It’s a free country. We all have our favourite kit. Our preferred way of doing stuff.
But for what it’s worth, here are my top tips on how to ‘pack a pack’ in association with Beta Running & Ultimate Direction.
Taking the Ultimate Direction Signature Series Scott Durek Ultra Vest as our running vest of choice…
For a breakdown of what makes a running vest the ideal piece of running related storage, read my recent blog entitled ‘What IS a Running Vest?‘
If you’re running for long enough. You’ll likely need a drink. If running for hours on end, you’ll need food as well. The weather can change, so having layers and a waterproof outer shell can help in the event you have to stop, or slow down and can’t keep warm by moving alone.
Also, you’ll often find that depending upon the time of day, you might run the risk of finishing your run in the dark.
So items like a headtorch, spare batteries, map & compass, microspikes, poles and more will be required by many.
It’s worth being prepared, with the correct gear upon your person, even if confident you won’t need it.
Okay – the basics. Waterproofs. They often come supplied with their own stuff sack (a small pouch which can accommodate jacket in its entirety).
Thing is, this means that they’re balled up and create a lump against your back when stuffed inside your vest.
Better to fold it flat, like you were placing it away in a drawer at home, then layer it against the inside of the main compartment, so it lies against your back when carried.
The waterproof nature of this first item ensures that it won’t suffer as you sweat, with rain posing no threat whatsoever, since it’s specifically designed to withstand moisture.
The bonus here, is that the remaining kit in your bag is shielded until further notice, by the waterproof barrier against your back. Contents won’t get soaked and any objects with hard edges, you’ve yet to pack – shouldn’t cause any discomfort through that extra layer of material.
Next, if you’re taking them, over trousers. Same tactic, but times two! Even more protection.
Note: It’s far more likely that you’ll wear your jacket than your trousers. So pack the trousers first and perhaps leave them there.
Now. There are items which you’d obviously prefer didn’t get wet at all. Electronics. Spare clothing. Food.
So you ought to consider a dry bag. A waterproof bag, with a roll up top, which can be used to secure items and ensures that they remain dry. They float when fastened, which is why they’re popular with those engaging in water based activity, but the trick with packing one into your vest, is to flatten the bag once everything’s in. Just squash it until all excess air has been removed and layer it in next to the already flattened clothing.
Where food is concerned, there are different schools of thought, depending on people’s ability and tollerance of eating while on the move. Fatigue can cause the digestive system to have trouble dealing with what might normally be a firm favourite at the dinner table. So train as you go, trying out foods which can be stored safely and still seem appealing and palatable after hours of exercise.
For most runners, the front of the pack/vest is where they’ll want the majority of their nutrition, since they’ll be attempting to ‘graze’ as they run. Within easy reach, your food choices are going to be bite sized or easy to pick away at until finshed. But there’s always someone who prefers to stop and take a meal break, or likes ‘real food’ as opposed to race gels or anything overly processed.
You’ll want to take care with any delicate food stuffs, so the kind of stuff you’ll be carrying ought to be resilient enough to handle a lot of bouncing and shaking. So think flapjack, energy bars, green bananas, pasta, rice, etc.
A strangely divisive issue is the inclusion of a mobile phone on your run. Not so much a question of should I carry one, so much as where?
My common sense says that on a race day the phone remains firmly fixed within that dry bag, for insurance against damage, so that if needed in emergency, it works and has sufficient battery left to locate me in a rescue scenario.
Alternatively, while training – the phone comes in handy for photo opportunities and such. There’s usually room enough in one of the UD Ultra Vest’s front pockets for a smart phone if you should wish to have access.
There’s little chance of me removing and unpacking the entire bag if I’ve stacked it down a steep bank or suffered a broken arm or hand, but I still try to keep my phone tucked away for the sake of safety, having drowned previous models duringhours of heavy rain with my poor phone left exposed in the top of a backpack.
But – part of me likes to have it to hand for taking calls from anyone else who might be having an emergency of their own! I am, after all, a parent and am known to receive calls about accidents and illnesses, when I least expect them… What to do….?
So maybe the phone stays out of the drybag for now. In a zip-lock sandwhich bag for good measure. Still waterproof, but visible enough to see who’s calling and for me to operate the phone, with touch screens still working even through the plastic.
Sorted. There’s just the matter of those occasional items, seasonal essentials and so on. Things like torch, poles, bothy shelter, microspikes for snow/ice, power bank…
Items like these (headtorch/compass) may be in your bag all day just in case/in anticipation of a late finish. They may of course be useful from the get-go.
With the set up described above, you can cram them in for good measure, particularly into those handy external pockets on the rear of the main chamber and never feel any jabs from corners or hard edges during your run.
All that remains, is to pack any and every little thing that you might want your hands on, into the front pockets and enjoy a contstant rate of progress as you’ve no need to stop*.
You can feed yourself (I’ve been known to slice & bag up a pizza, then have a nibble every 30mins or so) via the front pockets which sit over the front of the bottle pockets, which in turn contain upto a litre of drink and come included with the ultra vest. Batteries I think ought to be within reach, since you’ll be changing them in the dark, so wrap ’em in a bag of their own and get used to finding them by feel, unless you also carry a spare torch altogether (which I often do).
Snacks and treats have a place, along with a supplemental pack of Clif Bloks to replace electrolytes (vital salts) if desired.
For changeable conditions, it often proves useful to have hat & gloves in range as well, since you can find yourself putting them on and taking them off again throughout your trip.
*always bear in mind that it’s a life saver to stop and add insulation/protective clothing whenever the weather turns harsh, or you’re forced to slow down or stop. And it might not always be because you were incapable – stopping to assisting a fellow runner causes you to lose heat just as quickly as sitting still with a sprained ankle. Don’t be afraid to take the time when you’ve all the correct kit right there on your back. And don’t be afraid to upgrade your whistle, which again comes included with the ultra vest, but for real volume, try a dedicated emergency whistle.
And that’s it. Ditch the stuff sacks. Dry Bag the important bits. Keep the emergency items within reach. Doddle.