What’s In Your Backpack? 10 Must-Have Items for Trail Runners

As seen in and

Linda Banks, EzineArticles Expert Author


Trail running is a great way to get a good workout and take in the beauty of all that nature has to offer — however, it doesn’t come without risks. One of the biggest differences between trail running and road running is that you need be prepared for the unexpected, as you could find yourself miles (or hours) away from help. While no one likes to think about getting injured or having an encounter with wildlife, it is also not advisable to go off into the woods unprepared and find yourself stuck in some kind of predicament.

To help other trail runners, I have compiled a list of a few must-have items that you should consider packing before you hit the trails:

1. “The Storm” Safety Whistle

This whistle is one of the loudest you can buy. It’s slightly larger than the average whistle but it emits a deafening sound which will startle and scare away stray dogs, bears, coyotes or other wildlife, as well as human predators.

It can also be used to alert rescue personnel to your location if you are injured and unable to hike your way out to safety. This is a small investment for peace of mind. http://www.stormwhistles.com/storm.html

2. Sharpie Mini Permanent Marker

Throw this in your pack and hope you never need it. However, if the unfortunate happens and you get bit by a snake or stung by an insect or spider, this will give medical professionals useful information to help determine the severity of the wound and proper course of treatment. Draw a circle around the bite or sting and then write the time it happened next to the circle. It can be lifesaving!

3. Disposable Rain Poncho

You can pick these up at the dollar store and they don’t take up much room in your pack. Getting caught in a downpour even in the summer can be a life threatening event as hypothermia can occur even in the warm months. A cheap plastic rain poncho is a great safeguard against this.

4. Life Straw

This handy filter allows you to drink straight from a stream, puddle or pond. Life Straw is a great product and is useful not only for trail running/hiking, but can also be used while traveling abroad or in extreme weather events. It’s lightweight and easy to use. You can buy Life Straw at most sporting goods, outdoor recreation stores, or Amazon.

5. Road ID

RoadID is inexpensive insurance. This simple ID band talks for you when you can’t, in order to alert medical personnel to allergies, medical conditions, and how to contact your family or significant other.

6. Neo To Go

Neosporin is an anti-septic/pain relieving spray. This handy to-go packaging allows you to clip it on your pack so it’s there when you need to clean up trail mishaps. Trust me, if the need for such a product arises, you will be grateful you decided to pack it.

7. Swiss Army Knife

This multi-purpose tool takes up almost no room in your pack and comes in handy for a number of uses. Tweezers remove ticks and splinters with ease; the saw knife can be used to blaze a trail by marking tree bark and scissors are good for cutting bandages. That’s just a few of the many tasks you can accomplish with this handy little tool.

8. Flashlight/Headlamp

Never go on a trail without a flashlight, even if you are planning to only be out in daylight hours. There are several brands/styles you can choose from — options include an LED handheld flashlight or a headlamp with so many lumens, it is visible from space. If you are planning to do a lot of night running, the headlamp with mega lumens is a good fit. If you have no intention of being on the trail after dark, a small LED handheld flashlight should suffice.

9. Insurance Card/Driver’s License

Again, you hope you never need it, but if you get hurt miles from your car, it’s not going to help having that information stored in the trunk. Keep it with you.

10. Hand sanitizer and tissue

I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably not going to find a clean restroom on the trail when you need it. When nature calls in the middle of nowhere tissues are a more pleasant alternative to leaves. Just remember to be respectful and bury what you leave behind.

So here are 10 extremely easy to find and affordable items that can make a huge difference if you find yourself in an emergency situation. These are items I have felt that are the most useful, but of course, there is no limitation to how many precautions you can take. There are many other items available for trail safety, but if you want to be prepared and don’t know where to start, this is a solid list to follow.

Happy trails!


A DNF (Did Not Finish) Is Greater Than DNS (Did Not Start)

A DNF (Did Not Finish) Is Greater Than DNS (Did Not Start)

Maybe you’ve seen the acronym DNF>DNS. Simply put, it means that it is better to attempt and fail than to not try at all. But let’s face it – the harsh reality of a DNF offers little comfort if it happens to you.

If you run enough races over a long enough period of time, a DNF (Did Not Finish) is bound to happen eventually. Something just doesn’t go your way on that day, and you get pulled from a race (which is especially common in longer races) or need to drop out. No finishers’ medal for you. No bragging rights. It can be embarrassing and leave you feeling pretty miserable about yourself and let down about the whole experience. Friends and family will ask about your race and instead of regaling them with tales of triumph, you are forced to publicly acknowledge that you came up short of your goal.

