Running and Hiking Bag Essentials

By Tia Norris, November 2018 Issue of Echo Magazine in Phoenix, AZ.

As the weather cools down this fall, many of us are beginning to exercise outside again. And whether you’re an ultra-marathoner or a weekend warrior, many of us Phoenicians are hitting the trails to soak in the sun while burning some calories. But, as the old adage goes: fail to plan, plan to fail! I’m here as your resident fitness expert to help you pack that trail running or hiking bag properly, to fuel performance, keep you safe, and be prepared for all scenarios!

First Things First: Get the Right Bag and Belt

This is, of course, step one. There’s virtually no scenario imaginable where you should be doing cardio outside (running, hiking, mountain biking, etc.) without at least a small bag or belt packed with the essentials. You won’t see a single seasoned athlete who doesn’t have some kind of small bag.

For shorter distances, a belt will do just fine – you need something small to at least hold the basics like your keys, a phone, water, and some food. Don’t worry about the belt being uncomfortable or bouncing. If you get a high-quality belt, I promise that you will barely know that it’s there.

For longer distances, a hydration backpack is essential. You’ll need something that holds more fluids (and preferably one that keeps those fluids cool), more nutrition, and plenty of pockets for extras. I always go with the Nathan brand myself, but Camelbak and other companies make fine products, too. Hit your local running store, or a bigger chain like Dick’s or REI to talk to an expert and find one that works for you. It’s critical to get a specialized bag that will sit comfortably, that won’t move around, and is designed to take a beating on your adventures. It is a worthwhile investment.

Nutrition: Food and Fluid

Once you’ve got a solid bag picked out, you’re going to want to load up with nutrition and hydration. At the very least, you’re going to want water, salt, and carbohydrates, particularly if you’re going to be in the sun for more than 45 minutes. I recommend simple salt supplements like BASE, and quick chews or Gu’s like Skratch, Stinger, or Tailwind.

Any local running store should have these options available. Also, consider skipping the plain water unless you’re very dialed in on your salt and sugar. Go with an electrolyte supplement (like the brands mentioned above), as they will allow you to go much longer and stronger than plain water alone on those long runs, hikes, and bikes. Now, everyone’s fluid, salt, and sugar intakes are different depending on a myriad of factors but I would say virtually everyone should aim for a minimum of 20oz fluid, 500mg salt, and 25g carbohydrates per hour in moderate conditions. Those numbers will rise in hotter temperatures and decrease slightly in cooler conditions.

Safety Precautions

As someone who’s been running the streets and trails of Phoenix for years, I can promise you that you will eventually see some weird and dangerous shit. I don’t go anywhere – even in broad daylight through the streets of Arcadia – without at least mace in my bag. For long trail runs, I also take a basic pocket knife in case things go south. My trail bag is also equipped with a whistle if I get stranded somewhere in a sticky situation. And of course, your phone is a valuable safety tool if you’re in a predicament. Although the odds are that you will not encounter anything dangerous (like predators or snakes or other wildlife), things do happen and you’re going to want to have options if and when they do.

Miscellaneous Recommendations

I also always have an assortment of random things for random scenarios, including Chapstick, body glide/anti-chafe (trust me, just pack it), topical analgesic like Tiger’s Balm or Icy Hot, ibuprofen, tissues, cash, and maybe even a backup battery charger for long runs. You probably have a few other items that you might use differently than I do. Just think about what is light, portable, and useful for your adventures. If you don’t know what these things are yet, you’ll know eventually with more time spent.

It’s all about preparation, if you want to perform and recover at your best in those outdoor workouts. Make sure you’ve got the right bag, with the right nutrition and hydration, every single time. Don’t skimp on this!

Many people want to “just go” and that lack of preparation will have them bonking, and/or feeling in a recovery hole after a long workout. And of course, bring along whatever else you need to stay safe (plan for the worst) and comfortable on those outdoor workouts.

Once you’ve got your bag packed, get out there and enjoy that beautiful fall weather that makes Arizona so famous!

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