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Gear Down: The Essentials According to the Pros

Ever heard of that saying, ‘all the gear and no idea”? It’s usually aimed at trail runners who arrive at the start line with every single piece of gear known to mankind. You know the ones; compression socks, arm warmers, multi-layered tops, elite tights, a cap with a Buff securing it in place, the trendiest hydration pack, GPS watches, slow-release magnesium patches. You name it, they’re sporting it. Generally speaking, they’re overtaken by the majority of the field in the first few kays (who are wearing far less gear I might add). 

When you start, “go easy on gear” says AJ Calitz, Guinness World Record holder for highest elevation gained in a day (10257 vertical meters), and record holder for the Fish River Canyon 100km (amongst many other victories). All you need are the essentials. Ben Brimble, record holder of Western Cape’s infamous Puffer Trail Run, agrees. “It’s why running is so cool; you can do the sport with so little gear and don’t have to worry about packing a big bag when you travel anywhere.” In a bid to have you arrive at the start line in a respectable and practical amount of gear, several South African trail pros have offered their advice and tips when it comes to gearing up for your Spur Trail Series® race: 

Get some decent shoes, because: They are your direct connection to the trail and can change your running experience for better or worse. 
Or suffer the consequences of: Common issues like blisters and disappearing toenails, or injuries that may be spawned from incorrectly fitted shoes.
Pro tip: “Get shoes that fit you best! Try out all the brands, in all shapes and sizes until you find a pair you like. You can run any trail, anywhere, as long as you are kind to your feet,” says Kane Reilly, 2nd place finisher of the 2015 Otter African Run and first in the solo category of the SOX 3-day stage race. If you’re brand new to trail and the budget is tight, rest assured, AJ Calitz has a solution. “When starting out, you can get very far in normal road shoes. I did the Otter Trail in road shoes twice! They were light and comfortable, so I chose them over trail shoes.” 

Wear some decent bottoms, because: Poor fitting pants or tights will lead to rubbing and irritation, which will lead to a sense of humour failure. It’s easy to succumb to fashion spreads in glossy magazines and buy pants that look super cool, bright or colourful without giving consideration to the fit or comfort. Here’s some advice – don’t do that. 
Or suffer the consequences of: Inner thigh chafe – there is literally nothing worse. Or pants that fall down when you run. 
Pro tip: “Opt for loose-fitting and lightweight shorts”, says Kane Reilly. His preference is Salomon Sense shorts and he claims that it’s the closest he has come to ‘running naked’. If you’re not up for running naked though – just be sure to try the shorts or tights on prior to buying and make sure they fit snugly (without being too tight), that they don’t fall down when you walk and lastly, that there are no obvious tags or irritating seams anywhere that could cause trouble 10 kays into a run. Capri pants or long tights are great for women wanting to protect their shins and thighs from savage foliage on the trails. 

Get a Buff, because: They might look super goofy, but Buffs are undeniably one of the most practical, although overlooked, pieces of gear. Trail power-couple, Landie and Christiaan Greyling never leave the house without theirs, come rain or sunshine. “If we happen to forget our Buffs on a run we’ll turn around to head home and get them,” says Christiaan, winner of 2015’s Ultra Trail Cape Town 65km. In the big scheme of things, a Buff doesn’t have to set you back more than R200, but it could potentially save you in times of heat, cold, bugs, wind, snow, sand, injury … you get the point. 
Or suffer the consequences of: Sunburn, wind-burn, hair in your eyes, bugs in your face, frost face, being freezing, cold ears, sweat in your eyes, the list goes on. There are so many uses for a Buff… without one you’re basically not a trail runner. 
Pro tip: “Buffs are handy for any type of weather conditions. Cold or hot, rain or sunshine, it works for everything and is so lightweight,” says Landie Greyling, Runner’s World Magazine’s Trail Runner of the Year 2015, who doesn’t go anywhere without hers. 

Windbreaker/Outer Shell
Get a decent outer shell because: Trail running often sees you traversing mountains and exploring trails a little off the beaten track. The weather in such places can be unpredictable and thus it’s important to have an outer shell, should a storm blow in or a strong wind pick up. An outer shell doesn’t necessarily have to be waterproof, but it must be windproof, water resistant and of course, made from breathable fabric. When buying one also look out for bright colours and things like reflective strips, for any night running you may take up. The more lightweight your outer shell, the more convenient it is to pop in your hydration pack or back pocket!
Or suffer the consequences of: Your core temperature dropping, and an uncomfortable run exposed to the elements.
Pro Tip: “Even in summer conditions, I pack my lightweight windbreaker. You never know what the weather will be doing on the top of a mountain,” says Landie Greyling. "It’s important to be sensible and accept that if you’re trail running in the mountains, weather can be unpredictable."

Hydration Pack
Spend cash on a good hydration pack, because: On long runs you need to get used to the idea of carrying your own water, food and gear, so why not ensure you do it comfortably. To make sure you have the best run possible, fit, poke, prod and bounce around in all the different hydration packs in store before you settle on one that works. It needs to fit snugly, so that bouncing around is minimal. Look for hydration packs with side-pockets that sit on your hips in front, for easy access to snacks and your phone/GPS, or whatever you need to get to quickly – it helps massively on trails not to have to take your entire pack off every time you need something. 
Or suffer the consequences of: Shoulder and back chafe from a bouncing back pack, gear falling out, sore, tired shoulders and potentially another sense of humour failure. 
Pro tip: “A hydration pack is vital for switching your mind from road to trail. You may only be running 12 kays, but it may take you two hours and you'll need some hydration. You've got to find one that feels like it’s just part of your day. In fact, get used to just popping it on before you go running,” says Megan MacKenzie, 2015 African X winner and SA trail champ. If you don’t have cash for a hydration pack, “try something like Salomon’s soft flask,” says Landie. “It’s very lightweight, and can roll up and fit into a pocket once you’re done.” If you are wanting something that will work for longer missions as well as short runs, Christiaan recommends a “five litre pack, as it can fit a lot in if need be, or it can be used as a lightweight pack. Plus there is room for your cell phone for all those trail selfie moments…”

Get a good cap, because:
It’ll protect you from the elements; hold back your hair and well, it’ll make you look cool too! Being a trail runner means you’re going to be exposed to sunshine and harmful UV rays more than most people, so having a cap (on top of using ample sunscreen) helps to prevent any skin damage that may be caused by the sun. A peak cap also keeps the rain out of your eyes in the not-so-lovely weather, which can make the difference between chugging happily on or slowing to a gentle stroll so that you can see where you’re going ...
Or suffer the consequences of: Sunburn, windburn, rain in your eyes. 
Pro tip: “Find one that won't give you a squeezy headache or fly off in the wind,” says Megan MacKenzie. “Remember, the mountains are at higher altitude where the sun gets to you more. The last thing you want is heatstroke or sunburn to put you out of training”. 

Check out the lastest #AboutTrail video here for more tips and advice from Wildrunner MD, Owen Middleton.