Bryon Powell starts his quest for the perfect gear for the 2011 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

By on August 4, 2011 | Comments

Today kicks off the 2011 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market (summer OR) where upwards of 1,000 outdoor gear vendors (think of anyone who’d sell a product to REI or EMS) get together in Salt Lake City to show off their goods, including new products that will debut in the first half of next year. With this being my fourth summer OR, I know that there’s no better place in the Western Hemisphere to find that just-right piece of gear for any use.

That’s great, because with only 23 days until running this year’s The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, there are very few pieces of gear that I’m settled on… and that’s with an extensive list of mandatory gear. Here’s that list of required gear, in the organization’s own words (but reordered), as well as other items I’ll need. Each items is followed by my current thoughts on what I’ll bring or what I’ll be looking for at summer OR. Please chime in with suggestions. I’ve starred my biggest items of concern or where I think I can save the most weight.

Organization’s Obligatory Material:

  • * Jacket with hood and made with a waterproof (recommendation: minimum 10,000 Schmerber) and breathable (recommendation: RET lower than 13) membrane (Gore-Tex or similar) which will withstand the bad weather in the mountains. – Hold on, I think I need some more details first!? I’ve got a Mountain Hardwear Quark 2 jacket (258g), but I’ll look for something lighter than 9 ounces. Any ideas on other brands or models to look at?
  • Long running trousers or leggings or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completely – Montbell Ultralight pants (67 g). I brought these to the Marathon des Sables and plan to use them again… unless I find a lighter system at OR. Given that I’ll wear Salomon Exo Calves, I could go with knickers/manpris.
  • Warm long sleeved clothing (type « second layer », cotton excluded) of a weight of 180g minimum – I’ve got a 196g tech shirt made with the same fabric as Mountain Hardwear’s forthcoming Way2Cool shirts. I’ll keep my eyes open for a 180-190g (for small) tech half zip at the show.
  • * Warm and waterproof gloves – Mountain Hardwear Epic Gloves (99g). I’ll look to improve (or creatively interpret the rules) here.
  • * Waterproof over-trousers – Mountain Hardwear Epic Pants (217g). Great pants … for winter sports and very cold weather. Far more than I need at UTMB, so looking for lighter options.
  • Two lights in good working condition with replacement batteries – Super hard call. Do I go with a huge, but super bright Petzl Ultra and a very small spare, such as an E-Lite. Do I go with two Petzl Tikka XP2s? Do I try to get a custom Black Diamond Sprinter that takes replaceable batteries? Do I look for something else?
  • Warm hat – For now, a 45g hat from The North Face. Another place I’ll look to save weight at the show… or possibly with a Buff (38g) from home.
  • Cap or bandana – iRunFar Headsweats running hat all the way. (I find it very odd that this is required in addition to a warm hat.)
  • Adhesive elastic band enable making a bandage or a strapping (mini 100cm x 6 cm) – I need a Frenglish translator to figure out what this means. Help!
  • Food reserve – Lots of GU! Sucks that I’ll have to carry 20-30 from the start and again at Courmayeur. I’ll take a few other treats such as Stinger Waffles, Honey Stringer Cherry Blossom Chews, and Chocolate Agave #9 gels.
  • Mobile phone with option enabling its use in the three countries – My iPhone 4 for which I’ve already set up international calling, text & data.
  • Personal cup or tumbler 15cl minimum (water bottle not acceptable) – I’ll buy a collapsible cup in Europe or cut a disposable beverage bottle down once I get to France.
  • Stock of water minimum 1 litre – I’ll have a 1L water bladder in my pack and a very lightweight water bottle that holds another .5 liters when needed. The reason for the extra bottle is refilling at the fountains along the course.
  • Survival blanket 1.40m x 2m minimum – I’ve got a selection of these at home… but you’d best believe I’ll be looking for the lightest blanket and they do differ in weight.
  • Whistle – I have a 5 gram whistle if my pack doesn’t have one.

My Additional Items

  • * Pack – Despite my stash of a dozen or so packs, I have no option that I’d use. I’m open to all ideas for a 10-12 liter pack. Packs I’m looking forward to seeing at OR: Salomon’s 12 liter Skin pack, Mountain Hardwear’s new 10-12 liter Fluid pack, and UltrAspire’s UTMB-ready model.
  • Short sleeve shirt – Mountain Hardwear’s Way2Cool short sleeve… if I can get this Spring 12 shirt by race day. I’ve worn the singlet and it’s the best top I’ve ever run in.
  • Running shorts – Brooks Infini Split Side shorts. I run in these shorts or their predecessor, the Element, nearly every day.
  • * Shoes – While I need to test them on steep downs, it looks like I’ll be wearing the Montrail Bajada, my Western States shoe choice, again at UTMB. My current backup are the Salomon XT Wings II. I’m still looking for a mud shoe if it rains… and have no idea. I’d need a well-lugged shoe with a standard (10-12 mm) drop that’s supportive yet (and this is very important) drains/breathes well. I’ve got some solid mud shoes, but, oddly enough, they all seem to hold moisture like a sponge in a ziplock bag.
  • Socks – Drymax Maximum Protection socks are it unless my mud shoe choice necessitates thinner socks in which case I’ll wear Drymax Hot Weather running socks.
  • Trekking poles – I love my Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Poles and I’ll likely use them at UTMB. However, I will take a look at Komperdell’s Featherlight poles at OR in case I decide to go with fixed length poles.
  • Running sunglasses – I’ve really been enjoying the Julbo Races with Zebra photochromic lenses. I’m also considering the Julbo Trail with Zebra lenses or the simple, yet wonderful Ryders Shot.
  • Time piece – I’ll likely wear my Garmin Forerunner 310XT (despite my issues with it) with the GPS turned off, so I can record monitor and record my heart rate the entire way. There’s a slight chance I’ll simply go chrono or, possibly, go to a heart rate monitor/barometric altimeter combo so I’ll know my heart rate and generally where I am on climbs.

Call for Comments
I’m sure there’s other gear that I need, but that’s a start. Let me know what you think of my options for UTMB gear.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.