What To Pack For A Trail Run (Hint: It’s Not The Kitchen Sink)

This stuff comes with me on every trail run.
This stuff comes with me on every trail run.

I’m an efficient suitcase packer. I keep it simple, only bring the essentials, and make sure everything fits neatly into the overhead bin. But when it comes to packing for a nice little run in nature, I have an overwhelming urge to load my backpack with all kinds of “might needs” and “just in cases”— like a headlamp (even though I only run trails in daylight) or a poncho (it never rains here in Silicon Valley!). In an effort to cut weight, I’ve forced myself to come up with this barest-of-the-bare sundries list that acknowledges my paranoia but doesn’t indulge it too much.

The North Face Enduro Pack Hydration Pack Better than a bulky backpack, The North Face Enduro Pack was worth every penny. It comes with a bladder to store my water, and the small size forces me to fill the pockets wisely.

Badger Sport Sunscreen CreamSunscreen Burns, brown spots, skin cancer—no thanks! I apply SPF head-to-toe before leaving the house, and then every two hours when I’m in the sun. I like this Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream SPF 35, because it blocks out both UVA and UVB rays, and it’s 100% certified natural.

Cortizone 10 Poison Ivy PadsPoison Ivy Pads The best way to avoid a painful rash is to steer clear of over-grown paths. Still, contact happens. Last summer Michael K. Farrell stood knee deep in 3-leaf itchiness—these single-use Cortizone 10 Poison Ivy Relief Pads would have been super helpful.

GU for the trailEnergy Gel I’ll suck down a GU on runs lasting more than an hour, but I usually carry four with me on the trails—you know, in case I get lost and need a “meal.” (GU Peanut Butter is still my fave flave.)

Toilet paper in a baggieToilet Paper Mother Nature doesn’t always provide this for you. I bring mine in a baggie, and I pack it back out with me to a garbage can if I end up using it.

The North Face Women's Verto JacketLight Jacket Shady woods and Bay Area winds can make temps drop fast, so I keep The North Face Women’s Verto Jacket handy—it scrunches up (hence, all the wrinkles) into its own pocket! It also happens to be water resistant in case of pop up showers. (Seriously, this fear is unfounded. Weather.com shows a 0% chance of precipitation around here most days.)

I also carry along my cell phone, sunglasses, and car keys—those are necessary for actually getting me to the trailhead and then home again.

Am I missing anything important? What do you pack for outdoor runs?

GU’s Peanut Butter is the Best Thing Since Peanut Butter!

Left behind after a long run: Sneakers, sweaty clothes and an empty GU Peanut Butter packet.

Seriously, the new (to me) Peanut Butter flavored GU is delicious. I discovered it at a mini-race expo in Tupper Lake, NY, and since then I’ve been looking forward to carrying it with me on all of my long runs. It tastes almost as good as the stuff it’s trying to pretend to be. Halfway through a 12-miler, when I start feeling tired and slow, I pop some of this peanut buttery goodness into my mouth and I’m instantly a new runner.

I love peanut butter so much, that if I could suck down a glob of the real stuff I would. But, sadly, it’s not the right kind of fuel to take in during a run.

When you run for more than 60 minutes (90 minutes if your body happens to have an extra efficient storage system), your body uses up the glycogen stored in its muscles and then goes for the sugar in your circulatory system and liver to continue to power your legs. When that fuel source runs out, your muscles become slow to respond and have the potential to cramp. GU and other sports gels and drinks are specially formulated to offer quick burning carbs (sugars) and electrolytes that hit your bloodstream minutes after reaching your tummy.

Peanut butter has carbs, but it’s also high in protein, making it slow to digest—so the energy you get from it doesn’t reach your legs in time for it to be used in that workout. Which means during a long run, GU’s Peanut Butter is better than actual peanut butter. (I know, I can’t believe I just said that either. Peanut butter, I love you! I do!)

I’m not going to start spreading this stuff on toast, but it just might edge out GU’s Chocolate Outrage for the top spot in my fuel favorites.

Which gels are your favorites? Have you tried GU’s new (to me) Peanut Butter flavor?

Eating On The Run: 3 Snacks That Can Help You Reach The Finish Line

In her new book Running For Women, Kara Goucher talks a lot about, well, running. (Who better to do that than a pro-runner gunning to win the Boston Marathon?) She also covers nutrition. My favorite message from her chapter on food: “Eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full.” That’s always been my mantra when dining, but what about when you’re on the run?

If you’re just heading out for an easy one, you don’t need to worry about eating or drinking anything fancy—Kara reports plain old water is perfect. But for anything over an hour, it’s a good idea to replenish your carbohydrate levels during your pavement pounding session. You can do this with sports drinks, like Gatorade, or by sipping water and eating specially formulated gels, gummies, or chews. (I like to refer to this stuff as “run candy”—you can find a colorful assortment of it at almost any sneaker store.) They all work, but it’s important to find one that your stomach tolerates and that you can maneuver easily from your pocket to your mouth. It’s also smart to figure out which one works for you before race day (your tummy will thank you!). Here’s what I’ve been experimenting with:

1. Clif  Shot Roks Protein Bites I have a tough time chewing while I’m on the move—I can’t even walk and chew gum without biting the inside of my mouth. So when I bring these with me, I have to stop to snack. They’re actually designed to be a post-run recovery food, but I like eating a couple in the middle of my runs. (Maybe because I let myself take a break.) They’re delicious and really keep my energy up.

2. Nutrilite Endurance Cubes I discovered these during this season’s marathon training after reading about them on Kara’s blog (clearly, I like her writing). Kara uses them to supplement sports drinks when she does her longer runs. Because I have a chewing issue, I sort of let the cubes melt in my mouth. It’s fun to use them to count down the miles—I’ll pop one every 10 to 15 minutes and when the pack’s empty my run is done.

3. GU Energy Gel I’ve been downing this stuff since high school, so it’s almost like bringing a faithful friend along with me when I go out for long runs. I like GU for three reasons: it’s the right size for that little pocket inside your running shorts, it always gives me a boost when I’m starting to feel sluggish, and it comes in yummy flavors. (The chocolate mint tastes like an Andes candy!)

Countdown to the Boston Marathon: 12 days!

Do you snack on the run? What’s your favorite run candy?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.