With this in mind, when I showed up to the OR Show last week, I was on the lookout for new clothing, shoes, and equipment that might aid me a little in these efforts. Most of the clothing and equipment that really impressed me is not new, just somewhat new to me. Because most of the racing I have done in the last couple years has been on the bike, I have been a little out of the loop as far as mountain running gear is concerned. So, forgive me if some of this stuff is old news for many of you, but hopefully some of this will be helpful.
Everybody seems to be offering trail/mountain running clothing these days. Because I haven't tried all the different shorts and shirts, I am inclined to guess that they're all very similar (though I'm sure the various company reps may disagree). That is a totally uneducated guess, however, because I haven't spent hours reading about all the technical features of the various fabrics and I haven't used most of the clothing on the market. There are a two pieces, however, that I am excited to try out. These two pieces aren't necessarily extremely different than some of the other offerings, but they are different enough to peak my interest.
The first piece is the Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket. The Helium has been around for a long time and has been one of my favorite ultralight pieces. I really like it because, at 6oz, I don't notice it in my pack (where it stays most of the time). When I do need it, it is waterproof, breathes pretty well, is quite durable, and I don't have to worry about tearing the jacket because of OR's incredible warranty. Now, take this jacket, make it slightly lighter, slightly more durable, and more breathable, equally waterproof, and slightly more packable. I think we have a winner. Other companies offer similar jackets, but none of them offer such a killer warranty (something I really like in ultralight gear).
The second piece that I really like is the CAMP Magic Jacket. This jacket has been around for a while, but I still think it is cutting edge. CAMP is generally known among climbers/ski mountaineers to make the lightest clothing and equipment. The Magic Jacket is a 4oz hooded windshell that is very water resistant and very breathable (or so I'm told). This jacket has no water-resistant coating and no waterproof membrane to impede breathability. It gets it's wind- and water-resistance from its extremely tightly woven material. The material is 20 denier nylon ripstop that is 33% stronger and only 10% heavier than 15 denier ripstop. This jacket packs down smaller than almost any other I've seen and is all you'd need for a wind and snow shell in fast and light winter pursuits and for wind and rain for 95% of summer assaults (in Utah, anyway).
I think it has become fairly apparent that I have a bias toward Altra shoes. They have, after all, allowed me to enjoy running again without the knee/foot pain I've experienced in other shoes. I have loved my Instincts, I love the Lone Peaks (best for trail running, not necessarily scrambling), and I am super excited about a new trail offering that was introduced to me at OR; the Altra Superior. The Superior is a lighter, faster, less protective trail runner than the Lone Peak. It shares the same foot-shaped, zero-drop last, but the midsole is just a bit softer and has a removable stone guard. The stone guard looks like a very thin insole that fits under the main insole and is very flexible but quite hard to protect the foot against rocks. It can be removed if running less rocky trails or you simply like to feel the trail a little more. I see the Lone Peak becoming my main trail training shoe and ultra shoe (30+ mile runs) and the Superior will most likely become my go to shoe for shorter trail races or local peak time trials.
Gray insole is the rock protection insert.
These two photos stolen from samwinebaum.blogspot.com. Please check out his blog so he doesn't get mad at me.
Check out Sam's blog here: http://samwinebaum.blogspot.com
Hydration has come a long way in the last few years as far as mountain running is concerned. If I was to do a run that was about 10 miles or less, I would simply hydrate well before the run and then rehydrate after and not carry anything with me. If I went on a run longer than that, I would take my Osprey Raptor 6. It seemed to carry pretty well, though there was a lot of sloshing. I think this is a great pack for mountain biking and really not bad for running, but I would still avoid carrying it whenever possible. There were two hydration pack companies, however, that really impressed me with their offerings.
The first pack that was super impressive to me (and quite expensive; $200) is the Salomon Advanced Skin S-lab 5. This pack is designed to ride high on the back and does not extend to the lower back. The pack extends to about the bottom of the rib cage. It has a great feature set with plenty of easy to access pockets for gels, bottles, etc. It also has features to hold poles, phone, a really light jacket, etc. The pack comes with a 1.5 liter bladder plus a water bottle or two making it the ideal size for organized ultras with aid stations every 20-30 miles. For longer day outings a 12 liter version is available. The bladder on this version is still only 1.5 liters, but the pack is large enough for a light insulating layer and windshell, more food, etc. This pack also offers on-the-fly compression to keep everything close to the body.
Advanced Skin S-Lab vest
Another hydration innovation from Salomon that I'm excited about is the Sense Hydro S-Lab Set, which is a new flask handheld. Instead of sloshy handhelds, it is a soft flask. Salomon offers a couple sized in their flasks; 148ml, 237ml, and 500ml. The flask is held in place by a couple elastic mesh straps which also pressurize the flask to easily spray water into your mouth, face, etc. Also, as the flask starts to get low on water, you can fold the flask in half under the strap to keep the water from sloshing and keep it pressurized. The flask can be held on the front or back of the hand, allowing one to also use poles at the same time as the hand held. In my opinion, these are probably the best offering for handheld running hydration currently on the market (that I know of). The Set comes with two gloves and one flask for $40 with additional flask costing $18 (for 148ml and 237ml sizes) and $20 (for $500ml size).
The other brand of hydration that impressed me is Ultraspire. I'd been told about Ultraspire from some avid ultrarunner friends, but this was the first chance to get a good look at the full line. Many non-sponsored friends swear by Ultraspire products, and many Ultraspire-sponsored athletes swear by them too. I'm really excited to get my hands on a few of their packs and belts to try them out this fall. There wasn't one particular item that really impressed me, it was really the innovations throughout their whole line. Check out http://www.ultraspire.net
As trail and mountain running grows in popularity, so will the technology. The not-too-distant future looks very promising for this sport. There's probably a whole bunch of other sweet stuff that I missed mentioning, but I have to get back to work.