Training & Racing, Travel & Gear

2012 Runners’ Gift Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Hit the Trail

6 Comments Posted by: Sarah Lavender Smith, November 22, 2012

A few days ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Scott Dunlap, sent out his annual gift guide for trail runners. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I decided to borrow his idea to promote some products for running, hiking and fitness that I discovered and truly recommend. If you decide to buy any of these, I hope you’ll consider buying them through the links below because—disclaimer—most of the links go to Amazon’s Associates program, from which I receive a very small fraction of the sale.

For a camper who wants an ultralight sleeping bag and pad solution, I highly recommend the combination I used for the Grand to Grand Ultra: the MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Hugger #3and the Klymit Inertia X Frame. The MontBell bag weighs only 1 lb., 6 oz., and the Klymit pad just 9 oz. The Montbell bag, with 800 fill down, is rated to 30 degrees F, and I was warm enough on the nights it got that cold—as long as I wore my down jacket to sleep too. The best thing is how small these two items stuff down to: the bag, 11″ x 5.5″; the pad, which folds into a tiny stuff sack, 3″ x 6″. The downside to the pad’s minimalist webbed design is it’s easy to roll off it, or not have the inflatable parts under the parts of your body that need padding (e.g. pelvis and shoulders). I solved this problem by putting the pad inside my sleeping bag and sleeping directly on it, for a more snug fit and to keep it right under me; plus, this reduced the risk of popping the pad.

The MontBell Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger #3 bag, with the Klymit Inertia X Frame pad.

Platypus SoftBottle: This .5-liter (17 oz) bottle weighs next to nothing but fills up to give you extra water to carry in a pack. Its flexibility makes it easy to stuff into to the outside mesh pocket of a hydration pack, for example, if you’re on a long run and think you might need extra water. When it’s empty, it folds up into a tiny little bit of plastic. It’s one more handy hydration solution.

This photo shows the Platypus soft water bottle sticking out of the back pocket of my pack. It provided an extra 17 ounces of water to supplement the two 22-ounce Nathan hand-held bottles.

Nathan Quickdraw Plus Handheld Bottle:I really love how the pocket on this handle of the 22-oz bottle is big enough to hold a smart phone or Honey Stinger waffle. The older generation Nathan hand-held bottle pocket was smaller and only fit a couple of gels.

The Amphipod Velcro Pouch and/or Amphipod Zippered Micropack:I discovered these little pockets to wear on a backpack belt or hydration belt, and I really like how they add carrying capacity for additional gels, or a camera or smart phone. First I got the velcro kind, then I got the zippered kind (which is big enough to fit a smart phone) and used it to carry my camera. I liked them both.

This pic from earlier in the year shows me using both the Nathan bottle and the Amphipod add-on pouch with the velcro flap.

Leukotape P Sportstape: Perhaps not the most romantic gift, but it is practical. This tape is ideal for pre-taping feet for blister prevention. For the Grand to Grand, I brought Kinesio tape, which is also good, but only the Leukotape provided by the event’s medical staff stayed on my toes and did the job. I’d use it to make a little cap over each toe, which stayed on and really helped reduce friction and pain from the blisters that erupted before I started using this tape.

Sierra Designs Gnar Lite Jacket: If you’re looking for an ultra-light down jacket, check this out. This one is made with Sierra Designs’ new DriDown insulation, which I discovered when we were shopping for a sleeping bag for my daughter and debating synthetic vs. down. This seems to be the best of both in that it has the warmth and lightweight of down, but if it gets wet, it dries quickly, unlike regular down. The Sierra Designs website explains: “Regular down is treated with a molecular level polymer to create a hydrophobic finish on each individual down plume. This finish allows DriDown to stay dry longer, loft better, and dry faster than untreated down.” This jacket is super cozy in spite of being so thin and lightweight, and it packs up in a 7″ x 4″ stuff sack and weighs only 9.6 oz.

Hanging out while camping in my Sierra Designs Gnar Lite jacket.

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles: I often see runners and hikers using big, sturdy trekking poles that weigh a pound or more, and I wonder why they don’t switch to this ultralight alternative. I love these poles, which weigh only 9.5 oz and easily fold into a compact size that can be carried by hand or in a pack. The only downside is their height is not adjustable, so you can’t share them unless the other person is a similar height. This link goes through to order the 110cm length, which is what I use and I’m 5’7″. If you’re significantly shorter or taller, be sure to order a different height (click here for size chart).

Black Diamond Z poles collapsed

Using my poles–plus holding one that belonged to the photographer, which is why I have three!–at the top of Grant’s Pass in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride.

Bosu Ball: Of all the pieces of equipment available at the gym, I find this the most useful for conditioning and injury prevention specific to trail running. For a long time I’ve used it for balance and flexibility exercises—most commonly, standing on one foot in different positions—to prevent sprained ankles on the trail (google “proprioception” to learn more about how this helps ankle injury prevention and recovery). Other lower body exercises on the bosu, such as squats, are great for quads and hamstrings, too. This year, I started taking a boot camp class that uses the bosu ball for a range of core and arm exercises too, such as supine bridges and pushups, which are more effective for core conditioning when performed using the flat surface of the ball turned upside-down than simply doing those same exercises on the floor.

Some guy doing a Bosu Ball pushup.

