Always Be Prepared: Packing Your Walking Bag

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In a previous life, I must have been a Boy Scout—because I definitely take their motto to “Always Be Prepared” very seriously.  If I’m going away for a day, I’ll pack everything I could possibly need—along with a few other things, just in case.  When my daughter was little, I always had a bag of necessities handy—even if we were just going to a park down the street.  I often wonder if I’m really that obsessive or if I just really love bags.

But my bag-packing obsession also carries through into my walking. I have three separate bags for my walking gear: one in my car with everything I might need for the current season, one in the closet with off-season gear, and another one in the closet for race days.  That means that I’ve always got my most important gear handy when I drive to the trail, that I can make an easy switch from warm weather to cold weather and back again—and that I also have everything ready when I’m preparing for a race.  No last-minute scrambling for me!

Of course, it always seems like, no matter how prepared you may feel, when you need something, it’s the one thing that you don’t have.  So let’s take a look at some walking bag essentials.


No matter what the season, there are some things that you’ll always want handy.  For instance:

Hair Supplies.  When I walk, my hair is always up, out of my face (okay…it’s usually up and out of my face).  I pull my hair in a ponytail and often wrap it in a bun, too—not just to keep it out of my way but also as a safety precaution when I’m walking solo.  So I like to keep extra ponytail holders and scrunchies and headbands (like this nice, neutral Sweaty Bands headband) handy—because you never know when you’ll run out the door and realize halfway to the trail that your hair is still hanging down in your face. (I know I can’t be the only one who does this.)  It’s good to pack a brush or comb, too, in case you need to make yourself look somewhat human after a walk.

First Aid Kit.  I don’t keep a huge first aid kit on hand, but I do have a small dollar store kit—one with some antiseptic wipes and different sized bandages.  You just never know when you’ll get a blister (or something else) that needs some attention.

– Tissues. Ever since my daughter was a baby, I’ve gotten in the habit of picking up travel packs of tissues whenever I’m at the dollar store.  I keep them in the car’s console, in all of my purses, and, of course, in my walking bag.  Because, for some reason, my nose is just always running—especially when I walk.  I often throw in anti-bacterial wipes, too.

Lip Balm.  This is another one of those things that you can never have too much of.  When it’s hot and sunny, your lips will burn.  When it’s cold and dry, your lips will get chapped.  Keep plenty of lip balm handy to protect them.  Whenever I’m at an event where a vendor has free lip balm, I always grab some more.

– Snacks. This is another one of those things that I learned when my daughter was little: always have snacks.  If I’m going on a long walk, I’ll carry some in my pack with me.  But it’s good to have some basic pre-packaged snacks (like granola bars or crackers or non-meltable candy) that can help you get your energy back on one of those days.

Sunglasses. I’m never without my sunnies.  Even when it’s not sunny out, I’ll wear them on the trail to protect my eyes from the elements.  Since I have an almost embarrassing collection of goodrs (in case you missed it, here’s my review of goodr’s OGs), I have mine stacked up by the door, so I can choose the one that fits my mood as I’m heading out.  But if you’re not quite as particular as I am, it’s so much easier to keep a pair of your favorite walking sunnies in your walking bag—so they’re always there when you’re ready to walk.

Sunscreen.  Most people only think about sunscreen on sunny summer days—but if you’re lucky, you might get an especially sunny winter day, too.  That sun can really reflect off the snow!  So I keep a sunscreen stick in my bag all year to protect my skin from burning.

Deodorant.  Every once in a while, I’ll need to make a quick stop on my way home from a walk—and there have been times when I knew I was not the best-smelling person in the room.  For those days, it’s good to keep a travel-size deodorant in your walking bag.

Feminine Supplies.  I know that this one goes without saying for those of us who need feminine products.  It’s just one of those things that you don’t want to leave home without—just in case.  Because the times when you don’t have them are the times when you’ll end up needing them.

During the winter months, my gear bag overflows into the passenger seat of my car…


During the cold winter months, my bag takes up a lot more room in my car.  In fact, it often overflows to take up most of my passenger seat (including the floor).  But it gets cold here—and I need to be prepared for anything. 

Maybe you live in a place where winter isn’t quite so…frigid.  In that case, lucky you.  Enjoy your temperate climate, where your coldest days require maybe a light hoodie.  I’m not jealous at all.  (Just kidding.  Do you have a spare room that I could move into?)

But if, like me, you live in a place where you could freeze your face off on any given winter day, you’ll want to stock up on some of these winter necessities:

Extra Layers.  This is a very broad category, but it all depends on your weather and your personal body-heating conditions.  Personally, I run cold, so I need a lot of extras.  During the winter, I often have the following in my walking bag: a puffy vest, fleece pants (or windbreaker pants, depending on the weather), an extra fleece-lined jacket, and a heavy fleece jacket.  No, I don’t wear all of these at the same time, but I like to have different options handy—because the weather here is constantly changing from one day to the next.

Something for Your Head.  My winter essentials include a fleece headband to keep my ears covered on not-so-frigid days and a full fleece-lined beanie hat for the rest.

Something for Your Hands.  My hands are always cold, so I pack gloves of every weight imaginable.  I’ll often wear my heavier winter gloves and bring some thin dollar store gloves in my pockets.  That way, I have options: both at once, just the warm ones, just the thin ones, or nothing at all.  I also keep my rechargeable hand warmer (in case you missed it, here’s my review) in my walking bag, so if it’s really cold, I can pop them inside my gloves before I leave the car.

