The Fell Runners Association (FRA) governs fell racing in England and the Isle of Man. Some of the answers on this page may differ in other home nations; where relevant, please check with the Race Organiser or with the Welsh FRA (WFRA), Scottish Hill Runners (SHR) or Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA).
Whilst these FAQ pages are intended to provide informal guidance and extra context, they are not a “controlled document”. For any questions on rules and procedures, the latest FRA documentation remains the authority.
For questions relating to COVID-19, please see our dedicated page here.
Q: The weather is good and this race is quite short. Why must I carry all this kit I won’t need?
The mandatory equipment to be carried for a given race is decided by a combination of the FRA and the Race Organiser (RO). For the sake of fair competition, it must be the same for all competitors in a given race. You must carry it or you will face disqualification and potentially a ban from future races.
Remember that there might be people both slower and less experienced than you. It is not uncommon for people to get lost, injured or heavily fatigued during a fell race. When this happens, runners stop or slow down and hypothermia can set in very quickly, even on a “nice day” – and the weather can change very quickly in the fells. This is why ROs might require you to carry more kit than seems necessary.
It is also worth noting that if a serious injury happens in an exposed location, a person’s own kit might not be sufficient to keep them warm. There have been several cases where runners have needed to lend their own kit to an injured runner or those that have stopped to help the casualty.
Hypothermia can rapidly be fatal, and almost all accidental deaths in fell races have been the result of exposure. Please see our leaflet here to read more about hypothermia and how to prevent it.
Q: I have good quality waterproofs with non-taped seams. Why won't these pass "kit check"?
With all kit, it is important that there is a clear and unambiguous way for race registration officials to determine what is acceptable. Such officials are almost always volunteers, are normally operating under time pressure and may be relatively inexperienced. You may know (and an experienced fell runner might know) that your waterproofs are very high quality, but how can an inexperienced marshal distinguish between your garment and someone else's that looks similar and is totally inadequate?
The “taped seams” proviso is intended to address this issue. It is no longer the case that all good quality waterproofs necessarily have taped seams, but conversely taped seams normally do guarantee a basic and acceptable level of waterproofing. We would prefer a kit check official to reject an adequately functional garment than to let an unacceptable garment (e.g. a non-waterproof windproof) pass kit check.
We do, however, recognise that times change and equipment moves on. If the market for good quality waterproofs without taped seams increases then the FRA will look at this again. However, it will remain an essential criterion that there is a simple and obvious way for a kit check official to determine whether or not a garment is acceptable.
Q: Can I use a GPS device to help me navigate?
No. You may not use any GPS device (or equivalent) to help you navigate in any FRA race. This includes for repositioning – you may not display a map which shows your current position, even momentarily. If you do, you must retire from the race and take the shortest safe route to the finish. If this means continuing on the course route, you must declare yourself non-competitive to the Race Organiser.
Q: Why can’t I use GPS?
This is covered at length elsewhere, but a short summary is that it is not considered in the spirit of the sport of fell running, for which self-navigation is a core principle. Moreover, over-reliance on GPS is potentially dangerous. There are many other types of running race you can enter if you do not wish to self-navigate.
This rule, though fundamental to fell running, can be hard to enforce. Breaches will therefore be treated very seriously, since breaking this rule is tantamount to deliberate cheating.
Q: Can I use an electronic compass?
No. You may not use an electronic compass even if you also have a physical, traditional-type compass (which is mandatory for certain FRA races). This is because electronic compasses have additional benefits over traditional compasses in terms of aiding navigation.
Q: Is a buff a hat?
Unless otherwise specified for a given race, the FRA considers that a buff is a hat for the purposes of mandatory kit for FRA races. However, any Race Organiser (RO) may decide not to allow buffs in this capacity, just as ROs may require additional mandatory kit to be carried such as an extra long-sleeved warm layer or survival bag.
If in any doubt, competitors wishing to carry a buff are advised to ensure they take a separate hat with them to the race and to check at Registration. ROs who do not intend to accept buffs as hats are encouraged to publicise this in advance (being in the minority).
As with other requirements, the rules cannot cater for every possibility and a degree of reasonableness on both sides is assumed. A 40g buff double-folded is likely to be at least as effective as a 20g hat, and should therefore be accepted unless stated otherwise. However, wafer-thin plastic gloves picked up at a petrol station would clearly not meet the stipulation for gloves in a fell race. Similarly, one jelly baby would not suffice as “food” for a pre-race kit check, nor would a dog whistle, a small child's waterproof trousers or a map of the wrong race be acceptable.
In summary: the decision is the RO's. The FRA would support any RO choosing to exclude or disqualify a competitor, including (or especially) those obviously seeking to circumvent the rules, provided that any non-standard requirements had been publicised clearly in advance.
Q: Can I use poles?
In 2021, this is at the discretion of the Race Organiser (RO). Please check the specific rules for your race.
The FRA has received requests from many runners and ROs to ban poles in FRA races; this rule will be therefore reviewed for 2022.
Q: Which shoes / bag should I use?
These are good questions that are definitely frequently asked! You will certainly need an appropriate pair of shoes (probably "fell shoes"). Kit depends on many factors so we can't give general advice, but there is a lot of information about kit available on e.g. blogs and social media pages. For professional advice you could try contacting FRA sponsor Pete Bland Sports in Kendal or other outlets specialising in fell running.