During the holiday season, ultrarunners love to get cozy and relax … but we don’t want to completely abandon our training, either. Here is our annual list of gifts for that special ultrarunner in your life (or, for yourself). Our selections are a great way to end the year in comfortable fashion, while also dreaming about training and racing in 2023.
Treats & Eats
Ever since their release last spring, Maurten Solid C 225 bars ($36 for 12-pack) have been the staple of our long training runs. These oat and rice-based chewable products look like an energy bar, but their texture is more like a rice krispie treat, and the carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber blend gets into your bloodstream quickly, without sitting in your stomach, as many bars do. Each bar delivers 225 calories and two flavors are available. Solid 225 has a lightly sweet natural taste, while the Solid C includes low fat cocoa powder for a chocolatey pop.
For a quick energy boost before or during activity, Näak Waffles ($19 for a 12-pack) provide 140 calories, 200mg of electrolytes and 3g of protein in a 4:1 carb-protein balance. These come in four flavors that go great with a cup of coffee (our favorite is maple syrup), but are also easy to store in your pack, and maintain their texture well in a range of temperatures. Other brands of waffles can result in a dry mouth on warm days, but we found these to break down smoothly and digest easily even when we’re working at higher intensity levels.
One long-haul fuel option we discovered this year was from a race director who is constantly on the go. Why Bars ($19 for a variety 7-pack) are organic, vegan, gluten free and made with simple, natural ingredients. They come in a variety of fruit-based flavors that are a refreshing change from all the chocolate and peanut butter-based options out there. The texture is pleasantly chewy, and each bar is impressively filling in comparison to its size. Why Bars are intended to provide up to three hours of fuel during endurance activities, but they are also a great option for staying fueled between workouts, when you need to take in calories (265 per bar) but don’t want a full meal in your stomach.
Our favorite “Wait, these are good for you?” products this year are the 100 Mile Bars ($12 for 4), a recent offshoot of the delicious 100 Mile Cookies created by a home chef team of an injured ultrarunner and his young daughter. The bars are a blend of peanut butter, chocolate, oats, flax, chia seeds, plus a bit of cinnamon and salt—it’s a unique flavor profile that hits a few different pleasure centers in our mouths right away. Each bar has 264 calories and comes in individually wrapped, environmentally-friendly packaging that makes them easy to use as portable snacks on hikes, road trips or a post-workout indulgence.
Spring Energy seems to have cracked the code on real food nutrition options for high demand endurance activities, and their new Honey Lemon Endurance Drink Mix ($26 for a 4-pack) applies that technology to a unique product that allows you to hydrate and fuel at the same time. Made with real fruit that has gone through infrared drying technology, each 220-calorie pack is completely water soluble, but maintains the taste of real fruit without preservatives or added sugar. The real food ingredients reduce your risk of stomach issues, while supplying sodium, potassium and calcium electrolytes to your muscle tissue for optimal function.
Meanwhile, a company famous for endurance hydration has introduced a lifestyle drink we love: Tailwind Nutrition Active Hydration ($21 for 12-pack) comes in a box of single-serve packets that have only 35 calories, and a pleasantly light fruit flavor with a mix of electrolytes, collagen for healthy joint function and vitamin C for immune support. It mixes clear with water, and dissolves quickly like other Tailwind products. These packs are great options for staying hydrated throughout the day, especially for people who get fatigued with drinking water all day long. We have also used them for light workouts when our endurance needs aren’t great, but we just want some electrolyte support and a bit of flavor.
For the Gearhead
Any tall runner who has car camped at the start of the race knows this problem: in the gap between the folded-down back seats and the back of your driver seat, it’s impossible to rest your head on a firm surface. This issue is gratefully resolved by the Backseat Bivy ($129), a wide, durable hammock that bridges between the seats to maximize your sleeping space. It secures to the front seat headrests via adjustable straps, and securely clicks onto rear seat safety hooks to stay in place. 600D polyester hammock material spans 48” across the width of your car to allow for switching sides, and the bivy is compatible with almost every kind of car on the market.
For a lighter, minimalistic sunglass fit that feels almost weightless, the Julbo Meta ($240, price varies depending on lens selection) includes curved temples so as not to feel too restricting while running, subtle side shields to protect eyes from sun glare and precipitation and Griptech anti-slip inserts so they stay in place, even on the sweatiest of runs. Julbo’s Reactiv technology lenses get darker or lighter to match conditions. We can confirm these protected our eyes in the bright sunshine but also allowed us to see a crystal clear view of the trail while out on long runs.
