Embarking on a long-distance trail run can be exhilarating, but before you set foot on the trails, these runs require careful preparation to ensure a successful and safe experience. One critical consideration is deciding what to pack for the journey. From essential gear to nourishing fuel and hydration, the right items can make all the difference. Whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or heading out on your first hike, knowing what to pack can help you stay prepared and safe on your run.
Canadian ultrarunner and adventurer Ray Zahab has been a part of some incredible endurance feats, challenging the world’s toughest landscapes and terrains that humans had never crossed. Zahab’s most notable accomplishment of his is his successful completion of the Sahara Desert Crossing in 2007. Alongside two other runners, he covered a distance of approximately 7,500 km (4,600 miles) in 111 days, running the equivalent of two marathons per day.
Zahab has gained international recognition for his achievements and is an expert when it comes to packing for long-distance trail runs. With numerous expeditions under his belt, Zahab knows that the right gear can make or break your adventure.
Six hours or less
When packing for short trail runs where you’re not going to be out overnight, Zahab focuses on efficiency, carrying only the essentials. But while the distance may be relatively short, the need for preparedness and comfort on the trail is just as great as for longer trips.
Zahab suggests starting with a hydration pack like Osprey’s Duro 6L to ensure proper hydration. Osprey’s Duro 6L is Zahab’s favorite choice for daily trail runs, and its 1.5-liter water reservoir is perfect. “Staying hydrated is crucial regardless of the distance, and having a convenient way to carry water allows for easy access and quick sips along the trail,” he says.
He also advises packing moisture-wicking clothing to keep you dry and comfortable, along with a lightweight, breathable jacket in case of unexpected weather changes. “In case you run out of water or encounter an emergency, it’s great to pack a LifeStraw water filter, a small first aid kit, and a small multi-purpose pocket knife,” adds Zahab. For nutrition, he suggests carrying easily digestible snacks like energy gels, bars, or trail mix. These portable options provide a quick boost of energy when needed and are convenient to consume during short breaks on the trail.
Six to 24 hours
If you’re out on the trails for a day-long hike, packing extra safety essentials and food is crucial. “Packing for medium-length runs can be tricky,” Zahab points out. “You want to pack the essential items but keep the load manageable.”
Similar to shorter trail runs, you can limit your nutrition to easily digestible snacks like energy gels, bars, or trail mix. You’ll want to pack weather-appropriate clothing for the warm afternoons and damp or cold evenings, including lightweight, breathable layers and a jacket or shell for rain.
In addition to the previous essentials, you should bring navigation tools like a map, compass or GPS device. “I bring my Garmin Inreach with me everywhere,” says Zahab. “It’s good to have a fully-charged mobile phone for emergencies, but if there’s no cellular signal, the Inreach can still communicate.” Other essential items are a small first aid kit, sunscreen, a headlamp, a pocket knife and safety gear, like a whistle and an emergency blanket.
With more items, you’ll need a bigger vest pack to hold it all. The Osprey Duro 15 is designed for your most committed trail-running pursuits. As the miles pass and support fades further into the background, you need a reliable pack that’ll go the distance. With its 2.5-litre water reservoir and ample room for food and gear, yet a slim and stable design, the Duro 15 was designed to push the limits. The pockets are conveniently located on the hip and harness areas to give you easy on-the-move access to your snacks and gear without sacrificing your pace.
Over 24 hours to multi-day
Despite being out there for a longer duration, Zahab still believes in packing light. If you are traveling solo or in a group, you’ll need a compact and weatherproof tent or shelter and a warm and lightweight sleeping bag.
Zahab recommended packing nutrient-dense food such as energy bars, dehydrated meals and trail mix. “These food options are designed to be portable and lightweight, making them easy to carry during the run without adding excessive weight to your pack,” says Zahab. Also, pack a LifeStraw water filter or other water purification system to ensure you stay well-nourished and hydrated on the trail.
“No matter your time out there on the trail, it’s good to pack appropriate clothing for various weather conditions, including quick-drying layers, a waterproof jacket, insulated layers, and, most importantly, several pairs of socks,” stresses Zahab. Some other necessities in Zahab’s multi-day pack are a multi-use tool, a headlamp for nighttime navigation and hiking poles to help with stability.
“Other items that many of us don’t think to carry are personal items like sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses, a hat, toiletries, a lightweight towel and a portable wireless phone battery,” Zahab says. “Packing efficiently and prioritizing the essentials for longer hikes, you will ensure you have the necessary equipment to tackle the challenges of a multi-day hike.”
For multi-day adventures, Zahab’s go-to pack is the Talon Pro 30 from Osprey, which has 30 liters of storage for all your essentials and even extra room for additional gear for that overnighter. The Talon Pro is a lightweight pack that prioritizes comfort and dynamic movement during longer hikes on technical terrain.