How to pack a trail running backpack

Don't forget that vital item, check out Dustin Hinton's guide to essential trail running kit
January 14, 2014

You spend the whole week just waiting to head out trail running at the weekend. You've got your kit and your trail running backpack ready to go, but what happens if you get out there and discover you’ve forgotten something vital? I’ve done it and it’s no fun. Not being properly prepared can ruin your trail run, and your long awaited weekend.

Always do a full gear check before you leave your house. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the trail head and realizing that you drove 4 hours+ just to arrive with a critical item missing from your running backpack.

So here’s my gear checklist for your trail running backpack:

Trail running backpack checklist

  • Food and water - Always prepare for being lost and alone for a few days. I don't mind having a little extra weight in my trail running backpack, because In return I get the peace of mind knowing I'm prepared for anything. You might want to consider water tablets or small water filters for longer trails in remote areas.
  • Small towel - My towel has been a lifesaver over and over for me. You can use it to dry yourself off, as a wash cloth to keep cool after dipping it in cold water, wrap it around your head and neck, or roll it up and use it as a pillow to lay your exhausted head on.

    After cutting my leg I used it to clean myself up and then wrap it around the injury and then tie it off until I could get back to the car. When you pack things that act in several different ways it's just a win-win.
  • Extra socks - This is a no brainer but always throw an extra pair of socks in your trail running backpack. I carry bobby pins as well and do a sock change every few hours, pin the used socks to the back of your pack to let them dry out in the fresh air. If you do this then you'll always have dry socks (unless it's raining).
  • A light - Always carry a headlamp if there's even a chance you'll be out after dark. I keep one in my trail running pack all the time because I've been caught a few times without one and it's not fun. Or safe. I use a Petzl TIKKA XP2 and I always carry a couple of extra batteries in a little plastic baggy.
  • Small first aid kit in a little plastic baggy - Band-Aids, second skin, Anti-chafe Lubricant, anti-bacterial cream, lip balm, a couple of Advil, and some salt tabs.
  • A plastic baggy with some toilet paper.
  • A plastic baggy with two wet wipes.
  • If the weather's cool, make sure you stuff a second layer in your backpack.
  • $20 Cash and some ID
  • Phone (for GPS and/or emergency) in plastic baggy if needed.

And I always use an Ultimate Direction AK Running Vest. It’s minimal, can carry two bottles of water up front, has plenty of little fuel and storage pockets, and has room in the back to pack all the extra stuff you might need along your run.

If you make sure you have all this kit you’ll be more than prepared for the obstacles trails throw up that get in the way of having a good time. Preparation is key to having a fun trail day.

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  • Andrew

    This is an excellent list – I especially agree with the towel and the TP – no one ever thinks about the TP…. AS you can guess, I might add three more items which adds almost no weight but gives me that critical peace of mind that you noted:

    1.) A Whistle. So critical for making yourself known (from greater distances than your voice can carry) should you fall and/or can’t call out. Also comes in handy to ward off unwanted attention (beast or otherwise…). I wear a Mini Fox 40 pealess whistle on a lanyard around my neck for fast/easy access. CRITICAL.

    2.) A Lighter. Like you said, never know when you’ll need to spend the night and a fire is your only comfort and warmth.

    3.) A Pocket Knife. (or a multitool) I carry a small Swiss Army in my bag for a million reasons – cutting that towel into smaller pieces for multiple injuries, extricating yourself from a thorny thicket…a million reasons.

    Total weight of the above items in only 2-3 ounces. Be safe.


Dustin Hinton

Trail running, triathlon, marathons
Favorite Gear
Barefoot Trail Run Ascend Glove, Bare Access 3
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