What to take trail running

Started off warm and sunny, ended up cold and rainy

The question, “What should I take trail running?” often comes our way from newer runners looking to expand their range.

While it’s easy to give a snarky, “as little as possible,” that word little is actually really important. What little you bring needs to be big in terms of usefulness.

Let’s assume you’re going running in the mountains for what could be up to 3 hours with a good forecast. Mountains, can mean many things. For me, it’s getting into the alpine zone in areas like the Alps, Sierra, Cascades, or Rockies. In each of these ranges, the alpine zone is fairly similar. Sure, the Sierra is mostly sunny and pleasant, but never to be counted on 100% of the time. When we produced our Sierra Trail Runs : A Guide to the Eastside book we had some unexpectedly cold, windy days up high, even when the valley below was scorching hot. And the Alps are never to be taken lightly, or at least packed too lightly for. Conditions can go from pleasant to miserable in an instant.

The point is, mountains have variable weather. And as runners, we also have variable plans.

Feeling good? Curious about what’s over that ridge? Change your plans and want to summit that peak you’ve been staring at? These decisions typically result in a bigger-than-originally-planned day out. One that probably takes you higher, further, steeper, and perhaps most importantly, longer. Time. More time out means more time for things to go differently than planned.

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The Minimum to Take on Most Mountain Runs

On most every mountain run I do, unless it is absolutely going to be a short amount of time and in stable weather, I take a few key items to protect against cold, wind, hunger, and injury.

The key is to always have these things ready to go. Be consistent. I keep an ultralight, see-through stuff sack loaded with the items below. Before every mountain run, I pull out what I don’t feel I’ll need, and then disburse the items that I’ll take to my shoulder strap pockets and main pack interior.

The shoulder straps get the gloves, headband or neck gaiter, and Trail Butter. If it’s colder, the windshell goes in the larger mesh pockets of my Black Diamond Distance Pack. I usually put the other items in the main pack.

Essentials for Trail Running in the Mountains

  1. Light gloves with a foldaway windshell. Or, for higher alpine runs, the Black Diamond Stance Gloves or Mitts which weigh 74 grams, squish into a tiny stuff sack and have saved the day more times than we can remember.
  2. Neck gaiter – goes on 100% of runs, doubles as a headband
  3. Headband (depends on if I wear a hooded shirt, in which case this stays behind)
  4. Ibuprofen
  5. A very small roll of medical tape
  6. Trail Butter – calorie rich and always tastes good
  7. Tailwind I like to keep a Caffeinated Endurance Fuel Single Serve at the ready
  8. Wind shell : An ultralight, compact, hooded, wind shell that’s a slightly larger size so the sleeves cover the hands (grey sack with yellow tab)
  9. Headlamp: I like the rechargeable Black Diamond Deploy (make sure it’s charged!)

Not pictured:

  1. Clothing Pro-Tip : Try mid-shin height socks and enjoy protection from rocks, thorns, post-holing in the snow, and some extra warmth.
  2. A fully charged phone with your location’s maps (FATMAP) downloaded and ready for offline use.
And don’t forget to carry a 500ml soft flask for your water

Learning how all this works best for you is a fun part of trail running, and keeping “as little as possible” as a rule will keep you experimenting until you have a system dialed in.

By Dan Patitucci


Comments 2

  1. Would you have a recommendation for some more durable (or at least cheap) lightweight gloves? How durable are the BD Wooltech when they get more often in touch with rock? I don’t want to go the full via ferrata gloves but I often destroy my gloves too quickly.
    My usage is from skyrunning races up to II/III ridges like Nadelhorn-Dom-Taschhorn where I can go through a pair of gloves in a week.

    1. Post

      You’re right, none of these glove styles are very durable if you use them on rock. I’ve used the BD Mont Blanc glove, which are bomber, but not as light and warm. For any route that I know will require hands on rock, I take two pair of gloves and save the lightweight ones for running only.

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