*If you're a well-seasoned Adventure Racer with several multi-day events under your belt then this post is potentially too simplistic for you sorry (although you may see some items you like the look of...). If however, you're just getting into the sport or transitioning from shorter events into longer races then read on.
So you've got your training program mapped out, your support crew has been suitably bribed into keeping you fed and watered on the day and you've finished researching the benefits of strategically administering "anti-chafe" in all the right places. All that's left is to worry about what to wear. After several years and several bad decisions on what to carry and when, I've compiled a list of what I think works best in a variety of conditions given that compulsory gear is by definition compulsory (no matter how badly you want to shave off a few grams by leaving that whistle in the car).
- This is probably the item I would stress about the most and buy the earliest when preparing for an event. You want to have time to play around with it out training in different conditions and decide if that strap cutting off circulation to your upper arm is going to really annoy you come race day. The size you go for is dependent on how long the race is, what compulsory gear you have to carry and the likely weather conditions (great weather often means you're carrying more gear in your pack than on your person). You want just enough room for everything to fit comfortably but without any left over space for it to all bounce around in when you're hurtling at top speed down the side of a hill. For a 12 hour event 14-18 litres should be plenty (keep in mind 3 litres will be taken up with water).
- An easy to access compartment for a hydration bladder. This will make refilling at transitions easy on that support team.
- Waist and chest straps to reduce movement when running
- Compression straps to reduce overall volume when needed
- Waist strap pocket for easy to grab snacks
The Macpac Eskdale 16 has been my go to pack for Spring Challenge - I really like that I can remove the water bladder without having to open up the rest of the pack. It also features an expandable stash pocket that makes stuffing your jacket away quick and easy. Other good examples are the Deuter 18 SL Attack and the Raptor 14.
You don't really appreciate a good set of waterproofs until you've been running around in the pouring west coast rain for the better part of 15 hours. For the most part you'll find your jacket just comes along for the ride. Light rain, especially on a warm day usually doesn't warrant stopping to put a shell layer on so it inevitably stays stuffed at the bottom of your pack. For this reason you want a jacket that packs down small, is lightweight but will still keep you dry if it begins to bucket down. A hood that has a stiffened peak will hold itself out of your eyes when you're trying to navigate and a high collar will help keep the rain from running down under your chin. If you can spare the money, go for a fabric that is highly breathable as well as at least 10 000HH as you will sweat less and stay dryer underneath while running around. Unlike your base layers, you will want a bit more room with a rain jacket so that your arms are not restricted and you can pull it on and off easily over other layers. This doesn't always mean you have to go up a size though so take your time to try on different combinations underneath before you buy. As a good rule you should be able to fit a thermal top and a mid weight fleece comfortably with the jacket just covering the top part of your legs. If you're looking for an entry level (cheaper) option, focus on finding a jacket that fits well, is seam sealed and has a hood that won't fall over your face - borrowing is always a god option when you're starting out.
- Hood with stiffened peak
- Breathable and waterproof (at least 10,000 hh) with all seams taped
- Packs down small
Good examples are the Macpac Hightail Anorak, the Berghaus Light Speed Hydroshell, Marmot Precip Jacket and the Outdoor Research Helium II (I'm a big fan of the colour options in this one).
Waterproof pants are a pain because you hardly ever need them but when you do it's raining, hailing and blowing a gale and all you want to do is murder your teammates for signing you up for a 12 hour rogaine in the middle of winter. The moral of the story is find a pair that pack down small enough that you won't notice them when you don't need them but will stop your legs from going numb when you find yourself in the middle of a storm halfway to nowhere.
- Seam sealed and waterproof fabric (5000hh is a good starting point)
- Adjustable/elastic waistband
- Big enough to pull on over your pants/tights easily but not baggy (you may have to mountain bike in them). Make sure you try them on with your intended race kit in the store as this will give you an indication if the leg zips and waist adjustment are quick and easy to use.
- Due to the aforementioned lack of use, these are probably the top item to borrow until you have built up the rest of your gear list over time.
This is where having a couple of options on hand can help come race day depending on what kind of weather you end up with. If it's going to be dry and hot go for a nice lightweight fleece that packs down small as it will spend most of the day in your pack but may still be needed at the top of a mountain or later in the evening if you're still out and about. Alternatively, if you're looking at sub zero temperatures and know you'll need every bit of warmth you can squeeze out of your kit, then go for something a little heavier and warmer as you'll need to be able to stay warm if you need to stop for any reason out on the course or if you're likely to be wet for much of the day. Due to the high amount of perspiration involved, I tend to shy away from merino as it gets heavy when damp and will make you cold once you stop. Lightweight synthetic fleece layers are better when wet and will keep you warmer in cold wind when your back is all sweaty. For the tech geeks out there I'd recommend looking at Polartec's new Alpha fabric for superior breathability and packability.
- High neck to cut the wind when it's cold
- Close fitting for easy layering under your hard shell and race bib
- Thumb loops can make for a good alternative to gloves while keeping your fingers free to operate your compass
- Long enough to cover your lower back when you're on the bike
- Ventilated under arm panels are a bonus
Some examples are the Marmot Thermo Hoody, Macpac Pitch Fleece, Ground Effect Pushover and Arcteryx Gaea Jacket
These are usually pride of place on any gear list and once again the weather on the day will dictate whether or not you wear them the whole time or they just come along for the ride. I find my thermal top can be perfect for just a little extra warmth in the early morning before the sun comes up even on a nice day. I wear this over my quick dry tee (more on these further down) then remove it once I've warmed up or after the first transition. Thermal leggings are often needed in winter events for the whole course or throw on before heading into an alpine section to keep those leg muscles warm. There are lots of options in terms of material; lightweight merino helps wick moisture away from your body and helps with temperature regulation although I find some synthetics dry faster and can be a nice alternative depending on what you like the feel of. Thermal layers are a good place to save money if you're on a budget as entry level versions will still do the job of keeping you warm although they lack the breathability of some of their pricier counterparts. Definitely train wearing your leggings especially as I've had pairs in the past that have rubbed me up the wrong way after hours of running in them.
