that do better in terms of allowing you to satellite message. I’ve only had this device for just over a year and it has put my mind and the mind of my loved ones at ease.
It’s allowed me to go out there and do much bigger more obscure longer routes and felt confident in the knowledge that I can keep myself safe overnight and I can hit a button and somebody is going to know exactly where I am. I’m just going to sit tight and find a way to keep myself alive, warm and sheltered for a day to three days until help arrives. Without this you don’t have that and things become complex quite quickly.
So this has really opened up my confidence level for getting out and doing larger stuff on my own and I cannot tell you how much peace of mind this gives to everybody including my wife, my parents just to know that there’s a button there that tells them things are in trouble. I can message with this device and say I’m late and things are OK, this is where I am or I can press the SOS and search and rescue will know to come and start looking for me.
These are the bonus essentials that I believe in and that I usually carry with me.
Sunglasses and sunblock
Carry some sunglasses and some sunblock depending on the environment you’re in. if you’re in an alpine snow environment, then these are within your essentials.
It’s very very basic but yet important. It’s not going to keep you alive and it’s not going to be life-threatening, but it can keep you very happy. What I like to do is actually take a small container and fill it with lube and then I’ve got that with me if anything were to start chafing out there.
I always carry a little bag of electrolytes just in case.
I was not a water purify guy until last year when I got a stomach bug and then I went away and bought a water purification device that I have not regretted it.
The one I use is the Steripen Freedom. It is basically a small battery-powered device. So it is electronic and things can go wrong as it’s not foolproof, but it’s lightweight and cost effective. You simply put it in the water and it takes about 30 to 40 seconds per bottle to fully purify that so you know you’re not going to get any stomach bugs.
Bear bangers and bear spray
Your bear banger is basically a double firing shot. You let go of the trigger and it immediately pops like a gunshot and then it fires up and another similar to louder gunshot goes up off above. That will scare most bears. In case that it doesn’t, this is (13.22) one of the only, if not the only thing that is almost fail-safe to protect you in a bear attack.
If you happen to startle a grizzly, there’s not a lot you can do other than hold on and hope for the best. Bear spray is almost a guaranteed option. If you can get the canister off, it prevents the bear from breathing. There’s not an animal on this planet that’s not going to scatter if it attacks something and all of a sudden it finds itself unable to breathe. So bear spray is very important when you’re in bear country.
When you’re planning a big outing with friends, you should all be carrying these items and that should be communicated in advance. Someone should spearhead the group and someone should mandate what people are to carry.
The biggest thing I have seen and learned over the years is that groups can get together and a lot of people can get into it without any real knowledge of what they’re getting into. The power of Veto, the right for someone at any point to say I’m not comfortable and I want to turn around needs to be agreed upon and stated in advance.
People get into trouble when they’re not communicating properly with friends as to when they’re going beyond their comfort zone. So number one above all of this is clear concise communication in advance of the day and especially on the day.
So carry those with you, talk to your friends, communicate and adventure safe!
So that’s it for my 10 essentials along with a few bonus items. I hope you’ve gotten through this article which was a lot longer than I anticipated. Feel free to ask any questions and I’d love to assist if I can; just mention something in the comments and I’ll get to that. Thank you.