The Essential Ultra Marathon Kit List

Written By Sam Heward

Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)

23 October 2023

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Working out what to carry on an ultra marathon can be as much of a challenge as preparing physically for an event itself! We often receive questions about why we have a mandatory gear list for each of our races, and why specific items are included. This article is dedicated to explaining the what and the why for each piece of trail running equipment and we hope can act as an ultra marathon gear checklist for all ultra races not just Ultra X events!

Whilst we all prefer to run trails with the lightest load necessary, the items we list as mandatory equipment may save your life if you are caught out in bad conditions, become lost, disorientated or injured during an ultra marathon event. Never underestimate how quickly conditions may deteriorate or change away from forecast and ensure that you don’t turn up to an event without the ultra essentials!

Mobile Phone

Your mobile phone can be used to call Race HQ or the Medical Team in case of emergency away from an aid station involving you, or another runner. It allows us to guide you to safety and it allows us to locate you more quickly and easily. Many of our races take place where phone reception is widespread and good even on more remote trails. Smart phones will also allow the download of GPX files and mapping software which will allow navigation back onto course or to a collection point if ever necessary.

High quality head torch with spare batteries (or second torch)

If the event you are running in will involve running after sunset for any competitor in the field, then a head torch will be included as mandatory equipment.

Running at night requires light for safe negotiation of terrain, improved navigation and can be used as a beacon for runners in distress easing location of their whereabouts by race staff or search and rescue teams.

Faster runners may finish well before sunset in shorter events, however all runners must carry the same equipment to ensure parity/ fairness. It is also impossible to tell how a race may go for any individual, with many taking longer than expected, or getting lost and requiring additional time to cover the distance involving unplanned night time running.

A phone is not acceptable as a primary or secondary light source.

Spare batteries or a second headtorch are essential in the case of primary device failure, which unfortunately happens more than we all would like! Where torches have reusable batteries, such as the Petzl NAO runners must either carry another reusable battery or a second head torch. A battery pack to charge the torch is not acceptable. This is because if the battery pack was required to be used there would be a period where the runner would not have access to a torch.

Whistle

If you suffer an injury and are unable to proceed in poor or low visibility conditions, the whistle may facilitate your being located vastly more quickly than without one. It isn’t necessary to use any distress call, simply blowing the whistle may dramatically reduce the time it takes race staff or search and rescue teams to find you. Most running vests have a whistle attached where the bottles go so make sure to check yours before purchasing a stand alone whistle..

Durable Waterproof with Hood and Taped Seam

A waterproof is essential kit on the trails in all but the warmest summer months, and when running at night at any time of the year. Whilst in 7 years we have only experienced rain at Ultra X Jordan once, rainfall is possible at every single one of our race locations. Runners who are caught out and become wet through will suffer reduced core temperatures, leading to a slowing in pace and the beginning of a vicious circle which can lead very quickly to hypothermia.

Jackets without taped (or sealed) seams, will not keep you dry. Wherever a waterproof jacket is listed as mandatory, sealed seams are essential. The fabric should also be verified waterproof and NOT wind or shower proof.

Taped seams are heat sealed seams that stop water coming through the stitching. If any garment or product has “fully taped seams,” it means that every seam on it is – as the name suggests – sealed with tapes.

If you have a jacket that is less than that level of water resistance or is shower / wind proof only, it will NOT pass kit check.

Hydration System with capacity for 1.5 litres of liquid

An ultra marathon hydration pack is hopefully one your ultra marathon essentials and something you consider for any long run! Our checkpoints are frequent, tending to be every 10km, however running on trails is very different to running on road and some 10km stretches may take up to 3 hours to cover. It is necessary to carry water between aid stations in order to ensure runners can manage their hydration both under regular conditions but particularly if conditions are extreme or runners become lost, injured or disorientated resulting in vastly increased time taken to cover the distance.

Base Layer

This must be a separate layer to that which you start the race in, even if you are wearing two tops on the start line. This layer should be kept dry and used only in an emergency. It can be a lifesaver when your primary clothing gets wet and so needs to form part of your ultra marathon clothing list.

Warm Hat and Gloves

Body heat is lost most rapidly through the head and so a warm hat drastically helps the retention of heat. A hat will ensure runners stay warm for longer. Aside from providing warmth and a means of retaining heat, gloves are essential for maintaining dexterity in cold weather

Personal Basic First Aid Kit

A well-stocked ultra marathon first aid kit for runners should include bandages, antiseptic wipes, and antibiotic ointment. We recommend Lifesystems.

