Mountain Running – What’s in the pack?

UPDATED: MAY 25, 2015 to reflect a few small changes.

I’ve had a few recent questions about what I bring along on mountain runs so here is my list. To be clear, I differentiate between a long run in the valley where water is plentiful and it is easy to bail, compared to mountain runs that go near or into the alpine and may require greater levels of self-sufficiency and more gear. I think one of the most important thing to keep in mind is that no online gear list is perfect. You have to be able to choose the gear that you need to stay safe for any given objective. Depending on that objective, your fitness, and skill, you can choose what gear to bring and, maybe more importantly, what to leave behind.


Standard Gear:

  • A – Pack: Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest w/ 2 Water Bottles – I like the UD AK vest. It fits me well, has decent storage, and carries bottles up front. I’ve been using lately Hydrapak 500ml soft bottles. They are super light and pack down small when they are empty, less sloshing than a hard bottle.
  • B – Camera: Garmin VIRB – I have been experimenting with the Garmin alongside my Cannon point-and-shoot and found it is nice to have a more dedicated video camera sometime.
  • C – Music – If I am solo, I almost always have music along for part of the day. If I am with a friend, I rarely use it.
  • D – GPS/HRM Watch: Suunto Ambit2
  • E – Sunscreen – Duh…
  • F – Nutrition: Hammer Bars, Gels & Electrolytes
  • G – Wind Shirt: I’ve now started carrying the Dynafit React Ultralight Jacket. Lighter than the Trail DST and packs up better.
  • H – First Aid Kit – I probably couldn’t do much actual first-aid but having a small foil bivy sack, knife, lighter, Petzl mini-headlamp, SPOT device, and a ski strap might be instrumental in case of an injury up high.

Optional Gear:

  • I – Crampons: Grivel AirTech Aluminum Strap – I try to avoid taking crampons but sometimes a real set is necessary. These are the lightest I have found that fit on any footwear.
  • J – Ice Axe: CAMP Corsa Nanotech – Again, a very light, useful option.
  • K – Extra warmth: Dynafit Performance Sleeves & light gloves – depending on the weather, it may be important to have a few more layers.
  • L – Poles: Black Diamond Ultra-Distance Folding Poles – I love these poles. They are super light and pack up really small. Poles are a life saver on looong climbs and descents. Good for steep approaches where you can stash them before the technical terrain and then scoop them back up on the way down. I’ve also replaced the pole tips with those from regular BD ski poles. They function the same when running and you can slip on a small basket for when you are on snow so they don’t poke all the way through!

Once you are on route, it is critical not to go beyond what you are prepared to deal with. If you only have microspikes and no axe, maybe steep, firm snow is out of the question. Without a rope, if you arrive at a sketchy crevasse or steep rock step, you might need to turn around. Being prepared to call it a day is part of going light in the mountains.

3 thoughts on “Mountain Running – What’s in the pack?

  • I’ve been thinking about getting a pair of those poles, but struggling a bit on the length decision (since they come in 10cm steps). I’ve never really run with poles, just skiing and more recently converted to using them when hiking. Most of the info out there is for hiking, but I’ve found little information posted by those doing long mountain trail runs… Do you have any opinions/suggestions on length for long mountain trail running terrain?

    • Phil – I’m 6ft tall and use the 130 but suspect I could get away with the 120. Shorter is obviously slightly lighter but with a nordic ski background, I like to have long poles. Assuming you have adjustable ski poles, I’d go out for a run and try the two lengths you are considering and then decide which you prefer.

  • Ya, I’ll experiment with some adjustable poles, but I was thinking that what feels right initially may not actually be ideal for running use. I’m used to longer poles (nordic skiing) too. So the ‘right-angle elbow’ that is advised on the hiking pole websites seems very short… But the usage is different for running…and shorter than what I prefer for hiking).

    I’m probably over-thinking it since you can always choke up on a pole if it is too long for certain things…

    Cheers – I enjoy your blog!

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