You’ll need these 11 essential pieces of gear for long-distance adventure running.
With dizzying heights, window-on-the-world vistas and challenging terrain, running in the mountains can be an amazing experience unlike any other kind of running. Fittingly, so is the gear necessary for a safe and satisfying experience. Route length, elevation, trail conditions, weather, personal assessment and the unexpected all need to be considered, and preparation is always the best defense. Familiarize yourself with your route, be aware of the weather and let someone know where you’re going. Better yet, grab a friend to go with you! Then review our checklist and use common sense to decide what items you’ll need to toss into your pack or stash in a pocket for just-in-case scenarios. No, you won’t need everything on the list for every run, but when you are heading up into the mountains it’s good to know you’re prepared for whatever happens on the trail.
Rugged Mountain Running Shoes
Any run should start with the right pair of shoes. Running on rugged mountain trails isn't at all like running on the smooth, semi-technical routes in urban or suburban park, forest preserve or open space property. To run over rocky trails that aren't maintained, you need a flexible shoe that has a durable and adhesive rubber outsole for optimal traction and reinforced sidewalls and a flexible rock plate layer for maximum protection against sharp rock edges. Four consummate rugged mountain runners at stores this summer are the Scarpa Ignite ($125, 10.2 oz. men's size 9, 9.0 oz., women's size 7), Montrail Fluid Feel ($110, 10.3 oz. men's size 9, 8.9 oz., women's size 7), Dynafit Pantera ($140, 11.7 oz. men's size 9, 9.9 oz., women's size 7), Patagonia Tsali 3.0 ($110, 10.3 oz. men's size 9, 8.5 oz., women's size 7).
Because running in the mountains often means running longer and at higher elevations, carrying a hydration pack is a must. Not only will the pack transport your liquid fuel, but it can also carry your bars, gels or other snacks, plus extra layers of clothes for a quick change in the weather, first-aid and other accessories. The Osprey Rev 1.5 ($70), Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest ($130) and Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set ($220) are all over-the-back style packs that offer a variety of liquid and cargo capacity options.
A pair of trekking poles can help considerably while running up steep mountain ascents. Lightweight, collapsible and easy to use, Black Diamond’s Distance aluminum poles ($100) are light weight (12-13 oz. per pair depending on size) yet strong enough to help you tackle tough mountainous terrain and easily pack away when the trail turns more gradual. They also give you something to lean on if things go awry and you end up tired or injured.
Running out of water in the middle of nowhere is never a good idea. But as long as you have a water source and a method to ensure potable water, you are good to run. Options include pump and gravity filters and purifiers, UV light pen purifiers, chemical tablets and boiling. An easy option to toss in your pack is the nine-inch LifeStraw ($20) that filters out bacteria, particulate matter and parasites, leaving you with clean drinking water from any watering hole. It works via suction, just like a straw, without any moving parts or batteries and can filter 264 gallons.
An Emergency Blanket
An emergency blanket, like the MCR Emergency Blanket ($1.79), is one of those things you never want to use, but you’ll be glad you have it if needed. Use it to stay warm during a mountain squall, preserve body heat in case of injury or as quick shelter if lost. This one weighs less than 2 oz. and comes folded and ready to slip into a pack.
Gnarley trails are all the more fun when grit stays outside of your shoes. Gaiters help keep trail debris away from your feet. Outdoor Research’s new breathable, stretchy and water-resistant Sparkplug Gaiters ($20) make it easy to fend off gravel and precipitation without causing feet to overheat. They have a hook attachment and come in size small/medium or medium/large.
A good mountain running watch is one loaded with features that you might need to use in a pinch. Aside from keeping your time, heart rate, distance and pace, the adventure-ready Suunto Ambit 2R ($249/$299 with a heart-rate monitor) also tracks elevation, rate of ascent/decline, navigational bearings and barometric patterns. The Garmin Forerunner 15 ($170/$200 with heart-rate strap) is more of a "mountain light" option that lets you stay on top of your miles with a combination of easy-to-use GPS-based time, distance and pace tracking.
Lightweight Waterproof Jacket
A super-light waterproof jacket is necessary to keep the elements at bay when a sudden rain storm (or snow flurries, sleet or hail) materializes from what had been a bright sunny day. The North Face Feather Lite Storm Blocker Jacket ($200) nylon ripstop jacket is mostly a bare bones shell without many features, except for a fully waterproof zipper and hood (which has a cinch cord and can be stowed away when not in use). It weighs less than 4 oz. and packs down to smaller than the size of an apple, which makes it easy to stuff in the pocket of a hydration pack when you're not wearing it.
Yes, a whistle. Toot on it to warn bears or others of your approach, entertain trail mates with a song or blow like hell to let others know your where-a-bouts if you’ve fallen and you can’t get up. At 130 decibels, the Storm Whistle ($6) claims to be the loudest mouth-blown whistle on the market and even works underwater. But also check your pack—a few hydration pack companies have whistles built into the plastic buckles.
You never know when you'll be stuck out on a trail after the sun goes down, but you'd rather be safe that sorry. Afternoon or early runs that run long could mean running back in low-light conditions or complete darkness, but getting hurt might mean you're stuck and waiting for rescue. The Petzl Tikka+ headlamp ($40) weighs less than 3 oz. and can sufficiently light up a trail for 8 hours.
For those who don’t feel like making a custom care kit, the Adventure Medical Kits Pocket Medic ($7.50) is ready-to-run 3.2-oz. version has the basics to take care of scratches, bites, scrapes and stings, neatly stowed in a waterproof bag.