Packing List for an Ultra

Even if you’re an experienced ultra runner it’s worth having a checklist for packing. Main note should always be to have the mandatory kit. In Covid times you might not be subject to a full kit check at registration but the overall or group winners almost certainly are and a random selection of other runners. If you suddenly have the race of your life and win Western States, you don’t want to be DQd for forgetting something.

Not everyone fuels their ultras like this….

Carrying During The Race

Below is what I’d pick to carry from for a typical 80/100 miler that had aid stations and a halfway drop box.

Check what’s mandatory for your race and from what point – some will allow you to put head torches etc in your halfway drop bag since if you don’t make it to halfway before nightfall you’ll have been timed out at a previous checkpoint.

Unless going superlight for the win, even on an easy ultra on a good day I’d carry a spare long sleeve top in a ziplock bag to keep it dry. Things can go wrong and if you twist your ankle on a summers afternoon and crawl into the next aid station in a sweaty tee you’ll be getting cold.

Headtorch rules vary. Some are fine with a spare battery, some require a separate torch completely since if you fall and smash it then all the batteries in the world aren’t going to help you see.

Some may also require a red light on your rear (often in European races) – it can be acceptable to be a red light on rear of head torch, or they may require a separate one on your pack, active for duration of race (so if you fall down a mountain in daylight they can fish you out at night even if you didn’t have the presence of mind to turn it on mid-fall).

For hot weather than arm sleeves are great for wetting, protecting from the sun, or shoving ice down. If you know it’s going to get hot & bright then put on sunscreen before setting off.

All three of these are technically cups. Only one is actually of use as a cup. It’s also about £1 from Decathlon.

The cup debate rages on. Do you need soft and hard, or does one suffice, how big should they be etc? Personally I’m a thirsty git so would rather a 1g weight penalty than carry a cup the size of a thimble.

Carrying During The Race 
Phone and waterproof caseMandatory
Torch 75lumensMandatory
Backup torch 25lumensMandatory
Bladder / bottles 1 litre+Mandatory
Cup (some require hard and soft)Mandatory
Emergency blanketMandatory
Rain jacket, taped seamsMandatory
Spoon/fork/sporkOften Mandatory
Waterproof trousers, taped seamsOften Mandatory
Emergency calories (often 500cal)Often Mandatory
Buff or hatMandatory
Base layer or fleece top (not worn) in dry bagOften Mandatory
Tracker – Maps – Race numberMandatory
Suncream (if race starts at night)Medical
First aid kit Medical
Nipple tapeMedical
Salt Caps / salt tabletsMedical
Zero/sports tabsMedical
Any essential meds (insulin etc)Medical
Race vest/waist pouchGear
Emergency cash & cardGear
Arm sleevesGear
Calf guardsGear
Peaked cap for rain/sunGear
Sunglasses Gear
GPS watchGear
Cliff shot blocksFood/Supplement
Caffeine Bullet of GelsFood/Supplement
Baby Food Sachets / Food of choiceFood/Supplement
Zip lock bag for food at aid stationsFood/Supplement

Drop Bag(s)

What you put in drop boxes or bags will depend on race distance, weather and level of support. In Covid times you’re likely to get a lot less food options than previously at checkpoints so may want to put something relatively substantial in if that works for you.

It’s worth checking expected pace and cut offs to try and predict when you’ll get to each drop box. If it works out one before nightfall and one in the early morning you may want to have cold weather gear in first, and warmer stuff for morning as you make the final push for victory!

If you know either from experience that you’ll need poles for the second half as you fall apart over an ultra, or that the challenging climbs are only in the second half then pack them.

Likewise if you’re carrying stuff you haven’t used or won’t need further and can drop without falling foul of mandatory equipment rules then put that in the bag when you get there and lighten your load.

Don’t pack so much stuff that you piss off the aid station volunteers but also remember you don’t necessarily have to use or take everything from the box/bag – in most cases your stuff is transported to the end for you. Better to pack some spare socks and shoes and not need them than to macerate your feet in the first 50 miles and carry on in soaking shoes and socks for the rest of the race (me on Lakeland 100). I also would never even think to pack talcum powder but when I saw someone at LL100 with a ziplock bag of it, their feet inside getting beautifully dried before they left the checkpoint I was envious beyond measure.

If you’re doing a longer point to point you may get to the end before your drop bags do and need to wait around for them. If you think that might be a problem then pack more minimally and not have anything you would be sad to let go in them. For SDW100 I had shoeboxes for each point with a couple of old hats, buffs and some food items that I didn’t mind giving up so either used them or left at aid station with the volunteers to offer to anyone coming through that needed them.

Even if I don’t intend to use shoe boxes as the drop bags, I often have two open on the side and throw stuff in the week before as I find it/buy it and then transfer to small bags the night before after a final check.

Not the best photo, but throwing stuff into shoeboxes helps.

The lists below are pretty extensive, if you packed all of these you’d likely get some sarcastic comments from the volunteers.

Drop bag 1 -50 miles, 7pm Drop bag 2 -70 miles, 11pm 
Headtorch (if able to collect at checkpoint)MandatoryBattery pack(s)Electrical 
Any additional mandatory items (hi-viz?)MandatoryVaseline for chaffingMedical
GPS watch chargerElectrical Talcum powder for feetMedical
Phone chargerElectrical Tape for feetMedical
Battery pack(s)Electrical Dry hat/buffGear
HeadphonesElectrical Dry Base Layer or TeeGear
Vaseline for chaffingMedicalChange of SocksGear
Talcum powder for feetMedicalCarrier bag for sweaty stuffGear
Tape for feetMedicalSports Drink / RedbullFood/Supplement
Poles / Cheat sticksGearBeerFood/Supplement
Dry hat/buffGearMilk ShakeFood/Supplement
Long sleeve top if expecting coldGearStarbucks Double EspressoFood/Supplement
Dry Base LayerGearCaffeine BulletFood/Supplement
Change of ShoesGearBaby Food SachetsFood/Supplement
Change of SocksGearRice PuddingFood/Supplement
Extra gloves in case of rainGearPot NoodleFood/Supplement
Carrier bag for sweaty stuffGear  
Sports Drink / RedbullFood/Supplement  
Milk ShakeFood/Supplement  
Starbucks Double EspressoFood/Supplement  
Caffeine BulletFood/Supplement  
Baby Food SachetsFood/Supplement  
Rice PuddingFood/Supplement  
Pot NoodleFood/Supplement  

The End Bag

Don’t forget that after running 100 miles you will eventually finish and need to consider what to have in your end bag. Depending on facilities this may be in a fully kitted out sports hall with showers, steam room and good transport links or it could be in a muddy field, under a tree, with a 3 mile walk to the train station. Either way you need to consider keeping warm, getting out of your sweat/poo/snot covered gear and getting home. If it’s somewhere with power it’s worth having a phone charger so you can use your phone to ring the husband for a lift home after it went flat from excessive usage for selfies.

End Drop Bag 
Joggers / shortsGear
Dry topGear
Rain coatGear
Shoes or flip flops (depending on weather etc)Gear
Carrier bag for sweaty stuffGear
Glasses for drive back (if contact wearer)Gear
Recovery drinkFood/Supplement
Celebration drinkFood/Supplement
Phone charger (wall charger)Electrical 
Wet wipesMedical
Towel & shampoo if showersMedical
A clue how to get home/meet liftMandatory!

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