Part Two: Equipment and Supplies
With a destination in mind and thorough planning complete, it’s time to pack. As you prepare your equipment and supplies for a long day of adventure, keep in mind that to travel safely, you’ll carry more than in race. A self-supported adventure is just that, and there are no drop bags, no medical staff, no aid stations. Especially if traveling solo, a few extra ounces of contingency equipment could mean the difference in a fun day or dangerous situation. That being said, the lighter we travel, the more quickly and easily we move. Striking the balance is tricky, but the more informed you are, the more likely you are to hit the trail with what you need to be safe even when the unplanned happens. For success on an adventure run, pack expertly so no unexpected event derails your day.
It’s tough to have fun on a long day on the trail if you have no way to carry the equipment and supplies you need. To comfortably carry your adventure gear, it’s hard to beat a vest or pack designed specifically for running women. Thankfully, these days many companies offer such options in several different carrying capacities. The best way to find a vest you’ll love is to try a few on in person at your local running store. Be sure to actually fill a pack with gear and take a jog down the sidewalk when you try it on to get an accurate idea of its fit. Most packs fit differently when completely full than when minimally loaded; play around with how much gear is in the pack and where it’s packed. The Gear & Reviews section of TrailSisters.net is a great place to find more about products, and the Forums section offers a space to crowdsource advice as you shop for a running pack. Running packs aren’t your thing? Depending on your gear needs, you could use handheld water bottles and/or a waistpack instead.
Once you have a comfortable way to carry your gear, carefully consider your clothing choices from head to toe.
Shield yourself from the sun to conserve energy and protect your skin from short-term burn and long-term damage. A hat or visor with a bill or brim makes a big difference, as does a hood for protecting the back of your neck. Sunglasses are an essential for me…and one that is easy to forget during a pre-dawn start. In cold and/or windy weather, a lightweight headwrap or beanie is a great option that easily stuffs into a pack for just-in-case.
Base Layer Shirt
In warm weather, this might be the only shirt you wear all day. In other conditions, this will be the next-to-skin layer under one or more others. Consider different properties of base layer fabrics:
- Merino wool makes a great next-to-skin layer. This natural fabric is not the itchy wool of your grandma’s sweater. Like synthetic fabrics, it pulls moisture away from the body and dries more quickly than cotton. Unlike synthetic fabrics, it doesn’t smell terrible the second you start to sweat.
- Synthetic fabrics have similar moisture-management qualities to merino wool without the aforementioned odor-management qualities. Synthetics are more affordable than merino wool.
- Cotton has justifiably become a bad word among outdoor adventurers, but some people actually prefer it in hot desert environments precisely because it dries more slowly than synthetics. Soaking a cotton shirt then wearing it on a hot desert run keeps you cool longer than quick-drying fabrics. Be careful, however; if a storm rolls in, that damp, slow-drying cotton shirt could be a quick route to hypothermia.
If needed, pack or wear an extra long-sleeved layer to stay warm. The same fabric considerations above apply. Except for in the coldest of conditions, running or hiking in a puffy layer tends to be a great way to overheat. It could be, however, an important piece of gear if you have to stop moving for any reason, like if someone becomes injured. Also, remember that when wet, a down jacket loses all its insulating power, so pack down in a waterproof bag or carry a puffy jacket made with synthetic insulation.
These jackets tend to be incredibly light and stuff-able. They’re a great option to stay warm when exposed on an alpine ridge or in very light precipation. These jackets are typically “water-resistant,” which, in my experience, translates to “of absolutely no use in a downpour.”
Do you need to pack one? If getting soaked could be life-threatening (or even day-ruining), then yes! Consider getting caught in the average afternoon thunderstorm in the Rockies when the temperature suddenly drops and strong wind accompanies the rain. If precipitation is highly unlikely but you still want to be prepared, an emergency blanket could be a waterproof wrap in a pinch (and a smart emergency item to carry).
If you’re going to spend all day on the run, wear a pair of running bottoms that have already proved comfortable to you. Chafing can be a run ruiner. Thinking about bringing waterproof pants? Ask the same questions as above for a waterproof upper layer.
Wear a pair you already know works for you. The same comments on fabric types mentioned above apply to socks. Don’t wear cotton socks, as there is really no situation in which a moisture-retaining sock is beneficial.
Again, wear shoes you know work for you. Maybe you’ve noticed a theme… a big adventure day probably isn’t the time to test new clothing and equipment. Much like when preparing for a race, plan some shorter test runs with anything new to be sure it will work on your big day.
Considered an unnecessary luxury item by some, this accessory can make runs a lot more fun in some conditions. They keep the dirt and tiny rocks out of your shoes, preventing trailside stops to remove the pebble from your shoe…and preventing the blisters that occur if you don’t remove the pebble. They can be fun fashion accessories too, like these.
