Ten things you should have in your rucksack banner image

Ten things you should have in your rucksack

...even if you’re travelling fast and light

Mary-Ann Ochota By Mary-Ann Ochota

Mary-Ann Ochota looks at the equipment mountain marathon runners use to compete in the challenging Dragon’s Back Race. It’s a good starting point to think about what to take when you're hillwalking – whether you’re planning 100km or 10km!

In May this year, 402 people took on the challenge of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back race – over five days they run almost the length of Wales, 200 miles, from Conwy Castle to Llandeilo near Carmarthen. Along the way, they take in the major mountains of Snowdonia (Tryfan, Glyder Fach, Crib Goch and the whole Snowdon Horseshoe, the tough terrain of the Rhinogydd and Cadair Idris).

Crib Goch - Second Male Runner

© Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race | No Limits Photography

Then they travel through the hidden valleys and remote heights of the Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales, and finish with the sting in the Dragon’s tail – the Black Mountain, and the summit of Fan Brycheiniog. It’s an intense endurance challenge that only top international mountain running athletes even consider attempting.

Those Dragon-taming runners carry key equipment when they head to the hills. If you enjoy the hills – at any speed – their kit list might give you a few things to consider.

Mandatory kit

Most mountain races and endurance events have a mandatory kit list. If you don’t have these things, you can’t begin. Why? Because if you have an accident, these are the things that could save your life.

Cnicht- Unknown Runner

© Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race | No Limits Photography

  1. Waterproof jacket and trousers – whatever the weather when you set off, a wind- and waterproof layer will be essential if the weather turns or you stop moving for some reason, like a broken ankle.
  2. Survival bag – these foil-lined bags weigh less than 300g and keep your body heat in, and the wind out. They can also be used to protect a casualty if you need to leave them in order to seek help. Shove one in the bottom of your bag and forget about it until you need it.
  3. Map and compass – even if you’re using digital mapping or a GPS, carry a paper map as a backup, and a compass. And crucially, learn how to use them. If you’re not sure, do a course or check out some videos online. A navigation course can often be a surprising amount of fun!
  4. Headtorch – if you end up moving slower than you expected – or you get lost - you don’t want to be stuck when it gets dark. A lightweight but bright headtorch means you can get yourself home, even if it’s later than expected.
  5. Whistle – many rucksacks have an integrated whistle in the strap. If your bag doesn’t have one, think about sticking one in a pocket. It hardly weighs anything but is an easy way to get attention.
  6. Spare warm layers – carry at least one spare warm top, and hat and gloves, in a dry bag or ziplock. If it’s wintery, consider what mountaineers call a ‘belay jacket’ – a large size jacket that would fit over all your waterproofs and other layers. It means you can throw it on very quickly, without having to unzip and add an underlayer. Make sure it’s not down-filled though, as feathers won’t be warm if they get wet.
  7. Food and water – pretty obvious, really!
  8. The right shoes – Dragon’s Back Race runners wear off-road running shoes. They have an aggressive tread and special rubber soles that will grip slippery rock as well as provide traction on steep muddy and grassy slopes. They’re also incredibly light and flexible compared to most walking boots. If you don’t need the ankle support and protection a boot provides, you could consider a pair of trail running shoes. They’re generally not waterproof though, so team them up with a pair of waterproof walking socks, or be ok with getting wet feet.
Start of race

© Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race | No Limits Photography

Start of race

© Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race | No Limits Photography

Two other things to consider...

9. First aid kit

If you want to be self-sufficient and prepared in the hills, carry a small mountain first aid kit. Be selective about what’s in there, though – you’ll want a way to stop bleeding, dress a wound and strap up an injured joint. You might also want a tick tweezer, painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, dispersible aspirin (emergency treatment if someone’s having a suspected heart attack) and blister protection.

You can keep blister plasters and painkillers in a waterproof bag in handy pocket so you don’t need to root out your whole first aid kit if you feel your shoes rubbing. Also think about doing a mountain first aid course so you can practice those skills in real life outdoor scenarios.

10. ​A bothy bag

A bothy bag (aka a group shelter) is a lightweight circular shelter, a bit like a small parachute. Take it out of its stuff sack and pull it over your heads, so the whole group are sitting inside. You’ll be out of the wind and rain, and your body heat will keep you warm. Mountain runners don’t carry one because they generally don’t stop for breaks with their friends! But if you’re walking in a group, they can be a godsend. Perfect for a lunch stop on a windy summit, checking the map and treating your blisters, or for dealing with a first aid situation.

Dragon's Back Race

© Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race | No Limits Photography

A few lightweight items and your time out in the hills can be easy, fun and safe.

Pick your route and enjoy the ride!

Mary-Ann Ochota By Mary-Ann Ochota


Mary-Ann Ochota is a columnist for Trail magazine, and the British Mountaineering Council hill walking ambassador.

For up-to-date listings of talks, signings and guided walks, head to www.maryannochota.com

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