A Gaiter. When it gets really cold and windy, I add on a fleece gaiter to keep my neck warm—and also to pull up over my face when it’s just too cold to breathe.  Writing this makes me realize that I’m clearly crazy—because I sometimes walk outside when it’s too cold to breathe.  But here we are.

Extra Dry Gear.  If you’re going out on a day that’s snowy or drizzly or otherwise cold and wet, having an extra pair of dry socks—and maybe some comfy slides—in your bag will be a welcome relief for your cold, wet feet. 


Hot summer weather comes with its own set of challenges.  In the winter, you can add extra layers to keep warm(ish).  But during those sweltering summer days, there’s not a whole lot that you can do.  Still, there are plenty of things that you’ll want to keep handy during the hot months.

A Hat.  I’ve never been much of a hat person, but when the sun is beating down, I’ll sometimes reach for a nice, breathable hat to keep my head protected.  A nice, thick headband (like Junk’s Big Bang Lite) is also a good (but still breathable) way of keeping your head somewhat covered.

Sunscreen. Yes, I keep sunscreen handy year-round, but I add to my stock in the summer, when more exposed skin means that I’ll need to apply extra sunscreen.  In addition to my handy sunscreen stick (which is great for face and ears), I keep a spray, too, to protect my arms and legs and the back of my neck.

Bug Spray. If you’re setting out to explore wooded trails, you’ll want to have some insect repellant in your bag, too—because it’s way more fun to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy your lush, wooded surroundings than to spend your walk focusing on swatting away mosquitoes. 

Cooling Products.  A couple of summers ago, my daughter and I would start the day with a walk.  And when the summer days got extra hot, I started packing cooling towels for both of us.  We’d wet them with the water from our water bottles and drape them around the back of our necks to keep ourselves from overheating.  Since then, I’ve also picked up cooling wrist bands, which also seem to work wonders on sweltering summer days (though I still recommend sticking to morning and evening walks during the hotter months).

Car Towel.  After a long walk in the hot sun, not only am I hot and sweaty, but my car seat is usually burning hot.  So during the summer, I keep an extra towel in the car for covering my seat after walks.  My daughter has her own car towel, too.

Extra Water.  I always bring some kind of hydration pack with me on my walks—whether it’s my handheld water bottle, a belt pack, or my vest.  In the hotter months, though, I’ll often go through all of my water by the time I finish—so I’ll keep an extra heavy-duty water bottle filled with ice-cold water in the car for some much-needed refreshment at the end of my walk.

My race day bag includes a wet pocket and extra shoe pouch


Race days are special—and, for me, they require their own bag of essentials.  I keep mine in a small backpack—because I like having extra pockets—though one of the drawstring bags that you get at packet pickup would work just fine, too.  You can drop your bag off at your race’s gear check, so everything is handy before the race and after you finish, but I’m the kind of person who likes to sleep in as long as possible, so I skip the gear check line and keep my bag in my car.

Here’s what’s in my bag:

The Everyday Walking Bag Essentials.  A lot of the things in my race day bag are the same as in my everyday bag.  Things like lip balm, extra hair supplies, deodorant, and a first aid kit are important to have handy on race days.  So everything that’s on my everyday walking bag list comes with me on race day, too.  I also include a cooling towel for hot race days.

Extra Clothes. I tend to obsess about race-day weather.  Like…for days and weeks ahead of the big day.  I always want to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at me.  Depending on the day’s weather forecast, I might throw in an extra water bottle for the drive home, an extra shirt to change into on rainy race days (and a towel, too), or an extra hoodie to keep me warm during the post-race party.

Bib Pins or Safety Pins.  Even though I usually get everything ready the night before a race—and that means attaching my bib to whatever I’ll be wearing for the race—I always keep extra pins and bib clips in my bag.  I can’t tell you how many times they’ve come in handy.

Anti-Chafing Stick.  I tend to chafe when I least expect it.  I’ll be wearing a bra that I’ve worn over and over again, but suddenly one day, it’ll just decide to cut into my armpit and cause great agony.  For longer races, you’ll definitely want to give yourself a good coat of anti-chafing stick as you’re getting ready—but you might want some in your bag, too, just in case.

Recovery Shoes.  Sometimes, after a long walk, I just can’t wait to take off my shoes and let my feet rest.  That’s why I keep a pair of recovery slides in my race day bag.  An extra pair of soft, comfy socks is also a good way to pamper your poor, tired feet after a tough workout.

Java Sok. Yeah, I know…this is a weird one.  But it’s tradition to stop at Dunkin on the way home from any race—so I keep a Java Sok in my race day bag to hold my favorite reward of the day: my post-race iced coffee.

Whether you’re heading to your favorite park for a casual morning stroll, you’re hitting the trail for a long, long walk with a friend, or you’re race-day ready, it’s important to be prepared for whatever the day might throw at you. So keep that walking bag stocked and ready!

What are your walking necessities?


Kristin has been hitting the trail (or the treadmill) for a walk almost every day for the past several years, and she recently completed her first half marathon. She loves sunny fall days, cushy walking shoes, and coconut caramel iced coffee from Dunkin.

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