Clever kit for running ultras

the kit you need for running an ultra

For the most part, the only kit you need to go running are a pair of shorts (the smaller the better), a vest and a pair of shoes. That’s it. Until you go ultra, then your kit list gets much longer. Before you know it you’ll be eyeing up headtorches, technical jackets and a backpack to carry it all. Our seasoned ultra runner and gear expert, Kieran Alger, takes us through some of the picks that have served him well on those 100-mile odysseys:

Be self sufficient: WAA Ultra Bag 20L

the kit you need for running an ultra - waa ultra bag

When preparing for a multi-stage ultra you’ll likely become obsessed with what goes in your race bag, but the bag itself makes a big difference. You might as well pick one designed specifically for one of the toughest ultra out there – the Marathon Des Sables. 

The highly-durable bag is roomy and customisable. There’s an independent 4L front pouch (don’t call it a bumbag), for easy access to essentials, and various bottle holders and pouches, meaning you can add or subtract depending on the task at hand. More importantly, it’s comfortable; sitting nicely on the shoulders and distributing weight evenly.

 the kit you need for running an ultra - waa ultra bag

The WAA UltraBag 20L also offers a 270-degree opening meaning you can easily access items at the bottom of the bag, instead of fumbling around in a panic thinking you forgot those gel packs. Meanwhile, a waterproof section will guard those all important spare clothes against rain and perspiration.

When you’re not in the middle of the desert, the UltraBag also doubles as a brilliant commuter running bag. If you’re building a run to work into your training routine, it can hold a laptop in a case, a towel, a change of clothes and even a smart pair of shoes for the office, provided you pack carefully.

Buy now: $157.50 (around £120.00), waa-ultra.com  


Stay on track: Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

 kit you need for an ultra marathon - garmin fenix 5 plus

Not all running watches are created equal and, if you’re committing to an ultra marathon, you’ll need a watch that can go the distance with you. The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus builds on the company’s market-leading Forerunner range with a feature set primed for the longest distances on the toughest terrain.

While many running watches settle for one or two types of location and distance-tracking tech (GPS and GLONASS), the Fenix 5 Plus also has location data beamed down from the European Space Agency’s Galileo system for more accurate positioning in remote locations.

 the kit you need for an ultra marathon - garmin fenix 5 plus

Sometimes in ultras, you’ll find yourself all alone and a wrong turn could be fatal, but thankfully the Fenix 5’s distance-tracking tech is augmented by a routable colour mapping feature, which enables you to use a three-axis electronic compass to stay on route.

There’s also support for smartphone notifications, if you get your motivation from those WhatsApp messages of support, while there’s enough storage for 500 songs that keep you putting one foot in front of the other.

Minimising the load you’re carrying (physical as well as mental) becomes even more important during an ultra and the Fenix 5 has an optical heart-rate sensor. That means no chest strap is necessary, though to optimise the battery you might want to save this to check you recover. As a multisport watch, there’s the added bonus of 10ATM water resistance so it won’t give out on you during a storm.

Related: Phone-free Spotify on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus - our first impressions

The Fenix 5 Plus offers a 18-hours of battery life in GPS mode and 42-hours overall. However, for those multi-stage events where you may not have access to charging facilities, the Suunto 9, which offers a 120-hour battery life, is worth a look.

Buy now: £589.99, amazon.co.uk


Stay hydrated: Lifestraw Universal

 best running kit for marathon runners - lifestraw

You might not carry this on an ultra where there are regular aid stations, but on some of the most extreme runs, where drinkable water sources are limited, the Lifestraw Universal could be a literal life saver. 

Essentially, it’s a mobile filtration system that fits your favourite water bottle and gets rid of all kinds of nasties (99.999999% of bacteria, 99.999% of parasites, and 99.999% of microplastics). It works to the point you can drink from a stagnant pond, or even your own urine, and there’s also a replaceable carbon capsule that’ll remove chlorine and bad taste in less extreme situations. An attachment for Camelbak-style hydration pouches is coming soon too.

The Universal will last for 1000-gallons, so you should get plenty of life out of it, if the ultra running experience is fun enough to invite a repeat. At under £40, it’s also a really affordable solution, because you don’t want to be paying through the nose for the privilege of drinking your own pee.

