This is always the best kind of question. Everyone loves buying kit. And those asking the question do not usually want to know the answer. They just want to see whether there is something extra that they can buy, or add to their Christmas list, or to compare with and conclude that their choice is better.
My approach is to find the features in a piece of kit that are useful…. And then find the cheapest, logo blind way of getting said features. You could say that I am an anti-logoist. Is that a thing? I’m not sure but if it gains momentum in the future remember that I wrote about it here first.
So…. From head to toe….. For a nighttime ultra
- Head torch. This is super important. How the fuck else are you going to see where you are going? How will you see that ditch before you walk confidently into it (as you will be working at 3.30am) trust me. So…. After research I discovered that you need one with lots of lumens. Lumens are an ancient tribe from South France who would cook the offspring of the next tribe. That’s not true.. By the way. Lumens are a way of measuring light intensity. But you knew that already. So. I have a 250 lumens head torch. That’s quite a lot. And it is very bright. It is just like running in the day light. The only downside is that it will go through a set of four aaa batteries in three hours. And that is the clever expensive energiser lithium ones too. Extreme ultimate best ever. They do last a bit longer but I have learned from bitter experience that saving a couple of quid by not changing them is complete false economy and very stupid when you end up having to change them 20 ,minutes after the previous aid station, when it is raining, heavily, it is 2degrees Celsius and you can’t feel your fingers. So take lots of batteries and change them before you need to.
- Batteries. These are really important. Get the best you can for the cheapest you can pay. Energiser ultimate lithium are perfect. They are lighter than Boggo basic alkaline batteries and have some kind of funky power moderating feature that means that they don’t give up all their energy in one go (like a five year old doing a one mile race but going out so fast in the first 100 metres that they can’t go any further). It helps to tape them up beforehand in the right directional configuration and then to cling film wrap them to keep them dry. That makes it faster to swap your batteries. Cool tip hey. If you told me that one you can have the credit. Otherwise I am claiming it for myself.
- Cap. Or buff. Some races don’t count a buff as a hat. So check. I don’t like to run with hats. Since I weigh 190 pounds I need to save the writ of my gear in some way. A buff is better. It is multi function. So that means that you can use it as a spare pair of underwear, a sock, a bandage…… A hat… A hand warmer….. You get the idea. (Probably doesn’t work too well as a piece of underwear).
- A waterproof jacket. Ultra races with mandatory kit lists and checks will usually demand that you have a waterproof jacket with taped seams. They will also suggest that you waterproof it before the race (many people don’t it seems). I searched around for reviews and suggestions from the ultra running community. As ever, with a focus on the lowest price for good enough performance I chose a Montane Minimus jacket. It is heavy duty piece of kit. Doesn’t take up much space when rolled up. Does the job. And I got mine in red because it was £2.50 cheaper.
- A backpack. So this is a great secret. Lots of runners out there swear by their favourite backpack or race vest. Maybe because they are taken in by the hype that they too will be as good as Kilian Jornet if they put on this superpower pack. Or maybe it is because their favourite real world trail runner out there uses a salmon s lab. Hey mum…. Can I have a one direction pack…. Billy has one…. Instead taking the high ground here of anti-consumerism I choose to make my own. I don’t. Actually. I asked for advice. Checked out my friends packs. Decided I couldn’t justify in a million years spending over 100 quid on a running pack and instead picked one from Decathlon – the kale jai ultra men’s trail running pack. It is good. It is cheap. It works. It has the desired features of packs four times the price. All is good in the world. It costs 30 quid and is perfect for me. Check out the packs for your self. See what works for you. This one works for me. Saving money on kit means that I have more money for races. And that is why we are here folks.
- Shoes. I change my mind about shoes all the time. So think that, aside from wanting something cheap, there are always compromises. I have found a great model called more mile cheviot 2 which are light, very grippy, and cheap. They work for me. But I got a hole in them after a couple of hundred miles. Not a big issue since they were a competition prize. So I have tried the more mile cheviot 1. They are heavier. Bit more bulky. Same grippy sole and half the price. So they are now my trail running shoe of choice. When it is muddy. Or stony. Otherwise it’s possible to get away with something more minimalist and more of a road shoe. Like the more mile Oslo. Anyway. If your shoes work for you then don’t change them. If they don’t. Then try something new.
