Welcome to our new series, Driver’s Shred, where we help Luno community members turn everyday cars, vans, and trucks into adventure mobiles. Each Driver’s Shred article will focus on tips, tricks, and gear recommendations that enable you to camp comfortably while crushing a specific sport or activity. Simply put, our mission is to help you camp, shred, and repeat. So grab your pens and pencils, because class is in session—and this time around, our focus is on trail running.
The saying “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” applies to most road trips. How so? Well, just like a long-distance runner, the car camper performs best when:
- Adequately prepared. 🏋️
- Sufficiently snacked. 🍌
- And the music is crankin’.🥁😤
Additionally, if the marathoner runs too fast, their calves cramp. If a road tripper drives too fast, cops cramp their style. Not only that, but the marathoner looks forward to aid stations, where they can suck down goos and Gatorade. The car camper looks forward to rest stations, where they can take a snooze (and maybe suck down a Gatorade, too. All that driving is hard work!).
All jokes aside, road-tripping is most like a marathon when running is the focus of your trip. In those instances, it pays off to treat your camping prep with the same care you do your endurance training. Below, we’ll help you do just that, so you can turn your car, van, or truck into the ultimate trail running base camp.
Long story short? Road-trippin’ is an endurance sport, baby, and we’re here to help you go pro.
1. Pre-Trip Trail Running Fitness
Exploring new running trails during your road trip without putting in mileage beforehand isn’t just senseless–it’s downright dangerous. On the other hand, a methodical running regimen leading up to your trip can help you avoid injury and make the most of your adventure.
If you’re road-tripping for a specific race, it’s a good idea to follow a training plan–it’ll help keep you accountable and avoid under- or over-training. If you don’t currently have a training plan, check out these training plans from Runner’s World, broken down by marathon pace.
Even if you’re not racing, training for a trail running road trip like you would a race isn’t a bad idea. Reference training plans, chat with more experienced runners about your goals, or even hire a coach to come up with a custom plan. Steadily increase mileage week by week, but not by more than 10%, building up to your goal. Consider a taper period, so you’re refreshed and ready to rock when you hit the road.
If your running road trip is a more spontaneous decision, a 12-week-plus training plan isn’t a helpful jump-off point. In that case, no worries, just do what you can to get fit, stay limber, and be in the best shape you can be for your trip. And if you’re feeling out of shape going into your trip, consider committing to a more regular running schedule so you’ll be better prepared next time.
2. Plan Your Runs, Then Plan Your Road Trip
Build your road trip around your running objectives, not the other way around. Pinpoint trails you want to hit on your road trip before you pick out campsites or plot possible routes. Ask yourself the following questions: What trails are non-negotiable, must-hit objectives? What trails are maybes–trails you might hit if you’re feeling fresh on day three
Once you have your dream trail running destinations mapped out, start to look for camping. Don’t stress this portion of your planning too much. Usually, where there’s road-trip-worthy trail running, there’s excellent and easy car camping nearby. After all, it’s painless to find free camping when you ditch the tent and use a Luno Air Mattress in your vehicle instead.
Pro Tip: Use apps to find free camping. Want to learn more free camping tricks of the trade? Check out our comprehensive guide to free car camping here.
3. When To Pay For A Campground
Yup, we know–we just said not to stress about finding camping. However, there is an exception to the rule.
If you are heading to a race, planning a long-distance run that requires a dawn patrol start, or heading to a popular park during the busy season, reserving a campground might provide you with invaluable peace of mind. In those cases, it can’t hurt to pony up for a paid campground.
Who knows? It might have a shower, and you’re going to need it.
4. Pace For Trail Running
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, remember? So pace yourself. That goes both for the running and the road-tripping.
On the running side, don’t cram body-breaking mileage into the first couple of days of your trip, especially if you’re on a weeklong adventure. You can always run more–it’s hard to run less.
On the road-tripping side, don’t go bananas behind the wheel and then dive right into running serious mileage. If you need to drive eight hours to your destination, fine, but try not to drive eight hours straight, then hit the trail.
Instead, take your time with the drive, stopping regularly to stretch your legs at rest stops. Try to arrive at your destination a day early (or more) to give yourself a more generous window to loosen up before you hit the trails.
5. Mid-Trip Maintenance: Bring First Aid & Foam Rolling Gear, And Keep It Easily Accessible And Organized
Many road trippers travel with a “go bag” stocked with emergency supplies. Runners can take this idea a step further, packing indispensable first aid gear, physical therapy tools, and more in a mid-trip maintenance kit.
We’re talking petroleum jelly, sunscreen, moleskin, KT tape, ACE bandages–essentials like that on the first aid side. For stretching and PT, we recommend a yoga mat, foam roller, lacrosse ball, resistance bands, etc. Whatever you need to perform and recover.
