A successful trail runner shares the same motto as the Boy Scouts: Be prepared. Running in the wilderness is more complicated than logging miles around suburban neighborhoods, so you should plan accordingly. Don't head into the woods unless you are familiar with your route and equipped with the proper gear, including these nine things.
1. Mobile Phone
Even if one of the reasons you run in the woods is to unplug and escape from it all, you should still have a way to make a call in case you get lost or stranded. A happy medium is to keep the phone turned off unless you need it. That way, no one can interrupt your run, but you can still contact someone back in civilization if you need to do so.
2. Brightly Colored Reflective Vest
If you think shiny vests are just to protect you from traffic, think again. Just as you want to be visible to oncoming traffic, you also want to wear gear that makes you easy to spot, in case someone needs to find you.
3. Lightweight Backpack or Hydration Pack
Do you want to dangle your cell phone in your hand the whole time you run? Didn't think so. Store it along with other items inside a lightweight pack you can keep closely strapped to your torso. If you're the type of person who gets especially thirsty or are a heavy sweater, a backpack containing a hydration unit is a smart choice.
4. Handheld Water Bottle
If you plan to run for an hour or more, you'll need to replenish the fluids your body will lose through sweat. A good rule of thumb is to consume 12 to 16 ounces of fluids for every hour of your run. You can store some in your hydration pack, but it's nice to have water or a sports drink on hand (or rather, in hand) as well. Some handheld water bottles are made with netting or zip packs where you can stow gels, chews or other on-the-go sports food, which makes them extra convenient.
5. Lightweight Foldable Raincoat
Weather can be unpredictable, so have a jacket on hand in case conditions change during your time outside. Some running coats pack down to the size of a soda can and weigh just a few ounces.
This is a must for early morning or late evening runners for obvious reasons. But headlamps are also helpful on the way to or from the trail, since most have a flashing light mode that makes you more visible to oncoming traffic.
Everybody's metabolism is different, but the average person burns around 100 calories per mile, so if you're covering a lot of miles, at some point you'll need to refuel to keep going. Many sports nutrition options are available for this purpose, such as gels or chews, but you could also pack fruit, candy or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches if you prefer.
8. Small Medical Kit
The miles go by a lot more slowly if you have a hot spot or blister on your foot that's getting more raw with each step. A light pack of Band-Aids, ointments and lubricants can save you a lot of pain.
9. Two Maps of Your Planned Route and a Note About Your Time of Departure
Although you should have your own map with you as you run, it's even more important to leave a map of your planned route with someone else, so somebody knows where you are. If that's not possible, at the least leave the map where people can find it, along with a note about what time you left for your run and when you planned to return.