The question, “What should I take trail running?” often comes our way from newer runners looking to expand their range.
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.
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:
- Light gloves (Black Diamond Lightweight Wooltech) or for higher alpine runs, the Black Diamond Stance Mitts which weigh 74 grams, squish into a tiny stuff sack and have saved the day more times than we can remember.
- Neck gaiter – goes on 100% of runs, doubles as a headband
- Headband (depends on if I wear a hooded shirt, in which case this stays behind)
- A very small roll of medical tape
- Trail Butter
- Tailwind Caffeinated Endurance Fuel Single Serve
- Wind shell : An ultralight, compact, hooded, wind shell that’s a slightly larger size so the sleeves cover the hands. (Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell – the tiny white sack pictured)
- Headlamp : I like the rechargeable Black Diamond Sprint 225 (make sure it’s charged!)
- Arm warmers : These live in my stuff sack but only go on about half my mountain runs. It really depends if I am taking a long sleeve shirt so I can have a hood.
- Clothing Pro-Tip : Try mid-shin height socks and enjoy protection from rocks, post-holing in the snow, and some extra warmth.
- A fully charged phone with your location’s maps downloaded and ready for offline use.
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