Garmin Forerunner 610: I’ve had it with my Garmin 405—I find the bezel-based navigation hard to use, and it freaks out in the rain by beeping erratically and switching to the compass mode when raindrops hit it. Plus, the battery dies after about six hours. I wish I still had my trusty 305. Now I’m looking to upgrade, and after much research, I’m leaning toward the 610. I can’t truly recommend it, however, as I haven’t tested it out, but the reviews make it seem ideal for what I’m seeking in terms of features and slightly better battery life. This in-depth review on the DC Rainmaker blog has me ready to buy one. If you have one, would you recommend it—or a different GPS watch? Please let me know in the comments below.

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatnessby Scott Jurkek. I really enjoyed reading this book last summer, and besides inspiring my running, it demystified vegan cooking and helped further our family’s path toward a more plant-based diet. As I wrote in my book review, it’s not a perfect book, but it’s worthwhile.

Victory Bag drop bag: Check out my prior blog post on this cool custom ultra running drop bag designed by ultrarunner Victor Ballesteros. However, you’ll need to save this as a Valentine’s gift, because Victor is sold out until mid-January or Februray. Be sure to order one in the coming year—I know I will.

Tribute to the Trails 2013 calendar:  Once again, photographer and ultra runner Glenn Tachiyama has produced a wall calendar (12″ x 11″) with stunning photographs of trail running. The calendar also includes race dates from the Pacific Northwest and California, along with major national races. All proceeds of the calendar sale benefits the nonprofit Washington Trails Association.

Call for comments: What would you add to this list? What running- or travel-related gifts do you hope to get this season?

Your Comments

6 Comments so far

  1. David says:

    I just got a garmin 610 but too early to really judge it. It’s on sale now at rei if you’re interested:
    http://m.rei.com/mt/www.rei.com/product/816864/garmin-forerunner-610-gps-heart-rate-monitor

    • Sarah says:

      I just ordered the Garmin 610 this morning through Road Runner Sports because they have a $100 off special for their “VIP” members, so I got it for $300 + tax. Good deal!

  2. Anders says:

    I’ve used my 610 for half a year now and I love it. Still don’t use all the features, but the bevel problems of earlier models are gone. Then again, it’s true touch screen.

  3. Mic Medeska says:

    All excellent gifts! Eat and Run wasn’t the book I was expecting but the recipes alone made it worth the purchase. The Montbell U.L. is my go to for fast packing.
    The gift I requested this year is the newest hydration product from Salomon, the Sense Handheld Set, which is a “glove” system with a soft flask. It looks incredibly promising and multi-use, a great in between to the handheld bottle you mentioned and the Platypus soft bottle.

  4. mary says:

    i am adding some of this stuff to my christmas list! i’ve been wanting to get into trails, but just haven’t had the time to really focus on it.

    regarding the 610, i haven’t run further than a marathon with it, but i highly recommend it. i think it has been instrumental in my improvement as a runner. one thing i have noticed is that because i have such small wrists, i have to wear it on one of the smallest band sizes and over time it begins to pull and stretch the holes that the pins go through that attach it to the watch. eventually, this caused the band to start to pop off mid-run which is not ideal. easy fix by purchasing a new band or the fabric band, but still annoying at the time.

    the only other issue that i would assume one would have is the battery life on a run that is more than 50K. but then again, i guess that is what the external power pack is for. :)


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My 2014 Race & Family Travel Calendar

Lake Chabot 30K, Feb. 22. Race report.
"Uncool 50K," March 8
Night Sweats Marathon, March 24. Related post
Diablo Trails Challenge 50K, April 19. Race report.
Miwok 100K, May 3. Related article
Pacing at Hardrock 100, July 9 - 11. Report
Family trip to Honduras and Costa Rica, late July. Costa Rica report
Crystal Springs 50K (pack training run), Aug. 9. Report
Grand to Grand Ultra self-supported stage race, Sept. 21 - 27 Race report.
Rio Del Lago 100M, Nov. 8 - 9
North Face Endurance Challenge 50M, San Francisco, Dec. 6

Proud to race on the team of Inside Trail Racing. Check out their calendar of great trail races.

Recommended Products

I use Honey Stinger waffles, chews & bars for long runs.

Wear Road ID for safety when you run, www.RoadID.com:

This Fenix flashlight is perfect for nighttime running; see this post on the lighting system I recommend.

I recently discovered the Nathan Quick Shot Plus 10 oz. hand-held bottle with a pocket, and I really like it for shorter races when all you need to carry is a gel, your car key and a small amount of liquid.

My 2013 Race & Family Travel Calendar

mid-February: Telluride
Way Too Cool 50K Mar. 9. Race report.
Oakland Marathon, not racing but volunteering as leader for the 3:40 pace group, Mar. 24
Lake Sonoma 50M Apr. 13. Race report.
mid-April: exploring Vancouver for Spring Break
East Bay Triple Crown Series: Tilden Tough 10M May 19, Lake Chabot Half June 2, Woodminster 9M June 16. Short recap.
Marin Ultra Challenge 50M training run, June 22. Story & pics.
6-day Maine biking trip, trip report.
8-day Colorado River rafting trip! Trip report.
Aug. 11: Skyline 50K in the Oakland hills. Injured.
Pine to Palm 100M Sept. 14 Injured.
Berkeley Trail Adventure 50K Sept. 28. Finished 1st F!
Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run Nov. 9 Injured.
Quad Dipsea, Nov. 30 Injured.

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