As you probably already know, Ultra Marathons start from distances of 50k up to 100 miles plus. The further the race, the more kit you seem to need, which makes more sense when you could be out for 20+ hours.
One thing that I have learnt myself is that the kit required for a 50k race is a lot different than what you need for a 100-mile ultramarathon.
Let’s assume you are planning to run one of the longer distances over 50k. The kit you require falls into 4 categories in my opinion:
- Essential Kit
- Mandatory Kit
- Drop Bag Kit
- Additional Extras
In the table below, I have tried to break down these categories and the kit that falls into each of them. It also assumes you will be running on trails, as I can’t think of an Ultramarathon that only runs on roads – unless you are doing laps on a track.
Don’t forget, you might not need to carry all of this kit if you have a crew that meets you at checkpoints.
|Essential Kit||Mandatory Kit (depending on race)||Drop Bag||Additional Kit|
|Trail Shoes||Waterproof Jacket||Spare Shoes||A Buff|
|Trail Socks||Waterproof Trousers||Spare Socks||Sunglasses|
|Shorts||Torch & Spare batteries||Spare Shorts||Vaseline|
|Running Underwear||Reflective Clothing||Spare T-Shirt||Anti-Chafe|
|T-Shirt||Phone||Additional Food||Toilet tissue|
|Waterproof Jacket||Hat||Warm Clothing||Wet Wipes|
|Hydration Pack/Race Vest||Gloves||Mandatory Kit for Night||Headphones|
|Hat||Spare Base Layer||Blister Kit|
|GPS Watch||Emergency Food||Compression Gear|
|1st Aid Kit||Trekking Poles|
|Map of the Course|
Obviously Ultra Marathons are long, so you need shoes that are built for the distances and time spent on your feet.
In other words, they need to be comfortable, supportive and well-cushioned. Believe me, if you buy shoes that are not built for the distance or terrain you are going to struggle. Potentially injuring yourself and most probably painful blisters.
Consider the size of the shoe as well – I like to have shoes that have a little bit of room because, after a few hours, your feet are likely going to swell. The last thing you want is for that to start getting uncomfortable. But you should understand your shoes through training.
After trying out lots of different shoes I finally settled on the Altra Lone Peak which has turned out to be a very reliable and awesome shoe. I have slightly wide feet but these offered great comfort and stability over a 100-mile race.
I am a UK Size 9 to 9.5 (US 10 – 10.5) and I wear a UK 9.5 (10.5) in these shoes and they fit wonderfully. No heel issues, no squashed toes and the foot is held firmly in place with ample cushioning.
If you have ever been on a long run you will know that socks are important. In my view, they are almost as important as your shoes.
Pick the wrong type of sock and you could end up suffering from major blisters at some point during your run, which could ultimately destroy your race for you.
Believe me, I didn’t take care during one of my long Ultras and spent the last 20 miles at slow walking pace with feet that were in bits. It isn’t fun, so take care.
There are many types of socks and different ones will suit different people – just make sure they are moisture-wicking.
My personal choice is Injinji socks – the main reason for this is that they are toe socks that allow your toes to spread naturally when you are wearing them. They work wonderfully well with a wide fitting shoe like the Altra.
Another important one. Picking the right shorts can make or break your run. It’s not funny if you start to chafe that’s for sure. If it gets too bad you could even have to pull out of a race.
They should be breathable, I shouldn’t have to tell you why, and comfortable during a long run.
Another key function of Trail Shorts is pocket space. Always handy for carrying gels (if you use them), small nutrition and even your mobile phone, especially when you are on training runs.
You can also buy shorts that have the compression style shorts built in that will help eliminate chafing around the thigh area.
That’s right Ladies and Gents, you need to have the right underwear on your long run. Wear your standard everyday underwear and you will suffer badly.
Without going into too much detail, you will likely start getting sore in places you don’t like and there is also the chance they won’t be moisture wicking.
This also stands true if you decide to go commando – don’t do it.
If you are going to be out for hours on the trails, I strongly advise that you invest in good running underwear. It needs to be comfortable, hold everything in place and have great moisture-wicking properties.
As with my trail socks, I use Runderwear products. I started using them about 2 years ago and I can honestly say I have never had any uncomfortable issues when wearing them.
This is both brief or boxers, although I personally prefer the brief for running. Sorry Ladies, I haven’t tried the bra.
I don’t have a huge preference when it comes to my t-shirts. Obviously, I want them to be comfortable and to have good moisture wicking properties but that’s about it.
My advice would be to test your t-shirt with all your kit you plan to wear during your training. You shouldn’t be going into any race, especially an ultramarathon, with any gear you haven’t tested upfront.
This is a must on race day and shouldn’t ever be overlooked. You will find that a lot of races include having a waterproof jacket with taped seams as part of the mandatory kit.
So, even if it’s a lovely sunny day, you might find that you have to have a waterproof with you at all times, depending on the race rules.
If the weather does turn, you will appreciate having one believe me. I ran an ultramarathon where the conditions were wonderful until the last 3 hours of the race where it turned very cold and wet – it made me realise why we need to carry one.
I have been using the OMM Kamleika Race Jacket for the past 3 years and it has everything I need. Highly waterproof, taped seams, very light and one of the most breathable jackets I have used to date.
Hydration Pack or Race Vest
This is down to a personal choice for me. Some people like the hydration packs whilst others like the race vests. The hydration pack basically holds a bladder, normally up to around 2 litres and is very streamlined and close-fitting.