They can be a literal lifesaver. Think about all the tasks that become impossible if you lose the use of your hands (a common temporary occurrence when we get very cold). A thin pair of gloves is easy to pack and can prevent loss of dexterity; a waterproof pair is an even more foolproof item.
Consider the weather you’ll run in, and choose a clothing system that works for you. For example, I rarely pack every layer listed above. On a summer mountain run, a t-shirt and rain or wind jacket are usually the only upper-body layers I bring. Think of the above list as a menu of options, and choose from it what you need to stay safe on your run.
Once you’ve chosen your clothing, consider other equipment choices to make your day successful.
Water and/or a Water Filtration Method
If you can refill along the way rather than carry all you need from the start, your pack will be much lighter. One liter of water weighs 2 pounds! A great option for water filtration that doubles as a storage vessel is a water filter bottle, like the Katadyn BeFree. You can use one filter bottle to refill other bottles you’re carrying. Another option is the SteriPen, which uses UV light to purify water. The pen is a more expensive option and requires battery power (and therefore won’t work if the batteries die), but it’s easy to pack and a surefire purification method. You could also carry a chemical method of water treatment, like water purification tablets. These are inexpensive, small and lightweight, but they require up to four hours to kill all illness-inducing waterborne creatures. Here’s a detailed breakdown of different water purification methods.
Topographic Map and Compass
See the Planning article for details on how to use them. Map apps on a phone, such as Gaia, can also be useful navigational tools, but have a way to navigate if your phone battery dies. If using your phone, bring a way to waterproof it; a zip-top plastic bag is great.
Use sunscreen! Alternatively, a thin, loosely-fitting long-sleeved shirt protects from the sun and eliminates the need to wear (and carry) as much pore-clogging sunscreen. Arm sleeves also work. Wear and bring lip balm that contains sunscreen.
Pack foods you’ve eaten before on a run that you know don’t usually upset your stomach. Pack a variety of sweet and salty foods. Even if you only eat foods that quickly digest during a race (think gels), remember that you might want some solid food during an all-day outing at a lower effort level.
You are your own medical staff, so bring a first aid kit with items you commonly need during a run and supplies for treating common backcountry medical emergencies. Two items that take up little room are an emergency blanket and a compression wrap for ankle sprains. Consider carrying an emergency messaging device.
Even if you only plan to run between dawn and dusk, this is a lightweight item that can be essential in an emergency.
Finally, think about bringing some of these bonus items that can make the difference between a great run and a miserable experience.
They can be helpful for steep ups and downs…but be sure to use them before your big day. If you decide you don’t like using them, you’ll have some awkwardly-shaped pokey weights to carry for the rest of your day. Many models made for runners can come apart and attach easily to a running pack when not in use.
From personal experience, I recommend bringing an extra lens if losing one (say, in gale-force wind on top of a mountain) would compromise your day. A tiny bottle of eye drops can also be invaluable for wind-induced vision problems.
If you need it in order for your run to be enjoyable, bring it.
Bring what you need to do your business comfortably, sanitarily and according to Leave No Trace principles. If you can’t dig a 6-inch deep hole with a rock or stick, bring a small trowel along. There are several options available that are lightweight and small, like this one. Pack some TP and an empty zip-top bag in another zip-top bag, that way you can pack out your used TP and double-bag it. I also recommend including a small bottle of hand sanitizer or wipe in your kit so you’re not compromising your health (or the health of others) next time you open the package of a snack.
Often, proper preparation can take the place of another piece of equipment. For example, if you know where trailside water sources are, you can plan to refill rather than carry the entire day’s water supply from the trailhead. Some leaves make great toilet paper. First aid supplies like bandages and gauze can be improvised from extra clothing. Plan to either bring all you’ll need or improvise it, and be sure you’re okay with the consequences of leaving items behind. If you use your shirt in a medical emergency, will you be able to stay warm?
Without aid stations, it’s up to you to carry all you’ll need on an adventure run. Though the packing can intimidate, traveling with all you need on your back feels freeing. When I have all I need in my vest, I feel limited only by my body and able to explore those limits. As with any gear-intensive activity, acquiring the accessories of self-supported trail running can mean an expensive initial investment. But running is a sport long-applauded for its ease of entry; all you need is a pair of shoes. So don’t worry if you don’t have the latest kit. Though you may be less comfortable or move a little more slowly, hitting the trail with your favorite hiking backpack and less-than-ultralight layers of clothing certainly beats staying home. Use this information as a guide as you revise your gear over time. So long as you have what you need to stay safe, chances are high you have what you need to have fun. Pack up and hit the trail; I’ll see you out there.
Call for Comments:
What are your adventure essentials?
Do you have a piece of gear I didn’t mention that you won’t leave home without?