Backcountry Running Safety and Preparation

As Evan McWhirter, the race director of the Routeburn Classic Mountain Running race said in one of his pre race briefings “This isn’t like running around Hagley Park”. If you are venturing out trail or mountain running there are many differences to your regular road run you might be use to. Under foot condition’s, changing weather and gear that might be required are just some of the major differences.

Being  prepared is one of the most important things to consider, weather it be for a full days mission in the mountain or simply heading out for a few hours on local trail close to home. Tararua Mountain Race and form SAR member Mike Sheridan wrote an excellent piece for BCR “Safety In The Hills” and is well worth a ready for anyone planning on a running adventure in New Zealand’s outdoors.

The Mountain Safety Council also has a wealth of resources and information that is very useful and is currently working on a Trail/Mountain Running on their Adventure Smart website. And of course the Outdoor Safety Code can be applied to trail/mountain running as it can to almost any outdoor pursuit.


Trail/mountain Run and Race- there is a huge difference between running a track as part of a race and running that same track as a social training run/adventure. While a race will normally require a list of gear for you to carry so you can be self reliant  there is very much a “safety net” in place. That can be in the form of a race official sweeping the course, aid stations with food and refreshments and medical staff with a helicopter just a radio call away. ALL these things are removed when you are not taking part in a planned event and it is up to YOU to take responsibility for your self and safety- take another look at the CODE.

Basic kit that is generally taken on most trail/mountain runs and required at almost all races of this nature

  • light weight shell jacket
  • warm hat and gloves
  • thermal long sleeve top and long johns (and over trousers if heading above bush line)
  • first aid kit: (Painkillers, strapping tape, crepe bandage and chaffing cream
  • head torch
  • cell phone (and personal locator beacon if travelling alone)
  • survival blanket and/or survival bag
  • map (and a way to keep it dry while in use) and compass- especially useful in new or rugged terrain
  • whistle
  • food and water
  • back pack to keep everything in, plus a plastic bag to keep things dry
  • solid and rugged trail running shoes- on many trail/mountain runs, more so in wetter conditions, a good trail shoe, with a more aggressive sole is of great benefit. These offer better traction and more protection than a standard running shoe.
The above list is just a basic guide and if nothing else a good starting point. 

Trail and mountain running gear differs from the gear that you might use well walking/tramping over the same trails and terrain in that you will be looking to move faster and weight of the gear is a consideration. The beauty of running in the backcountry is the speed you can travel, distance covered and sights you can see in just a few hours or a day, that normally would take multiple days.

Fuelling- Planing good nutrition and fuelling for your big adventure is very important. Nothing will see your best laid plans coming undone like running out of food and energy. What you eat on the run is very much a personal preference – sandwiches, crackers or specialized sports gels and bars. A good guide to follow is 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour and to drink to thirst.

Useful links and resource’s

Department of Conservation- lots of info on tracks and routes

Metservice Mountain Forecast- weather considerations are key in any tip planning

Mountain Safety Council’s Adventure Smart website

Outdoor Safety Code – Five simple rules

First Aid Course- at the very minimum a basic first aid course is a must

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A Backcountry Running Community for New Zealand trail, mountain and ultra runners- We want this to be the place you come for all things trail running including race previews and reports, interviews with New Zealand runners and hopefully a whole lot more! Our aim is to provide as much original content- previews/reports/interviews on New Zealand trail, mountain and ultra races. We can't be everywhere- so feel free to get in touch if you have the scoop on a race or event.

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