Buy now: £39.95, lifestraw.com 


Limit the stink: Inov-8 AT/C Polygiene-infused base layers

best running kit for ultra marathons - inov8 

Anyone who’s been 18-hours into an ultra and found their own smell is making them gag will appreciate the importance of Polygiene’s stench-killing tech in these lightweight inov-8 layers.

The anti-microbial tech is added when the fabric is created and works to kill the bacteria that react to sweat and produce those nasty odours. 

Consideration for your fellow runners aside, anything that’s going to be touching your skin directly deserves the utmost consideration. The ultra-light AT/C has no seam on the hem or, limiting the chances of irritation. There’s also an inner rucksack band around the neck to increase comfort while lugging that carefully-packed race bag. 

best running gear for ultra marathon runners - inov8

These come in men’s and women’s cuts with short sleeve, long sleeve and zipped options, meaning there’s a garment for all weathers.

Buy now: £42.00, inov-8.com  


Avoid the burn: P20 sunscreen

best kit for running an ultra marathon - p20 

Here are some prerequisites for running sunscreen: easy application, all-day protection from one coat, complete water and sweat resistance, and zero chance of it running into your eyes and partially blinding you halfway through the race. You probably know from experience that the five year-old bottle of pineapple-scented Sun-Kissed Paradise you got for the family holiday in Corfu isn’t going to cut it.

What you really want is a bottle of P20 sunscreen, which is used by the Great Britain triathlon and paratriathlon teams. It offers 10-hours of continuous protection from one liberal pre-race spray.

Application is easy thanks to the continuous spray bottle and the design means the liquid continue to flow from whatever angle you’re coming at. Grab the factor 50 bottle. You’re not out there to top up your tan, after all.

Buy now: £24.99, boots.com


Run blister-free: 2Toms BlisterShield

 best running kit for ultras - 2Toms Blistershield

You can train hard enough to overcome many of the challenges an ultra marathon throws at you, but blisters aren’t one of them. Thankfully, you can launch a pre-emptive strike against these misery-inducing, race-killing ailments with 2Toms BlisterShield. This smart talc delivers the ultimate blister-beating combo; the ability to let sweat get out and stop moisture getting in. Put this stuff on your feet and in your socks and it’ll keep your feet dry, comfortable and blister-free.

It comes in travel size sachets, with enough powder for each foot/shoe. This makes it a perfect addition to the race bag for those multi-stage ordeals.

Buy now: £13.98, amazon.co.uk 


Reward your feet: OOFOS Recovery Footwear

 best running kit for ultra runners - OOFOS Recovery Footwear

When you cross the finish line after a 100 mile run, the chances are your feet will want out of shoes (possibly forever), particularly if your bruised toenails have put in a transfer request.  

The OOFOS are the most comfortable recovery flip-flops you can find, and you should find some now. They also now make shoe versions to wear on the days following your run if sliders and socks isn't your style. 

The patented OOfoam tech absorbs 37% more shock than traditional footwear (no need for rebound after the race). They also cradle your arches offering relief for your ankles, knees, hips and lower back, while the soft surface also moves with the natural motion of your feet. 

There are also plenty of options available for both men and women. Sliders and cloggs might not be the height of running fashion, but stick a pair of these in your post-race bag and your feet will thank you for it. 

Buy now: £48, oofos.co.uk 


Stay charged up: Anker PowerCore+ 5000

 best running gear for ultra runners - anker powercore 5000

Using your phone for snapping a few pics and the odd bit of music streaming via Bluetooth headphones and come the end of the race, it’s likely to be as low on gas as you are. 

After crossing the finish line you’ll naturally want to connect with wellwishers, fellow runners and the family who’ve come to cheer you on. A medal selfie post on Instagram is also near the top of most people’s post-ultra to-do list, just below beer and pizza. 

In some races having a fully charged mobile is also mandatory, so with this in mind, it’s definitely worth packing a portable power bank for your smartphone. And they don’t come much more portable than the reliable Anker PowerCore+ 5000, which is 4.3-inches long, just 1.3-inches thick and weighs only 5.7oz.

It’ll give you at least one full recharge on your iPhone or Android smartphone and it’ll do it quickly. Most importantly, this product has a great safety record, which isn’t always a given for this type of device.

If portability is your key concern, you can opt for the lower capacity PowerCore+ 3350 (3.7-in x 0.9-in, 3oz), which will get your phone battery most of the way back to full battery health. Just don’t forget your charging cable!

Buy now: £15, amazon.co.uk