Running an ultramarathon is tough, but it’s not just the hours and miles. Sometimes getting everything that you need all together, organized, and packed can take longer than the run itself. And in this new post-pandemic world where we need to be more self-sufficient on the course than ever, those bags aren’t getting any lighter. So to help you figure things out in a less frenzied way than my first packing experience went, here’s all the essential ultramarathon gear you (probably) need, and few tips on how to pack it all.
Essential Ultramarathon Gear
In the Suitcase
Technically, everything is probably going in your suitcase, but I like to separate race clothes from non-race clothes (even though they’re pretty much all running clothes at this point), and then have my gear in a separate portion of my suitcase. It helps me keep things sorted when we get checked into our room. And pro-tip, if you’re flying, make sure you bring your race outfit and shoes in your carry on, just in case the airline misplaces your checked luggage. You can usually find a hydration vest & fuel at a running store in a pinch, but you may not have the same luck finding your favorite shoes in your size.
So here’s some things to keep sectioned off in your luggage.
- Running outfit – Make sure to pack for any possible weather conditions, temperatures plus or minus 15-20 degrees depending on season (fall and spring tend to be less predictable). Think shorts, top, socks, leggings, jacket, hat, gloves, etc. I like to start planning my outfit from top to bottom to make sure I have everything I’ll need. Then, I pack my back up outfit. A second option to have, just in case something crazy takes place, like you happen to spill your coffee all over yourself on the way to the race.
- Running shoes & backup shoes – Bring the shoes you typically train in, plus a second set that are a half size up to change in to if your feet swell
- Post-race outfit & shoes – Something to change into so that you don’t smell terrible all the way home.
All the stuff that you’re going to carry with you during the race, or in your drop bag. You’d be amazed at just how much stuff you need to remember to toss into that luggage.
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- Hydration pack w bottles or bladder resevoir
- Electronics – Your GPS watch, headphones, headlamp, and then of course all of the chargers for all those electronics.
- Body Products – Stuff to help keep your skin from wanting to slide off your body or break out into hives. Anti-Chafe, Sunscreen, Baby wipes, and KT tape
- First Aid kit & Medications – anti-nausea, calamine lotion, epi-pen, etc
- Gaiters – to keep your shoes from becoming the Sahara Desert
Because you probably won’t survive running 30-100 miles without eating something on the way.
- Gels, chews, SportsBeans, etc
- Real food options – chips, raisins, oats, pretzels
- Liquid Calories – in case your stomach turns and you can’t handle anything solid
- Electrolytes.- to help keep the cramps away, for a little while at least
Packing the Drop bag
Now technically, everything that goes in the drop bag will already be packed. And honestly, packing a drop bag could be a post in and of itself. However, if you are running race that allows drop bags, don’t hesitate to take advantage. You can never have too much food, afterall! My most recent race was a two loop course, so I elected to carry what I needed for each loop and use the start as my one drop station, which worked really well. What you pack will adjust based on the length of the race, and the distance between bags, but here’s a few good items to make sure you’ve got packed the night before.
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- Extra fuel – I mean, are you really a trail runner if you don’t have a pb&j or some chips shoved in a ziploc somewhere on your person?
- Sunscreen – Applying once at the beginning of a multi-hour race is not a smart decision.
- Anti-Chafe – Same rule applies to anti-chafe.
- Extra socks – Your feet are going to sweat; they don’t have to sweat in the same socks all day long.
- Extra shoes – We already talked about this. A fun part of ultramarathon racing is that your feet might swell up worse than a pregnant woman’s. Have a set of extra shoes a half size up to accommodate.
- First aid & Medications – anti-nausea, calamine lotion, epi-pen
- Baby wipes – To help you enjoy a brief moment of cleanliness
- KT tape
There are certainly other items you might find helpful, like a bandana, 15 hair ties, trekking poles, or lip balm. A good rule of thumb is to really pay attention to the things that you find yourself grabbing on your long runs, and make sure you pack them. And don’t panic if you happen to forget something; one of the best parts of ultra running is learning to be gritty and flexible. Just, for the love of God, don’t ever forget the anti-chafe.