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What To Bring For A Trail Run

Pack Your Bags, It’s Trail Run Time

Do you really need to pack stuff for a trail run? Should your preparation be any different from a road run? Let’s find out–the answers may not be what you expect! Now that it’s officially spring (and almost summer) let’s get you ready for some fun in the sun. And mud. And rain. And maybe snow. But definitely dirt.

A Trail Run Is Different From Road Run

Trail running and road running are–you guessed it–both types of running! In this world of unending specificity and polarization, it’s a little relaxing to remember that running is running. 

However, your preparation and packing for a trail run will probably be different than for a road run. The difference is due to the type of run we usually do on trials, aside from a few exceptions. 

Let’s explore these differences from the lens of a road runner first and then a trail runner.

The Road Runner’s Trail Run 

If you’re primarily a road runner you may never set foot on trails. But if you do get on trails, it’s probably to build strength via some hill strides, a faster run over variable terrain, or to break up the monotony of your usual long run. 

What To Bring For The Shorter, Faster Trail Run 

You don’t really need to bring anything different for a short trail run versus a short road run. That said, you’ll want to be careful if your trail route involves significantly more elevation change than your usual road route. 

Especially if you’re doing a hill workout, you’ll want to bring more fuel than you normally would. You might be thinking, “Bring fuel? Well I never…” and if that’s you, you should stop reading this and just come talk to us. It’s going to be okay.

The reason for additional fueling is that hills burn more calories. And, yes, they also pay the bills (say it all together, it’s a better rhyme). You don’t want to be in a calorie deficit if you are pushing your potential and improving your performance. Unless you’re doing fasted training and, if you are, please keep it to yourself because it isn't for everyone, you metabolic animal.

If it’s a little dark you’ll want to dress with reflective materials and bring a waist or headlamp. Since roots and rocks can get the best of us in daylight, just think what they’d do to you pre-dawn.

What To Pack For A Longer Trail Run

It’s Saturday and, instead of going for a long run on the Creek Turnpike trail again, you’ve decided to hit up The Keystone Ancient Forest for some miles. I think that’s an excellent choice, bravo! Try out the Less Traveled trail, you won’t be sorry. But you’ll need to bring a few key things to get the most out of your experience and get back to your car in one piece. 

  1. First, bring your trail running shoes! You’ll appreciate the improved grip and durability over those road shoes. Plus, your road shoes will last longer if they aren’t doing double duty. 

  2. It might take you longer to run a given distance on the trails than on roads, so dress appropriately. Read our other post about how to dress for a trail run if you don’t know where to start! Another option is to structure your run around time instead of distance.

  3. A vest/pack/belt/handheld thing for carrying extra fuel and fluids! You will burn more energy running on trails, and you sure don’t want to enter a calorie deficit! More importantly, no one likes a hangry running buddy, so if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for others. 

The Trail Runner’s Trail Run 

If you’re a dedicated trail runner or entirely new to running, this section is for you. You already know what to bring if you’ve been trail running for while, but for those of you who don’t know where to start, need to up your mileage, or seem to have a tough time getting comfy on the trails, we hope this helps. 

What To Bring For A Basic Trail Run

What’s “basic?” I’ll define a basic trail run as a run that’s around 1 hour over a mix of single and double-track hills and flats, and with potential for weather conditions to change. Here’s a sort of starting point for your packing list, which may be added to or have things subtracted from based on your unique circumstances. 

  1. Trail shoes, obviously.

  2. A running vest to hold the rest

  3. Fluids (electrolyte-mix, preferably, though yesterday’s coffee is fine too).

  4. Snacks (for consumption around the half-hour, 45-minute, or hour-mark depending on your goals and needs and happiness).

  5. Weather-resistant shell in case of unwanted wind, rain, or migration patterns.

  6. Phone and keys

That’s the nice thing about a vest–it can carry everything! No more leg-swinging pocket chaos or fumbling to tie your jacket around your waist. Just get a vest already (we just got some really nice ones in!).

A Note On Nutrition

I’ve mentioned fueling, calories, and snacks enough to necessitate a note for clarification. I am not a dietician, but if you’ve been wondering “how much fuel should I consume for a run?” then let's digress. 

An article by Sanford Health (from 2018, click here for the full post) states that runners should get around 120-240 calories per hour of exercise. That’s a great starting point, and there are lots of easy/yummy ways to make sure you eat enough! Just pop in the store to see our full selection of candy–I mean running-specific, super-technical calorie sources optimized for performance. 

Do You Have What You Need To Trail Run?

Have legs, will run–for a while. Have a full running vest, will run–for a really, really long time. 

Our mission is to support your running dreams. A well-stocked running vest, enough fuel, and the right gear can keep you going when you’d otherwise stop. Every run you cut short is a lost opportunity* for training your mind and body to go the distance. 

*Some opportunities are worth trading, i.e. a live bear or angry armadillo in your path, an injury, or another person’s injury. Run nicely out there.

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