On the other hand, the race vest generally holds 2 bottles around the chest area and has other pockets and storage that can store your essential kit, with the option of a bladder if required.
My personal choice is the Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set Race Vest. I’ve been using it for 18 months now and it has done me proud.
Lightweight but carries everything I need for those really long days out on the trail. You get 2 free soft flasks with it as well. Feel free to check the latest prices on Amazon right here.
Some people might not class a hat as being essential, but for me it most definitely is. Not only does it protect your head from the sun and other elements, but it also keeps the sweat from your eyes, and can help keep your head cool.
I have tried various types, from proper running hats to buffs. However, I tend to just run in a trucker cap now.
The reason for this is that it obviously has a peak to shade your eyes from the sun, but it also has mesh around the top and back of the head which allows it to breathe.
I would just see what your most comfortable with and use that. But I would suggest making sure you have something.
Like the hat, some people may not think that the watch is an essential part of your kit but let’s think about it for a minute.
I’m not particularly interested in my pace when on the trails, but if I’m on a really long run then I want my heart rate to stay quite regular then a watch will do that for me.
They can also be useful if you want to download the course map to your watch so you don’t get lost. It saved me a few times for sure.
I used to use the Garmin Fenix as my go-to watch, but for the past 6 months, I have used the Suunto Spartan Sport which I have really liked using. It’s also a lot cheaper than the Garmin Fenix range but offers everything I need for my training and races.
Mandatory Kit List
Races differ depending on the climate, terrain, time your running etc.
I am just listing the sort of gear you might be expected to carry on an Ultra Marathon – some races check and won’t let you run if you don’t have the kit so beware.
Whatever race you have entered, always check the website for the mandatory kit list.
- Waterproof Jacket with Taped Seams – this is generally going to be on every race mandatory kit list. Make sure your jacket does have taped seams because if it doesn’t then it most likely is only water-resistant.
- Waterproof Trousers with taped seams – I have only been on one race where trousers were required and that was one in the mountains.
- Headtorch with Spare Batteries – If you are going to run any section of a race in the dark then you will have to have a torch, sometimes 2, plus spare batteries. They can be left in the drop bag if you are going to reach it before dark.
- Reflective Clothing – For one race I had to have an item of clothing or kit with reflective properties as there were some sections on road during the night. This is for additional safety.
- Mobile Phone – I know most of us will carry them nowadays anyway. You will often find you have to pre-load with emergency numbers for the race. Quite often the Race Directors number and one other.
- Water Bottles or Bladder – As checkpoints can be quite spaced apart it is mandatory to carry enough water to get you through a certain period of time. This normally works out to 1 litre/34oz.
- Hat – Not always your running hat. Some races that might turn cold like you to have a warm hat.
- Gloves – Same reason as the hat.
- Spare Base Layer with Long Sleeves – It’s always wise to carry spare clothing anyway. I often find that at the halfway point of a race it’s nice to have a change of clothes – makes you feel so much better.
- Emergency food – Like the water, if you get lost or take a long time between aid stations, food and calories are essential – especially in the latter stages of a race.
- Foil Blanket ( I always carry) – Reduces the risk of hypothermia.
- First Aid Kit (I always carry) – Just in case you fall, have blisters etc.
- Whistle – If you’re on a mountain or remote location and are lost, a whistle might just be your best friend.
- A map of the course – Some races expect you to carry a map of the course. This is where a GPS watch comes in handy.
As you can see, the list isn’t extensive and a lot of it you would probably already carry anyway and quite a lot of the items from the mandatory list and additional kit can be stored in the drop bag.
I won’t go into too much detail with the drop bag as most of the items in the other lists will probably be in the drop bag.
For those that are unaware, the drop bag is additional kit that is taken from the start point to the half way checkpoint in the race so you can top up nutrition, have a change of clothes etc.
It is then taken to the finish line so you can collect at the end of the race. Personally I would only put essentials in it and avoid putting in anything valuable or that you don’t want to lose.
It would never be intentional, but drop bags can be lost or picked up by the wrong person by mistake.
Additional Kit List
Some of the items in the additional kit list are the sort of things I would take with me. Some I believe are essential for me or are just nice to have.
Ultimately your additional kit would be your own preference depending on the race and conditions.
- A Buff – I normally wear around my wrist to mop sweat etc. but can be very useful if the weather turns cold or windy. particularly useful around the neck to keep warm. I never go running without one.
- Sunglasses – Not something I always wear but I do normally have them on my head ready.
- Vaseline & Anti-Chafe – If you have been running and walking for 20 hours I guarantee you will need this. From butt crack to thighs, to nipples. Something will rub and get sore at some point.
- Tissue or Toilet roll – Always be prepared.
- Wet Wipes – Softer than toilet tissue, but also good for wiping hands, face, etc.
- Spare Cash – Some races expect you to carry it.
- Some Music – I don’t do it so much for races but definitely on my long runs.
- Blister kit – don’t ignore hot spots believe me. If it turns into a blister your already in trouble.
- Compression Gear – sometimes I will use shorts during the 2nd half of a race.
If you are planning your first ultramarathon or are going to do a longer distance, there is a certain amount of kit you need to have.
Some kit is essential, some is mandatory, and some is nice to have. A lot of it is down to personal preference.
When it comes to the mandatory kit, always check the website of the race you are running. They will have all the information of the kit you need and what to expect on race day.
Above all else, enjoy your race and stay safe.
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