A few weeks ago while running the STORMY 50-miler, I got to chatting with my pals Rick and Ken to pass the time. The Bagger Challenge and our experiences to date were top of mind.
The objective of the Bagger Challenge is, within a given time period, to get to the top of as many mountain peaks in the area around Vancouver, Canada as possible. There are many peaks. Each peak is unique. Every peak requires that you take a trail. Some of the trails to the peaks are "runnable". Others you need to approach on your hands and knees after climbing sheer rock faces, wading through prickle bushes and other bushwackery that most trail runners don't normally bother with.
At the time, I believe Ken was top bagger in the competition. In any case, he's not only a great runner, but a very experienced mountaineer. Ken's perspective on mountain safety was very interesting to Rick and me, given that the weekend before, we had our asses kicked while attempting to bag Runner's Peak.
Our conversation focused on the stupid shit we had all done at one time or another and how we'd somehow survived to tell the tales. Given that statistically, our luck will run out one of these days, conversation then turned to the more positive topic of how we might prevent or mitigate damage to ourselves while on the trails in the future.
The objective of this post is to come up with the perfect safety companion for long trail runs where there are no aid stations. You also might call this the ideal first aid kit or emergency kit for the trail runner.
Of course, since each run is different, the perfect safety companion will be different as well, so the best I can hope to do is come up with a list of stuff you might want to consider packing along for your run, hike or peak-bagging expedition.
- this kit is for a trail runner
- trail runners travel fairly light, so all of the gear has to fit in a small pack
- it has to be affordable to most people
- the trail run that is being attempted is supposed to take less than 12 hours
How You Can Contribute
At best, this is a work in progress... something to consult for ideas before packing the hydration pack.
Ideally, someone who reads this will create a safety companion and carry it with them and that kit will save their sorry ass. I hope that person or persons will share their story about how the kit contributed to a happy ending.
I also hope you will have some thoughts on back country safety for runners and that you will share those thoughts here. Your comments may take the form of a "must have" item in the kit that I've overlooked, a newer or more improved solution, links to good information or simply thoughts on the topic of back country safety from the runner's perspective.
The Essential Safety Kit for Trail Runners
- this could take up a book, but let's start with things that are lightweight, compact, don't melt or go bad and pack a lot of energy
- gels, energy bars, electrolyte candies (e.g. sharkies or jelly beans)
- powdered soup, oxo, bovril cubes and other salty stuff
sufficient water is a no-brainer. Add electrolyte powder for more kick.
- how much is enough? Good question! How far are you going? What time of year? Need more water than you can carry? Think about bringing some iodine tablets or a water filter in case you have to drink out of a bog
- lightweight, compact
- sound travels a lot farther than a holler for help and takes up a lot less energy
- what is there to say? If you can't find one that is plasticized, be sure to pack your paper map in a ziplock baggie so it doesn't turn to mush
Compass / GPS
- should you have one or both? If you go with the GPS, be sure you have backup batteries. Either way, be sure you know how to use the thing!
- nice to be able to call someone if you get in a pickle. Not much use if there is no cellular reception, though. Consider renting a satellite phone for those big backcountry adventures or using something like a Spot
- lightweight nylon vest or jacket
- gloves, a hat
- any cheap lighter
- a little piece of fire starter stick could help start a fire with wet wood
- what if you get stuck outdoors after dark?
- headlamp, maglite, flashing beacon
- spare batteries (or at least fresh ones!)
- no room to carry a house in that hydration pack? Consider a foil blanket or bivvy sack.
- another topic you could write a book on. Impossible to cover all possible bo-bos but think about the most common ones like blisters, trail rash and being poked by a stick
- gauze, duct tape, vitamin I (ibuprofen), a couple of safety pins, needle and thread
Other useful stuff to make room for
- a knife or leatherman tool
- a little tin box to stuff everything into. Ideally, something you can heat over your fire
Other useful stuff you should do before leaving
- tell someone where you plan to go, what time you'll be back and what time to call search and rescue if you don't get back on time
- put a note on your dashboard that outlines your name, contact info and itinerary so if someone finds your car, they will know to call search and rescue
- have some goodies for when you return. A cooler, for example, if you arrive back safely, but hungry and thirsty
Here are some links to good articles on this topic: