Ultra Gear 101: Everything You Need
By: Donald Buraglio
How do you know what gear you’ll need to run 100 miles? Experience helps, but course terrain varies and weather can change at the drop of a hat. That said, we put together a complete list of our favorite pieces of gear from head to toe – most of which will come in handy at any 100-miler in North America.
What helps us pick one item over another for personal use? Honestly, there’s a bit of subjectivity involved. Sometimes we cater to our individual preferences – this is especially true with shoes where stack heights, heel-toe drop and toebox widths suit everyone differently. Sometimes we have specific needs that one product addresses over another, for example, if you always carry your phone in a front pocket, you’d like a vest that offers a roomy and sweat-resistant place to access it. And sometimes, we just like the fit or the feel of one particular shirt, jacket or pair of shorts.
What follows is a standard packing list for a 100-mile event. My preferences are for mountain races and if the Wasatch Front 100 hadn’t been canceled, this is exactly what I’d bring. Everything listed below has been tested and proven during high-mileage training and is currently available in stores or online.
Gear for the Start Line
These items will be with you every step of the way, so you need to make sure they’re dependable, convenient and comfortable.
HOKA One One EVO Speedgoat shoes ($160). These provide plenty of cushioning for long mileage on rough terrain, with outstanding traction and durability from a Vibram Megagrip outsole and Kevlar-reinforced Matryx uppers that are virtually puncture-proof. The toe box is slightly narrow to accommodate foot swelling, so I prefer to size up by one half when using these for any distance over 50k.
Drymax Maximum Protection Trail socks ($31). Drymax’s proprietary olefin fibers do an amazing job of keeping feet cool and dry even with frequent water immersions, and the fit of these socks stays wrapped around the foot and ankle without any bunching or sagging. Of all the models in their trail running lineup, the Max Protection version provides the most thickness underfoot, which is greatly appreciated in the final miles of a race. These socks are pricey, so I don’t use them for everyday training, but I’ve worn a single pair in multiple 100-mile efforts.
Patagonia Nine Trails shorts ($65). The inseam of these is a somewhat unusual 8" but as a relatively tall (6'2") runner, I find this length is perfect for allowing good ventilation during the day and solid insulation at night. The boxer brief liner is soft against the skin and highly effective at minimizing chafing. The exterior panels shed light moisture well, and the entire garment dries relatively easily after full immersions.
Rabbit EZ Tee Perf shirt ($45). Full-garment perforations provide great ventilation during hot weather, but are small enough to sustain some insulation in cooler temps. Most importantly, the “quick n’ fit” fabric is amazingly soft against the skin, and has excellent stretch capacity for wiping the sleeves or hem against your forehead when needed.
Black Diamond Spot 325 headlamp ($40). Some 100-milers start in the dark, so you’ll need a good lamp to light the way until sunrise. Even if the race starts in daylight, I carry this lamp in my pack in case I miscalculate my arrival time for my primary nighttime headlamp (see drop bag section). A locking function prevents the lamp from turning on accidentally in your pack, so it’s dependable as a backup lamp. The Spot 325 is small and compact enough to not be cumbersome in a vest pocket but is powerful enough to fully light the trail all night if necessary.
Julbo Aerospeed glasses ($80-220, depending on lens selection). When the sun comes up, you need to shelter your eyes from it, and these specs from Julbo are remarkably functional in a variety of conditions. Large lens coverage shields you from dust, and Reactiv photochromic technology adjusts the tint level based on external brightness – so when you go through tree cover they clear up, and when you’re on an exposed ridge, they fully darken. The frames are lightweight, comfortable and stay in place well.
Boco Technical Trucker hat ($30). Trucker hats serve three main purposes: 1) combining with sunglasses to help shade your eyes, 2) acting as a sweatband to keep salt out of your eyes, and 3) storing ice on top of your head when leaving the aid station. Since they soak up so much moisture, it’s important for hats to be light and breathable, and this Boco model delivers on both counts. They also come in a variety of cool designs (many of them Colorado-centric) that allow you to show some flair – call that purpose #4.
