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Fast, Protective, Ultra-Light: Gear for Running a Mountain Race

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High-altitude trails, steep climbs, mountain passes, unpredictable weather, and 120 miles of overall distance covered. . . the GORETEX TransRockies Run is among the most serious endurance events each summer in the United States. GearJunkie contributing editor Sean McCoy earlier this month ran the stage race over six days, finishing in less than 24 hours of elapsed time with his teammate Leon Lutz. (See the duo’s race report here.) Below McCoy reports on the gear that helped him run strong to a 12th-place finish overall in the men’s open division.

Leon Lutz (left) and author McCoy on first day of race

New Balance Minimus 1010 — Leon and I both got our hands on the to-be-released New Balance Minimus 1010 trail shoes. I personally loved them. After a long summer of training runs in the Minimus Trail 10 model, the 1010 was the Goldie Locks shoe for me — “just right” with its blend of minimalism and protection.

The shoe was light and fast, but still protective and supportive enough for the long stages in the TransRockies. It has a bit of heel padding (good for descents!), a flexible sole, and good traction. A rock plate provides protection in the thin, 4mm-drop sole.

Overall, the shoe ran amazingly but it sadly did not hold up well to the rigors of the TransRockies trail. Both Leon and I discovered significant damage to the uppers by the end of the 120-mile race. To be fair, the trail is super rough, and almost no shoe will escape harm. The Minimus 1010 comes out next year for $110.

Salomon Skin Pro 10+3 vest — This thing is the bomb. It clings to the body with multiple chest straps, holds 50 ounces of water in an included bladder, and is very stable while running. The Skin Pro vest is equipped with a system that uses stiffeners in the bottom of the shoulder straps to wrap the pack around the body. This technology allows the pack to adjust to fit almost any body shape.

The $150 vest worked well with my 5’8” frame, and I barely noticed the pack even while running at full tilt down steep technical slopes. The pack has plenty of capacity for the essential items on a mountain run as well as pockets on the shoulders straps up front to hold smaller items you need quick access to on the move.

Rab MeCo 120 Tee — We reviewed this T-shirt already on the site (see review here), and once again it performed beyond expectations. It was the only shirt I wore during the six-day race. I never washed it. It never smelled. (The anti-stink properties come from the shirt’s blend of merino wool and recycled polyester with Cocona technology, which is said to be an “activated carbon particle” treatment.) It was comfortable, dried quickly and didn’t chafe. It’s $60 worth of awesome.

Cobblestones shorts — My T-shirt may have been high-tech, but my shorts were decidedly simple. The made-in-the-USA tag on the Cobblestones track shorts got my attention when I picked them up for $2, brand new, at Goodwill this summer. I found what appear to be the same shorts online for $26. They’re nylon. They’re spandex. They’re simple running shorts that are comfortable, and they did the job.

Gore X-Running Light AS Jacket — We had amazing weather during the TransRockies and never felt so much as a drop of rain during the run. But it was mandatory to carry a rain-resistant shell, and so I packed the GORE Running Wear. It fit the bill perfectly for the race as a backup shell jacket, stuffing into its own wallet-size pocket and providing a breathable shell for running and keeping me warm in event of a sudden storm. At just 3.1 ounces, the nylon Windstopper membrane jacket is truly silly light. Cost is $159.

Saltstick Caps buffered electrolyte salts — To prevent bonking and electrolyte imbalance, I took Saltstick Caps like candy throughout the race. Consuming around 10 tablets per day (the maximum recommended dose) while drinking gallons of water, I was able to race bonk-free for the entire six days. Reinforced with vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sodium and potassium, these caps just seem to work.

Buff and Headsweats Race Hat — The race required runners to carry a hat that covered the ears. My system was a combination of the Buff and a baseball-style cap. I chose the Buff because it’s light and has several uses. In the morning the Buff fended off the brisk, pre-race shivers but then was easy to pack away when the temperatures rose.

The baseball cap I wore was the Race Cap by Headsweats, which stayed on my head for the entire race.
With a Coolmax Fabric shell and Coolmax Fabric terry headband it worked great to block the relentless sun, kept sweat out of my eyes, and it was nice and light at less than two ounces.

Switch Sunglasses — They may not be a revolution, but the magnetic interchangeable lens system by Switch Vision is a nice evolution. I never changed the amber-rose colored lenses of the H-Wall Wraps glasses that I wore during the race, but it was nice to know I had a darker lens option that didn’t take up much room if needed. They sit comfortably on the face even when jostling hard down the mountain. These are solid, well-made glasses but far from cheap: A kit with one frame and two sets of lenses runs $180.

Big Agnes sleep system— When running 20 miles a day through the mountains a good night’s sleep is crucial to recovery. The Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15-degree bag coupled with the insulated 3.5” Q-Core pad was a great system for the race.

Like most Big Agnes bags, this one skips the insulation on the bottom to save weight and space. However, a sleeping pad slips easily inside the sleeve at the bottom of the bag. With nights around 35 degrees and a surprising amount of moisture and dew inside my tent, the bag kept me snug in just my underwear. I suspect it would be fine down to its temp rating so long as the user was properly dressed inside. The Lost Ranger bag runs $239 to $259 and the Q-Core pad starts at $129.

—Sean McCoy is a contributing editor based in Denver. See his post-race report, “How To: Traverse a Mountain Range in TransRockies Run.”

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