I had my first official DNF a few weeks ago. I wasn’t expecting it to happen – and certainly not when it did. The event was not even close to my longest distance race and it had a generous cutoff time. I definitely underestimated the difficulty of the course; my level of fitness and training was not where it needed to be for 31 miles of technical trails. I am typically a back-of-the-pack runner anyway – but I still didn’t just phone it in. I guess that’s what makes it all that much more shocking, annoying, disheartening – whatever – that I got pulled three miles from the finish of a 31 mile race and willingly accepted the DNF and ride back to the finish line.

Hours later, I started analyzing my actions and attitudes, and replaying the day’s events over and over. The endless stream of questions and self-doubt crept into my head. What went wrong? What could I have done differently? Why did this happen to me? And, dammit, it was only three more miles – I could have crawled to the finish!
Now that I’ve had time to process everything and make my peace with it, I’ve come away with a few lessons. I share these thoughts with the hope that it will save time and unnecessary fretting, as well as the opportunity to gain the proper perspective in order to move forward should you find yourself in a similar situation.

A DNF does not define you or place any limit on your abilities to reach new goals. (Even elite athletes DNF races!)

A DNF is an opportunity to learn something about yourself so you can continue to improve. As a general rule, we tend to learn more in our failings than successes.

There is no reason to be ashamed for trying and not achieving your goal. Applaud yourself for having the courage to toe the starting line. Remind yourself in running, you are lapping everyone on the couch. Use this as an analogy to every other challenge in life.

I encourage you to aim high, and if even you don’t achieve your goal, give yourself permission to hold your head up high anyway.

Happy trails, my friends!


Don’t Give Up On Yourself. How to Rediscover Your Love of Running

You laid out the perfect plan to achieve your goals and everything was progressing according to your plan. You could see the physical improvements, and you were developing a mental toughness and mindset that nothing was going to get in your way. Until “it” happened…

It” comes in many forms and when you least expect it – disguised as a family crisis, work demands, or a nasty case of plantar fasciitis. Clearly it’s not something you expected to encounter but it derails progress toward your intended goal. Although it may be disappointing to backtrack to re-gain fitness, re-lose weight, or simply gut out a less-than-ideal situation to get through your intended race, there is comfort in knowing that: “I did it before, so I can do it again!” While that may not be the most comforting thought, sometimes it’s enough to get you through the moment (e.g. workout, training plan, or even the race) – and that’s all you need.

Let me share with you some experiences and see if you can place yourself any of these scenarios. I’d been putting off surgery for a nagging shoulder injury, but finally had it done in 2012 – after one of the best running years I’d had in quite some time. I’d been fit, lean, and just finished a new ultra marathon distance which was a huge personal triumph. After the race, I had the surgery and couldn’t’t run a step for three months. That major setback in my training cost me many more months to regain the same level of fitness prior to the surgery. As it turns out, I ran the same race again in 2014 and finished faster! I was burnt out by the end of the 2014 running season. I’d worked hard to regain that fitness, but lost my joy for running in the process. For most of 2015, I spent my time hiking, riding my bicycle, or doing many other activities – but I thought that my running days might be in my past. After nearly a year away, I’m back to running and enjoying it as much as ever. My fitness and weight have both declined in the past year, but at least I’ve recaptured the joy in my running and can work toward improving both. And speaking of weight, with the inevitable march of time, my weight seems to be an ongoing (losing) battle. It’s tougher and tougher just to maintain my weight, so I accept that I need to adjust to a new “normal” and work with what life provides. Being at a less than ideal weight is not going to stop me from getting out and doing the things I love.

From the stories I’ve shared about my own challenges, I hope you take away two important messages:
1) every woman you know is working on overcoming some obstacle between her and her goals – so you aren’t alone
2) know that whatever challenge you are facing can be overcome if you don’t quit trying!

Let’s face facts; most of us are weekend warriors who don’t have the luxury of the singular pursuit of our personal goals, and we need to juggle a lot of balls while we are working through our plan to achieve great pursuits – but that makes the achievement that much sweeter. Accept that your plans will probably need to change, and understand that is part of your journey. Most importantly: believe in yourself and your ability to overcome those obstacles to achieve your goals. And never, never, never give up in the pursuit of your own greatness!

Happy Trails,


Finding Joy in the JOurneY

I’m no different than anybody else: over scheduled, over worked, and over caffeinated. There simply are not enough hours in the day to get through the ever-expanding to-do list, and I spend as much time adding to the list as I do crossing things off the list. The demands come from all directions: work, kids, spouse, family (if you are caring for an aging parent as I do, for example), etc. I’ll admit that it’s sometimes just overwhelming and I struggle to keep from losing it. And that’s why trail running is my “mother’s little helper” – to keep me sane, happy, and able to manage the daily onslaught of demands.