LEKI MCT 12 Vario poles ($250). If poles are allowed in the event, these are my first option for their strength and ease of use. The Cross Shark system combines a thin moisture-wicking wrist glove to the pole with a sturdy loop attachment that can easily detach with a press of the thumb. Cork handles provide strong traction and help keep your palms dry in hot conditions. These poles adjust anywhere from 110-130cm in length, and fold down to a tight 42cm for stowing in a pack when needed.
Black Diamond Deploy shell ($159). For cool alpine starts or windy summit pushes, you want a lightweight shell which can be rapidly put on or removed, and won’t take up space when not in use. This shell takes minimalism to the extreme, weighing only 48g and packing down to the size of a hacky sack, but provides lightweight protection in harsh conditions; a high collar and deep three-quarter zip help adjust your thermoregulation when used for longer stretches.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL jacket ($325). Fully waterproof jackets are a necessity – and sometimes a requirement – for mountain 100-milers. They used to take up a lot of space in a pack due to poor compressibility, but Gore-Tex’s Shake Dry technology put an end to that. The material is super thin and flexible, and packs down as small as most windbreakers. This hooded model weighs only 125g and is breathable and comfortable enough to wear even in dry conditions, but has protected us from the full fury of mountain rain and hail storms.
Icebreaker Sierra gloves ($40). In similar fashion as a lightweight shell, having thin protection for your fingers comes in handy at various points when running across mountains. These thin gloves have 88% merino wool that naturally combines moisture-wicking and breathability, and touch screen functionality allows for phone use without freezing your fingers.
UltrAspire Zygos 4.0 vest ($175). This classic reservoir-style hydration vest has enormous carrying capacity for its relative light weight and low profile, and exceptional functionality in its storage areas. Front pockets are sweat-resistant for electronics or salt tabs, and are large enough to carry additional flasks if needed. With 14L of storage space, there is more than enough room to stuff clothes, food and other gear. The reservoir compartment has an insulated barrier to keep fluids cold on hot days, and the 2L bladder is enough to sustain you for several hours between aid stations.
Polar Grit X watch ($430). New to the market this year, the Grit X is a further evolution of Polar’s ongoing push into the outdoor adventure market. It packs a robust feature profile with a staggering number of back-side metrics and fitness assessments that will keep data nerds occupied for days. Some unique features such as real-time hill analysis, fuel alerts, and power data are especially suited for ultrarunning performance, and battery life of 40 hours in 1-second GPS mode should be enough to cross the finish line without needing a recharge.
UnTapped Waffles ($2.50 each, $32 for a carton of 16). I’m not typically picky about aid station food and will eat whatever looks good at the time. However, if there is a particular food item that works well for you in training and that you know will not be available on the course, it’s a good idea to stash some with you in your race pack. For me, energy waffles consistently hit the spot and UnTapped waffles made from maple syrup have a satisfying natural taste while quickly mobilizing energy. They are available in five flavors and Chai, Raspberry and the original Maple are my favorite.
Tailwind Green Tea Buzz stick pack ($2.50 each). Regardless of which drink is served on the course, I start my race with Tailwind on board – and if I get tired of whatever is at the aid stations, I like carrying a mix that I know will go down easy. Tailwind has a mild flavor, and the “buzz” varieties have a caffeine boost to keep you alert as your brain grows tired.
Ziploc bags (cheap!) Snack-size and sandwich-size Ziploc bags are invaluable for keeping things like salt tabs, sunglass bags, gloves, and other small items dry even in sweat-soaked gear. I always make sure I have some at my disposal when preparing full-day race gear or drop bag supplies (see next section).
Gear for a Drop Bag
For a mountain 100-miler, you need to prepare for cold nights, even in the middle of summer. I typically use only one drop bag for the sake of simplicity. This means I sometimes carry gear I won’t actually use, but it also means I will always have whatever I need in rapidly changing conditions.
Victory Sportdesign Bear III bag ($120). This is a perfect bag to organize everything for transitioning to evening darkness and cold temperatures. It has a rugged, water-resistant exterior nylon shell, while the interior space can be modified into countless arrangements thanks to adjustable Velcro dividers. It’s easy to designate a place for each item in your pack and see where everything is stored when you’re in a rush.
