I live by lists. If you know me, then you know that. After many requests for my 100-mile ultramarathon drop bag list, I’ve finally taken a moment to get that information organized enough to share.
This article is dedicated to my dear friend Kristin Henry, who is definitely not a list-maker. Kristin is running her first 100-mile trail race at Wasatch this year to honor her father, the venerable Colonel. So, here ya go, Kristin… and I hope you’ve been remembering to duct tape that sock in your mouth at night!
Socks: preferably new, pre-powdered or with lubrication already applied to the seams
Jog bra: with lubrication already applied to the seams
Dry shirts, shorts, long tights
Hats, gloves, night-time layers
Rain coat: although you should always carry a waterproof rain coat with you if there is any chance of rain during a mountain 100-miler. It does no good even a mile away in your drop bag.
Many runners like to have dry shoes available. These can go in a drop bag or be carried by your crew if they are just for “backup” purposes.
Put all your dry clothes in waterproof bags inside your drop bag.
Fuel & salt
By now you should know what you need to eat for the long run. Don’t count on the aid stations to have your preferred fuel, even if they say they will. Be sure to pack at least a little solid food that you know will work for you. I really like the Epic Lamb bars. I open the package and put half a bar in a small plastic baggie. At Wasatch I had baggies of potato chips in each drop bag. This worked out great, until they turned into choking hazards later in the race. If you use salt pills, those should be in little baggies, too.
I have used Tailwind Nutrition sports drink almost exclusively at each of my 100-mile races. I put the powder either in spare soft flasks or small plastic baggies. If you have crew helping you, mixing your sports drink is a good task to assign to them. (Click here for my article about crew duties.)
If you plan to switch to caffeinated fuel for the night time hours, place that mix accordingly, but be flexible in case your timing changes. Experiment with caffeine ahead of time. For me, too much really gets my GI system moving.
Any special supplements or drinks (Vespa, Vitargo, Ensure, etc..) that you want should be here, too.
Toilet paper and/or wipes in plastic baggies
Spray sunscreen to re-apply: possibly mid-day or the next morning
Bug spray for the evening
Cough drops (preferably with sugar ~ why not get some easy calories)
Blister band aids and/or moleskin
Pain relief lotions and/or medications
Inhaler or any other prescription medicines (but carry anything that you really need on your person)
Lubricant goes in every drop bag
Lights & batteries
Test & plan. You need to understand how long your batteries will last. Check the sunset and sunrise times. Pack enough batteries for all night, even if you hope to be done before sunrise. Pack extra lights in case one fails. Learn how you can lock your light(s) so they don’t accidentally turn on and run out of battery in your drop bag. Make sure you know how to unblock them, too!
The “Night Switch”
Use your pacing estimates to place your night-time gear in the appropriate drop bag. If in doubt, put it earlier than you’ll need it. Alternately, you can place a small light in an earlier drop bag in case you are slower than expected, then access your preferred light at a later drop bag location.
See note above about testing and planning for battery life. Retrieving your headlamp is the most important aspect of the night time switch.
Your night setup may also include dry and warm clothes and layers. Consider gloves, a warm hat, neck gaiter, long sleeve shirt and/or arm sleeves. Pack extras of everything if the forecast calls for rain or snow.
I almost never switch to long tights. I have raced and paced at several mountain 100-milers, including Hardrock, Wasatch, Western States and The Bear. Of these, I used tights while pacing at The Bear. In all other cases, I have been comfortable wearing shorts through the night, with warmer layers on top. There is a time cost to changing into tights, and you may get too warm once the sun rises. You have to test and make a plan for your needs.
The switch to night time is also a good time to swap or charge your GPS watch if this is in your plans. Sometimes I carry a Delorme InReach satellite messenger/tracker, and sometimes my pacer will carry it. This can also be handled at the night-time switch.
Take duct tape and a sharpie with you so you can mark your bags with your bib number if you don’t have it in advance. Also write the aid station name and your name on each bag. Place a to-do list for you and/or your crew in each drop bag. If lists aren’t your thing, then at the very minimum, use a list for the night-time switch. Everything in your bags should be reasonably water-proof in case of rain or some other wet calamity befalls your bag.
Always send your drop-bags with the race personnel rather than your crew. If your crew doesn’t make it in time for any reason, you still need your gear! Be sure to take note of the cut-off time for submitting your drop bags prior to the race. Your crew can collect your drop bags and bring them to the finish for you.
Check a finish bag, even if you are expecting crew to meet you there. Dry and very warm clothes (regardless of the weather) are a must. Once you take off your running shoes, it is very unlikely that you’ll fit those fat feet in anything other than flip-flops, so pack those, too.
Sometimes you may take a “sweats bag” to the start that can be transported to the finish (or kept safe at the start/finish). Make sure you have a bag marked with your bib number and the location (i.e. Finish) for this purpose.