It seems like a solid half of the questions any seasoned racer receives from people entering their sport are in the format: “What ____ should I buy/wear/use for ____?”
Most of the time there isn’t one right answer, as personal preference and individual needs play a very important role in kit selection. I will attempt to outline below what gear I have used (and hung on to), as well as some pluses/minuses, and a brief review of each. If I have overlooked some great product, let me know and I’ll try it out.
All of the items below are my personal gear, and well used – the stuff you buy new will look nicer, hopefully. I’m terrible about cleaning up after myself, so half of the photos will be of wet shoes and dirty kit. You get the idea.
I use two very different styles of bag to haul stuff around depending on the event at hand: rucks and packs.
Rucks, to me, are some sort of assault pack without a frame or waist belt, likely in the <40L size range. These get used for any event where I will be doing PT with gear on or simply need to bring along water and some basics (snacks, camera, ID, etc). Packs are purpose built systems for moving load on a person's back over long distances. Often times they include either an internal or external frame, waist belt, and trend towards being larger capacity than rucks. If I need to move an unwieldily object at my own pace for a long time, I load up a pack.
GORUCK Bullet 15L
This is the bag I carry everyday, everyplace I go. It works great for EDC, carting gear to and from the office, loading up for the gym, day hikes with the wife, and shorter events as a very robust hydration carrier. If you are looking to carry the essentials for a day or so, it is very hard to beat this bag. The only real negatives I’ve encountered are that shoulder straps could use a bit more padding (the body of the bag is comfortable carrying more weight than the straps are designed to), and I would like a little more volume in the inside pockets.
For quite a while, this was the only bag that GORUCK made, and it was enough. It is their flagship product for a reason. I’ve travelled with it, completed dozens of endurance events, filled it with rocks to anchor down a canopy in heavy storms, loaded it with beer and ice as a makeshift cooler, used it as a sandbag in training, and a thousand other tasks it wasn’t designed for – but excelled at none the less.
That said, being a jack of all trades comes with more than a few trade offs. All GR bags are notably heavier than their dedicated purpose counterparts, they are more at home doing burpees than they are hiking over a mountain range with gear, and aren’t exactly the most budget-friendly option. If you want to buy one bag, that is pretty decent at everything, to last the rest of your life – this is it.
Eberlestock J51 Warhammer Pack
I have successfully loaded and carried an adult human inside of this pack. (ed note: not a serial killer) Built around an ALICE frame this pack is an incredibly versatile gear hauler. Consisting of two vertical pockets, a cargo area, and straps, this no frills setup lets you move heavy things a long way. This simplicity means that many features common to other platforms (exterior pockets and map storage to name two) are absent, but plentiful molle attachment points allow the user to customize to their heart’s content.
Eberlestock G1 LittleBrother Pack
When I bought my Warhammer I immediately found that I needed something to organize storage inside of it’s cargo area – enter the LittleBrother. This pack zips to the kidney pockets of the Warhammer and provides an easy way to load gear into the larger platform. On it’s own, this 30L pack sports bountiful pockets (inside and out) and really smart interior organization. In about 10 seconds you can easily transition between an integrated load system, and a hauler/daypack combo. My only gripe is that the G1 doesn’t come with a waist belt of it’s own – though you can switch over to use the Warhammer’s belt is under 30 seconds.
One of the initial “oh crap” moments many athletes encounter after signing up for their first event is the realization that they probably shouldn’t wear their cross trainers to a mud run. The needs of every pair of feet are different, but these shoes and boots have served me well.
- Rocky Men’s C4T Tactical Boot
Built as a lightweight version of their S2V lineup the C4T is a great all around boot for wet, rough conditions. They drain like a sieve while still providing good ankle support. The fast lace system makes quickly changing out socks a breeze, and the paracord laces hold knots well without permanently locking up. Since they are performance boots they wear more quickly than you might expect – I get about as many miles out of them as a good pair of running shoes.
- Inov-8 F-Lite 195
These are the shoes that I live in, and I own far too many pairs. If you are ok with loud colors and minimal support/drop, these are very hard to beat. Fast draining and quick drying these shoes are my go-to workhorses if I don’t need rigid ankle support. I happily throw these in the washing machine and wear them until the soles are swiss cheese. On the downside they have miserable ankle support and a very soft midsole which is prone to shredding.
- Oakley LSA Water Boot
I wore these boots through GORUCK Selection and loved them, right up until I hated them. Using water boots effectively is a delicate dance of benefits versus concessions. They are by far the lightest boots I’ve ever worn, mostly because calling them “boots” is a bit of a stretch – they are heavy duty lace-up socks with a well draining sole attached. You get enough ankle support to get by, and the footbed has enough cushion for tromping around in the woods, but if you go too far or too heavy, they will let you know. I would buy them again for any warm weather event where I knew I would constantly be in and out of the water, but for distance hiking they are right off my list.
- Inov-8 Roclite 315
If there was such a thing as bulletproof armor for your feet, they would be built like these trail shoes. 90% of hard-use outdoor activities can comfortably take place in these shoes, and they will survive pretty much anything you throw them through. They shed surface water effectively, breathe well enough to wear on long hikes, and are quite comfortable. If I am stomping around in the woods, and not in a pair of full boots, I am in these.
- Under Armour Mens Valsetz Tactical Boot
After beating my feet into a pulp with minimal boots/shoes and high mileage, I tried swinging the other direction with these boots from UA. They are deceptively light for how much material is part of the uppers, and provide a serious dose of cushioning on the heel. I’ve had reports of this extra padding giving some people’s feet a little too much room to move around under load, and causing blisters. While they drain well, there is a lot of material, so they don’t really dry out on the trail. I love them for hiking around, but if your goal is heavy rucking and wet terrain, you might be better served by other setups.
- Inov-8 Mudclaw 333 / Inov-8 X-Talon 212
Do you like mud runs? Do you hate sliding down hills on your ass because that hill, once pristine green grass, is now a mud slip-n-slide? Me too. Almost no races allow hard cleats (you’d almost certainly injure other racers), and they wouldn’t work on half the obstacles anyway – but very few organizers have issues with fell running shoes. Soft rubber cleats bite into soft terrain with a passion and drive you up and over almost anything. On the downside, if you encounter pavement on the course, you’ll be slowed down dramatically.
- Salomon Speedcross 3 Trail-Running Shoes
With a tread pattern less vicious than soft-cleated shoes, quickly adjustable kevlar cinch laces, and fairly robust support for a race shoe, these lovelies are the choice of many top OCR athletes. Not much to say in terms of downsides, except I highly recommend pairing them with a good pair of gaiters, as the top of the shoe hungrily funnels in grit otherwise.
- Superfeet Insoles
Your feet are your wheels, when they go bad things happen. I throw a pair of Superfeet into every pair of boots I wear, and even swap densities around during events depending on how my feet are feeling. There is not much porous material in their construction, so water drains quickly. This helps soaked socks to purge, saving your feet from maceration. One aspect that I really like is that they actively contour your feet to provide cushioning, rather than adding additional material to provide cushioning – this means fewer sliding surfaces, and fewer blisters. I have relatively flat feet, but usually wear the Orange (cushioned/high arch) model. Under heavy ruck loads these seems to provide the best balance of comfort and support. If you have normal arches, try the Green ones on for size.
If you value your feet, try these at least once.