- Shorts. Seriously? Anything seems fine to me. As long as they are cheap. I have never found any point spending lots of money on shorts. They are shorts. They sit there to cover up your bits. That’s all. For the record I wear more mile 5inch baggy shorts. They are cheap. That is it.
- Hand held torch. Great for more technical terrain. I have one that is 350 lumens and was less than 5 quid on eBay. A handheld torch is great because it allows you to get a sense of the depth of rocks and other obstructions on the trail. Seriously…. With a headtorch everything looks flat so potentially everything is a boulder designed to trip you up, wrench your ankle from your body and throw you out of the event. So get a hand torch. They are cheap. They make you faster. Promise.
- Socks. I have often suffered with blisters on long races. Honestly I have never worried too much about socks and so I have never really looked into them a great deal. After my experience at Wealden waters I got some compression ones and some trail ones. I have not been yet able to set up a double blind clinical trial to test them out but I have never had a problem with these new socks. What are they?
- A compass. Yeah right. Handy. Every scout knows that they are useful. Take a compass. You will never get lost. So… Get a compass and learn how to use it. Even just for bearings. Turns out that there are different qualities of compass out there. One of the best is silva. The needle settles down quickly. That so just what you need when you are running an ever second counts 100 miler. Or rather in my case…. Every second counts because I am very slow. I have a silva compass (model).
- Garmin etrex20. After having been lost many times and wasting hours on the trail going the wrong way I invested in one of these gizmos. They are very good. The battery lasts forever and they do lots of funky things if you programme them correctly. Spoiler alert: programming and using one is like stepping back into the 1990s and picking up a non.nokia phone. Jeez it is a painful and hard. But the hassle is worth it to not get lost. I found that I was able to fly past peon on dusk til dawn 50 because I had spent half a day programming detailed waypoint directions into my Garmin. This is a handy but by no means essential piece of kit. Oh and download the maps. Even if they are just the open source ones.
- Garmin forerunner 305. I have one of these wrist mounted GPS how fast or slow and how far have I got type gadgets. But to be a true ultrarunner you need to throw away the tech and she’d those trinkets associated with roadies (another derogatory term for those of the species who run on the road because their precious ankles don’t like the trail……. And those who are so worried about mile splits that they can’t enjoy the race and are so obsessed with knowing their final time before the official results that they never get a good photo at the finish line because they are staring at their Garmin..). Anyway, I get carried away.. These watches are handy. They tell you how far you have gone. How far you are off course. How much further you have run because you got lost. And help you to make the various cut off times at checkpoints. I got mine second hand from a roadie. I always accidentally turn it off several times during a race and during an ultra often have to charge it from a portable battery pack. So anyway, your mileage will vary. I take mine out of habit. But only to record my distance and time to add to run keeper. The other thing is that you shouldn’t expect a gps watch to work well under lots of tree cover or in a city. They are quite rubbish and you will end up standing around waiting for your gps fix for longer than your run (unless you are doing 50 miles). I exaggerate.
- Paracord. This is basically like string. But thicker and in Camogear. So why is that useful? Well. As you run on the trail, and at night, you will find that you drop things. Often expensive or very useful things like GPS, compass, whistle, headtorch, handtorch. The idea is that you thread some paracord through these items and then attach to your bum bag, or backpack. The paracord should be only long enough such that when you drop said items they do not bounce on the ground and smash. Handy hey? Also useful for when you go to fancy dress parties and need to dress up as batman.
- Bumbag. These are super handy because they fit around your waist, they are adjustable, and cheap. I get mine from trespass. They have three main pockets, and then two small ones which are perfect for keys and coins. I carry my mobile phone in one pocket, my gps in another, and gels and other food goodies or electrolyte tabs in the smaller pocket.
