Today’s blog is all about how and what to pack for a day of running in the mountains. This is the standard kit that I would pack into my Montane VIA Claw 14 if I was heading out for a full day. I do have a much smaller running pack that just squeezes in a bit for food, some water and my jacket if I’m just heading out for a shorter training run (I have the Montane VIA Gecko).
If you’re looking to do big ultras, then this is loosely the kind of kit list you will find – but do check on each individual events page before turning up on the day.
Your pack will also be highly dependent on the weather, but I will talk you through you how to pack for the ‘worst case’ scenario and you can adjust the list accordingly depending on what the weather is doing. For example, if it’s 30 degrees outside then you probably won’t need to take an insulating jacket, and if it’s driving rain then you can probably leave the sun cream at home.
That being said, weather in the mountains can change quickly and quite often, without warning. Do not substitute safety for weight. Instead, look out for items that are lighter but do a similar job– for example, the Rab group shelter is what I recommend for day hiking trips. It weighs 320g and doesn’t have the smallest pack size. The Lifesystems heat shield bag only weighs 110g and packs down far smaller. Both will protect you from the elements in an emergency, but the smaller and lighter of the two may be more appropriate for fast and light activities like trail running. Little changes like this may end up costing a bit more but will and up saving you kilos in the long run.
Insulating Layer – This is super handy to have for lunch stops and emergencies. It is weather dependant and on a blazing hot day is probably not necessary. Some people prefer down because it packs down smaller, but I like a little synthetic insulating jacket that will still keep me warm if it gets wet. My favourite jacket to take is the Arc’teryx Atom SL.
Waterproof – In the Mountains I will always take a waterproof top and bottom – even on a nice day, I’ll still take them… just in case. They are also windproof, so they’ll help to keep you warm and conserve body heat – especially if the wind picks up and you start moving slower. Or, should the worst happen and you get injured, you can chuck them on as an extra layer whilst you wait for help.
Spare baselayer top and bottoms in a dry bag – These are my just in case layers and often a requirement on long ultras. They are a proper morale booster if you get caught out in the pouring rain or if you have a slip down a muddy bank. I will also usually chuck my insulating jacket in the same little dry bag so I can squeeze all the air out of it and keep it dry.
Hat and gloves – I take a cap in the summer and a windproof beanie, like the Trino beanie from Arc’teryx, for gross weather in the winter. I also always take the VIA trail gloves from Montane; even in the summer we get hard rain and driving wind so I pop them in for a bit of extra protection. I will also always carry a buff – it keeps my neck warm in the winter but shields me from the sun in the summer. In very hot weather I’ll rinse it out in some water to cool the back of my neck.
Now this is going to be highly subjective. I aim to get in around 150-250 calories per hour depending on the weather and how fast I’m moving. So, in total, that would be around 1500-2500 calories for a full day out. This also depends on your weight – bigger people burn more calories, so it’s just about finding what works for you. On race day, you will probably need to carry less because you can just fill up at check points. But again, check with the event, don’t just take my word for it.
Through months of training I’ve found foods that work and those that don’t work for me. I run more efficiently when I’m constantly grazing rather than stopping every 45 minutes to an hour to wolf-down 200 calories.
This is an example of just over 2000 calories that I would take on a full day out–
- A bagel with sunflower oil spread – 250 cal
- Around 100g salted nuts and raisins – 452 cal
- 4 gels – I try to stick to ‘real’ food when I run but gels are easy to stash, easy to eat and are calorie dense – 372 cal (93 calories each)
- Two Hard Bars – 340 cal (170 calories each)
- Some strawberry laces for a bit of fun – 270 cal
- Homemade oat balls – I change to recipe a bit each time, but they usual have oats, peanut butter, brown rice syrup and goji berries in them and are roughly 100-125 cal per ball, depending on the size. I’ll usually take 4 – 400 cal
And that’s it! I avoid heavy calories like trekking meals (especially ones that require a stove!) unless I’m heading out on an overnight trip, and instead I try to pack a variety of different foods that I can snack on throughout the day and not get bored of. I am also still experimenting with liquid calories, but I am still yet to decide whether I like them.
