What’s the Best Ultrarunning Gear?
I ran my first ultra, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile on December 7. Save two missing toenails and a pinky toe that looks like it belongs on a cadaver, I think I am far enough away from the pain to write about the gear that helped me across the finish line.
As I trained for the race, I tested dozens of ultra-running items, which I eventually narrowed down the gear listed below. None of it let me down.
Arc’Teryx Phase SV Toque hat, $39, and Headsweats Race Hat, $20
I chose both of these hats because of their minimalist design. I wore the Toque through the morning and switched to the larger brimmed, non-thermal, Headsweats Race Hat at mile 27.7. The Toque covered my ears from the cold, and accommodated my headlamp with the brim up. With the small brim down, the hat shielded sun later in the day.
The Headsweats hat efficiently moved sweat from my forehead and kept the sun out of my eyes. It’s a nice, simple hat, which I used while training, and I felt like it brought me luck.
Bodyglide Anti-Chafe, $10
More terrified of bloody nipples than Andy from The Office, I went crazy with this stuff at 3 a.m. getting ready for the race. Thankfully, I did not have to reapply all day and experienced no chafing to speak of.
Injinji Run 2.0 Lightweight No-Show socks, $12
When I started getting savage blisters during long training runs, I decided to try the Injinjis, aka toe socks. Sure, they take forever to get on, but once in place, they eliminate friction between the toes. Besides my mangled pinky toes—which I understand to be a rite of passage for ultrarunners—my feet were blister free at the end of my race.
The North Face Feather Lite Storm Blocker jacket, $200
Although I did test jackets that breathed better, the Feather Lite Storm Blocker Jacket offered the best windproof-breathable combination of anything I tried. It was also the lightest waterproof jacket I tested. Back in November, I ran the Lithia Loop Trail marathon in a downpour in the Feather Lite Storm Blocker and was thankful for protection that didn’t bog me down.
Opedix Core Tec shorts, $165
Prior to ordering these shorts, I’d probably spent $100 total on underwear during my lifetime. Initially, I felt ridiculous running in underwear this expensive, but now I absolutely love them. They have a girdle-like fit and rest just below the belly button, which provides extra core support (fantastic when fatigue creeps in to the abs). I also experienced zero chafing on my thighs and undercarriage. Yep, zero, and that’s worth $165 right there.
Outdoor Research Torque S/S shirt, $59
This shirt wicks moisture faster than any technical shirt I’ve tested. I also noticed a significant decrease in nipple chafing during long training runs while wearing this shirt, thanks to silky Polartec Powerdry fabric.
Pearl Izumi Infinity LD shorts, $55
The Infinity LD has a 7-inch inseam, supple liners, and a comfortable fit. But what made the LDs stand out was the pockets—four of them, which were invaluable for stashing GU wrappers, emergency TP, and gloves.
Pearl Izumi Thermal Lite gloves, $15
These simple lightweight gloves were still plenty warm for the chilly 5 a.m. start. I took them off around mile 15 and shoved them in my pockets. They were light enough that I forgot about them until I gave them to my wife at mile 27.7.
Saucony Xodus 4.0 shoes, $110
For a detailed breakdown of why I love these shoes, check out the eulogy I wrote for the pair I killed during training. The shorter story is that the deep lugs around the outside of the sole, coupled with a rock solid fit system, gave me heaps of confidence during muddy, technical training runs. In hindsight these shoes were a little aggressive for TNF 50’s dry, groomed singletrack, but I was pleased with their support, grip, and fit for all 50-miles.
Scott Jurek Grip water bottle holder, $20, with Camelbak Podium Chill bottle, $12
The Jurek Grip water bottle holder remained comfortable on my hand for all 50-miles thanks to non-slip grip. The 21-ounce Podium Chill allowed me to shoot water into my mouth from what Camelbak calls the Jet Valve. The insulation kept the bottle at a pretty ambient temperature even when filled with cold water—my hands were thankful during those early morning hours.
Suunto Ambit 2 S watch, $450
I found the GPS on the Ambit 2 S to be reliable and the interface intuitive. I programed the watch to show only current pace, average pace, and the chronograph, which gave me all of the information I needed to insure I would not get timed out. As expected, the watch ran out of batteries after roughly seven hours; soon thereafter my pacer arrived with a GPS that helped us to the finish.
Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential belt, $30
Three pockets—two in back and one in front—offered more than enough space for 12 GUs, 12 S! Caps, and two packages of GU Chews, and are easily accessible while wearing gloves. And even fully loaded, the pack was barely noticeable around my waist.