- Glide. Turns out that running a long way, especially if you have a few bits of excess ahem baggage, is a recipe for sore body parts. People for eternity have relied on Vaseline (or other generic petroleum jelly). I opt for glide. Because I like the colour of the tube. And it is less weird to touch and deal with when lubing up before a race. Whatever you use do it before you start. And imagine you are smuggling drugs. Because yes…. You need to put it everywhere that moves… All creases and crevices. If you need to use it out on the trail after 40 miles then it is already too late for you dear warrior.
- Blister plasters. So, these are a pain in the arse to remove but they are so completely necessary if you have really bad blisters On your feet during a race. If like me you don’t like the idea of lancing or popping your blisters (I feel faint already) then use compeed plasters. They go over your blister and add some cushioning. Handy. I vouch for them. I had to choose which of the three blisters I should cover with the one plaster that I had been given by a friend kn Wealden waters. It made things perfect on the foot that I chose. I always take them with me now just in case. I have never needed them though.
- Compression shorts. I can’t speak for women but these are certainly handy for men. The fewer things wi the opportunity to move around the better. Movement usually means rubbing. And rubbing, folks, means blisters. So pack those bits up in some compression shorts and then forget about pain down there. As long as you have lubed up too, you will have no problems.
- Gloves and hat. Sometimes these will be on the kit list. Even if they aren’t then they are worthwhile getting. Remember all that bumpf about losing lots of heat through your head? Yeah well who are we to argue with the experts. Hat and glove sets are cheap and well worth the added weight. I have a set from more mile for around £10.
- Whistle. Often on kit lists. Just get one that works. The basic plastic effort attached to your backpack may be fiddly and not work very well anyway. You can buy a cheap metal one for a few quid. You will be glad you did if you have to use one to get attention when you are trapped on a mountainside or injured in a ditch.
- A map. Have a map of the route printed out. OS Getamap is handy in the UK. For a small annual subscription you can get unlimited personal copies of OS maps down to 1:25000 scale. Perfect. Obviously, handy if you have a compass and know how to use with with a map!
- Runners junk. Otherwise known as nutrition. Whatever works for you. Avid bear in mind that on an ultra your body may crave anything or nothing. Either way make sure you have a variety. On dusk til dawn I used clif shot gels (chocolate and double espresso since you ask) but sometimes I just wanted something savoury like ready salted crisps or salted peanuts. Take sweet. Take salty. Take smooth. Take texture. Give your body options. And remember….. Make sure you can get at your jelly babies as you run. You don’t want to have to stop every time you want a snack. I made this mistake at my DNF at the first attempt at Dusk til Dawn.
- Water. Do what works best for you. Some people use hand bottles. Some use bottles that fit into front pouches of their running vests. Some use bladders. Some use bottles that fit into waist packs. I use a bladder. Seems to work well for me (except at Dusk til Dawn my bladder burst and slowly leaked down my back and into my shorts for 50 miles). I find that front loaded bottles slosh around too much. Apparently this can be solved by using soft flasks (but as a one time volunteer who had to fill these things I would not wish their difficulty on anyone). I find that a backpack based bladder distributes the weight more evenly and despite the sometimes “warm” temperature of the water, it works well for me compared to the alternatives around at the moment. One of the advantages of course with bottles is that you can run with one water and one electrolyte. But I have never only wanted water anyway. And by the way – I have no preference on electrolytes. They are all pretty much the same to me.
23. A basic mobile phone. Forget the whizzy smartphones. First the battery won’t last. Second you might crack the screen or water log it. Take along an old mobile phone and make sure that it is charged up and that there is sufficient mobile coverage for the area that you are running in. You can check coverage online. So, you don’t think this is for you? You want to be able to update twitter and Facebook as you go through aid stations? You can with a simple text. You can also read people’s responses. Nice way of getting support through a gruelling overnight ultra. I use a Nokia 105. The battery lasts for days.