I tend to carry about 500ml-1 litre on me, and I might take a little mini filter with me too. This depends on the length of time I’m out and where I’m going. If I know I’ll be passing through civilisation, then I’ll just take two 500ml squeezy bottles and refill them at pubs etc. If I won’t be going through anywhere where I can fill up bottles, then I’ll take a filter and refill as I go. If I’m running an event with lots of checkpoints, then I’ll just take one 500ml bottle and refill at checkpoints – double check the event pages to see their minimum water requirements and how spaced their checkpoints are.
Some people prefer to use hydration bladders, but I prefer the weight of the bottles to be loaded in the front pockets of my pack, rather than pulling me backwards. I’m also not keen on the ‘slosh’ a hydration bladder makes. There are a few tips on how to reduce that noise, but I have never been able to get rid of it completely!
Navigation – Nothing will ever replace good map reading skills, and, if you’re going to transition from road running to fell and mountain running then you definitely need to get navigation savvy. There are a few good YouTube videos out there that can help, but nothing works as well as getting out in the field with an instructor. At Trekitt we do a lot of work with Bob from Contour Outdoor and I can highly recommend his services! At a minimum, I’ll carry a map and compass.
If you don’t want to carry a full-sized map then have a look at Dinky Maps – There are areas that have been made into dinky maps already, or you can create your very own map for the scale and area you want to cover. This stops you needing to take out and fight with a full-sized map every ten minutes. I do also use a GPS watch, but only as a support to my map and compass skills and to log my run data.
Sun cream – Very obviously weather dependant, but I will still put on sun cream if it’s overcast. I don’t take a full bottle, instead I take a travel sized bottle that you can pick up in boots, or I’ll refill an old hand cream tub!
Phone – Not that you were going to forget it anyway, but it’s good to have if it all goes Pete Tong and you need to call for help. If you need to call for Mountain Rescue then dial 999 and ask for the Police.
First Aid – Always! I usually run on my own, so my safety is my responsibility. You can put together your own, but I just use this little Trek first Aid Kit. It covers all the basics and ensures that if I get into trouble I can patch myself up and carry myself to safety. On top of that I will also carry…
Foil blanket or survival bag – if I pick up an injury on the mountain and have to wait for Mountain rescue, or some other poor soul to come and get me, then this will not only help to shield me from the elements and keep me alive, but, because it is BRIGHT orange, will also help them to find me.
Whistle – A whistle will help attract attention to search parties if you ever get caught in an emergency situation. Longtown Mountain Rescue say on their website“Emergency signals 6 long blasts on a whistle or six long flashes on a torch, stop for one minute repeat.”
Head Torch and spare batteries – Yes, even if you don’t ‘intend’ to be out until sunset. I could give you 23 million scenarios in which you might end up needing a torch, so just take one!
Solid plastic cup – Okay, I don’t usually take this when I go out on solo runs but they are super handy to have during races. This little X-cup will handle water, tea, coffee, soup – you name it! Lots of events are going plastic-cup free so it’s worth taking one along.
How to Pack it all in
Rather than backpacking where the main focus of loading your pack is on weight, I pack by priority and access – which will also be largely dependent on the weather.
The bits that I will need quite regularly, like food and water, will sit in the front and the stretchy side pockets so I don’t have to stop, take of my pack and wrestle through it just for a gel.
The bits I am less likely to need quickly, like my insulating jacket and spare baselayers will go in the bottom of the pack. I do also tend to stash my waterproof jacket right at the top of the main compartment so I can grab it quickly if I need to.
I use the small pocket in the front to stash items like my head torch and first aid kit – bit’s that again, I may not want to be digging around for.
Well, that’s it from me! We’ve covered clothing, food, water and all the extra bits – Hopefully, in all that waffling you found something of use. And if I’ve missed something or you still have further questions then pop them in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you!
Love ya, Ferals! Have a fab week!
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