What's in My Bag

Want to try a race on the trails? What kind of gear do you need to bring? Here’s a look into what Alicia, our RunGo Ninja carries on the run for various trail distances.

Facebook just reminded me of a memory from four years ago, when I was about to run my first crazy-long trail race, The North Face (TNF) Endurance Challenge 50 miler in San Francisco. Seeing that post brought back tons of memories-- of excitement, unknowns, and the feeling that a huge adventure was about to begin. Everything was new, and I had so much to learn about this new sport. (Still do!) Although I’m still wearing a running dress, my gear has definitely evolved since that first TNF race. Here’s what’s in my bag for a variety of distances!

50k supported

I love this distance because I don’t need to carry a lot. Just a few basics and emergency items! It feels very luxurious.

  • Enough calories to get to the first aid station (about 200 calories per hour expected to get there) For me, that’s whatever happens to be lying around before the race. Gels, Clif Bars, cheese… Whatever you like.
  • 0.75L hydrapak water bladder (this is minimalist, and in extremely hot conditions I would probably carry more.) It fits inside this amazing little Hydrapak bag!
  • Merino wool long-sleeve just in case of storms! Mine is this one from MEC.
  • Cell phone in case of emergencies. Loaded with Race Director’s number, and ideally, local Park Ranger’s number.
  • A map of the race course, either on RunGo or a physical map
  • Credit card, just in case there is a nice mountain-top chalet with cold drinks…
Photo credit: Ryan Ledd, Gorge Waterfalls 2014.

Photo credit: Ryan Ledd, Gorge Waterfalls 2014.

50 mile / 100k supported

Things start to get more adventurous at this distance, and I find I have a bit more stress before the race tossing things into piles, sorted in relative perceived need. The truth is, for longer ultras we never know what to expect, and we can never really be fully prepared for what may happen! Here’s what I usually end up with after a while of changing my mind:

  • Everything for the 50k supported category.
  • Extra food in case my pacer gets hungry.
  • In mountain races, weather can change in a heartbeat. I always bring a thin running jacket, gloves, and a hat, for rain and sun. Admittedly, this is minimalist too, and based on the fact that I tend to run on the warm side when I’m racing. If you tend to be freezing, wear/carry more!
  • A pair of thick merino wool socks that double as spare socks and arm warmers.
  • Some type of food that’s extremely instant in energy and electrolytes, just in case I get really low and need something to turn the situation around fast. I love the Clif Shot Blocks for this-- they bring me from feeling intoxicated to relatively normal within minutes!
  • 200 calories per hour, per aid station, and the rest in drop bags or with my crew.
  • If the aid stations are frequent, (every 10km) then I stick with my 0.75L water kit. If they’re far apart or it’s extremely hot, I’ll double my water to 1.5L and carry it in a larger bag, like this Gregory one.
  • A small container of Vaseline for preventing blisters.
Photo credit: Tory Scholz at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, March 2015
Photo credit: Tory Scholz at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, March 2015

100 mile supported

This is the distance where I need to start avoiding visits to the store (of any kind!) before the race because I can easily justify needing way too many things during pre-100 nerves! Here is what I usually end up carrying on my longest of running journeys...

Just kidding! Here's what actually makes it into my bag:

  • Everything mentioned so far, in 50k and 50 mile / 100k category.
  • Something fun or funny to keep the mood light when things can get hard. This is huge for me. It can be a funny hair tie, a funny sparkly head band, a picture that makes me smile, whatever.
  • An amazing curated playlist for playing when things get weird. To make the best playlist, I ask all my friends to nominate one song for me to carry with me. It makes for fun surprises mid-run!
  • Additional life-hating-prevention clothing. We tend to be moving slower in 100 milers, with fewer aid stations, so a storm can be a disaster if we’re not prepared for it. I would carry everything above for 50k and 50 mile, plus a poncho or emergency blanket. If you live in Canada and the forecast is a storm you’ll want even more.
  • An amazing handheld flashlight / headlamp, that you love, and have used a lot before. I love the Fenix brand, and I don’t mind carrying hand-held lights, which means I can get way more lumens per dollar. My flashlight goes up to 960 lumens!
  • A backup pretty decent light, it’s pretty likely you or your pacer will need it!
  • A tiny little backup phone charger for emergencies, and to keep RunGo available.
  • 1 Thylenol, just in case of emergencies.
  • I should mention that my race gear does not include any medical supplies besides Thylenol. This is definitely a calculated risk, essentially relying on the race, when accidents can happen anywhere on the trail and the race may not be prepared. Because I don’t have any medical history, and I haven’t had any accidents, and I trust the races I run, I’m stupidly willing to run without any first aid supplies. Definitely, if you disagree with me, slap me in the comments below! Do you carry first aid supplies on your trail races?
Photo credit: Nancy Wadden at East Coast Trail 215km, September 2015
Photo credit: Nancy Wadden at East Coast Trail 215km, September 2015

This is what works for me, but part of the fun is the journey of finding out what works for you!