Petzl Swift RL headlamp ($120). The most important gear in your night bag is a bright, dependable headlamp – and we’ve trusted this Petzl model to run through the night on multiple occasions. Reactive Lighting technology is used to adjust the brightness of your beam based on the amount of ambient light and the direction you’re looking. This also helps modulate the battery life so you have a longer burn time than a constant lumen setting might provide. The “medium” setting of the Swift RL shines at 300 lumens for up to several hours, and it’s often the only lamp we need until morning.
Petzl Bindi headlamp ($45). Did we mention how important lighting is at night? Here’s how seriously I take it. In addition to the Petzl Swift RL and Black Diamond Spot (still carrying that in our vest, remember), I like stashing this “Mighty Mouse” lamp in case of emergency. At 35g and giving 200 lumens, it’s cheap and effortless insurance that you won’t end up stuck in the dark.
Voormi River Run Hoodie ($129). The versatility of wool means it can be used during a cold night due to its ability to regulate moisture and keep skin dry, or after crossing the finish line of a 100-mile race. The Voormi River Run Hoodie has a contoured fit that isn’t too tight but will keep your core temperature warm. With a loose hood and thumb straps, we like to wear our beanie underneath and tuck our sleeves in mittens to add insulation.
Tracksmith NDO Mittens ($48). This dual-layer mitten system provides heavy insulation and weather protection in cold temps, as well as versatility to remove the external layer if the night isn’t as cold as you imagined. A soft moisture-wicking interior liner combines with a highly weather-resistant merino-lined shell, and the two layers trap air between them for added warmth in harsh conditions. There’s no touchscreen capacity to these mittens, but during the night I’m not usually taking very many pictures anyway.
Icebreaker Tech Trainer Hybrid beanie ($40). If your ears or head get chilled, this thin beanie combines merino wool insulation with nylon moisture-wicking fabric to keep you insulated without overheating. If you don’t need it, keep it folded down in a Ziploc sandwich bag inside your pack.
GU Roctane Cold Brew gels ($2.50 each). Roctane gels provide carbohydrates and electrolytes to keep you moving, and amino acids to delay fatigue and sustain performance. There are multiple flavors to choose from, but in the middle of the night we love the Cold Brew variety, which adds 70mg of caffeine, double the amount of other Roctane flavors. One of these got me out of the aid station chair at 3 a.m., and I’ve been grateful ever since.
Squirrel’s Nut Butter (sample size $2.95). Thankfully, many races now provide my favorite anti-chafing balm at aid stations, but this is one of those emergency items I like to have on me just in case it’s not there. I apply SNB liberally before the start of a race, and that’s often enough to sustain me to the finish. But in the event I need more, it’s comforting to know I have it.
Dry socks (brand of your choice). As mentioned previously, I generally use the same pair of Drymax socks for a full 100 miles, but sometimes it just feels great to put a dry pair on your feet in the middle of a cold night. I like to keep a pair of Drymax Trail Running socks ($15) in my drop bag just in case.
Peet’s Iced Coffee ($3). Full disclosure: I consume a lot of caffeine on a daily basis. One consequence is that I often find myself craving coffee during the second half of a 100-miler. I like stashing one or two of these in my drop bag in case coffee isn’t available on the course. They go down smooth and give a welcome boost to my alertness when needed.
More Ziploc bags (still cheap!) In my day pack I use small Ziplocs, but for evening items, gallon-size bags become invaluable, as they are large enough to hold a compressed jacket, and to keep a hat and pair of gloves dry until you’re ready to use them.
These aren’t necessities, but there’s no better feeling after a race than shedding your stinky, nasty race clothes and slipping into soft, dry clothing. I love to have a soft cotton shirt or sweatshirt, a dry pair of shorts, and a pair of comfortable footwear waiting for me at the finish. I’m partial to Oofos Ooriginal Sandals ($50), which are the flip-flop equivalent of HOKAs. When your feet sink into the lightweight foam, your whole body will thank you.