Dirt over a white background

The Dirt with Jeff Browning


One of the beautiful parts of mountain running is that it’s outside. You can enjoy lovely weather, fantastic views, fresh air, and more. However, one of the dangers of mountain running is also that it’s outside. Thunder and lightning, cold conditions, inaccurate navigation—there are a lot of things that can go wrong while exploring the great outdoors. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it...the rewards are almost always worth the risk. But it is important to be prepared for the unexpected.  

Luckily, Altra Elite Athlete, Jeff Browning, knows how to prepare and how to share. Check out Bronco’s Basic Running Kit below. Then, gear up and head out with confidence.  

Ready to dig up some dirt, kick up some dust, and sift through the soil? Let’s get started! 



Jeff Browning running in Grouse Gulch


In the 2014 Hardrock 100, just after sunset, I got pinned down by a major electrified thunderstorm. Forced to squat next to a slab of boulder above treeline at 13,000 feet with lightning flash-booming the ground all around me, I spent 70 minutes at mile 62 in American Basin. A pelting rain added to the misery of my situation. I immediately donned all of the gear I had at my disposal: three lightweight wind layers (a pullover, a zip-front hoodie and wind pants). These layers were soaked within 15 minutes, and I spent the remainder of the ordeal shivering—my teeth audibly chattering, my jaw sore after the race. As the storm moved off of Handy’s Peak above me, I made my way over the summit and finally resumed my way along the course. I was wet and cold for most of that night’s race and I vowed never to be unprepared again. 

Here are some tips to keep you prepared: 


Know the Regional Forecast 

Planning ahead is of the utmost importance when venturing out into mountain terrain for big adventures. Trail running can take us to amazing and wild places, but it can also put us miles from rescue if things go south. Planning for worst-case scenarios is paramount. Know before you go. 

Check local and regional apps, websites, and forecasts to check the weather all around your planned route. Know that if you’re looking at a forecast for a city that lies in a valley, the ridgeline several thousand feet above could be 10-30 degrees colder, especially if a storm system hits. Look at different times of the day during your planned mountain running adventure or race. Is there an afternoon thunderstorm chance or is the system bigger? Look at radar, know predominant wind direction, and where a potential storm could come from. What if you happen to roll an ankle 10 miles from a trailhead and can only hike one mile per hour? You could be out an additional 10+ hours you didn’t expect. Plan for everything. 


Bronco’s Basic Mountain Running Kit 

Since my Hardrock debacle, I’ve acquired a thorough (though lightweight) mountain running kit to ensure I’m never that cold and miserable again.  

Here are the basics of my go-to kit: 



Waterproof Jacket with Hood 

This is the centerpiece for a mountain-running kit. Even after looking at the forecast, I’ve been pinned down on a 7-mile run to summit a local peak where a 50-percent chance of isolated rain turned into a gnarly thunderstorm cell deluge—two inches of rain in less than 30 minutes with intermittent pea-sized hail and lightning. Temperatures dropped over 25 degrees and the trail became a swollen, muddy river 6-12 inches deep. Mountains can create extreme weather that forecasters are unable to forecast. Be ready. 



Insulation Layer 

This piece of the kit is a go-to, even if you leave other stuff out. Being able to layer under the waterproof jacket will keep your core warm if you have to hunker down under a rock outcropping to wait out a lightning-filled storm cell. 



Waterproof Pants 

Many runners overlook this piece, but I love it. I have a pair of waterproof pants that are extremely lightweight and packable. They have wider legs, so I can quickly pull them over my shoes and shorts to keep my lower half dry. 




I tend to have trouble keeping my hands warm, so I always carry lightweight insulated gloves and waterproof overmitts. This duo has saved my hands on more than one occasion. 



Beanie or Buff 

This is an easy one. I typically carry Buff headwear for insulating my head under a hat. It can double as a neck gaiter on exposed and sunny sections at altitude for sun protection. It’s also handy for dipping in a creek on a hot day. 


Jeff Browning running on Humphrey's Peak


ID and Emergency Contact 

I carry a photocopy of my passport with my emergency contact (my wife’s name and information). It is also smart to include a list of medical conditions, allergies, and any other pertinent medical information that would be appropriate if you were incapacitated. This is all secured in a Ziplock bag in the waterproof zippered pocket of my running vest. 



Emergency Blanket 

A standard emergency blanket is also neatly folded and stashed in the above mentioned emergency ID Ziplock. Basic emergency blankets weigh next to nothing, and having an extra layer of protection for that worst-case scenario is wise. 



Extra Calories and Water Capacity 

On bigger mountain outings, I always throw in a few extra calories, just in case. It’s better to have it and not use it, versus not having it and really wanting it. Also, being able to carry 1-4 liters of water is essential. If you have a long section with no water, you need to be able to “camel up” and fill all your containers to get through. 



Water Filter 

Most mountain terrains have water sources. Know your maps and potential water. If there are ample water sources, carrying a filter can be a nice way to get clear, cold mountain water without all the added pack weight of carrying tons of water from the start. 



Navigation and Emergency Calls 

Nothing can replace a good old-fashioned map and compass. Unfortunately, technology can fail in the field. I’ve been caught in hail and rain to the point where I could no longer use my iPhone touch screen for navigation. Always have a backup plan. 

I use technology as my first choice and map/compass as my backup. I personally prefer my cell phone with the route in a GPS software (i.e., Gaia) and maps downloaded before I go so I can run my phone on airplane mode to save battery. For bigger, longer, and multi-day remote runs, I’ve used GPS devices that have an emergency call option where you can add a temporary plan for texting (Garmin inReach Mini, etc.). This device allows you to send basic texts to loved ones or a support crew. On a remote four-day adventure in the Owyhee Canyonlands in Southeast Oregon, my running partner and I used an inReach device to be able to communicate in an area with zero cell phone coverage. 


Additional Handy Gear 

Here are a few additional items that I sometimes carry if the outing is unfamiliar or particularly challenging or remote: 

●      Portal compact charger for technology with cords (cell phone, inReach mini, etc.) 

●      Whistle 

●      Small compact knife or multi-purpose tool 

●      Headlamp 

●      Extra batteries 

●      2 meters of tape/bandage tape (for securing/supporting an injury/trauma) 

●      Small first aid kit 

●      Micro-down compact puffy jacket 

●      Second pair of windproof or insulated pant (for layering under waterproof pants) 


With a little planning, you can mitigate risk and be prepared to run into the mountains safely and with confidence. Adventure awaits... 




About the Author

Jeff Browning is a veteran ultrarunner and ultra-endurance coach. As a masters athlete, he has embraced both mobility and strength consistently in his training to slow down aging and to prepare his body for the rigors of up to five 100-milers per season—some just weeks apart. You can learn more about him, his adventures, and his coaching at GoBroncoBilly.com or on Instagram: @GoBroncoBilly