Most importantly, you’ll want to keep this gear easily accessible and organized–that foam roller is no use if you can’t find it. We like to stash smaller, easy-to-lose items in our handy Seatback Organizer 2.0, which even has a zip-off pouch that’s perfect for first aid gear.
Our Cargo Hammock is another helpful tool. This nifty shelf turns unused ceiling space into valuable storage, and it’s ideal for storing long, skinny gear like yoga mats and foam rollers.
Pro Tip: If you’re on the hunt for an actual go bag, we like these backpacks from Uncharted Supply Co.
6. Camping And Trail Running - Where to sleep?
A good night’s sleep is beyond important to the road-tripping runner–it’s sacred!
To sleep well on the road, we highly recommend using a Luno Air Mattress. They’re comfortable, durable, and inflate in a matter of minutes. Not only that, but they keep you raised off the rocky, uneven ground, ensuring a good night’s sleep.
Here are a few additional siesta secrets we employ to maximize REM cycles on the road:
- Camp away from busy roads.
- Bring earplugs.
- Use our Camping Fan and Window Screens to create a cross-breeze without letting in marauding mosquitos.
7. Camping Shoe Storage
Especially if you’re traveling with a road trip buddy who doesn’t share your enthusiasm for running, you’ll want to store your stinky trail running shoes outside of your sleeping area.
Our Gear & Shoe Storage Bag is designed for this exact purpose. It sports microfiber-lined magnets that attach easily to the metal exterior of your vehicle. The waterproof flap keeps shoes protected from precipitation and morning dew, while the mesh bottom lets damp, dank shoes drip dry and air out.
While storing shoes is the Gear & Shoe Storage Bag’s bread and butter, you can use these versatile magnetic bags a million ways. We often deploy several on running road trips. Additional uses include:
- Dirty laundry hamper
- Trash and recycling receptacles
- Snack storage
- Kitchen utensil organizer
- Hydration mix, hydration bladder, and water bottle holder
8. Bring And Drink Plenty Of Water
Every runner knows the importance of hydration, but hydration can get tricky when you’re on the road. Here are a few tips to stay hydrated while car camping and crushing trail:
- Hydrate continuously, not just on the days you’re running, but leading up to your trip and on your way home, too.
- Stock up on water before your trip, using large, five-gallon jugs to carry more water than you think you’ll need.
- Research your campsites and target destinations–will you have access to potable water? Either way, we always like to bring a water filtration system.
- If you’re going out for an extended run, especially in warmer weather, hit the trail with a hydration vest.
- Bring a hydrating drink mix that you’ve tested at home. We like options from Skratch Labs and Tailwind Nutrition.
- Rally for your next run with a recovery drink mix right after you come back to camp.
9. Embrace The Pee Jar
This tip piggy-backs on the last. After all, if you’re hydrating heavily, a plethora of pee will inevitably follow. To avoid exiting your comfy car at night and waking up your snoozing companion, use a pee jar.
We recommend a big, rugged, large-mouthed jar–a Nalgene works great. Or, you can use an old plastic bottle (we like the Simply Lemonade ones–the big green cap is easy to operate when you’re half asleep). Regardless, make sure the jar has an airtight seal. Spillage isn’t ideal.
If you decide to use a Nalgene, make sure it’s covered in tape, or somehow easily distinguished from your go-to water bottle. This goes without saying, but you don’t want to mix up your pee jar and water bottle. You can also store the pee jar in a specific place, minimizing the chances of a mix-up.
To use the pee jar? It’s simple for the gents. Pee, carefully, into the jar, and empty discretely come morning. Ladies, on the other hand, will need a pee funnel. If it’s your first time using a pee funnel, practice outside of your sleeping bag.
Pro Tip: While we mainly use the pee jar at night, it can be useful to have on hand whenever you’re road-tripping.
Cook Healthy Meals While Car Camping And Trail Running
Very few, if any, runners have ever posted PRs after scarfing down a packet of dehydrated meatloaf. Remember that.
While backpackers are limited by weight and often resort to astronaut food, car campers can pack fresh veggies and eat healthy meals. If you’re planning on running significant mileage, bring a two-burner stove and a capable cooler. With this kitchen combo, you’ll be able to whip up pretty much anything at camp that you would at home.
For healthy recipe ideas, visit the Luno Journal here.
It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
We all get caught up in PRs and Strava segments and podium finishes–that’s just part of running. But whether you’re running or road-tripping, sometimes it’s helpful to remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you go, it just matters that you’re out there doing it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, after all.
We hope these lessons we’ve learned from life on the road–and life on the trail–help you plan and execute the road trips of your dreams.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you out there,
The Luno Crew