What’s In A Vest?

When I first started trail running I read countless articles on what to pack in your running vest from nutrition to hydration, bear spray to band-aids. To be perfectly honest, it was a bit overwhelming at times to try and figure out what worked and what didn’t.

I remember my first run with my vest. Thinking back I laugh because oh how over prepared I was for a pretty straight forward 12 km trail run. I seriously had everything but the kitchen sink in there. Was I prepared? Absolutely. Was I a bit over-prepared? Again, absolutely. But you know what? It is all a part of the learning experience. I didn’t have many kilometers under my belt to know what I did and did not need out there and I am a Type-A, plan for EVERY imaginable scenario type of person. And in the end, I viewed it as weight training and chalked it up to another lesson learned.

I want to perhaps give a bit of insight and help to those newer to running with vests/packs and breakdown what exactly I pack for certain runs. Again, there is no “one size fits all” rule to a lot of this. What works for someone, may not work for you and that is perfectly A-OK. So if you go and run 10km with everything from safety blankets, change of clothes, enough nutrition to feed 10 people you may learn that you are also doing some unplanned weight/strength training like myself and will know a bit better for next time. Embrace the lessons and remind your fellow run buddies that you are the PERFECT companion to run with because you just never know if you need a tiny container, a pair of tweezers and a cotton ball for that one teeny tick that you pick up on your run; yes, I have ran with this and for the record these pieces all meet the requirements for the ‘Submit a Tick’ program in Alberta. I told you, every. scenario. possible.


  • Hydration: I will bring along a combo of water bladder and/or body bottles depending on the length of run. If it’s a 10 – 15km I’ll usually just do 500mL body bottles or the 1.5-2.0L bladder. Anything more than that I’ll carry my bladder, body bottles and my handheld.
  • Nutrition: I am hungry. ALWAYS hungry. I try and gauge how much I’ll need based on how well (or not so well) I’ve eaten the day of and the days leading up to my run. If I’ve fueled sufficiently, I typically will consume 250 calories an hour and will have food waiting in my car for afterwards to help with recovery. Because I’m gluten-free and have Crohn’s Disease, it has been a lot of trial and error with finding the right mix of nutrition. I usually turn to the Gluten-Free Stinger Waffles, along with my own homemade protein bars to keep me going. Find what works for you.
  • Bear Spray/Air horn/Whistle/Knife: Where I run, bear spray is highly recommended. From cougars to coyotes and bears these guys are sharing their habitat with me so I like to be prepared and carry it. But I make so much noise, I have yet to come face to face with one and I’m super pumped if I can keep on this streak. The whistle isn’t necessarily for wildlife, more so as a safety must-have. Mine is built into my vest, but you can find them pretty much anywhere.
  • Compass/Map (terrain familiarization): I usually carry my compass. Even in terrain I’m very familiar with and know the trails like the back of my hand, I just feel better having this in my pack. Same goes with my maps. Remember that every imaginable scenario. Yup, this is why. A few months ago someone approached me on a trail as it was getting dark and they were unsure of where to go. Out I whipped my trusty compass and map. Boom! Worth the extra few grams of weight. And familiarizing yourself with where you plan to run just ensures you know what to expect and have a general idea of where you are going. There is nothing wrong with having too much information, but you can run into a sticky situation if you have too little.
  • Space blanket/Emergency bivvy/Mini Fire Starter Kit: Though no one plans to get lost or say hurt themselves to the point of having to wait for help, it is best if you can bring the essentials along for the “just in case” scenarios. Thankfully I’ve never had to use mine, but they are there and provide peace of mind.
  • Jacket: I will admit I don’t always carry this one with me. However, if I check the weather and it looks unpredictable or even if it’s a sunny day, but I’m going for a long run, I’ll carry my lightweight jacket. It has saved my butt on more than one occasion when a bright sunny day has turned ugly in a matter of minutes.
  • Extra buff: Sometimes I wear my extra buff around my wrist, other times it’s in a ziploc baggie to keep it dry in case I need it. But this piece always has a place in my vest.
  • Lip balm and anti-chafe balm: I transfer both of these into tiny containers. It weighs next to nothing, but oh so helpful. I’ve also used them on my face if the wind has picked up.
  • Headlamp: Again, not always in my vest especially if I go for a quick run in the morning, but this guy usually wiggles his way in. I never want to be out on the trails in the dark without light so why not pack it and have that reassurance.
  • Mini First Aid Kit: Tape, tweezers, bandage. Just. In. Case. Also thrown in are a pair of gloves, antiseptic wipes, pin, strap and small amount of duct tape. Having a current Standard First Aid course in your knowledge bank is also helpful.
  • Phone: Yes, this is ALWAYS in my vest. Sorry, as much as I want to disconnect from it all, I feel better knowing this is in my vest. It also serves as my camera on a lot of my runs. I also have an InReach Mini on the way which will sync to my phone so it’s definitely an essential for me and will help provide my family with reassurance to know they can locate me and I can signal for help if needed.

This is a pretty basic list of what is in my vest. Some of the other items that get carried depending on my run type (environment, length, season etc) are:

  • sunscreen packets
  • gloves/sleeves/extra toque/extra clothes
  • extra socks
  • extra batteries for my headlamp
  • sunglasses/hat
  • hot pockets (winter runs have hit -25 Celsius so these have come in handy during or after my runs)
  • extra nutrition, electrolytes (salt tabs); if I’m going out for hours I want to ensure I do not run out of food and again prepare for the “just in case” scenarios.
  • water purification device
  • medication; I always carry my own personal medication for my Crohn’s Disease, along with anti-inflammatory meds, anti-nausea meds etc. Again, this is a very personal piece and you do what is right for you.

What about yourself? What do you like to carry in your running vest?

– Written by: Jordanna Kersbergen 

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