While I’ve run plenty of miles on the road, the trail is my passion. Pushing myself physically, while I enjoy the beauty of nature is liberating for the mind, body and soul. Maybe it’s the solitude or sounds of the wildlife & wind that allows the noise in my head to quiet – so that I can make sense of previously impossible problems. Maybe it’s the beauty of nature that gives perspective and allows me to find joy in simple things – and reminds me to appreciate those gifts as a welcomed break from routine. It’s my sacred time for quiet reflection and meditation.

It’s also a time to let my inner child out to play. Do you member how much fun you had as a child running around outside; splashing in the mud puddles, tramping through the new-fallen snow, getting soaked in a warm summer rain – or just running over the hill to see what you could find on the other side? A good trail run can take us back to those wonderful, carefree times in our lives.

Have you ever experienced firsthand amazing wildlife encounters; like a bird of prey diving from the sky to embody power and grace, a pair of glowing yellow eyes piercing illuminated by your headlamp which pierce the darkness and leave you feeling vulnerable, or have something bound, scamper, or slither across your path just to remind you that you are but a visitor here in their world?

Finally, have you been able to appreciate the power of nature and have it help to ground you spiritually; feeling how small you (and your problems) really are as you gaze across from a mountain top, feeling powerless in the midst of a raging storm, or feeling your heart swell at the majesty of colors from the days first or last light crossing the sky? It is moments like those for which I feel a deep spirituality and truly blessed for reasons most people may never consider.

The trail – just like life – is never smooth. A mountainous trail littered with rocks, mud and roots, can be seen as obstacles to test your will and mettle. But that’s choosing to view it through only one lens. I try to view the trail through the other lens for its power to make me feel fulfilled and thankful because the joy is in the journey.

I see trail running as an analogy for life and believe that it helps me be a better, more grounded person among the other important aspects of my life. I urge you to give trail running a try. You may find regular visits to the “dirt church” to be incredibly rewarding in many ways.

Happy trails, my friends!

— Linda

No More Empty Promises to Yourself – Part 4

In Part 3 of this message, we discussed some important “do’s and don’ts” consider when creating and executing your plan to achieve your goal. In this final part in the series, we will discuss how to handle adversity as you work your plan in pursuit of your goal, and some of the things to celebrate along the way.
I’ve challenged you to allow yourself to dream big, commit it to writing, tell the world of your intentions, and chase that dream… and you are probably energized, excited, inspired, and more than a little scared to acknowledge what it means to you if you should fail along the way.

First the bad news: Everything will not go according to your plan. You will encounter setbacks, interruptions and problems along your journey. That’s the hard truth and there is no point in sugar coating it. Yet, I contend that any goal which is truly transformative will not be easily attained – but if it’s worth having then it’s worth the fight.

Now for the good news: Some of the best lessons and biggest advances we make in our lives come only after we have learned them the hard way – by overcoming problems (maybe more than once). If you view a setback as an opportunity to learn and improve, you will be smarter the next time around and have another tool at your disposal to solve the problem.

Considering these two ideas, you should be creating a plan which helps minimize the chances or magnitude of problems. Remember that we discussed in Part 3 the strategy of creating a plan with smaller milestones to allow you to build upon your hard work and stair step your way to victory. Remember, too, the idea of using an accountability buddy as a way to stay on track toward your goal and as a sounding board for issues. Depending upon your goal, you may want to enlist the support of a peer group (live or online community) who may share your goal and journey – as you can learn from one another faster than you can learn alone. Finally, it may be wise to enlist the support of a mentor who has achieved what you seek to achieve. Learning from your mistakes is great, but learning from theirs (and avoiding similar issues on your journey) is even better! Finally, you should realize that your plan is not written in stone and adjust it as and when a “learning opportunity” presents itself. Adapt your plan to incorporate your hard-won knowledge, refocus your efforts to be smarter going forward, and recommit yourself to your goal.

When you finally reach your goal, take time to reflect on your achievement and the person you’ve become in the process. I think that you’ll find two things: 1) Success is strongly addictive and you’ll want to set the next goal for yourself, and 2) If you are really honest, it isn’t necessarily about the goal – but rather the journey that truly shapes us in ways we hadn’t previously imagined.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Tom Grover’s book Relentless, “Physical dominance can make you great. Mental dominance is ultimately what makes you unstoppable. You will never have a more powerful training tool than this: get you mind strong, so your body can follow. The true measure of an individual is determined by what you can’t measure – intangibles. Anyone can measure weight, height, physical strength, speed… but you can’t measure commitment, persistence, or the instinctive power of the muscle in your chest, your heart. That’s where your true work begins: understanding what you want to achieve and knowing what you’re willing to endure to get it.”

So dream big, make yourself a promise to fulfill that dream, and start your journey today!

— Linda