Our Favorite Things: 2019 Gift Guide

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Our editorial team has been busy testing a wide range of gear from Santa’s workshop to bring you these special gift ideas for your favorite ultrarunner this holiday season.

Food & Supplements

One of our favorite post-run snacks is Kate’s Real Food bars ($2.49 each, or 12 for $29.88) – natural energy products that enjoyed a cult following on the ski slopes of Jackson Hole, WY, before launching nationwide. All six flavors of these bars are great tasting – our choice is the Handle Bar, featuring dark chocolate, cherries and almonds – and all are hand-rolled, certified organic, gluten free, non-GMO and kosher. These bars hold their shape well when stored in a pocket or bag, and are filling enough to fend off hunger until your next meal. If you can’t make up your mind on flavors, try Kate’s Combo Pack, which includes two of each flavor.

After sampling Skratch Labs Matcha Green Tea and Lemon Energy Chews ($2.45 each, or packs of 10 for $23.50), we couldn’t believe how delicious they tasted – like a tart gumdrop with just the right amount of sweetness. They proved great for using on long, hot runs because they’re super easy to chew and quick to dissolve even when your mouth is dry. They also seem to deliver an energy boost faster than other blocks we’ve used. The use of organic matcha tea powder provides a subtle caffeine burst as well as powerful antioxidants and other health benefits of this popular phytonutrient.

If a larger caffeine kick is what you need, GU Energy has two great options that are guaranteed to keep you alert throughout the night of a 100-miler. Their Cold Brew Roctane Energy Gel ($2.50 each, or 24-pack for $60) has the same amounts of sodium and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) as the traditional Roctane formula, but doubles the caffeine content to 70mg per packet with a smooth coffee flavor that goes down easy. If your stomach can’t tolerate anything solid, GU’s Summit Tea Roctane Energy Drink Mix (10 single-use packets for $32.50, or 24-serving container for $45) has significantly higher levels of sodium and BCAAs than Roctane gels, and still provides 35mg of caffeine per serving.

One of our editors got hooked on UCAN Performance Energy Drink ($19.50 for six packets, or 20-serving tub for $60), which uses a patented SuperStarch that delivers a slow release of complex carbohydrates to provide steady energy and stabilize blood sugar levels. The modified non-GMO corn starch is distinguished by its cooking process, which uses a precise balance of heat and moisture over a long period of time to alter the way it is metabolized in the body. UCAN drinks come in three fruity flavors, all of which are very mild, with a neutral taste that we found easy to consume in large volumes over an extended period of time.

Somewhere around mid-summer we started to notice Spring Energy gels at various trail events. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, since one of their founders is a legit ultrarunner, and the company has done a lot of outreach within the ultra community. Spring Energy has an interesting approach to the gel category: instead of distinguishing their products based on flavor, they are classified based on the duration and intensity of your activity. Their Sampler Pack ($29) contains 14 gel packets and represents eight activity options – and if you want to stock up on one type or another, each packet is also sold separately. Most of the flavor profiles are fruit and nut-based, using different primary ingredients with some vegan options as well. Start with the Sampler Pack, then spend some time on the website to determine which specific packs are best for you.

Our last entry in this category is a longtime standby, having been around since 1995. SUCCEED S!CAPS ($20 for a 100-capsule bottle) were the electrolyte capsule of choice for our team at Western States this year, including editor Amy Clark in her debut 100-miler, as well as her pacers. We’ve come to rely on them during hot days for staying hydrated, as the electrolytes help maintain hydration and prevent cramping, while the sodium bicarbonate helps settle your stomach. Many other electrolyte pills have come to market in recent years, but there’s a reason why this one is still so frequently used.

Gadgets & Gear

Sure, the holidays aren’t exactly the time of year you want to think about weight – so consider the Garmin Index Smart Scale ($150) your incentive for getting back in shape come January. For anyone connected in the Garmin universe through their GPS watches and Connect app, this wi-fi enabled scale makes data collection a breeze. It talks to your smartphone during the initial setup, and then it will store data and sync to the Connect app whenever wi-fi is available. In addition to weight, the scale measures BMI, hydration percentage, skeletal muscle percentage and bone mass index, which you can then trend over weeks or months during your next training cycle. Several different user profiles can be entered, and the scale still provides metrics even if you don’t own any other Garmin product. The only tricky part is knowing what the numbers mean. Since there are so many individual differences between genders, body types and activity levels, you have to do a bit of your own research to identify normal, healthy ranges.

As your training ramps up again next year, pound away your muscle soreness with the Hyperice Hypervolt Plus ($449), which is the most powerful handheld percussive device we’ve tested so far. This model is a revamp of the previous Hypervolt, with 30% higher motor intensity (up to 90w), but weighs only 3lbs, and internal Quiet Glide Technology diminishes the lawnmower-like rumble of many massagers, allowing you to watch TV while in use. It is cordless for convenience and has five interchangeable head attachments to provide the specific therapy you’re looking for. There are a lot of massagers on the market now, all of which have well-established recovery benefits, but this is the most impressive one we’ve found for combining power with (relatively) quiet operation and convenience.

