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The hills and trails offer beautiful, scenic and exhilarating running. But as this often takes us to remote and exposed places, we need to be mindful of what to take with us – too little and we could get cold and hungry, too much and we'll be carrying a miserably heavy bag.
If you're getting into the sport from a road running background, please be aware of the safety requirements of running in mountain terrain. Try not to go alone, or if you do, make sure someone knows where you are running and when you expect to return. Plan your route carefully, and have a bad-weather-route lined up should conditions get rough. Even here in Britain, the mountains can and do claim the lives of unprepared walkers and runners - don't let it happen to you. Safety warning over ;) the hills and trails are very rewarding running ground, so read on, be prepared, enjoy the views and HAVE FUN!
Of course, having the correct kit is also essential for safety and comfort. The considerations are many, and the factors variable. Experience gained from running in the hills will help you over time to be more in tune with your own needs of what to take with you. This article is to help you make some of those choices and point you to some of the best kit out there to enjoy getting off road.
This obviously depends hugely on how far you are running, and then what to eat and drink is also very much a personal preference. Weather is also a factor - British Summer and Winter can vary 30 degrees or more (!) On a hot summer's day after running uphill you're going to be more thankful of a drink at the top as you enjoy the view ;) We still obviously need to drink in the colder months, but our needs can be less.
As a general rule a run of over an hour / hour 1/2 will probably be more enjoyable, and you’ll get less tired if you have a drink with you. Once you get over 2 hours you certainly need to drink, plus to avoid 'bonking' you'd be wise to take on carbs and electrolytes in some form. Gels, chews or bars are the most popular: they are easy to carry and are formulated to digest quickly into your system and provide energy quickly! If you’re not a fan of the various forms of ‘sports nutrition’ out there, fruit is a great alternative – dried is least messy and smaller to carry.
If you're out there for hours doing ultra marathon training then, depending on your metabolism and digestion, it's time to possibly be thinking of solid food. What our stomach can handle in 'solids' when we run will vary massively for all of us, so definitely experiment to find that balance of what you can digest okay on the move with what you can still run strongly on. For some of us it will be sports bars, dried fruit, bananas, fruit/choc cake or just extra gels or chews that we know work for us over shorter runs. It could be worth trying to include some protein if you're going very 'long and slow'.
To carry 'food' and drink with you the choices vary depending on your preference of wearing a rucksack or bumbag. Most running rucksacks will take a bladder, which can allow up to 3 litres of liquid if you needed it, while you can choose waist packs with bottle holders of around 500ml.
Running hydration vests are a popular choice. Essentially, they are a lightweight backpack with lots of strategically place compartments. It enables you to carry snacks, fuel and things like hats and gloves, camera /phone all easily accessible in the front and side loading pockets. Fluid can be carried in two front loaded bottle pouches, or in a bladder in the main back pack compartment. Larger items, like a rain jacket or mid-layer, can also be carried in the main back compartment.
Some runners will still prefer to carry a hand-held bottle with any other clothing/rations in a bag. Essentially it’s whatever works for you – main thing is to have what you'll need with you if you don’t want to drink from the streams or get cold and hungry! When going to the hills it’s usually good to pack an extra gel / bar / chew / sandwich of choice as an emergency ration. Or if you are someone that just drinks when you run, take something with you as an emergency ration that you hopefully never need. The new soft bottles are also great for carrying water. As they ‘compress’ as you drink you don’t get the ‘sloshing’ sound you do with a regular bottle, plus once empty you can store them away easily.
If you enter a fell or trail race you’ll find that there are now stricter mandatory kit requirements than before. These kit lists have been drawn up with safety a priority so also give a good guide to the essential kit runners should take to the hills with.
Following are examples of items that you might be expected to carry with you as kit requirement for a race – and as such are sensible to adopt for training runs too. These items are especially relevant when heading to the hills on longer runs, but can be adjusted for length of run, weather, time of year etc.
‘Fast and Light’ is generally a hill runner's mentality, but distance and weather obviously play a factor in the size of (light!) bag you might need. You'll also need to consider how you'd rather carry things – around your waist, or on your back. For shorter runs or races chances are you'll be fine with a waist bag if that's your preference, longer winter runs when more kit is involved and a backpack becomes more of a must. The more expensive bags offer extra compartments so you can divide your kit up, or offer pouches for water bottles. Read on to learn more about the different possibilities...
If you are going a shorter run in good weather a waist belt is usually fine for capacity. The OMM Waist Pouch 3L is one of our most popular options, as there isn’t much to it weight-wise. If you prefer a waist bag with a bottle holder then the slightly larger OMM Ultra Waist Pouch or the sleeker Salomon Agile 500, will allow you to carry water and most of the essential kit for a long run in the hills in reasonable weather. If you go for a bum bag without a bottle holder you can pack a bottle into it, but consider if you'll be happy unzipping it every time you want a drink.
Backpacks start from 8L up to 32L and all of the packs we stock can hold a drinks bladder. For most runners keeping it under 15L in size should be fine to carry enough kit/food/water for even a longer run in the hills. However most of the larger bags have compression straps to ‘squish’ the bag in when it’s not full. So if you only want one rucksack and would sometimes have use for say a 20L, you can usually compress it with 10L or so inside and still have a nice stable load. If you're venturing into Mountian Marathons then for most 20L is the minimum size, with 25L plus being the more 'comfort' option kit wise. The other detail to check is the side pockets as the number varies from pack to pack. So if you’d like to have food/map/gloves/phone to hand without taking off your pack it’s worth paying attention to these. OMM also make an ingenious Compressor Pod. This is a 3L extension pocket that can be attacehd to the front of any of their bags for days when you might need to carry a little more gear. We stock a wide range of packs from Gregory, Montane, OMM and Salomon across all sizes.
The latest innovation in distance running packs are hydration packs (also known as race vests). These marvellous pieces of kit have been developed by some of the top ultra distance trail runners on the planet and are now used throughout the field in all races, as well as being even more valuable in training when you have don’t have an awesome crew as back-up to keep you fed and watered. The beauty of them is their ability to spread the weight of your load by carrying drinks bottles and other essentials such as nutrition / map / gloves / GPS on your front, allowing instant access to a variety of pockets and saving you considerably on time. The range available is now quite large, with storage capacity going from a small 3L upto 12L and accessible liquid from 2.5 L to 4.5L. All the brands now include soft bottles which is a massive improvement in comfort from the bulky hard bottles they launched with. These ‘vests’ really need to be tried on and the brands compared so do take the time to come into the shop as it should ensure you get the best fitting option for you. They should fit snugly, more like an item of clothing than a pack, and all come in a range of sizes just like clothing!
When coming into the shop to choose a pack we also suggest bringing in some of your own kit to see how it will feel ‘loaded’ with some weight in it. So you're welcome to visit any of our stores with your kit and try on our various packs for size, fit and feel and we'll happily help with advice too.
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