This year has involved a bit more running than I originally expected. I aimed to run my first ultramarathon in April, but thanks to COVID, it moved back to September. That meant training up to peak mileage with 50+ mile weeks not just once, but twice. It meant many more weekends spent out on the trails than I expected with a newborn, but it also meant I got to field test a ton of running gear to figure out what is truly critical for me. When I’m out on the run for four or five hours, it’s important to have everything I need while also not getting weighed down.
My gear can vary pretty widely between a 3 mile run and a 30 mile one obviously. For a short one, I go pretty minimal with nothing other than my watch and headphones. For my first ultra, I brought along headphones, the charging case, my phone, my water pack, car keys, five packets of energy jelly beans, two waffles, a cliff bar, and left an extra batery for charging, another cliff bar, a thermos of cold water, electrolyte drink mix, and an extra change of clothes in the car. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so I overpacked. But on a normal run, my kit is a bit less heavy.
Running watch: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
With a brief exception of about a week of hating it during the Garmin outage earlier this summer, I’ve absolutely loved my Fenix watch. I’ve been running with Garmin watches for the last several years, but upgrading from the budget line of the Vivoactive to the Pro Fenix series was a huge step up, especially for trail running. The much larger battery which lasts me over a week normally, or over 36 hours of use running is plenty to get through even my longest runs with plenty of juice to spare, even while listening to music. I use the offline Spotify music playback on it extensively now and really only bring my phone with me these days as a backup, for emergencies, and to take pictures for Strava. With trail running, I’ve also really come to rely on the offline maps and courses that include trail markings to make sure I don’t get lost on unfamiliar trails when I’m exploring on long runs. I wish it was a little easier to tell the difference between where you have already run and where you need to go still, a frequent complaint on the forums, but it’s saved my bacon numerous times when I miss a turn or need to adjust a route and find a new trail to get back home.
Phone: iPhone 11
I still bring my phone on pretty much every run even though I really don’t need to. While my watch doesn’t let me respond to messages from it since the iPhone prevents that, it’s still nice to be able to see incoming messages while on the run. I also use it for listening to podcasts and audiobooks on a lot of long runs. Most importantly, I need it for snapping pictures to prove how great my runs are for Strava, otherwise the runs wouldn’t count.
Headphones: Jaybird Vista
I’ve had my ups and downs with these headphones, but they are still leaps and bounds above the cheapy pair of wireless neckbuds I used to use. I killed one pair in less than a year and was able to get them replaced free, and the current ones are still working ok. The first time I had a real issue with them was on my 50K where the left bud didn’t actually charge as it wasn’t correctly seated in the case. After a few drops, I realized I could just use the right one and charge the left in the case. Thankfully, the case is actually very compact and durable compared to other wireless buds, so it wasn’t a problem to bring along. Other than that, they’ve been great and the small size, battery that lasts even through my four hour runs, and durability and waterproofing mean that they come with me for every run.
Backpack / Waterpack: Camelbak Dart
I used to run with a belt and four plastic bottles for long runs on the weekends. After numerous times losing bottles that popped out without me noticing on runs, I switched to a backpack style water bag and haven’t looked back. With ample space to carry a half dozen or so bags of jelly beans or waffles plus enough water for a few hours in the sun or an entire day on cooler days, it’s transformed my ability to run further. In the middle of the summer when I was doing my four hour training runs at 90+ degrees, I would have never survived without the 1.5 liters of water it holds. In fact, there are days I wished I had slightly more capacity after running out with a mile or so left and nearly fainting. The multiple pockets also work well to keep car keys, my headphone case, and anything else I need to know is secure.
Shoes: New Balance FreshFoam 1080 LDN / Nike Next% / Saucony Kinvara
I’m in a bit of a transition phase with shoes right now. I went overboard and stocked up on a bunch of shoes in the last two years and so haven’t put that many miles on any one given pair. While this has been good to keep my legs fresh, it means I’m rotating shoes daily. My goto pairs right now are the New Balance FreshFoam 1080 RUN LDN editions I got after the London Marathon. I like the colors and wearing them reminds me of my accomplishment in running that race. They’re also very comfortable for long runs and versatile enough to work well on the trails. The Saucony Kinvaras I got during an Amazon deal are good all purpose shoes too, but are a little more minimal, so I tend to use them more when on the road than the trails. I never wear the Nike Next%s I got on the trails, but when doing speed work or intervals on the roads around here, I go to them for extra power. I’m a bit tired of the difficulty in getting these shoes, so I might try out the Brooks Hyperion or the Saucony Endorphin next.
Fuel: Honey Stinger Waffles and Jelly Belly Energy Beans
It took me a while to find some options that kept me from bonking without making me stop for stomach issues. I usually start a run with the waffles because I like to feel like I’m eating something real instead of slurping down a gel. The beans are nice because they basically form an electrolyte drink when mixed with water in the mouth. Both contain plenty of sugar to keep me going strong and prevent the bonk even over several hours. I also liked the chews Honey Stinger makes that I tried after a Strava promotion they did for samples, so might add them to my rotation as well.
That’s really it. Of course I rely on my collection of race shirts, bandanas and buffs especially in the crowded park now, mostly Lululemon shorts and socks now, a headlamp when I go out in the evening in the winter, and various cheap plastic sunglasses, but my essentials are pretty limited. I don’t like being too weighed down, so unless I can wear it, it’s not coming with me. With this set of gear, I can get through several hours in the woods, running across the whole county, and survived my first 50K. As much as I love finding the next cool gadget, when it comes to running gear, I’m pretty picky, so these items are the perfect essentials for me.