Tonight I head south from Minneapolis on the long drive to Chicago, where the Big Blues Ramble orienteering meet (http://chicago-orienteering.org) is taking place in the woods outside town.
This is a United States Orienteering Federation-sanctioned meet, with people coming in from around the country to hunt and sprint for flags. Here’s the gear I plan to use to (hopefully) make a good showing. . .
Asics GEL Dirt Dog 2
Forget trail runners. I want some real speed — and real grip — for the sprint events this weekend. As such, I’m employing the Asics GEL Dirt Dog 2, a versatile cross-country racer that weighs 5.7 oz. per shoe. Metal track spikes provide excellent grip on mud and grass. Or, you can switch out the spikes for the included rubberized pins for courses that contain some paved surfaces. (In my tests so far, however, two of the rubberized pins have fallen off and gotten lost as I ran on the road, so I’ll be employing metal from now on.) These shoes have essentially no support: It’s your feet over a grid of spikes with a thin sheen of PU plastic in between. Not for the timid or tame. ($75, http://www.asicsamerica.com)
Suunto Arrow 1 Thumb
You wear this compass, as the name portends, on your thumb. It’s an esoteric navigational tool that’s become essential for me in the sport of orienteering. Essentially, this is a quick-damping needle that points north while floating in a little-marked dial. It lacks most of the directional and bearing markings found on a traditional compass. It cinches onto your thumb with a tab of elasticized webbing and stays there safe and secure as you run along. With no markings, the transparent compass provides an unencumbered view of cartographic detail when set on the surface of a map, save for a couple thin directional lines and a scale. The dial of the Arrow 1 Thumb spins for aligning the compass to a bearing on a map and following that degree in the backcountry. Quickest compass I’ve found. ($45, www.suuntousa.com)
Brave Soldier foot lube
I’m making the maiden voyage with Brave Soldier’s Friction Zone lube, an anti-chafing, anti-blister salve that includes ingredients like soybean oil, siliconized beeswax, shea butter, macadamia nut butter, and aloe vera extract. Sounds good enough to eat! I’ll be dabbing generous amounts on my toes and heels before sprinting off. This kind of salve is a crucial ingredient to any longish-distance foot racing I do. I usually use Hydropel, a long-trusted brand. We’ll see how Brave Soldier stacks up. . . . ($16 for 2.5oz tube, www.bravesoldier.com)
Longtime Gear Junkie readers are tired of hearing about the Buff, I am sure. But nothing else I’ve tested over the past five years has stuck with me as much as the Original Buff, a hard-to-categorize headgear piece that’s essentially a tubular hat made of a thin, stretchy, seamless synthetic fabric that hugs your head to wick sweat or keep the sun and wind at bay. I use Buffs year-round, as headbands in the summer, hats in the spring and fall, and balaclavas during the wintertime. This weekend a Buff will serve as a sweat-wicking headband as I run the race. (Original Buff, $18.50; www.buff.us)
Smith Rx Reactor Max
The Reactor Max from Smith Optics are my long-loved top pick for Rx glasses. This weekend I’ll wear the clear lens (they have interchangeable lenses) for the best line of sight possible while looking for flags. These glasses have a solid frame that has endured months of Gear Junkie adventures. Made from an impact-resistant plastic-like material called Carbonic, the Smith lenses are scratch-resistant; mine have no scuffs even after the aforementioned months of outdoors action. (frame is $265; total setup with two sets of lenses, $420; www.smithsport.com)