Trail runners should pack first aid kits

A couple weeks ago, I was running on a trail near my house when I slipped and fell, gashing my knee against the corner of a crib wall1.

It was thankfully just a flesh wound, but quite painful in the moment and enough to put fitness activities on hold for a while. The experience spurred me to put together a compact first aid kit to bring with me on trail runs, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

This post explains why first aid kits are a worthwhile piece of gear for trail runners and describes what I’ve included in my kit.

Why pack a first aid kit?

2022 was an exciting year for trail running as a sport. Sponsorship and prize money is flowing, people are hungry to spectate big races like UTMB, and more amateurs like me are hitting trails in their communities.

One of the great things about running around in nature is that it lets you disconnect from the stresses of civilization. But this also means you’re going to be far from any kind of help if you get injured. Emergency services will take a while to get to you, doubly so if the trail is technical or not well mapped.

This article gives a particularly grim depiction of the risks you take when exerting yourself alone in remote areas. After reading it last summer, I did a little research on outfitting a minimal first aid kit that wouldn’t be annoying to pack when running. Go figure, I had to wait for my next injury out on the trail to complete the project.

What I pack in mine

There’s a bare minimum level of emergency preparedness that one should take when trail running. Aside from always bringing your phone2, it’s a good idea to carry a very basic set of first aid materials.

A good goal is to help ensure that an injured person (you, a friend, or a fallen stranger you come across) can get patched up enough to make it to a trailhead for evac by car. Like any other piece of running gear, you want to keep things compact and light.

I bought the smallest first aid pouch I could find. You could of course use any old pouch or a ziplock bag, but I like this one because it’s red and clearly labeled.

Whatever you choose should fit easily into whatever running vest or belt you use when journeying into remote areas. I use a Naked running band most of the time and the little red first aid kit fits nicely into any of its three pockets.

Inside the kit, I keep a handful of items mostly focused on basic wound treatment:

  1. Antiseptic wipes3
  2. Band-Aids
  3. 3”x3” gauze pads
  4. A small roll of gauze for wrapping bandages
  5. Antibiotic ointment
  6. Ibuprofen
  7. A pair of tweezers, in case I have to remove a tick from myself or my dog

Contents of my kit

A couple of the items photographed here were cannibalized from my home first aid kit. Be sure to restock any larger kit you take stuff from so you’re not out of something you need in an emergency.

Other items you might include

What you pack comes down to the types of emergency scenarios you want to be prepared for. Scrapes and cuts tend to be the most common form of injury from falling on a trail, hence the focus on wound care. But you might choose to include other items depending on your body or geography.

  • If you’re prone to rolling ankles, athletic tape can be used to wrap up and immobilize a sore ankle to help you walk to the nearest trailhead.
  • Some Tecnu and a small rag would be a great addition for dealing with poison oak.
  • Ticks are a constant menace in my area, but you might want to pack items specific to other kinds of wildlife. For instance, for bears, the general guidance is to make a ton of noise. A small airhorn can help with this—the Ginger Runner recommends this one in his recent 2022 gear of the year video.

Stay safe out there!

  1. A crib wall is a type of retaining structure that holds a trailbed in place along a hillside. Here's an example (one that I helped build, in fact).
  2. It shocks me how common it is for folks to run without a phone. I know I wrote above how running it a great way to disconnect, but your phone should absolutely be seen as a table stakes piece of emergency equipment for communicating if you need help.
  3. Mild preference for benzalkonium chloride over alcohol, since they’re supposed to be better for cleaning wounds rather than the skin around wounds.