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BLOG | TIPS | 21 July 2016

How to Choose your Trail Running Pack or Belt

What you need to know and take into account when choosing a pack for your next trail run.

Backpacks are an essential piece of gear for trail running. Photo: Monrasin
As with any type of outdoor equipment, choosing a trail running pack or running belt depends on the person. You should choose the system in which you feel the most comfortable running in and the one that best suits your needs and body, as well as the specific activity.

Due to this general rule, we would like to emphasize the special care that must be taken when choosing your trail running pack or belt, especially in regards to those who start out as normal runners, who have little or no self-sufficient experience on alpine terrain.

Why are we saying this? Well, when it comes to competitive racing, the faster you go, the better you will finish obviously. Talking specifically about trail running,the obsession with weight causes a lot of unnecessary risk taking, which organizations try to minimize in competitions through mandatory, required equipment, but outside of competitions it can lead to many issues.

The first decision that you should make when choosing a pack or belt should be based on your safety and basing that on the type of terrain, location of the trail, distance, weather conditions, trail characteristics and time of year. Taking all of this into account will help you in deciding what are the essential materials (hydration, food, clothing, lighting equipment) you will need for your training or upcoming race. Once you have finished selecting the right equipment, you can then choose the pack or belt that most suits these accessories.

Running in the winter snow, with a clear example of having all the essential gear
You should never make this decision the other way around (something that unfortunately is quite common) which is to choose a pack or belt with the idea of saving weight and bringing only the items that fit, while eliminating essential materials needed for safety and protection.

It will never be an easy choice to decide on what is essential and what isn’t because you need to take a lot of the necessities, but can’t carry or fit everything that you will want.

Before we delve into choosing a pack or belt for mountain races, perhaps we should discuss:

Safety-Weight Ratio for Mountain Races

Every year, through the picturesque valley of Benasque, Spain, the Great Trail of Aneto-Posets is held, one of the biggest ultra races in the Pyrenees which allocates five points towards enrolling in any of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc races. Benasque is located in the heart of the Pyrenees and is actually where the first Barrabes store was founded. The Great Trail of Aneto-Posets is ran in semi-self-sufficient conditions and incorporates all types of terrain from mountainous tracks and trails, to fields of snow and a complex section of rocks that surround the two highest summits of the Pyrenees: Aneto (3,404 m) and Posets (3,375 m).

In 2014, shortly after the race was completed in the last week of July, we published our review on the Ice Master crampons from Camp which were worn in the race by Fernando Tomás, Purchasing Manager at Barrabes.

This year, participants were separated by those who wore suitable crampons and those that didn’t. In a race such as this one, which has extremely technical terrain, specifically in areas such as Salenques where for twenty kilometers, runners have to pass through a convoluted mixture of snow, rock and ice, the organization raises the bar in regards to the proper equipment required, which can often be misunderstood by runners used to less technical races. Runners of this nature tend to disregard much of what is mandated by the organizers of the race.

Many of the complaints from participants were due to the increased weight penalty from the requirement of having to carry additional equipment.

Due to the large quantity of snow, which froze over night, the organization installed a fixed rope on the hill in Salenques. Those who were not wearing the proper crampons, such as the Ice Master, or who didn’t wear any crampons at all, had serious difficulties crossing the icy snow which lead to a serious accident.

Barrabes employee Fernando Tomás, during the Gran Trail del Aneto 2014
Our colleague, Fernando, ended the race after twenty three hours and finished in 19th place. His comments after the race were very clear on the use of crampons: “I gained over an hour at Salenques and I caught up with about fifteen runners on the descent. I felt secure on the descent while others were very tense, some even asked me to give them a hand getting down. In spite of the safety rope, there was a serious accident.”

Knowing this brings a few questions to mind:

  • Should you risk your safety, even your life, to avoid carrying 500 extra grams in your pack?
  • Do you really reduce fatigue levels by avoiding this extra weight if it means that it will take you two additional hours to complete the race due to precarious conditions and lack of suitable equipment? Or will you actually spend more energy in that time lost, than with the energy saved by carrying a lighter load?
  • If you suffer hypothermia from a sharp drop in temperature and precipitation, was it worth it to not wear heavier clothing?
Not using the necessary safety equipment for the activity not only compromises your physical integrity, but can also lead you to lose much needed energy and time in an Ultra Trail race.

With that being said we want to emphasize, as we mentioned earlier, that the basic requirement, and prior to making any pack choices for mountain races, is to understand what is essential and necessary to bring with you for your protection and safety based on the activity at hand.

TYPES OF PACKS

Running Belts

As we have been saying, you need to bring the essentials, but don’t go overboard. What is necessary and what is excess depends on the conditions and circumstances.

If you run around the city for two hours, or compete in short or medium distance races with assistance such as refreshments or available water, as well as easier terrain, you can omit a few items from your essentials as opposed to a longer race with tougher terrain, where more materials will be needed.

Generally speaking, a running belt should be sufficient to carry the basics: water bottles, PowerBars, and a mobile phone in case of emergency. A light and compact, waterproof belt could also be ideal for many situations. In this case, everything is easily accessible by hand and you never have to detach the pack or even slow down to access it or replenish fluids.

The design of a trail running belt is special and different from your typical travel and trekking fanny pack. Differences include: rounded edges, lined to prevent chafing, ability to carry materials close to body while running, perfect balance, stable, vents to prevent moisture buildup, and overall more ergonomic.

Among the most versatile models, we can highlight the Ergo Belt from Camp, the Salomon Agile Belt Set wh

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