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Got A Race Coming Up? Here’s Your Essential Gear List.

Everything you need to know about getting outfitted for your next trail race - no matter the distance. 

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When assembling your race-day togs and gear, there are numerous things to consider, especially for a trail race and ultramarathon. Your kit should be tailored to the event you’ve chosen, taking into consideration the distance, time and environmental challenges.

Heed the adage, “Nothing new on race day.” During your training, do some dress rehearsals and practice wearing your kit and using your gear to make sure everything fits right and works together, and doesn’t rub, chafe, or irritate you.

What To Wear

The primary considerations boil down to the environment of your race, which could be anything from exposed desert to swampy jungle to high-alpine ridges. If you’re running in the desert heat, for example, you might want to wear lighter colors to stay cool. If you’re running in the alpine, where the weather is known to change quickly, you may need to throw a shell, beanie and gloves in your race vest.

Up Top

For most races, you’ll want either a wicking short sleeve shirt—no cotton—that provides some sun protection and helps prevent chafing, or a tank with the same characteristics. Whatever you pick make sure it works well under the vest you’ll be wearing. Avoid tops with straps that are narrower than your hydration vest—spaghetti straps and vests don’t mix.

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy Rabbit)

Rabbit EZ Tee Perf Trail$45 This shirt combines the best of both worlds, with enough coverage to prevent chafing, but perforations for next-level breathability and performance. 

Arm warmers are a great intermediary layer because you can peel them off and stick them in a pack when things heat up. Instead of carrying a bulky long-sleeve, stash these versatile pieces right in your vest when things warm up. In addition to or in lieu of arm sleeves, a light, wicking, non-chafing long sleeve top is a frequent favorite for a variety of conditions. 

best gear for trail races

Tracksmith Brighton Arm Warmers$48 Keep your arms warm with Tracksmith’s premium merino wool arm warmers, which provide the perfect combination of warmth and range of motion, and can be peeled off on the fly. 

Protection from the Elements

Depending on the season, most mountain races warrant bringing a lightweight wind shell or rain jacket, even though it might never see the light of day in your race. Find a jacket that won’t weigh you down and is small enough to stash in your vest. Look for something that’s windproof, and either water-resistant or waterproof. Some races, like UTMB, require that you carry a shell with taped seams for full waterproofing. The weather can change, or something could go wrong and cause you to stop running, which means getting cold. 

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy Patagonia)

Patagonia Houdini Hooded Full Zip Jacket$99 This lightweight jacket has just enough oomph to protect you from the elements, but can then be easily stashed in your pack. Pro tip: consider sizing up so that your shell is big enough to throw on over your hydration vest so that you can save time and keep running.

You’ll need protection from another element as well: friction. Whether your ultramarathon is on the road or the trail, find an anti-chafe product you like and use it liberally. Speaking of friction, you may want to experiment with seamless, running-specific underwear rather than relying on shorts liners (which can easily be cut out). Anything that rubs will be far more than a nuisance after 50 or 100 miles.

Down Low

For most races, you’re going to want a comfy pair of shorts. If your core is sufficiently warm, you probably won’t need leggings or pants unless the weather takes a turn for the worse or you plan on being out all night. Consider bringing a pair of pants that you can quickly throw on over shorts, just in case. The key is to make sure that you’ve trained at race speeds in your kit, so you’re not surprised by chafing at 50K.

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy Patagonia)

Patagonia Strider Pro Pants$129 These lightweight pants can cut the chill out on the course, with smooth, stretchy ripstop for ultimate range of motion and protection from the elements. 

RELATED: Is Stretching Good Or Bad?

Fresh Kicks

You’ll want to be sure to pick shoes that are best suited for the terrain of your course. For shorter, faster races you might pick something lighter, or something with a carbon plate for a bit more speed. For longer ultras and big days on feet, something with a little more protection and cush is suitable. Make sure you know what kind of terrain you’ll be covering, as that will dictate the depth of your lugs and if you’ll want a rockplate. For super long ultras, you might even want to switch out shoes midway, and leave a backup pair in a drop bag. 

best gear for trail races

Need For Speed – The North Face Flight Vectiv$199 Carbon plates have forever changed the road-running game, and it looks like the trend is here to stay.  These shoes are great if you’re looking to go fast on less technical trail. 

RELATED: Superstar Speed Workout – The Michigan

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy Hoka)

For The Long Haul – Hoka Speedgoat 4$145 The cushion of the Speedgoat is perfect for racers looking to go the distance. Surprisingly nimble and delightfully soft, these shoes are our go-to for longer ultras. 

Accessories

Flasks, which are smaller than water bladders, are great for racing. They’re quick to refill and can be stashed in a vest pocket or even a sports bra when they’re empty. They’re a great way to take a cola for the road when you’re dashing through aid stations during a race. 

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy HydraPak)

HydraPak UltraFlask 500ML  $22 or 2/$42 – Ultra light and collapsible, these flasks are easy to clean and compatible with most packs. 

Consider investing in some race-day gloves. Don’t go out and buy the most expensive, teched-out hand gear you can find for a race. Look for gloves that are warm, inexpensive and can be ripped off quickly on the start line or dropped at an aid station.

For ultramarathons, you’ll need something to tote your extra kit, accessories, hydration and fuel. The most popular option these days is the hydration vest. A vest allows you to carry your fuel and gear hands-free so that you can focus on running.

If you’re not a fan of vests, opt for a belt. Belts take some of the weight off your chest and can even carry equipment like poles. The Ultimate Direction Utility Belt has tons of room for snack storage, and can hold several flasks as well. Make sure you’ve used your hydration system, whether it’s a pack or a belt on long runs and have figured out how to pack it to limit movement like rubbing or excess bouncing.

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy Salomon)

Salomon Sense Pro 10 Vest – $180 Built to go the distance and with a second-skin fit, this pack is ready to rip fast trails or carry you for the long haul. With plenty of easy to access storage and two front-mounted flask pockets, this vest has everything you need to race. 

RELATED: Six Race-Ready Vests, Reviewed

If your race has sustained or technical climbs, a pair of trekking poles can help take some pressure off your quads. Make sure you’ve practiced assembling, disassembling and stowing your poles. 

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy Leki)

Leki Micro Flash Carbon – $180 – These lightweight carbon poles use Leki’s proprietary hand harness system to get the most out of every push off. Light and easy to stow, these poles are built for moving fast across rugged and steep terrain. 

Many longer races start and even end in the dark. Make sure you have a headlamp that you’ve practiced taking on and off, turning off and on and that you trust.

best gear for trail races
(Photo: Courtesy BioLite)

BioLite 330 Headlamp$60 Lightweight and bounce-free, this rechargeable headlamp fits like a dream with a back-mounted battery pack for better weight distribution and a fuss-free fit. With 40 hours of battery life, you can run all night.