Ultrarunning champion Scott Jurek shares his essential gear for staying safe on the trails. 

While recently searching for my friend, Micah True, in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness in late March, I was reminded how almost any trail run can turn into an unplanned outing. How often do we hit the trail for a long run with just a water bottle and a T-shirt (or less) on our backs? Although many of us love trail running for its simplicity and the unknown adventures that await us, trail safety is something we can all work on.

The most important thing we can do before leaving for a trailhead is to tell someone or leave a note or voicemail about where we’re going, our planned route and how long we expect it to take. Otherwise, you can plan ahead with a handful of key items that might help you survive an unplanned adventure. Here is my basic list of essentials, but keep in mind that your specific trail outings and conditions may require more gear.

  1. Navigation: Unless I know the area like the back of my hand, I carry a topographic map of the area. A compass, altimeter and/or GPS watch can also be indispensible if you are lost in new territory.
  2. Sun Protection: Use sunscreen on areas that receive direct sunlight (tops of ears, nose, shoulders, etc.) or wear a shirt, hat or visor to block direct rays.  Sunglasses are helpful for blocking sun and wind, and aid visibility in blowing rain, snow and dust.
  3. Insulation: Packing a lightweight long-sleeve T-shirt (preferably wool) or an ultralight down vest can prevent hypothermia if you have to hunker down due to injury or fatigue. Consider packing lightweight nylon or waterproof pants on long, remote runs.
  4. Illumination: With all the new mini headlamps available, there is no reason to run without some kind of light source, such as the Black Diamond Ion that’s always in my pack. If you think you might be cutting it close to daylight hours, bring a more powerful lamp.
  5. First-Aid: This can be as simple as a small roll of elastic adhesive bandage tape (i.e. Elastoplast, Elastiant) and a mini Ace bandage. Duct tape can also be used in a pinch for closing a wound or wrapping an injury, but it lacks stretch so use caution to avoid restricting blood flow.
  6. Nutrition: Bring more trail food than you think you’ll need. Extra calories will ensure you think clearly when lost and give you energy to get out of the wilderness. I carry a mix of sports food (gels, Clif Bloks, bars) and real food (potatoes, fruit, hummus wraps, burritos) on long runs.
  7. Hydration: When traveling in dry environments, I bring more water than I need. If there are potable water sources on my route, I bring an extra 30-ounce Platypus reservoir and iodine tablets to treat water.
  8. Emergency shelter: While a trail runner may not bring a bivy sack, tarp or tent on a run, a lightweight waterproof shell and safety blanket can act as emergency shelter. My Brooks LSD jacket goes in my pack for every long run in the mountains.
  9. Communication: A mini whistle is an effective way to call for help and a cell phone (when reception is available) or Spot beacon can instantly connect you to rescue personnel in situations where immediate aid is not available.

It’s important to remember we’re all responsible for our own safety. Packing these lightweight essentials doesn’t have to steal the adventure from your trail runs—they can ensure you make it back to the trailhead.


About The Author:

Based in Boulder, Colo., Scott Jurek is a seven-time winner of the Western States 100-mile trail run. Have a question for Scott? Ask him here!