It’s time to head for the hills…or mountains. The snow is melting quickly and more mountain trails are opening up every day. Green Lakes trail is now snow free and the route up South Sister is in prime condition. This is the time of year I enjoy spending hours trekking through the High Cascades and exploring new areas I’ve never been before. More and more runners are eschewing the traditional methods of reaching the backcountry like heavy day packs, big hiking boots, and all the other accessories that go along with a day in the woods. To be safe however, there is still a minimal amount of gear that a runner should consider taking as well as couple pieces of gear that have changed dramatically with respect to weight to make climbing mountains a bit easier for a light and fast approach.
First, always consider that you may be stuck out overnight and be sure to carry back up safety gear that could save your life. The ten essentials won’t necessarily keep you comfortable but can be a welcome addition should you need them.
Second, weather can be a factor anytime you enter the mountains and having adequate protection can be a necessary life saving addition. Lucky for you, the runner, gear has become so specialized, lightweight, and comfortable that bringing a few pieces along in a pack is just a no-brainer.
Ultra-lightweight wind shells can make all the difference between becoming a hypothermic popsicle and getting down out of a fast moving weather cell comfortably and quickly. Carrying a 2oz jacket, hat and gloves can now pack down to the size of a baseball.
Trekking poles are something that runners consider to be reserved for the elderly hiker but it’s quickly becoming a piece of essential gear for runners headed up…or down. Their usefulness is quickly justified in just one outing of climbing up South Sister or Bachelor and can be used during running and hiking. Four legs are better than two, poles will save valuable energy going up and your quads and balance going down. With Black Diamond’s Ultra Distance Poles you can quickly break them down during a full on run and at 8oz you won’t notice the addition to your pack during flat sections.
Having a comfortable pack for long, or short, outings is essential because any soreness should be reserved for your legs, not your shoulders or hips. Hydration packs have become so specialized in recent years that you can find the right one for you and the right one for whatever distance you might want to go. While we all wish we didn’t have to carry water or food at all, the reality is we need it, and from this necessity, a full range of hydration and food carrying devices have sprung forth. From 10L epic run packs, to 2L a-bladder-is-all-I-need packs, to waist belts, to hand-helds there is something out there you’ll find suitable.
Keeping stuff out of shoes is always a challenge and a nuisance in the mountains. Usually we’ll just stop by the side of a nice babbling brook to empty out our shoes but wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to stop to empty shoes, you could just stop and enjoy the brook instead, and if you could keep all that annoying stuff from getting in your shoe in the first place. Wait, there is a way. They’re called gaiters and they aren’t just for mountain climbers or tele-skiers. The small breathable gaiters that wraps over the top of the shoe and your ankle are so easy to put on and flexible that you won’t even notice they’re their. It’s an inexpensive and easy solution to keeping a little piece of the Cascades from coming home with you. Both Salomon and Montrail make a great little gaiter for mountain travel.
Finally, there’s shoes. Last on the list because we’re all aware that your feet are the only thing touching the ground (unless you have poles now) and what you put on them makes a big difference in the mountains. And here’s what you already know, the lava that our Cascade Range is so famous for is very hard on mesh running shoes. Sometimes our running shoe shelf can resemble a quiver of arrows, and that’s a good thing because shoes too have their specialized uses. Sure there are shoes that work for a variety of surfaces but sometimes it’s nice to reserve a pair of shoes for the mountains due to their unique challenges. Pick a shoe with a durable and well lugged outsole for the loose scree slopes, a tightly woven upper to prevent the fine dust from filling your shoe, and possibly some water resistance if traveling through the snow.
While that’s not all the gear you’ll need heading into the mountains, these are the pieces of gear we often overlook or didn’t even know could help use move more easily, more comfortably, and more efficiently in the mountains. When you do head up make sure you’re prepared with the minimum essentials for safety. Good gear that helps you move faster in the mountains can also help you to be safer as well. Have fun, be safe. The mountains are a beautiful place to explore. Go Run.