Trail Running? 11 Things You Don’t Want to Forget
Trail Running Gear for Beginners: What to Bring on Your First Long Run
You’ve selected your race. You’ve downloaded your training plan. You’ve successfully completed your first few training runs. But now you have the first long run on trail staring you in the face.
Once you’re out there, you can’t just run home if you forget something. You can’t rehydrate with the water fountains at the local playground. And you can’t use Google Maps to redirect you when you get lost.
You want your first long trail run to set you up for success for the rest of your training plan. This will be proof to yourself that you CAN do this race. And it will be proof to your wife that you’re NOT crazy. 50k, here you come!
So here’s what you’ll need:
Trail Running Essentials that you won’t want to forget for that first long run:
First Aid Kit
Something to carry all your gear
A GPS Watch
If you're not a reader, and would rather hear and watch these tips, check out my YouTube video Gear and Tips for Your First Long Trail Run | Trail Running for Beginners
There are a lot of factors when you consider how much water to bring along with you. How long will you be out there? How hot is it? How many hills will you be climbing? How hydrated are you to begin with?
I tend to carry as much water as my vest can hold. Come race day, you’re going to have it filled to the brim anyway, so you may as well start getting used to carrying that much water.
During a race, there are aid stations to refill your water supplies. You don’t have that luxury on your training run. If you’re going to be out there for a while, you’re going to want to factor in some refill stops when you plan out your route for the day.
There may be restrooms with sinks or water fountains along the way. Some people I know carry filters so that can refill from streams along the trail. Sometimes you don’t have these options. When this happens to me, I simply plan my route to be able to circle back to my car midway through the run. Don’t forget to have extra water in the car! This is always nice to have for the drive home, anyway.
I don’t pay attention to calorie counting or what specific macros I’m taking in, but I always eat early and eat often. You don’t want to get to the point of extreme hunger when you’re on trail. That’s your body’s way of telling you it’s already depleted in energy. You’re much more likely to bonk. The run won’t be as enjoyable. And you won’t be able to train your muscles as well to get ready for your race. Eat up!
How often should I eat?
Remember how your mother always told you not to play with your food? Well this is the time to do just that! Test it out so you have your personal method perfected on race day.
Personally, I eat every 40 minutes. At the beginning of my runs, at first I felt a little silly eating after just 40 minutes. But later on in the run, I’m always grateful I had proactively restocked my energy supplies.
When I was first starting out, I tried eating every hour. But I found that I just got too hungry if I waited that long. So I tried eating every 30 minutes. That was too much. Eventually, I honed in on eating every 40 minutes and it’s worked with me ever since.
Figure out what works for you! It’s okay if your plan doesn’t work for this run. That’s what your training runs are for! Reassess and try something different next time.
What should I be eating?
What to eat is another personal preference that you need to play around with on your training runs. Try things out. Get creative. It’s not all about gels! You’re going to want something of a bit more substance when you’re out on trail for hours on end.
I like to have options. I’m never really sure what’s going to sound good when I’m out on a run. Something sweet? Something savory? Something light?
I tend to pack three options:
1. Something simple - Like dates or date-sweetened cookies. If you do gels, they would probably fit into this category.
2. Something with fat - Like a peanut butter sandwich, maybe with pickles for some added salt. Trust me - it’s delicious!
3. Something savory with easily digestible carbs - Like boiled potatoes with a sprinkle of sea salt.
The important thing is that you find out what works best for YOU. Happy eating!
Wait, won’t you already be wearing clothes? Hopefully! But you’ll also want to consider packing a few extras in your vest.
Are you expecting rain? You’ll want to bring along your rain jacket and maybe even pants.
Is it going to be chilly in the morning? Grab a pair of gloves.
Will the sun be out? I always wear a hat. It blocks the sun but doesn’t block my view of the trail. It also helps to catch my sweat before it reaches my eyes.
How much will you be sweating? I’m a huge believer in a THIR/Buff. When it’s hot, I tend to wrap it around my wrist and use it as a sweat wipe. When it’s colder, I wrap it around my ears for extra warmth. Nose running? There you go! Just don’t forget to wash it before your next run...
Just remember to plan your clothing for the entirety of your run! As you progress through your training plan, you’ll be out there for hours at a time. It may be bright and sunny when you leave for your run, but a cold front could move in by late afternoon. Plan accordingly!
