Last Updated on September 3, 2018 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
It’s the trail runner version of that horrible dream you have from time to time, you know the one where you show up to school or a board meeting, and look down only to realize you forgot to wear pants? Except in this version of the dream, you find yourself face to face with a perfect, inviting trail, on an absolutely gorgeous day…and you ARE wearing pants. Heavy, chafe inducing pants. A business suit, or perhaps a dress with high heels. ANYTHING but running attire.
Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?
This nightmare, however, is often a reality for obsessed trail runners, the same ones who tend to look out airplane or car windows and constantly think to themselves “I bet there’s a sweet single track hiding in there.” Just last week I unexpectedly found myself parked in a nature preserve parking lot, just feet from a trail I hadn’t yet explored, with two hours to spare. I was incredibly grateful that I practically live in workout attire (it is my career after all), but wondered if my minimal road shoes would be sufficient, and contemplated how I would carry the 20 ounce standard water bottle I bought at a gas station, because it was way too hot to go without.
It was at that point my husband suggested that it was an atrocity that I, of all people, did not have a fully stocked trail running “bug out bag” in my car for such situations. After all, seemingly all I do is run, write about running, or train other people to run. How could I be so overwhelmingly underprepared?
A bug-out bag (for those of you, like me, who hadn’t heard this term before) is a portable kit that normally contains the items one would require to survive for 72 hours when evacuating from a disaster. In my opinion, nothing screams “disaster” quite like unexpectedly finding yourself at an inviting trail head without a single piece of trail running equipment.
As I ran the gorgeous trail anyway, trying to balance the awkward water bottle in my hands, and avoid slipping in my worn down gym shoes, I thought to myself: he’s got a point. I need a bug out bag.
So I made one.
Now, the disclaimer for this post is the following: the contents of my bug out bag will NOT help you survive an actual disaster, such as, but not limited to: earthquakes, tsunamis, flash floods, hurricanes, zombie apocalypse, nor’easters, or the time your pre-teen can’t find the exact pair of Air Jordan’s that he wants at any of the 400 shoe stores in your town as well as the surrounding 30 mile radius. The bug out bag contents will, however, allow you to spontaneously hit up almost any trail you may encounter for a handful or more impromptu miles.
What’s in my trail running bug out bag:
(in no particular order of importance…)
Running Specific Water Bottle
The kind you don’t really have to hold on to, or the kind that just fits better in your hand. A soft flask will pack much smaller and take up less space in your bug out bag, but something like the Amphipod Hydraform handheld makes for a far less distracting run. Really, it boils down to personal preference, but anything is better than a gas station plastic water bottle (which is still better than no water at all.)
Bonking is never fun, and finding a new trail while on a blood sugar low sounds rotten. Make sure you have some sort of calories for a quick energy burst either before, during, or after your run. Pack some sort of running nutrition in your trail running bug out bag, but make sure it’s something that a) won’t go bad, and b) won’t melt. Try a gel, or something slightly more solid, like these Electro-Bites (click here for a full review on those bad boys.)
I once saw a friend finish a mere 6 mile run with blood running down his legs from chafing in a new pair of shorts. I can only imagine it felt just as awful as it looked (I’ll spare you that picture…there are pictures though). Don’t be like him: lube your crotch. And your feet, shoulders/sports bra, or wherever else you may be prone to chafing.
Trail Toes sells these great single use packs of anti-friction cream that you can use on your feet, legs, or wherever your “I don’t want to chafe” heart desires.
Because no one wants to run in khakis (though a dress might not be so bad…)
I guarantee you that 99% of female runners will assure you that a sports bra is a deal breaking requirement for a run. Now, I’ve done a handful of naked 5k’s (true story) and have survived running sports bra-less, but when given the opportunity, I’d rather lock the girls down. A spare is going in the trail running bug out bag.
Remember the chafing discussion a few posts up? The same goes for blistered feet. They can ruin your day…or even your week. Keep a spare pair of running specific socks handy. Already wearing running socks? Perfect. Use these to change into after your run!
I don’t know about you guys, but in our house I think we have no short of 35 pairs of freebie sunglasses given out at races, at expos, or other various festivals. They are nothing fancy, and probably not even full spectrum UVA-UVB blocking, but in a pinch, they work. Keep a pair in a bug out bag (or keep a fancier pair in there. I don’t have enough to spare).
Spi-Belt (or equivalent)
I’ve always admired those who can casually tuck their car key under their front bumper or on their wheel well before going for a run. I’m a trusting person, but I’m often an unlucky person. So instead of having my car stolen, I like to carry my keys with me. You might also want somewhere to stash your phone, and perhaps your ID while you run. I’ve always had great luck with Spi-Belts. They are small, don’t bounce, stay put, and fit all of my stuff in them.
If you’re the hat wearing type, of course.
Nothing is worse than not being able to put your sweaty mess of a mane up in a ponytail before going for a run. Stash extra hair ties, you never know when you might need them. (If you were wondering, Goody “ouchless” thick are my go-to brand.)
I’m perpetually a disgusting mess after a trail run. I either fall, hit every puddle that exists, or somehow magically attract dirt to every inch of my body. I should invest in a portable shower, but that could be a little odd in most social situations (like a parking lot) so some sort of “shower wipe” is a satisfactory runner up. Might I recommend Nathan Power Shower wipes (they smell really good), or if you get really funky, Epic Wipes massive bamboo wipe.
In the trail running world, these multi use head wraps can be used for nearly ANYTHING. Need to keep sweat out of your eyes? Check. Need to keep your ears warm? They do that too. Need to make a pirate-esque skull cap? Can-do. Need to make a tourniquet? We here at Relentless Forward Commotion don’t recommend that, but if you needed to, I bet the Buff can do that. Seriously, these things are all-weather-awesome, and it doesn’t hurt to have a spare lying around.
How long do you plan on being out there? Long enough to see the sun set? Then don’t forget some sort of illumination device, like a headlamp or handheld flashlight. As a bonus, this works when you lose something in your trunk and need the assistance of a flashlight to dig it back out.
Last but not least, the almighty trail running shoe. There is an important factor to consider, however: extreme heat (like that of the inside of a car in the summer) can warp the outsole of a running shoe, and potentially alter the fit, support, or cushion of the shoe. So if you’re going to leave a pair of trail running shoes in your bug out bag, I recommend an older pair that you don’t really care about anymore. After all, warped trail running shoes are better than no trail running shoes.
Remember, the contents of your trail running bug out bag won’t save you from nuclear fall out or Black Friday stampedes over discounted big screen T.V.’s, but it will help you successfully complete a spur of the moment trail run when you happen to stumble upon an irresistible trail.
Can you think of anything I might have missed? Comment below!
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Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.