When choosing the gear to run with, it can make or break an effort or for some of us it becomes a very personal decision that we have irrational strong opinions over. I guess I'm a gear junkie for ultra running. I love to do research before I buy anything and get really excited when I get a new pack or new pair of shoes that I've never used before. My essentials for ultra running can be broken down into a few categories: Shoes, Packs, and Nutrition. Then you have all the extras which are not really required, but don't worry I'll get into those as well.
I don't know if I'll every find the perfect shoes that I really want or if I'll ever stop buying shoes. My all time favorite brand will be Salomon though. When you invest in a pair of Salomon shoes you can easily get 500+ miiles on them which far exceeds the recommended mileage for a running shoe of 300-400 miles. The thing I love about them the most is they are durable and the traction on them is always above par. With that being said, my feet swell during ultras and sometimes I have to switch to a more comfortable shoe and that's where I go to a Hoka, Brooks, or Altra. So here are my favorite shoes depending on the length and condition of trails.
Salomon Ultra Pro for anything less than 50 miles - any conditions (I've worn these for 100s but my feet swell and rub the sides of the shoe)
Altra Lone Peak for any distance - not the greatest traction on wet roots and rocks, but super comfy
Hoka One One Torrent for any distance - only complaint is they don't last that long
Brooks Cascadia for anything all around - since its more of a utility shoe it doesn't have anything that is super special about it
Salomon Wildcross - anything less than 50 miles on wet and muddy trails - seriously you'll never slip
Running packs and vests are such an investment. I really recommend you finding a store near you even if its a day trip and trying some on to see how they feel. I've gone through Nathan, Osprey, and several Salomon packs. For me, I keep going back to Salomon. I'm currently on my 2nd 5-set and 12-set vests (yes I have 2 running vests). In addition to this I have a Salomon 25-liter pack for hiking and multi-day efforts. Ok, let's get into what makes a good running pack. You first want to decide what you want to carry. If you're just going to carry a bottle and your keys, then I wouldn't go the pack route and try to find a good running belt. Ultimate Direction makes some really great stuff in this area. But, for longer self-suppored efforts, you want a pack to carry some essentials. I carry with me enough nutrition for longer than the effort - if I plan the run for 4 hours, I bring 6 hours of nutrition for example, my phone, weather essentials like gloves or a jacket, and my phone. That's alot to take out so that's why I make sure I have a good vest. Most vests are described in liters. A 5 liter vest will hold enough for almost every race and a run from 8 hours or less. Also I highly recommend bottles over a bladder because I've ran out of water multiple times using a bladder and not realizing how low on water I was - also in the summers that bladder will get hot and I can't drink hot water during a run. Here are the packs that I currently use.
Salomon Advanced Skin 5-Set used for almost every ultra and effort
Salomon Advanced Skin 12-Set used for longer 6+ hour efforts
Salomon XA 25 Pack used for hiking and weekend backpacking trips
My nutrition has messed me up more times than I can count. Just when I think I have it dialed in, it messes me up so much. I've done GU, Hammer Nutrition, Tailwind, Spring Energy, Huma, Clif, and then everything else you can find at a gas station. The thing about nutrition is that there is not a one-size fits all category. So let me give you some background on me and if you don't fit into this category, you may want to stop reading about my nutrition. I'm 37, 6'2", weight around 170 pounds, vegan, and don't eat a whole lot during the normal day even when training. I never feel the need to carb up for a run or eat a super whole lot after training. So here's what I found works for me.
Tailwind is a great choice. I still have the need to eat solid foods though and can't just run on it by itself. But, seriously never got any nausea from it or felt like it wasn't doing what it needed to do. I don't use it as much now because when I fill a water flask or bottle, I could never get all of it out and then I would get moldy flasks and bottles really quickly. I got tired of replacing my flasks all the time so I use Tailwind as a recovery drink instead. If I feel behind on nutrition when I finish, I'll drink a glass of Tailwind followed up by an IPA of my choosing.
Huma makes some great gels. I am always going back in between them and Spring Energy gels. THe gels for Huma taste better and thats the only reason. Each gel is 100 calories so I pop one every 45 minutes on my long runs. Be careful with Spring Energy mix packs, I swear there is one of the flavors that taste like genuine vomit. It's like getting that gross jelly bean.
Outside of these, I also invest heavily in Clif bars, fig bars, cookies, and cokes. Give me all the junk food!
All the Rest
Outside of these essentials, you have all the bells and whistles. When you spend big on these items, its definitely for luxury or convenience not out of neccessity. While I've been running for a while, I've accumulated a good bit of this so my list does have a bit more than is actually needed. But here you go for everyone interested.
The watch I use is the Garmin Fenix 5. It doesn't have the best battery but I love that it has live maps while I'm in an activity. I've gotten lost too many times to count. For runs that are overnight, I bring a backup USB battery that I can charge it with.
The headlamp I use is the Petzl NAO+. This thing is super bright and with the settings on it, you can get a full night's run out of it from one charge. For anything longer than one night, I can charge it off the same back up battery as my watch.
The trekking poles that I have, but don't use often are the Black Diamond Z-poles. There are a few variations in these and if you can afford it, always go for the lightest version.
The rain jacket I have is the Salomon Bonatti because it is legit water proof. You will stay super dry and it will keep you toasty in windy conditions. I've been beat up too much by bad weather on the mountain ridges and love this thing. A cheap alternative is to get a Frogg Toggs from Wal-mart.
Disclaimer: I have recieved none of this gear for free or work for any of these companies. These are my opinions and mine only.
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