When you need to stow items at your waist, the UltrAspire Element Waist Pack ($33) offers a great combination of comfort and functionality. The stretch mesh zipper compartment is expansive enough to hold virtually any phone, or can also be used for a hydration flask. There is a second large stash pouch behind the zipper pocket and two smaller pockets on either side for smaller items. A sweat-proof barrier ensures that your cargo won’t get soaked from the inside, while a conically-shaped belt stays in place whether it’s worn high or low on the hips. The side clasp closure is secure and avoids discomfort or chafing.
Another portable hydration option from UltrAspire is their 550 Pocket Handheld ($25), a soft-sided bottle combined with a very lightweight mesh exoskeleton for ease of carrying. The UltrAcool mesh is breathable and comfortable, and incorporates a four-way seamless stretch mesh pocket that is the perfect size for a car key, gel or debit card and ID. The secure fit of the mesh combines with the contoured design of the bottle and makes it easy to carry without clasping your fingers at all, reducing fatigue on long outings. The bottle can be removed from the mesh and used in any of UltrAspire’s waist packs (it fits in the Element Pack described above) or hydration vests.
While the days of needing to re-charge your GPS watch during a race may be ending (see next item), there are still plenty of items that might need a charge boost during the course of an ultra event. Having an Otterbox Mobile Charging Kit ($35) in your race kit will allow you to charge any kind of phone, headlamp, headphones or other devices, because it comes with a 3-in-1 adapter for USB-C, Lightning or Micro-USB ports. Battery capacity is 5K mAh, and an LED indicator displays the current status. The kit can be charged in advance and stored in temperature ranges of 15 to 140 degrees, and its slim profile—comparable to a stack of 15 playing cards—is easy to carry in a race vest until your favorite device needs additional juice.
2022 was an extremely productive year for Garmin, who released a number of standout GPS watches before topping them all with the new Enduro 2 ($1,100), which immediately became the gold standard for feature-rich adventure watches. Solar technology and improved battery capacity provide up to 150 hours of GPS life on a single charge, and a new SatIQ feature ensures optimal GPS accuracy in any environment. The overall feature profile exceeds any Garmin watch to date; it even has an Inspector Gadget-style flashlight built in for finding your way in the dark. If your ultrarunner has been especially good this year, this is a top-of-the-wish-list item they will benefit from using for many years to come.
Zensah has you covered for pretty much any holiday or novelty theme you have in mind, and their Plaid Compression Knee-High Socks ($45) are a perfect way to show some holiday flair while also keeping your calves warm and supported during cold weather activity. This knee-high version has a seamless toe, graduated compression, moisture-wicking and anti-odor silver ion fabric, targeted arch support and a lightly cushioned sole. The same design is also available in compression sleeves, mini-crew height or even no-show if you want to keep your flair strictly personal.
Cold fingers are the bane of a winter runner’s existence, but Tracksmith’s NDO Gloves ($48) provides a strong layer of resistance against frosty intrusion. They use double-layer construction with a warm, wicking interior lining to trap body heat, and a bonded stretch wind-block lining at the hand and fingers. Their overall profile remains slim enough that you can still manage a headlamp or zipper, and touchscreen fabric at the fingertips allows you to operate your phone. Keep them secured together with a set of magnets at the cuffs while stored in your pack or drawer.
For some added core insulation, the Ultimate Direction Amelia Boone Vest ($100) is a women’s one-of-a-kind, pull-over hooded top that is breathable for the duration of a long run, but insulated to keep your core warm on a cold day. Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating makes this vest an easy choice in precipitation, given that the zipper is angled and slides up to the chin to keep the hood secure and your neck protected. Zippered front pockets on either side open to a larger front pocket where your hands can rest and warm up. With a shell made from 100% recycled materials, this is one of our favorite pieces to wear over a long-sleeved base layer during winter runs.
When it comes to post-run gear and throwing pants on after a long run, Stio Turpin Fleece Pants ($95) take the cake. Made from soft heathered microfleece, they are breathable, wick moisture and dry quickly. Not only did we find them to be a great way to warm up after a run, but they also proved to be a fitted and flattering pant that can be worn with your favorite hoody or down jacket for everyday use. As an added eco-friendly bonus, they are made with 100% recycled fiber. Just make sure to size up for ultimate comfort.
We have two separate items for men and women to combine with a soft pair of fleece pants. For men, the prAna Asgard Hooded Flannel Shirt ($140) can be worn over a t-shirt for lounging, or over a sturdier base layer for harsher outdoor conditions. This heavyweight garment has a soft, quilted interior lining, a moderate layer of partially recycled polyester insulation and a wool blend exterior with classic plaid styling. A generous hood can be cinched as needed with drawstrings, and there is plenty of storage space with dual chest and side-seam pockets. Although it’s technically a shirt, it can be worn like a jacket. Available at prana.com.
