Compulsory kit requirements for trail running

The matter of compulsory kit for trail running events has been hotly debated in the past. Whilst it is debatable as to what exactly should be required, I believe that this this is entirely necessary and that the organisers need to specify a minimum gear list, and most importantly, enforce it.

Each race has it’s own terrain offering a wide variety of potential hazards as well as variable and often dangerous weather conditions. As much trail running takes place in fairly remote areas, it has become customary for race organisers to require some kind of compulsory kit. We need to be mindful that trail running is a growing sport with plenty of inexperienced participants joining the ranks who need the benefit of forward-thinking safety conscious organisers as well as the experience and knowledge of the seasoned mountain goats amongst us to keep them from harm.

Factors to consider:

  • distance
  • cellphone coverage
  • access for recovery vehicles
  • route
  • difficulty of terrain
  • altitude
  • prevailing weather conditions
  • conditions on race day

List of possible kit items:

  • cellphone
  • whistle (thanks Richard)
  • first aid
  • clothing: shell / waterproof jacket / fleece
  • space blanket (thanks Richard)
  • nutrition
  • hydration: minimum capacity in litres


The most important factor in determining the success of any kit requirements is enforcement. Not enforcing the requirement is bound to create a backlash as even runners who agree with the requirement will feel frustrated if they carried the extra weight whilst others did not.

The best example I have seen to-date was at the Otter African Trail Run. A set of weather state levels were established, each with their own compulsory gear list. This was then checked upon registration (complete with a photograph for the record), and then most importantly, checked again before runners left the finish chute. In the image below you can see the very clever colour-coded “stencil” on which runners had to lay their kit out to be checked and photographed. This is one example of what makes Magnetic South a truly world-class operation, and I commended them on leading the way in this regard.

My personal opinion is that offenders be DQ’d, and in fact if this were a regulated sport (which I believe it should be), repeat offenders should be suspended. At the Otter African Trail Run 2011 time penalties were imposed on offenders resulting in changes on the podium.

Otter African Trail Run 2011 compulsory gear check
Compulsory gear check at the Otter African Trail Run

Owen Middleton of Wildrunner has been outspoken on this topic in the past, see his article here:

In addition to carrying the prescribed kit when competing, a smart trail runner will carry many of these items, by choice, when training. I carry a cellphone and shell on all my runs.


Outdoor adventure enthusiast living on the Garden Route.

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