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Western States 2015 Survey: The Gear Runners Chose

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[leadin]Gear chosen by ultra runners in one of America’s premier races is an enlightening window into which products are trusted on 100 miles of mountainous trails.[/leadin]

Western States 1
Photo by Tanner Johnson

Western States’ annual runners’ survey is almost as anticipated among running geeks as the race itself. We get to learn which shoes, socks, packs and headlamps the 300-plus runners chose to carry over 100 miles of mountains, hot valleys, and across freezing, rushing rivers, day and night.

Related: Elite Gear At Western States 100

The survey, which is voluntary and offered at race check-in the day before runners embark on the historic 100-mile trail race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California, asks them about gear used – including shoes, socks, and headlamps – and other particulars of their race and their training, such as whether they employed the use of a paid coach, or whether they had pacers or a crew.

This year’s survey had a 94% participation race – a healthy sample population. This is broken down further, by finishing time, for some really compelling data.

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Runners stream from the start of the Western States 100; photo by Tanner Johnson

Western States Runners Survey Insights

HOKA ONE ONE, Brooks, and Altra were the shoes of choice. Among all finishers, these three brands comprised 71.6 percent of the shoes worn. HOKA ONE ONE led the way with 35.4 percent, followed by Brooks (19.6) and Altra (16.5).

Altra Loan Peak 2.0
Altra Loan Peak 2.0

What about the top runners? The survey found that Altra jumped to #2 for sub-24 hour finishers. Among the speedsters, HOKA ONE ONE held 34.7 percent. Altra (16.7) was second, and Montrail (12.5) jumped to third.

Headlamp Selection

Petzl was by far the headlamp of choice, followed by Black Diamond. If we had to speculate – the survey doesn’t break down brands by model – we would guess Petzl’s super high-power, reactive-lighting Nao led the charge for runners who had to battle the sleep monster and hallucinations overnight; this is probably why Petzl was the choice of over half of runners both overall (55.5 percent) and under 24 hours (57.1). Black Diamond held a similar position for both crowds, coming in second with 30.0 and 27.4 percent, respectively.

Petzl Nano

The first five finishers didn’t use headlamps, though. They were all done in less than 16 hours, before the sun went down. Show-offs.

Hydration Packs

Ultimate Direction SJ Vest

For hydration, everyone loves Ultimate Direction, and faster runners liked Salomon. Among those wearing hydration packs, Ultimate Direction sat on the back of 37 percent of runners overall, and 31 percent of sub-24-hour runners.

Salomon adorned the back of 25.9 percent of the sub-24 hour crowd. For all runners, Nathan was the second-most popular brand at 23 percent.

Ultra-Running Socks


Injinji was the sock brand of choice, followed by Drymax. Injinji’s individual toe compartments are designed to prevent blisters, which is something people take seriously when they’ll be running for 100 miles – however long it takes them.

31.5 percent of finishers (and 30.0 percent of sub-24 hours finishers) wore Injinji, while Drymax’s wicking abilities were the second choice for both finishers in general (17.6 percent) and those under 24 hours (16.7 percent). Interestingly, “other brands” made up a huge proportion of responses in the sock category, registering 25.2 percent of all finishers and 28.9 percent of sub-24 hour folks.


-Whether they finished under 24 hours or not, Western States runners were most likely to be wearing HOKA ONE ONE shoes, Petzl Headlamps, Injinji socks, and Ultimate Direction packs.

-Among the sub-24 hour crowd, the second most popular choices were Altra shoes, Black Diamond Headlamps, Drymax socks, and Salomon packs.

-Among all finishers, Black Diamond and Drymax remained the second choice, but Nathan and Brooks took over #2 for packs and shoes, respectively.

-People who ponied up for paid coaching services did not run sub-24 hours at a greater rate: 17.8 percent of the sub-24 hour crowd had a coach, compared to 17.2 percent overall.

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