How to Carry Stuff While Running

January 17, 2024

Nick Hancock
A woman jogging on a forest trail with a running backpack, surrounded by trees.

Gearing Up for the Long Haul

Imagine this: you're all set for your long distance run, planned your running route, running clothes on, running shoes laced up, you've stuffed your phone in your pocket, got your trusty handheld water bottle, a snazzy head torch, and oh, don't forget the house key!

But wait a minute, where in the world do you stash all this gear? We've not even got into the other essentials you may need when covering long distances. Figuring out this running equipment puzzle is almost as challenging as those hills you're about to conquer! Do you carry it in your pockets, around your waist, in a back pack - it's not all going to fit comfortably in your running shorts or shoes!

Let's break it down and find ingenious options for carrying your runner's arsenal without feeling like you're lugging around a traveling circus. It's time to get smart about gear, have a bit of fun with it, and ensure you're ready to tackle the long haul with ease and style.

Essential Items for the Long Run

First up, let's look at what you're going to need when going on a long distance run. Consider where you're going, are you in remote areas or will this be one of your longer runs. All these things effect how much gear you'll need to carry and how you're going to carry your gear.

  • Hydration: How are you going to carry water? Water bottles, hydration pack, or handheld water bottles
  • Nutrition: Energy gels, homemade bars, or real food for sustenance
  • Phone: For emergencies, navigation, or capturing scenic moments
  • Identification & Emergency Info: ID, emergency contact details
  • First Aid Kit: Band-Aids, antiseptic wipes, blister treatment
  • Protection from Elements: Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, rain jacket, or gloves
  • Navigation Aid: GPS watch, compass, or map
  • Money or Card: For emergencies or purchasing necessities

Obviously a lot of this may depend on where and how far you're running. But it's important to consider everything when looking at what you're going to use to carry your gear. Of course personal preference comes into play, but think about whether you need ID or will your phone do the trick? The same could be said for navigation, does your phone or watch cut it, maybe you'll need a small map too? In some countries it may even be essential to carry pepper spray or bear spray!

Carrying Methods


Among the indispensable accessories, armbands stand out as a must-have, especially when it comes to keeping your phone secure and accessible. Armbands provide a hands-free solution for carrying your phone, ensuring it stays snugly strapped to your arm throughout your run. This not only eliminates the hassle of juggling a phone in your hand but also offers quick and easy access to your favorite running apps, music, or emergency calls.

Runner wearing a running armband and checking her phone.

Hydration Packs or Vests:

Ideal for carrying water and larger essentials, distributed evenly across your body for balance. Hydration packs are great and come in may forms. Typically you'll find a bladder plus a few secure pockets for smaller items such as snacks, phone, house key etc. A bladder is great as it saves you having to carry all the bottles needed to keep you hydrated on a longer run.

Handheld Bottles or Belts:

Convenient for shorter distances or races, providing easy access to hydration. Perhaps you just want some water and snacks that are easily accessible. A hydration belt or race belt is great for... you guessed it... racing! If you only need to think about water and an energy bar or two then these things are great and will securely hold this race essentials and fit snugly around your waist.

Combined with handheld water bottles this could be a real streamlined options for carrying small amounts of gear when you know you'll come across water fountains and feeding stations.

Running Backpacks:

Offering ample space for essentials and possibly additional clothing or gear. If you're running a longer distance or into remote areas then a running backpack is often essential. Being able to carry all of your stuff plus having easily accessible pockets, enough room for extra clothing should you need an extra layer.

A small backpack is often the long distance runners choice if you need more storage than a typical run.

Running backpacks obviously vary but often include enough storage space for any run, plus ingenious ways to store things. A running backpack will often come with a bladder space too with velcro closure so you get the pros of a hydration vest but with space to fit a sports drink, pockets for snacks and phone. Essentially, there'll be a pack for you and your personal preference.

Man running uphill through a forest with a backpack and water bottles.

Waist Packs or Running Belts:

Lightweight and suitable for carrying small items like gels, phone, or keys. Perhaps the middle ground between race belts and backpacks. A waist pack could be the answer for most runners. Often coming with the features found in a running backpack, but on a smaller scale. A small hydration bladder, a couple of pockets, space to carry your phone and store and extra layer or energy gel. However, some runners don't like the feeling of a fanny pack (that's what a they call waist packs in the USA!) when running.

The way you carry a waist pack means it sits low on your back and can move around and affect your running form. This may become uncomfortable on longer distances. Again personal choice will come into play here but also how much drinking water you need to carry, or how much stuff you actually need to store.

Vest with Pockets:

Jackets or hydration vests equipped with multiple pockets for efficient organisation. These things can be great if you're not a fan of having a full pack on when running but a race belt doesn't cut it. Lots of pockets scattered in tactical places on a vest, often made with breathable material such as mesh, make for carrying your stuff a doddle.

The number of pockets vary from vest to vest but you can usually find a special pocket for your phone, some slots or pockets for water bottles a running vest can often be great if race belts aren't your thing. Many trail runners go for a running vest as it's kind of the middle ground and has the best features but maintains a light weight and sleek design.

You'll find that in most cases a hydration vest will hold all of your running gear much more comfortably than a running belt. They'll usually have a zippered pocket or two and be a lot more stable than a hydration belt or running backpack.

Conclusion: Run Smart, Run Prepared

Whether you're conquering trails, running your first flat marathon or pounding pavements, carrying the right gear without being weighed down can be a game-changer. Experiment with different carrying methods to find what suits your comfort, running style, and distance. Speak to fellow runners, maybe even borrow what they use to find what works for you. It can be a mine field to find what suits as there are so many options and everyone has their own theories. Whilst many runners may opt for one thing, you're not many runners, you need to find what suits you.

It's also important to be aware of what you may carry on a training run versus what running gear you need for a race. Everything changes come race day and its important to ensure you not only know how to carry stuff while running a race, but also actually train with the gear and carrying method you'll use come race day.

Equip yourself smartly, run prepared, and let nothing stand between you and your long-distance running goals!

Author: Nick Hancock is a UESCA Certified Ultrarunning coach and UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) and has coached many busy professionals and parents to achieve finishes, top-10s and podiums in events such as London Marathon, Manchester Marathon, Amsterdam Marathon, UTMB, UTS, Centurion events, Endure24, Backyards and many more. Host of the Maximum Mileage Running Podcast and author of the Ultimate Cookbook for Runners

He can be found on Instagram @runwithnick

Now go run hard! And remember, if you ever want to talk about the potential you can reach with an online running coach then do get in touch by hitting that enquiry button.

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