My name is Niki and I’m an outdoor guide and educator, and an RLAG Ambassador Leader team member. I hope you’re all doing well, staying safe, and finding opportunities to move your bodies, smile, and laugh in these challenging and uncertain times.
While we’re all dreaming of outdoor adventures, trail trips, and backcountry stoke, it’s important now, even more than ever, to have an understanding of what safety in the outdoors looks like, and how to practically apply that to our running. As runners, both on the street and the trail, we are unique stewards of the places and spaces we love. It is through them that we move, glide, sweat, get stronger, and excel, and in turn we hold a wonderful responsibility to advocate for and demonstrate responsible recreation in action.
Right now that looks a little different than we’re used to. It means largely saying no to big bad adventure in wild landscapes, being extra prepared no matter where we are so as not to tax an already stressed healthcare system, and being educators and strong voices in our communities for ways to safely and respectfully engage in outdoors, admits a global pandemic. Knowing where you can go, how to safely physically distance outdoors, where to get help if you need it, and always being adequately prepared with the 10 essentials, and your own knowledge, is vital to safe and responsible recreation, particularly now, but also anytime you go for a running adventure.
So What Are the 10 Essentials?
The 10 essentials are key items to have with you for safe outdoor adventures. Just like a pair of runners, they’re necessary to have, but also need to be given consideration and assessment to make sure what you have works for you, fits your needs, and you know how to use these things to support your adventures. Usually referring to backcountry hikes and expeditions, they are also important for long distance runs and any run that takes you on a trail or out of immediate access to other humans and emergency response resources.
My pack and essentials for a longer trail run: (L to R) my MEC pack, 2L bladder, headlamp, Nuun tabs, firestarter kit (flint+steel, lighter, dryer lint, starter cube, waterproof matches), Lifestraw, layers, extra socks, sunscreen stick, lip chap, sunglasses, arm light, extra batteries, SA knife, emergency bivy, first aid supplies, GPS, compass, IDs
(not included is the water bottle I’ll be carrying, my food (usually fig bars, peanut butter balls or wraps, gummy bears), my bear bell because my puppy has stolen it, my phone where I use a PDF WFR first-aid manual, Cairn app, and AllTrails app, and a map print out of the area for backup)
The 10 Essentials+
- Headlamps, arm lights, a flashlight, a lantern, pretty much anything that gives a good amount of light and extra batteries are never a bad idea
- For running, headlamps with secure, reliable straps or arm lights are great options
- Something you could use to get the attention of emergency resources or other humans from a distance, in the case of plans gone awry
- Bear bangers, pencil flares, whistles etc.
- Whistles are a great option for running; easy to attach to a pack and not as annoying on a long run as a bear bell may be.
- Fire Starter
- Vital to maintaining a heat source in an emergency
- Waterproof matches (or regular matches in a case, recycled nuun tubes work great!), a lighter, some kind of fire starter (dryer lint, cubes from Canadian tire etc.)