(Brent, what shirt and shorts are you wearing above?? They're Sundried's Olperer T-Shirt and Furgler 2.0 Shorts - I recommend them! Remember, use code 'BRENT' at checkout or the following link for 50% OFF: https://www.sundried.com/brent)
4. Toilet Paper
Hopefully you won’t need this. But trust me, just in case, you’ll be glad you’re not having to turn to leaves. Pop some in a baggie, and leave it in your vest. It’s lightweight and easy to bring along.
Don’t forget to be kind to mother nature, though. Check out this video from Leave No Trace and learn the proper technique. It’s less than a minute long. Be kind to the earth and to fellow runners. Also, I know you won’t have a trowel with you. A stick works just fine :)
Personally, I don’t listen to music or podcasts while I run, but I DO use my phone to help me with navigation. I love using the maps.me phone app as you can download maps to be used offline (just remember to do so before you leave home).
Your phone is also a nice safety device. If something were to happen, my wife could find me with an app we have set up. When I have service, I also use it to check in with my wife. If things are going slower than expected, or if I unfortunately had to make a stop to use the above toilet paper, she knows not to worry.
Don’t forget to put your phone in waterproof bag, even if it’s just a sandwich baggie. Even if there isn’t a forecast for rain, you’re going to sweat. You’re carrying water that could leak. You may be passing through streams. Just do yourself a favor and protect your phone!
A lot of vests come with a built in whistle, but make sure you double check! In case of emergency, a whistle will carry a lot further than your voice. People also recognize a whistle as a signal of emergency. If they hear your voice, they may just think you’re annoyingly calling to your buddy and disturbing their quiet nature time.
It could also be helpful to learn the signal for SOS. It’s 3 short whistle blasts (S), 3 long whistle blasts (O), and 3 short whistle blasts (S).
7. First Aid Kit
Speaking of safety, I always carry some form of a First Aid Kit with me. Some factors when considering how much to bring could be… How far from civilization will you be? How busy will the trail be? Will you have cell service?
Most likely, your race will require you to carry a First Aid Kit. I recommend getting the required kit and just get used to carrying it with you.
8. Sun Protection
We already discussed the benefits of a hat in the clothing section. But I also always bring along sunglasses. In those moments when you run into an open field and the sun is blinding you, you’ll be happy you have them!
Also, sunscreen. You don’t need to bring it with you. But make sure slather up before you hit the trail. You’re going to be experiencing enough discomfort throughout the day. You don’t want one of them to be sunburn!
9. A way to carry all this stuff!
The gold standard these days is a running vest. It’s a great way to carry your water and all your gear. But make sure you try out different styles at your local running shop. Fit and comfort are important!
Which running vest you buy should start with holding capacity. Take a look at the required gear for your race and make sure you get a vest that can hold it all!
From that point, it’s all personal preference. Do you want your water on your back with a hose? Or in the front pockets with water bottles? What pockets do you want for holding food and other gear? What fits your body best and won’t bounce around too much?
I also tend to wear a belt (along with my vest). My personal favorite is a FlipBelt. But same as the vest, if you choose to wear a belt, get what fits your body and your needs. I like wearing a belt because it holds awkward items like my phone that tend to bounce around in my vest. It also gives me quick access to my phone for navigation.
10. Trail Shoes
Can you get by on road shoes? Sure. To a certain point. But trust me, the extra traction that comes with trail shoes makes a huge difference. You’re probably going to want trail shoes on your race day, so you might as well start breaking them in now!
I know you don’t want to hear this, but when picking out trail shoes, color and “cool factor” should be the last things you consider! Try out every trail shoe you can. Find the one that feels like it’s just an extension of your foot. When it comes to navigating terrain, a cool-looking shoe won’t keep you from tripping if it doesn’t fit your foot properly!
Brent's new Xero Shoes Mesa Trail shoes
11. A GPS Watch
Okay, I know this is a big investment. But if you put some time and thought into selecting the right watch for you, you shouldn’t have to purchase a new one for a long time. I’ve had my watch for 5 years now and it’s still going strong.
I always consult DC Rainmaker for an unbiased review and comparisons for any technology gear! A few features to consider could be navigational capabilities, heart rate monitors, and battery life.
Hopefully you feel prepared and ready to tackle your first long run now! If you have any questions, I’m happy to help! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Running! ✌️😊
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Jillian Beckham is wife to Brent, an avid non-ultra runner, and a master of the eye-roll in response to Brent's jokes. She's also a Health and Wellness Copywriter. Find out more about how she can help you meet your business goals over at www.beckhamcopywriting.com