Survival Bag Ultra X

Lifesystems Survival Bag

Survival Bag

At the majority of Ultra X events a survival bag is required as part of the race mandatory kit. Where kit lists state Survival bag this means that an emergency blanket is not acceptable and will not pass kit check.

A survival bag is much more substantial than an emergency blanket (see below) and will offer much more protection when a runner is unable to move, meaning a competitor can stay warm if the weather changes or they are out overnight when the temperatures drop. When it comes to coverage and shelter provided, the extra weight of a bivy sack definitely translates into more protection against the elements.

Emergency Blanket Ultra X

Foil Emergency Blanket

Emergency Blanket

At some of our warmer events our mandatory kit lists specify emergency blankets rather than survival bags (referenced above). These blankets are much lighter and whilst they do not prevent heat loss by conduction (heat-transfer). They can, however, be used very effectively against heat loss through convection.

It’s also light-reflective so makes it easier for support to spot you if they’re out searching and you have the blanket out.

Electrolyte Solutions

Just drinking water when you sweat is not the solution to avoiding dehydration and hyponatremia, which competitors at our more extreme events put themselves at risk to.

Keeping your electrolytes in balance is crucial for maintaining performance and avoiding cramps and dehydration. For many of our events we require competitors to carry enough electrolyte for the duration of the event. Whilst we understand that many competitors will not need to use the full amount as specified on the kit list for fairness we ask that everyone brings the same amount. If runners expect to spend more time on course than they should increase the amount of electrolyte.

The amount of electrolyte stipulated in the kit-list is the full event supply and so does NOT need to be carried in the runners race pack during each stage of the event. The appropriate amount for each stage should be carried. 

Protective Hat/Cap

A protective hat or cap shields you from the sun and keeps sweat out of your eyes. At some events, such as Ultra X Jordan, we require a cap to have neck cover (such as legionnaire design).

Buff/Scarf or similar to cover your nose and mouth

A buff or scarf can cover your nose and mouth to protect against dust or extreme cold. Some races have very sandy courses where a buff will be useful in windy conditions or in the extremes, sandstorm.

Emergency Food Reserve

We ask that competitors always carry 800kcal of extra food in case of unexpected delays or emergencies. This should be carried in addition to planned race nutrition and should remain untouched and still carried in the race pack when runners cross the finish line.

It must be something that can be eaten without any additional equipment. I.e. two large flapjacks NOT a freeze dried meal.

Waterproof Trousers

Waterproof trousers protect you from rain and help maintain your core temperature in wet conditions. When poor weather is forecast we may ask competitors to carry waterproof trousers. If extreme weather is forecast we will communicate this with runners the week prior to the event.

Warm Jacket

Multi-stage events where runners have bags transported between campsites will often ask runners to ensure they have a warm jacket in their main bag. After each stage when the body is fatigued it is important that competitors are able to stay warm.

Sleeping Bag

Competitors participating in any of the Ultra X multi-stage events will need to bring a sleeping bag as the events all involve camping. Competitors should ensure that the sleeping bag has the appropriate temperature rating for the event in question and should consider a liner (a bag liner can add up to 6°C/10°F to the rating of your sleeping bag). Roll matts will also provide additional warmth and comfort and so are highly recommended.

Insect Repellent

Some events have campsites were runners will be exposed to flies and mosquitos in certain weather conditions. It is important that competitors are not reliant on others for insect repellent.

Toilet Bags

Biodegradable toilet bags are part of the mandatory kit several remote events where portaloos are not available. Toilets are plastic chair with a hole in the middle, you have a toilet bag, should pop the bag around the plastic chair, do your business, tie the bag, throw it in the bin outside. An example of these can be found here.

Ultra X Desert Gaiters

Desert Gaiters

Desert gaiters are some of the best ultra marathon gear for races where the course has a high percentage of sand. Gaiters will keep debris and sand out of shoes protecting your feet and reducing the risk of blisters! Make sure to purchase well in advance of your event as they will need to be attached to your trainers.

Printed Copy of your Insurance

Having a printed copy of your insurance is crucial in case of a medical emergency. This should be carried by each runner for the duration of their event.

Ultra marathons are extreme tests of human endurance, and the right trail tools can make all the difference in your performance and safety. Before your next race, double-check your ultra marathon gear list to ensure you have everything you need. Preparedness is the key to conquering these monumental challenges and achieving your goals. So, gear up, stay safe, and enjoy the unforgettable experience of ultra marathon running!

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