Another gadget at the top of its class are the Jaybird Vista Wireless Headphones ($180), which provide exceptional baseline sound quality with customization to your individual tastes through an equalizer on the Jaybird app. However, the true accomplishment of these headphones is how light and streamlined they are, and how well they stay in place during activity. They weigh a mere 6g, with a fin structure that anchors the buds securely in your ears without necessary molding. The charging case is low profile and lightweight, and provides 16 hours of use per charge. Water and grit resistance is IPX7, which makes the Vistas rugged enough to handle downpours and full days of trail dust. Bluetooth connectivity proved to be locked-in with both android and iOS users, and the system is fully compatible for phone functions and voice commands on your device.

No matter how effectively you wash your drink reservoirs, the lifespan of your favorite hydration vest will probably outlast the cleanliness of your fluid container. If it’s time to replace your reservoir, there are two new options from HydraPak to choose from. For the traditional 2L capacity, the updated Shape Shift 2L ($36) has undergone significant design changes to make it lighter, sleeker and easier to use. The slider top has a smoother track, the tube connector at the base is one-third slimmer, and the flow rate through the hose is 20% faster than the previous version. This has long been the gold standard for fluid reservoirs, and the new version is even better. For superhot trail days or smaller vest compartments, try the Velocity 1.5L IT ($38). This is an insulated reservoir that uses IsoBound technology to keep fluids cold for 38% longer than a standard reservoir. It has double-wall construction and open cell foam material to create a barrier around the reservoir to prevent latent heat – either from your body or from external air temps – to slow the transfer of warmth into your fluids.

Apparel

One of the best combinations of trail fashion and all-day functionality is found in the BOCO Technical Trucker Hat ($30). This model comes in several styles online, most of which are Colorado-centric given the company’s roots in (as you can guess from the name) Boulder, CO. The Technical Trucker has been around for a while, but this year it has been updated with a new lightweight ventilated mesh that has very wide holes and a cool aesthetic look. If you want something that’s even more lightweight and functional, the BOCO Endurance Hat ($27) is a highly versatile model that can be worn frontwards or backwards, with the bill flipped up or down, and is completely mashable to fold up in a pocket when it’s not in use. The Endurance Hat has a smaller bill than the Technical Trucker Hat, but uses the same open-mesh ventilation on both sides and comes in a few unique design options on the Boco website.

Drymax has a long tradition of working with elite ultrarunners in developing new sock models, and this year’s addition comes fresh off the heels of Zach Bitter’s 100-mile World Record effort. The new Bittersweet Sock ($13.50) is an update to the company’s Running Lite Mesh Crew sock, with open vents over the top of the foot for hyper-breathability, Drymax’s exclusive two-layer moisture management system and seamless toe construction. This model utilizes advances in the company’s filament yarn manufacturing that makes the socks softer and more plush than the previous version, without compromising durability. Bitter wore only one pair of these during his World Record feat. The Bittersweet is a unisex sock available in sizes from women’s 5 to men’s 13, and a perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite ultrarunner.

Winter running is all about having the right base layers, and we have recommendations that provide warmth and comfort for both men and women. For ladies, the Runderwear Women’s Support Running Bra ($60) uses a soft, technical moisture-wicking fabric that has a mild compression component and provides good support without chafing. The same fabric is used in the soft straps that are fully adjustable, as are the “J” hook closures in the back for customization. This bra comes with removable padding and runs in sizes from 28A to 38E. Our testers found them to run slightly small in comparison with other bras. For larger sizes, the Runderwear Easy-On Support Running Bra ($70) uses the same material construction, but with a higher neckline, wider underband and an additional hook closure in the back for increased support. This model is available in sizes 28D through 40J.

For the men, it’s critical to keep your willies warm – which is why we like Warm Willy’s Underwear ($39). These only come in one style: a boxer brief with a 4-inch inseam and a band that sits just below your waist. Fabric construction is a blend of stretch polyester with merino wool for temperature regulation and odor control. The resulting feel is slightly snug but soft against the skin, and the inseam stays in place nicely under a pair of shorts or leggings. The founder of Warm Willys is a longtime ultrarunner and has been slowly gathering testimonials and ambassadors among the ultrarunning and mountaineering communities since the company launched. Consequently, this underwear has been tested successfully in the most extreme conditions possible.

Used as a standalone top or layered underneath a jacket, we’ve logged more miles in our Black Diamond Rhythm Tee ($75) than any other shirt this year. It is composed of NuYarn, a proprietary blend of 57% nylon and 43% merino; the merino fibers are wrapped around the nylon core, and the resulting fabric is lighter than super thin wool fabrics. From a performance standpoint, it maintains the odor resistance, soft feel and thermoregulation of merino, with the durability and advanced moisture transfer of synthetic material. We’ve worn this shirt for multi-day fast-packing trips, as well as several days of high intensity outings, without it becoming stiff or funky between washes.