For women, Nathan’s new BFF Puffer Jacket ($200) is an eco-friendly addition to the increasingly crowded puffy category. It is noticeably thicker and warmer than puffers at similar weights and price points, thanks to 600FP synthetic Beyond Down insulation and a waterproof, breathable, highly durable Pertex polyester outer layer. The insulation has 95% recycled content and the shell is 100% recycled material. This is a casual jacket but can also work for more intense activity, and the recycled fill won’t clump or lose its insulation properties when wet, so you can remain warm while staying active in rain or snow. Sizing on this jacket is generous, with hems and sleeve lengths cut slightly longer. A vest version is also available and both can be found at nathansports.com.
To complete our head-to-toe cozy ensemble, we have some items for your feet and head. For active recovery after a long run, Topo Athletic Rekovr 2 ($120) shoes can be worn with or without socks, and feel soft on your feet if your run is finished but you still have errands or chores to do. This slip-on recovery shoe has an Ortholite 3D Wave Sense footbed that lightly stimulates the nerves on the bottom of your foot as you walk, on top of a slightly sloped 23mm/20mm soft EVA platform. An antimicrobial blended wool upper provides insulation and naturally resists odor, and the rugged Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole has comparable traction to a trail running shoe, providing multi-surface grip which allows you to wear these shoes in all weather conditions.
Fans of OOFOS sandals will celebrate two cold-weather options in the company’s product line, as the OOmg Boot and Bootie ($180) provide insulation capacity as well as a fashion element to the comfortable OOFOS impact-absorbing footbed. Uppers are constructed from a DWR treated quilted polyester fabric and synthetic Italian foam insulation which is highly compressible for easy packing if needed. Elastic cuff closures hold the upper securely in place, and the full boot version can be rolled up or down to customize the height from one outfit to the next. The outsole is designed for all surfaces, but may get a little slick in wet or slushy conditions.
One hallmark of a great piece of gear is versatility, and the Nomadix Puffer Blanket ($100) uses a clever snap system around its perimeter to create three different functions. When unsnapped, it’s a convenient, packable blanket. With one or two snaps secured, it can be worn as a cloak for insulation around the campsite or aid station. When all of the sides are snapped, it becomes a 74-inch-long minimalist sleeping bag for car camping or outdoors in temps down to 50 degrees. The outer layers and interior fill consist of post-consumer materials, and the entire blanket stuffs into a 14”x6” bag for easy packing. Multiple color options are available at nomadix.co.
For those days when a long run just isn’t in the cards, we recommend a good book. If you miss former UR columnist Cory Reese just as much as we do, his latest book, Stronger Than the Dark ($16) will bring you right back to his humorous tales of woe. However, Cory’s struggle with depression is one that many will relate to, even as he pursues his goals in the sport of ultrarunning. Columnist and coach Jason Koop took the knowledge he’s gained from coaching the sport’s most elite athletes and has written the second edition of Training Essentials for Ultrarunning ($35 for hardback). It’s a comprehensive, scientific guide that includes detailed information and stats from how the physiology of an ultrarunner works to detailed coaching advice on how to run specific ultramarathons like Hardrock 100. It’s one of the most well-informed resources for ultrarunning available today. For fans of the novel Born to Run who have yet to step into the world of ultrarunning, original author Christopher McDougall and Eric Orton have written Born to Run 2: The Ultimate Training Guide, ($30) which targets new ultrarunners with nutrition guidance (including recipes from UR columnist Lucy Bartholomew), strength exercises, running form advice and much more, this book gives off a Born to Run feel, with a “take action” attitude. And finally, UR columnist Travis Macy has written a new book, A Mile at a Time, ($28 hardcover) with his dad, Mark “Mace” Macy. A legendary endurance athlete and ultrarunner, Mace was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease just four years ago. The book is a heartwarming memoir detailing the life of a man who not only pursued adventures like Leadville and the Eco-Challenge, but turned it into a lifestyle for him and his family.
Finally, to keep your noggin warm all winter long, consider representing your favorite magazine with a new UltraRunning Beanie ($32) by Boulder-based Boco. With an over-sized pom-pom and an embroidered UR runner patch, you can show off some retro style while keeping your head toasty. Made from 100% medium weight acrylic, this is the perfect gift for the favorite ultrarunner in your life, or a great addition to your winter wardrobe.