- Should be close fitting to the body with enough length in the top to give good coverage of your lower back when on the bike
- Fabrics that have a good amount of warmth but also breathability are key for aerobic activity
- If you choose wool go for lightweight merino 150-180g/m2 in warmer weather and 200-220g/m2 in colder weather
- Make sure the waistband is comfortable but snug enough that your pants won't ride down with prolonged walking/running
Some examples are: Icebreaker Zone LS Crew, Macpac Prothermal Hooded, Macpac Geothermal, Arcteryyx Rho LTW Zip Neck
Tops and Shorts/Tights
If the weather Gods choose to bless you with blue skies and a high temperature then you'll find you spend most of the race in a tee and shorts or tights. These are also likely to be layers you spend most of your time training in with the thermals and mid layers only coming out sporadically depending on the time of year. This means choosing layers that are comfortable, meet the requirements of racing and are durable enough that you won't be wearing through them every few weeks. For Tees, quick drying and moisture wicking is important to keep moisture moving away from your skin. When you get sweaty and/or wet you are more likely to get chaffing in areas where your clothing is rubbing against your body. The more these fabrics can work to keep you dry the better your skin is likely to stand up to the rigors of training and racing. With that said, if you're facing serious heat on race day then you may want to look for a fabric that will hold some of that moisture to help keep you cooler while on the move. Polartec have recently released it's first cooling fabric - Polartec Delta, which wicks sweat away from the skin but then holds it close enough that you still benefit from the cooling process as it evaporates into the air. It enhances the body's own sweat response but is still comfortable to wear as the fabric won't stick to your body. For those of you just looking for a good all round option for a mix of running and cycling, then opt for fabrics that have a UPF rating of 50+ to keep you protected from the sun and that all important breathablitly. I use Polartec Power Dry fabrics and have found them to be quick drying and durable. As with any synthetic though, all the sweat can get a little smelly over time so throw your layers in a hot wash to keep them fresh!
On the legs I go for a thin legging (don't have to sunscreen my legs then) for races where the average temperature is in the teens or higher. For mid-winter I switch to a fleece lined tight which has a little wind protection (I still need the thermals under these if it gets closer to freezing). I prefer a drawstring on the waistband so they stay in place while I'm crawling through fields of matagouri and avoid zips at the ankle as they can wear a hole in your skin after a long day. A zip pocket is a bonus for stashing bits of food if your pack doesn't have pockets on the waist band. If your race is biking heavy then you may opt for a chamois which offers more padding for your behind. These can be a full bike short which you might choose to wear for the whole race or a lining short that you can wear over or under your other layers. Train with different combinations and decide what works the best for you and how speedy you need your transitions to be.
- Sun protection UPF 40-50+
- Moisture wicking and breathable
- Waist bands that won't ride down
- Weather appropriate - will you need cooling down or will you be trying to stay warm most of the race?
Some examples are: Macpac Warp SS Tee (Polartec Power Dry), The North Face Better Than Naked SS (Flash Dry), Ground Effect Short Cuts,
These include socks, gloves, hats, buffs, shoes and the bits and bobs that may end up in your pack come race day.
Socks - find a pair with good padding, train in them and then buy a brand new pair for race day.
Gloves - thin, lightweight merino or polypro will keep your hands warm even when they get wet on the running sections. Bike gloves for the biking sections are key - full fingered if it's cold, fingerless in the heat.
Hats - a thin merino beanie breathes well and again will keep your noggin toasty when wet. I go for a buff over a cap as I can keep it on under my helmet and it keeps my hair out of my face all day - it also soaks up the sweat quite effectively.
Shoes - These are a pretty personal choice and depend on the type of training you are doing and if you plan on wearing cleats on the bike. I tend not to go too lightweight with trail shoes as I have flat feet and need extra support around the ankle. A grippy sole with plenty of tread is key but there is a wide range of choices on offer that would be totally suitable. It's important you try on different brands to find one that fits your foot the best - then shop around for anything that fits into the trail running family. Don't buy shoes too far out or too close to the race, the former may wear out after 6 months of training and the latter won't be broken in very well if they came out of the box the same week.
You will also need a basic bike tool kit and the knowledge of how to use it. Many bike shops do beginner bike mechanics info sessions or rope in someone to teach you the ways of changing a tyre before you need to do it in the middle of a race. I carry a puncture repair kit, chain breaker and spare link, spare tube, bike pump and tyre levers. Strapping tape fixes a multitude of problems including blisters so I usually have a roll of this in my bag with a simple first aid kit (plasters, paracetamol, survival blanket).
If you have any questions regarding any of the gear I have mentioned feel free to leave a message in the comments section below. Most stores that stock outdoor apparel will have staff that can talk you through the pros and cons of different fabric choices so ask plenty of questions before you commit to any of the pricier items and make sure they are going to offer you the versatility you need for adventure races.
*There are lots of great options on the market and the items I've included above are just a few of the examples that I have come across or used personally and are by no means an exhaustive list.