Ahead of the 20th edition of the Hout Bay Trail Challenge we asked ultra-runner as well as Altra and Ultimate Direction South Africa Community Manager Colleen Browne to provide a low-down on the gear you’ll need if you’re stepping up in trail running distance.

Trail Running Shoes

The first thing to think about when stepping up to the marathon or ultra-distance trail races is whether your shoes are suitable for spending extra-long hours on the trails? In general, we would advise you to have a bit more cushioning than you would for your short efforts (up to 20km).

Altra’s Timp 4 trail shoes have a 29mm stack height. Choosing shoes with close or or more than 30mm of stack will provide you with the cushioning you need for 35km plus trail races.

From Altra’s range I’d suggest the Altra Timp 4 or Mont Blanc, because each of these shoes have a stack height of around 30mm. This provides your feet with a bit more comfort for the longer days out. Both offer superior grip for technical trail running in all weather conditions. A point to consider, given the 23 July race date, for the 2022 HBTC, is that the expected release date for the new women’s specific Timp 4 Ladies is late June. That would give you enough time to acclimatise to the new shoes, should you upgrade from the Timp 3 ahead of the race.

Altra advertise their Mont Blanc shoes as their ultimate long-distance trail shoe.

If you’re shopping amongst other brands, look for a shoe with over 30mm of stack. And remember that the HBTC is famous for editions held in pouring rain. So be sure to choose a shoe with good grip because it may well be slippery on race day.

Hydration Systems

With longer races you’ll need to carry more. For short runs you may be able to get away with using a running belt/race vest to stow compulsory gear, but for anything longer than two hours you need to think about carrying a sufficient supply of water, nutrition and all the compulsory gear. Again, the variable Cape weather means that being able to pack wet weather gear is essential to a successful HBTC experience.

You’ll need more than just a couple of soft flasks to stay hydrated through a marathon distance trail race.

The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest/Vesta 5.0 (version 6.0 lands in June/July 2022) and the Mountain Vest/Vesta 5.0 both provide ample storage space for distances ranging from 35km right up to 100 milers. The great thing about these packs is that the main compartment can be cinched using the outer bungee cords, resulting in zero bounce when the pack isn’t fully loaded. So, you can use it for your shorter runs too! Both can also accommodate a hydration bladder, in addition to the front soft flasks.

When recommending hydration packs to friends I always suggest packs which feature some sort of cinching mechanism. This makes them far more versatile, as you’re probably not going to run too many ultras a year; but you’ll be using the pack for your longer training runs too, when it’s not nearly as fully loaded. There are currently more options than ever for South African trail runners to choose from. Just make sure to try them on before you buy one to make sure the pack design works for you.

The cinch feature of Ultimate Direction’s hydration packs allows you to shrink them down for shorter runs, when you don’t need to carry a hydration bladder and other compulsory gear.

Other Gear to Consider

Depending on the race’s compulsory gear list and predicted weather, it would be worth considering the following:

  • Beanie and gloves: The UD Balabeanie and Flip Gloves are super lightweight but provide enough protection and warmth to make a long cold and wet day out in the mountains safe and far more bearable.
  • Chafe cream: The discomfort of the smallest hotspot on your feet or elsewhere will grow exponentially on the longer distance efforts. Never ignore a small blister or hotspot within the first couple of hours of a race, address it immediately by apply anti-chafe cream.
  • Socks: If you are prone to getting blisters, consider testing other socks. Injinji toesocks take some getting used to but really work for keeping your toes blister free on the super long days out.
  • Waterproof jacket: A good quality waterproof jacket is a game changer. You want the jacket to meet the compulsory gear requirements but must also be breathable and lightweight. The UD Deluge jacket (Men’s | Women’s) meets all compulsory standards for trail running events, is breathable and packs into its own pocket to make it the perfect lightweight waterproof trail running jacket.

If you struggle with the cold the UD Flip Gloves can be a lifesaver.

Lastly, we know it’s common knowledge, but many people still make the mistake of not training with their race gear. A pack or shoes might not cause any issues on your 2-hour training run but come race day and you hit the 4-hour mark that pack may suddenly start to chafe in places it never did during training. Therefore, it is essential to consistently train with all your intended race gear. Happy racing!