Run the Wild's Karin Voller breaks down everything you need to consider before you hit the trails.

Packing a bag for the trails is always going to be a balancing act. The lighter your pack, the quicker you will be able to move with it on. However, finding yourself without necessary equipment can easily mean the end of your run, and worst case, you involve other people in needing to rescue you!  Here we take a look at the things you need to think about when packing for the trail.

There is no one size fits all suggested list, so here are a few of the things you need to think about as a starting point. Generally, when it comes to packing ‘essentials’ I consider firstly how likely something is to happen, and secondly how consequential it is if it did happen. Anything that is both likely and consequential becomes a MUST have item. Anything unlikely but consequential, becomes a PROBABLY, anything likely but inconsequential becomes a WHAT SPACE DO I HAVE LEFT IN MY PACK? and anything inconsequential and unlikely gets left at home!

Firstly… The Pack!

It’s essential to have a pack (or an assortment of different sized packs) that allow you to carry the equipment you need, comfortably. Whilst the big-name brands in trail running have fantastic packs for sky high prices, I generally find you don’t need to compromise too much on performance with a much cheaper pack. Just check they don’t rub, can be tightened as much as needed for fit, and are large enough to fit everything in in a way that’s accessible.


Many packs nowadays offer a variety of methods to carry hydration, whether via bladder system (out the way, but can be tricky to replenish, and give you little visibility when you are about to run out), or front carried bottles/soft flasks (can bounce around). In terms of sizing I tend to find between 5ltrs and 12ltrs for any day run is sufficient.


Generally, whilst having a smaller pack may seem a better idea, there is nothing more frustrating than having to totally empty a tightly packed bag to find the thing you wanted at the very bottom, vs having a slightly larger bag where everything is more accessible. Today’s bags have so many tightening features, bungees, clips, mesh pockets etc, that even a nearly empty 12ltr pack shouldn’t be bouncing around much on your back.

Here are a few things that will affect what you are packing:

1 – Current, predicted, and possible weather.

If I’m running in the UK in February, I’ll be honest, I won’t need to pack my factor 50 sun cream ‘just in case’. However, it might be bright sunshine now, but there is always a high enough chance I find myself under a cloud burst later on to make a waterproof an essential item in a UK winter running pack. If you do have to stop, body temperatures can drop rapidly, so having a spare base layer, gloves and hat can make a huge difference. This isn’t necessarily a survival situation, but even for comfort, it would be foolish to forego these items for the sake of carrying a few extra grams.

With regards to waterproofs, I won’t go into the technical details here, but taped seams, and a rating of 10,000mm is considered pretty waterproof and will pass most race requirements. That being said, for a running rain jacket you also want something breathable if you plan to actually move with the jacket on. Also note that you do need to regularly treat your rain jackets to keep them operating as they should. This is particularly important in high wear areas such as around the shoulders if you typically run with a pack as well. 

I also always carry sunglasses in my pack in a protective pouch. The extra weight is minimal, but running into blinding sun is no fun. I use reactive Julbo glasses and typically wear them the whole run if there is any sign of the sun. Similarly, carrying a visor or cap can really save the eyes.

2 – Do I know the trail I’m about to embark on?

Do I know the route well enough to cover the terrain fast, or is this an exploratory run where conditions under foot could be varied? If I know I have to route find, I know I will be much slower than covering ground I know well enough to do at speed, even if I hadn’t planned the exact route beforehand. Is the route remote? Are there opportunities for resupply? If I know I will be moving slower, or climbing a lot within a run, I always have the extra base layer to keep me warm.


I always carry a bit of money as a just in case also. The reasons for this vary from an emergency situation, to finding myself running past a goat farm where they sell direct. Either way, having some money on you is a good idea. On a similar vein, I also always carry a few sheets of toilet paper. You just never know (but please follow etiquette and go well off the trail, either dig a hole, or use a dog poop bag to take any mess away)!

3 – First aid kit.

It amazes me that so few runners take first aid kits out with them on the trails. I keep mine in a ziplock bag, it weighs next to nothing, but could really get me out of a pickle. I always have scissors, disinfectant wipes, self-adhesive bandages, plasters and gauze. With this small kit I could cover most open wounds, and even have the ability to stabilise a twisted ankle. I am usually running with my dogs, and this first aid kit is as much for them as me. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever used it for myself, but have used it plenty of times to help people out on the trail!

4 – How long will the run be?

My typical runs are between 1-2hours, which for me means I don’t need to carry water, but anything over that, I would unless I know of specific water sources en route. Similarly, I wouldn’t personally consider nutrition for anything less than 2-3 hours, but I’ve started to carry a small snack bar in my pack as a just in case both for myself, and anyone I’m running with. I was out recently with a friend who suddenly started to ‘bonk’ after about 4 miles. Luckily another friend had a small cereal bar on her, and it meant we could carry on our way, but without that, the situation would have felt serious quite quickly as we were a fair way from an access point, and the terrain would have made it difficult to carry our friend. 

5 – Phone!

If I’m out for longer than 4 hours I would also take a small power bank with me. I use my phone for both navigation, photos, emergency, and sometimes just to call my husband for a needed pep talk! Nowadays a phone is an essential safety item to have with you. Having a back-up power bank also means I know I won’t get caught out. 

6 – ID.

It sounds silly, but a little laminated card with your personal details on (and any medical conditions, or allergies etc), can really help others if the worst does happen. I keep a laminated card with my details on one side, and an assortment of emergency phone numbers on the other. These numbers are for my own benefit as I am regularly running in mountainous regions of France, Italy and Switzerland, as well as the UK, and I like to know that even in a stressful situation, I have details of who best to call. Something the size of a credit card is more than sufficient.

Packing need not be a chore and the more you do it, the easier it will become. ‘Light is right’ but don’t scrimp on items that you would be lost without, should your run not go quite according to plan!


Karin Voller is a Lead Runner for Run the Wild - the UK’s first premier, dedicated trail running holiday adventure company. Operating in the UK and the Alps, they deliver holidays that combine the sense of 'team' from mountaineering, with the thrill of trail running in wild places. Karin is an experienced trail and ultra runner with a marathon PB of 3hrs 20mins. She is also a qualified Leader in Running Fitness.

Related articles

Let us know you agree to cookies

We use marketing, analytical and functional cookies as well as similar technologies to give you the best experience. Third parties, including social media platforms, often place tracking cookies on our site to show you personalised adverts outside of our website. We store your cookie preferences for two years and you can edit your preferences via ‘manage cookies’ or through the cookie policy at the bottom of every page. For more information, please see our cookie policy.