- Super important for runs with elevation changes, longer days, cold weather, or wet weather, to keep your body warm with terrain changes, and in case of extended time spent out in an emergency
- Think layers (an extra top, jacket, sweater, extra tights, a toque, gloves, rain gear, a packable puffy, socks)
- Try to avoid cotton as it retains moisture and keeps wet for longer
- This is also season dependent; in the winter you’ll want thicker layers than in the summer, in the rainy season you might want a full set of rain gear vs. quick dry gear options in warmer weather
- For running in any season, but especially cold and wet times of the year, extra socks are also a lifesaver
- A Knife
- This might seem a bit overkill but a small pocket knife or multi-tool can be extremely helpful in an emergency
- Small light-weight options exist, such as Swiss Army knives
- For longer days or bigger backcountry adventures a small repair kit and multi-tool doesn’t hurt to have as well, think extra rope, string, shoelaces, ties, duct tape etc. for quick fixes to gear
- Emergency Shelter
- Again this might seem overkill but it’s a vitally important item to have on hand if you’re heading into the backcountry or off the beaten trail, and you’ll never regret it if you end up having to reach for it
- Some vest companies include small emergency shelters in their product, and you can buy small, easily packable bivy’s, emergency blankets, and tarps
- Nutrition and Hydration
- Always make sure you have adequate hydration and nutrition to supply your run and to go a bit longer
- Bring extra snacks (Peanut butter banana wraps, energy balls, protein gummies and many other small, lightweight but filling options exist)
- Always have a bit more water than you think you’ll need and pack enough electrolyte supplements to match that water intake
- For anything off the beaten trail or in the backcountry, bring a means to filter water in an emergency; pristine tabs are lightweight and very packable, as are Lifestraws, and some water bottle companies make built-in filters
- First Aid
- A basic kit includes a CPR mask, a splint or tools to makeshift a splint (triangular bandages, tape, safety pins), bulk dressings, gloves, bandages, scissors, blister relief, pain relief, duct tape, and Benadryl or an Epipen if you need one
- For running, chafe cream, extra blister bandages, sunscreen and insect repellent (for warmer temperatures), and hot packs (for colder temperatures) should also be included
- A Wilderness Medical Course can be an extra boost to this essential item, as can a WFA PDF manual downloaded to your phone or a PDF of snapshots from a hardcopy manual (you can also get small lightweight pocket books that take up little room)
- As recreationalists it’s our responsibility to be informed and knowledgeable about where we are going, especially in uncertain times when health care resources are stressed, and at any time when we may be going into less accessible areas
- Always be aware of trail conditions and descriptions for the area you’re running, to know what to expect and dress + pack accordingly
- Bring a hardcopy map (and a compass), download a map on your phone, use a GPS app if you have service and/or data (always pre check this to make sure you can access whatever mobile resources you want to use), or use a handheld GPS
- Some great app options? GPS Essentials for Android, AllTrails, Cairn (this one lets you set up communication chains to alert your network when you’re in and out of service and longer than expected) and many, many more also exist
- On this note it’s also super important to communicate with someone about where you’re going, how long you expect to be, and what to do if you’re not back by a certain time
- The most important note on this item is to make sure you know how to use whatever means of navigation you’re bringing; practice, take a course, watch a tutorial, or ask a friend for help if you need it. Navigation can be an intimidating skill to grasp but it doesn’t need to be, especially in current times with so many accessible resources.
- Bring your phone and make sure it’s charged, also bring a battery pack if you’re out for a long day, or keep it on airplane mode to preserve battery
- A waterproof sleeve or case is also helpful here, especially in wet weather
- Keep it close and warm in colder months
- Many GPS options also have communication capabilities such as a Garmin Inreach, these are expensive but really helpful and a good investment if you spend a lot of time on backcountry trails
- +… A Step Further
- This list is a baseline from which to add and adapt specifics to your environment, trails, and own needs
- If you’re in bear country, bear spray and a bear bell are a good idea
- If you’re in a wet environment you may opt for heavier but handy full rain layers
- In the summer/warmer months a hat, lip balm, and buff are all important items for sun protection
- Similarly, extra layers, hot packs, extra socks, and gaiters can be extremely important in winter snow
- Shoes and gear you trust and can rely on is also important. If you’re testing new gear, bring a backup or opt for a front country or more accessible trail
- Important note: personal medical info, a medical ID, a contact card, some cash or cards, is also a good idea. I have a detailed medical ID on my phone and always carry my ID and health card in case of an emergency where I couldn’t communicate.
Trail running views in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland & Labrador
This list of essentials is meant to encourage and support your backcountry and trail running adventures. Being a good advocate and ambassador involves being prepared and aware, while also being honest about your own abilities and knowledge. For example, if navigation is not your forte, spend some time practicing and learning, opt for front country trails and practice your new skills on trails you know to start with and progress from there. Similarly, don’t push it if you’re running low on water or food, and on-trail resources are scarce or impossible.
Nothing on this list should intimidate, everyone has skills to build-on and learn, and we all have the capabilities to do so. And of course, if you have any questions, need any support, or have any ideas or suggestions to add to this list, please feel free to reach out! You can find me on Instagram @nikiloretta
Written by RLAG Ambassador: Niki Foley