In running forums and Facebook groups across the internet debate rages on about what is the best kit for running an ultra marathon in.
My advice is to put together a list of things you want from your kit and then go find the product that matches your requirements the closest. I spend a lot of time researching before deciding on new kit. Sometimes i get it right and sometimes i end up with something that’s pretty useless.
Kit is such a personal thing that it’s something you need to decide for yourself but after much testing and trial and error this is what I use in races. This is the kit I use in all my races for the last couple of years. It works really well for me so hopefully you might find some of it useful.
Lets start at the bottom and work our way to the top.
Currently my shoe of choice is the Scott Supertrac RC [review here] simply because I find it is a very versatile shoe and matches my key 3 requirements in a race shoe. These being lightweight, grip and comfort/cushioning.
It’s certainly not the perfect all round shoe but it’s close.
For longer distances on more groomed or dry trails I use the Scott T2 Kinabalu 3.0 [review here]. A good sturdy, solid and incredibly comfortable trail shoe.
Also worth a mention is The North Face Ultra Endurance [review here] which was my shoe of choice for the UTMB. A mixture of good foot protection and great cushioning make this a good shoe choice for 100 mile ultras.
If possible try the shoes on before you buy as every shoe fits differently and we all have different shaped feet. Fit is the most important aspect to consider when choosing a shoe. After all they could be the coolest, lightest, most grippy shoes available but if they don’t fit right they will cause all sorts of problems for you.
Socks, underwear & gloves
For socks I don’t think you can beat Injini toe socks [review here]. Since switching to these unusual socks I haven’t suffered a blister in anything from a 10mile trail race to 100+ mile ultra marathons. Couple a pair of these with some strategic toe taping and a healthy coating of Body Glide and you can say goodbye to blisters.
Runderwear is great under shorts. They are comfortable and wick away moisture, so help prevent any chaffing in the old nether regions. A bit of Body Glide works a treat here as well.
The majority of the time I use The North Face Runners Etip gloves as they are enough to keep my hands warm on all but the coldest day but have a couple of nice features that make them stand out such as the ability to use touch screens in them and the big loops that make pulling them on easier.
If the weather is colder and I need something a bit warmer and more waterproof then I use Sealskinz Dragons eye gloves. Waterproof, windproof and breathable they really are good gloves for winter conditions.
I’m a shorts kinda guy and very rarely wear leggings in a race and my short of choice is The North Face Flight Series Vent Shorts. Lightweight and with some handy storage pockets in the back they allow me to stash my Succeed! S!Caps Electrolyte Capsules and caffiene tablets along with a couple of emergency gels with ease ready for when I need them without having to faff around with my pack.
Most ultras require you to have waterproof trousers as part of the mandatory kit. These are something I have never worn so I go for lightness and ease of storage. The North Face Storm Stow do the trick and pack very small in a lightweight package so are perfect for my needs.
If leggings are part of the mandatory kit list then it’s a pair of The North Face Motus tights that I use for no other reason that I like The North Face products (bet you can’t tell can you!) and they were on offer at the time. Again something I very rarely wear but i know if something happens and my pace slows or the weather deteriorates then they are there waiting to spring into action.
I prefer to run in a t-shirt rather than a vest as I find that t-shirts offer a bit more protection from chaffing rather a vest does. The North Face again is my go to t-shirt in their Better Than Naked Running T-shirt. This is very lightweight and the FlashDry fabric wicks away moisture quickly to keep you dry. These are awesome bits of kit. Incredibly lightweight and they wick away moisture quicker, yet because they are such lightweight they dry very quickly if they do get wet.
I have two waterproof jackets that I rotate depending on the conditions. If the weather is good and I can be confident that I won’t need a jacket then I use a The North Face Storm Stow jacket for the simple reason that it is very lighteight and packs down very small allowing me to save some weight. Whilst it does feature fully taped seams and passes kit check it is more of a rain jacket than something to wear in the mountains in winter but for it’s intended purpose it does a fine job.
If I know the weather is going to be bad and I need that extra protection then after much deliberation I chose a Jack Wolfskin Exolight Soft Shell Jacket. Whilst not marketed as a running jacket it has all the features I require in a jacket to keep me dry and warm in the mountains. It has a good hood and several big pockets and being a soft shell rather than a hard shell jacket I find it much more comfortable to wear. I’ve worn this jacket in some horrendous conditions and it has performed very well each time, keeping the rain out and keeping me dry. It also has much higher levels of breathability than Gore-text jackets I’ve used in the past. I would have no hesitation in recommending this jacket to anyone.
Race pack and hydration vest
I’ve tested a number of packs over the years and I’ve settled on using the Salomon S-Lab 5 Adv and the Scott TR4 pack. Both very similar and allow me to carry all the mandatory kit comfortably.
I’m leaning towards the s-lab as my pack of choice as i think out of all the packs I have used it allows you to reach kit and food the easiest when on the move. The other packs I’ve tried I don’t like because when you need something you have to stop, take the pack off and get things out. With the Salomon and its huge range of easy to reach open mesh pockets everything is on hand and you can reach when on the move.
I always wear a cap, mostly back to front, for the simple reason that it keeps sweat out of my eyes. I know you think I wear it backwards to be hip and down with the kids but the simple reason is that the peak distracts me if I wear it the right way round. Cap of choice is The North Face Flight Series as its lightweight and not too thick so my head doesnt get too warm.
A lightweight The North Face fleece cap and a buff are always in my bag just in case it drops cold and I need to layer up.
Although it’s a rarity in the UK, the sun does make an appearance at European races and when it does then I use Oakley Half Jacket 2.0’s to protect my eyes from the glare and trail obstacles. Oakley are a house hold name in sports eye wear and make the finest sunglasses available. Pricey but worth every penny. How much do you value your eyes?
Alongside the gear above theres several other bits of mandatory kit that I use and can thoroughly recommend.
Petzl Nao [review here] without any doubt. Long battery life, a good strong beam and comfortable to wear. In my humble opinion no other head torch comes close, it’s like having a mini sun strapped to your head,
I onky use poles in mountain races and I want something strong and lightweight. Black Diamond Carbon Distance Z Poles [review here] are the ones I use. Lightweight and fold down small thanks to the 3 part design. People say that carbon poles aren’t strong enough but in the UTMB I caught them several times between rocks and leveraged my full weight on them and they held up fine. Just don’t leave your expensive cheat sticks at checkpoints like some do.
There you go then my ultra marathon kit list. Do you use these products? Let me know what you think of them in the comments below or if you use something else I would love to know what and why you chose it.