On top of your base layers, The North Face Flight FUTURELIGHT Jacket ($280) is the newest waterproof, breathable shell on the market. The fabric was developed using nanospinning technology, which allows designers to adjust the weight, stretch, breathability, durability, construction and texture to meet the needs of specific activities or environments. FUTURELIGHT will be used in all TNF jackets over the next couple of years, and this item is part of the Flight series of lightweight running apparel. The men’s version weighs 280g, the women’s is 236g, and when not in use, they compress into a zip pocket at center back that is small enough to fit in the pocket of a hydration vest. Aside from being fully waterproof, the Flight FUTURELIGHT has a smooth interior feel, an adjustable hood that cinches down securely, and partial stretch cuffs that facilitate going on/off over gloves.

To cap off our favorite accessories for winter weather, Icebreaker offers reliable protection for both head and hands. The Tech Trainer Hybrid Beanie ($40) has a main body constructed from 95% merino wool, plus a bit of Lycra for improved stretch and fit. On top of this is a wide overlay band of Pertex Quantum Air nylon for enhanced breathability, plus a DWR finish for light moisture protection. The result is a strong combination of warmth and breathability, along with the natural comfort and odor resistance of merino wool. Similarly, the Tech Trainer Hybrid Gloves ($60) use the same Pertex and wool combination, with weather resistance on the exterior side. The palm side has small silicone grips on the palm and first two fingers, plus touchscreen compatibility at the tip of the thumb and index finger. These gloves are incredibly thin and light (50g for the pair) for the amount of insulation they provide.

Miscellaneous

The Tifosi Schwae Sunglasses ($60 for polarized versions) are perfect for any ultrarunner who wants to incorporate some classic fashion into their look without losing performance. These shades offer a classic aviator style that can still handle routine training runs. Unlike typical aviator glasses, these have a nose pad that holds the frames in place even when sweaty, and temple grips that stay secure without tangling up your hair. The polycarbonate, teardrop-shaped lenses are shatterproof, provide 100% UV protection and come in polarized options. Frames are made from stainless steel that is lightweight and comfortable, and the color schemes of gold or graphite frames plus brown, blue or smoke lenses give you a number of cool looks to choose from.

Every ultrarunner knows how priceless a little protection from dirt and sweat can be after a long run, which makes this the perfect gift. If you need to change clothes or protect your car seat after a dirty trail excursion, the Orange Mud Transition Wrap 2.0 ($40) is a great tool. This over-sized, multipurpose, microfiber changing towel cinches securely around your waist with an integrated clip belt and is roomy enough to change your shorts without tripping over yourself. When you’re finished changing, unclip the towel and zip it up on one end to throw over your car seat. Once the towel gets grimy enough, the entire thing is machine washable.

The Transition Wrap does not have a waterproof barrier between you and your car seat, so for those who need extra moisture protection, there’s the Dry Rub Medium Car Seat Cover ($100). The entire surface is sweat and water resistant, and covers the entire length of the seat – from the full headrest to an extended “skirt” that keeps your muddy calves from smudging the seat – although it is slightly narrow for wider SUV seats. One very cool design element is a seat anchor that is quickly inserted into the crease between your seat bottom and back, which holds the cover in place even when you’re squirming around. Dry Rub seat covers are also machine washable and dry quickly after soaking.

To show your favorite ultrarunner how much you care about their recovery, give them the gift of sore muscle relief. Sweetbody Laboratories Arnica Recovery Balm ($22 for 2oz tin; other sizes available) can provide pain relief and help speed recovery. The company was founded by massage therapists, who found that the infusion of Arnica oil was effective for clients with chronic as well as acute muscle pain. The balm is also effective for chafing or skin abrasions, and has some mild anti-inflammatory properties that can also provide a measure of medication-free pain management during activity.

Finally, an UltraRunning Magazine Gift Subscription (renew before 12/31 and add a gift subscription for $10, ultrarunning.com/grit) is perfect for your ultrarunning friends. With an annual subscription that includes 10 glossy, full-color issues, access to training plans for all levels and distances, a 12-month training calendar, online archive access and much more, it’s the gift that’ll keep giving all year long.

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About Author

Donald is a physical therapist, California native, barefoot aficionado, and father of three with more than 25 years of experience in endurance sports. He was a collegiate rower at UCLA, then dabbled in marathons and Ironman-distance triathlons before falling in love with ultras in the early 2000s. His favorite locations to run include Marin County, CA, and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and he loves exploring America's National Parks. When he's not training for ultramarathons, he enjoys hiking or slacklining with his family in Monterey County, CA.

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