As a runner, I love exploring a new city, a new beach or a new mountain by foot. It helps me with jet-lag, gives me energy and allows me to see a new place as I run past new smells, colors and people. All while taking it in at my own pace.
Running while traveling, however, requires some special equipment. Additionally, there is a fine line between packing everything but the kitchen sink and packing so lightly that you are washing your sports bra in the sink on the daily. I’ve made plenty of mistakes while packing, and I’ve even been guilty of procrastinating until the very last minute before pulling my dusty backpack out of the closet.
To aide my fellow travelers and road warriors I have put together a packing list that is not only great for runners, but anyone traveling extensively for a long period of time and carrying their gear from city to city.
As you review this list, here are a few themes to keep in mind:
- First, quick dry fabric is gold. When traveling you may not have time for a laundromat stop, but there is almost always a sink or a tub. It is essential when running abroad to pack clothes that dry quickly and are easy to wash.
- Second, items with a small packing footprint are incredibly useful. Anything that can be stuffed inside its own pocket, for example, packs like a dream.
- Lastly, don’t forget about self-care. What I mean by this is to pack personal items you may not be able to find while abroad, or brands that work well for you. For example, good sunscreen. I am a light skinned, freckly Irish girl and I require good sunscreen. Once while in Cambodia, I ran out of the American sunscreen I had brought with me. I went out to the local shops to find a new bottle, and since I was planning on being on a beach for 5 days, I searched for the largest bottle I could find. There were two options, one small bottle that was very expensive or a larger bottle with a brand name I did not recognize. I chose the latter and as it turns out, it was just sun lotion that provided absolutely no SPF! Needless to say, I got fried and spent half my vacation sitting in the shade. In the photo below, you can clearly see where I switched from my US purchased sunscreen to the off-brand non-sunscreen.
On to the list. Let’s start packing!
The biggest and bulkiest item on a runners packing list. There are many options these days with trail running shoes, road running shoes, lightweight hiking shoes, etc. What you need for traveling is a do-it-all shoe that can do double duty as an everyday walking shoe. Personally, I bring Topo Athletic shoes while abroad. I find the wide toe box, cushion and tread is good for any road surface and smoother trail surfaces. They are lightweight and have mesh on top, so they breathe and dry quickly. When using one all-purpose shoe, I try to wash my shoes every other week. These shoes clean up quickly and dry by morning. A runners shoe choice is incredibly personal as we all have our own foot quirks, but look for a good all-rounder with the qualities listed above and you should be in business.
Unbelievably useful! I bring these everywhere I travel. When I run, I put money, tissues (or toilet paper for those mid-run emergencies) and my hotel key in them. It keeps things dry and separate from my phone. I simply put the Ziploc bag in one the zipped pockets of my shorts or jacket. This is such an easy way to store important items, plus they rattle around less in a bag than they do when separate in your pocket.
I run and travel in Balega socks. They fit me very well, last a long time and dry quickly. Again, this is a personal decision but I recommend to not just purchase any pair of socks. Space is limited. I found it’s important to buy 3-4 pairs of nice quality socks you can run, travel and walk in knowing you will not get blisters on your heels or have hot spots.
If you prefer a certain brand, or like a certain face sunscreen, purchase ahead of time because high quality sunscreen is not available (or is very expensive) in many places around the world. It is worth the extra weight and space. Read above regarding my terrible sunburned experience in Cambodia. Lesson learned, I always bring a large tube of Neutrogena 55+ SPF and a smaller face sunscreen with me every time I travel.
You may want to pack these for long flights, bus rides or hotel gyms but I do not recommend running in a new city or remote village with headphones. When running in a new country or city, you want stay alert and always be aware to your surroundings.
Good ones. Depending on where you are traveling, there may not be a pharmacy or store nearby. I toss a few in all of my travel bags. Bandages are cheap, easy to carry and when you need one, you need one!
Handheld Water Bottle
I prefer a small water bottle that packs down easily. Brands such as Nathan or Amphipod make nice bottles that are comfortable and the holders include zippered pockets where you can store your stuff. I pack the water bottles that came with my Ultimate Direction running vest. They are water bottles that collapse into your hand when they are empty. They pack down very well.
No need for a GPS watch that is expensive and requires a specific charger. A basic watch is all you really need for a sprint workout or a jog and it makes you less of a target for any opportunistic thieves.
Polarized Sunglasses with Case
There are many great brands at various price points out there, Smith, Zeal, Suncloud, etc. The main point is to pack a pair that is polarized. The extra protection and glare reduction greatly reduces strain on your eyes, especially when running at high altitude or near water. Plus, true polarized glasses can be tough to come by in many parts of the world. For example trying to find a good pair of well fitting polarized sunglasses in Nepal.
Shorts with Pockets and Zippers
When traveling it’s important to pack items that are multi-use. Athletic shorts with pockets are great for running and traveling because you can carry important items anywhere you go. Pack two pairs that you can use for both running and traveling. While living and running in Argentina, I have quite a few things to carry. This country loves their keys and fobs for every door. Just look at all the stuff I carry on a run below, the keys in this country are massive!
Small Rain Jacket
I love my Patagonia Houdini Jacket since it fits in the palm of my hand and zips into my shorts pocket. There are several rain jackets that have this feature. They are nice if you are running in the morning or in a climate where it threatens to rain often. You can also use this item outside of running.
This is my all-time favorite running, traveling and exploring item. This item is multifunctional. You can use it to keep warm, you can douse it in cold water to cool down your neck, it’s a sun protectant and you can use it to keep your greasy, unwashed, traveling by bus for two days hair off your face. You can also use it to wash your sunglasses or as a wash cloth, incredibly versatile. This is a must pack item and they are very small.
Self-care! After a long run, a 12-hour bus ride or sleeping in an airport, rolling out your feet, shoulders, etc. feels amazing. This item will keep you refreshed with happy muscles and the ability to tackle any run.
Most likely you will be running in a place where the sun is shining and beating down on you. A hat is a great item to pack because it can be used during all traveling and running activities.
Whether you are starting your runs before the sun comes up or have to navigate your way back to the hostel on a remote island that only has electricity from the hours of noon to 6pm, a headlamp is a great companion while backpacking. For instance, when I was biking and running in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia, my days started before the sunrise. It’s amazing to watch the sunrise at the main Angkor Wat temple. Therefore, I used my headlight every morning as I made the three mile journey from my hostel to the temple each morning.
Iodine Pills or a Small Water Filter
You may or may not need this depending on where you’re traveling. If you’re going to be running in an area with access to clean water, no need to worry about this item. When I traveled and ran through Southeast Asia, I packed the ultralight, travel friendly Life Straw. Iodine pills are great too since they are small, inexpensive and can be tossed into any water bottle. The only issue is that you have to wait at least 30 minutes for the pills to sterilize the water, not a major issue, but something to consider.
And there you have it! Sixteen items to pack that will make running anywhere in the world a breeze, or at least more manageable. Running in some of the world’s largest cities have their own challenges, but your gear should not be one of them.
As always, Run in Wander.