Trail Running Essentials ► Tips from An Ultra-Runner


Trail running allows you to head out into the wild, experience new terrain, and really get lost in nature. But to go off the beaten path safely, runners need to prepare a few trail running essentials. Even if you’re running in an area you know relatively well, having some just-in-case items at the ready will help ensure a minor issue—like a rolled ankle or an accidental detour—doesn’t turn into a serious problem. Here’s everything you need in your trail running kit, plus Timothy Olson’s pack essentials. 

“What I love about trail running is the places it takes you—both within and without. Trail running allows you see the wildest places, but it also allows you to go within and see the beauty in yourself as well.” – Timothy Olson

timothy olsen trail running

Everything You Need in Your Trail Running Kit 

1. Adequate Hydration 

Bring enough water to sustain you during your run. Dehydration leads to dizziness, muscle cramps, and a host of other symptoms that may not seem a big deal if you’re within range of your car or public transit but can become hazardous when you’re out in the mountains. If you’re unsure of how much water you need to bring along, use this calculator to figure out your optimal water intake. If you can’t bring enough water for the distance of your run, you’ll need to make sure you have a few refill points with fresh, clean water along your route. You can also invest in a water bottle with a built-in filter to clean potentially unsafe stream water. 

2. Food 

Everybody’s nutritional needs are different, but depending on how long you want to run, you’ll probably need to refuel at some point. Whether it’s gels, granola bars, gummies, or fruit, pack a few snacks so that you have enough energy to get through your session. 

3. Rain Gear

Especially when running in mountain climates, rain gear is a must. Weather can change drastically in only a few minutes, and exposure to the elements will quickly strip away your body heat. Rain gear these days is small, packable, and light, so there’s really no excuse for not bringing some along. 

trail running gear

4.  Online & Offline Navigation

If you’re heading out to an unknown trail, be sure to prepare by bringing a fully charged phone with an offline map and GPS viewer. A GPS watch is also helpful, of course. And as many die-hard outdoor enthusiasts will tell you, you should never fully rely on your electronic devices. A printout map of the area in a plastic bag is a good backup plan if you lose battery, your phone shuts down in the cold, etc.

5. Good Running Shoes 

Your gym shoes probably aren’t the best trail running solution in the long term. Invest in trail running shoes with adequate tread, so you have more grip on the uphill and more control on the downhill. Street running shoes probably lack the tread you’ll need to safely and comfortably tackle the trails.

6. Emergency Equipment 

When you’re headed out into the wilderness, it’s always best to anticipate a bit of the unexpected. A few small items in an emergency kit will make you feel more secure, even if you don’t end up using them. If you do end up needing them, you’ll be incredibly grateful they’re available. There are some items to include: 

  • A whistle 
  • First aid essentials like band-aids (handy for blisters!), disinfectant, and gauze 
  • An emergency blanket 
  • A headlamp 
  • Water purification tablets
  • Cash 
  • An I.D. or emergency contact number in your bag

If you’re headed out into some serious terrain, consider buying a PLB or personal locator beacon. It can help emergency personnel find you in case something goes wrong. Also, one of the most critical pieces of safety gear in your arsenal is your own friends. Tell someone where you’re headed and when you plan to be back—or at least back in range of cell service. If you’ve created a GPS map with your route, share it with them. It may seem like overkill, but things happen. If you need help, you’ll be grateful to know that someone will know where to come looking. 

Ultra Runner Timothy Olson’s Pack Essentials

Timothy Olson, who recently nabbed the fastest known time on the Pacific Crest Trail, shared some of the essentials he brings on a long run. 

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