The must-haves every runner should pack for a destination race
Who wants to check a bag? With this versatile gear, you won't have to.
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Now at the start line of 2020, you might be thinking about planning a destination race for the new year. It's a good way to set a fitness goal, push your limits, and have a little fun, whether you travel to a new state or across the world. For me, running on vacation is part of the experience: It means taking in unforgettable scenery and connecting with a new place. And while I'm no elite runner, I've traveled for two half-marathons so far—in Edinburgh, Scotland and Auckland, New Zealand—and this year will be tackling a race in Antarctica.
Aside from planning the usual flight and hotel details, these trips take a bit of preparation. Part of that process is checking off your training runs and figuring out how to use the same gear and energy food during the race. You may have heard the runner's adage: "Nothing new on race day."
With that in mind, we set out to find high-quality, packable running gear to use while training and during your destination race.
1. A foam roller to loosen your muscles
Foam rollers are a good way to loosen your muscles before a workout and speed up the recovery process afterward. But because most of these devices are large, awkward, unyielding blocks of foam, they’re tough to tote on an airplane. The Morph Bravo collapsible foam roller from Brazyn saves valuable room in your bag and allows you to roll on the go.
Brazyn says the roller's "multi-level surface improves circulation of blood, water and oxygen." It folds down to under two inches and weighs in at 1.5 pounds, fitting easily into your suitcase or backpack. The Bravo model is firm enough to hold up to 350 pounds with nubs that effectively get out any muscle kinks. I've used this before and after each training run and on several of my international trips, and it's at the top of my "must-have" list.
2. Food to fuel your runs
Energy chews and gels are designed to provide your muscles with quick calories and electrolytes during long bouts of exercise. Whatever you use during your training should be the type of energy food you pack with you for your destination run.
While there are dozens of options out there, you might want to nix energy gels because TSA considers these a liquid, so they eat into your carry-on liquid limit on a flight. A sleeve of Gu Energy Chews won’t pose the same problem and they’re easily packable. I like the chews that contain 20 milligrams of caffeine in each serving because I know how tired I get while traveling. They give me steady energy with no crash. They aren't too big to chew while running, though I tear open the packaging before heading out on my runs, as I found the sleeves hard to open without breaking my stride.
3. Lightweight, anti-odor clothes
On my last trip, almost all of my clothing was lightweight, easy-to-pack running gear that could double as sightseeing outfits. I chose mostly black clothes to make laundry and matching easier, and the odor-control properties kept me and my travel partners happy. (If you're planning a runcation, these metrics may be more important than putting together super-cute outfits.)
I can layer Patagonia Capilene long-sleeved top with a warmer top in cold weather, or wear it alone on warmer days. I also like this shirt because it's comfortable and quick-drying, the fit is flattering, and the branding isn't too visible.
I like the Patagonia Endless Run capris because they're ventilated in the right places and have a pocket that's perfect for holding energy chews. They were also warm enough for springtime running in New Zealand.
The Gore Wear windproof running jacket has doubled as a travel and running jacket on all my international trips so far. This one is lightly insulated and keeps the wind and rain at bay, acting as a perfect outer layer.
- Get the Patagonia Capilene long-sleeve top at REI for $45
- Get the Patagonia Endless Run capris at Backcountry.com for $79
- Get the Gore Wear Women's Windproof Running Jacket on Amazon starting at $65.42
4. A hydration belt for training and racing
Hydration is important as you train for your destination race—as your mileage increases, you might need to carry more water… and your keys and phone, plus a snack or two. The Naked hydration pack allows you to fit all your long-run gear in a stretchy mesh band that fits securely on your waist.
If you've always toted a handheld water bottle, the Naked hydration belt can be an odd concept to grasp at first. After pulling on the belt, you fill up the soft-sided water bottles and tuck them into the pockets on the belt. Though it may look and feel bulky at first and can take a little practice to get the bottles in and out without breaking stride mid-run, the Naked belt is comfortable and doesn't bounce around or chafe. It also fits everything you need for a run: two water pouches, a set of keys, a phone, and a protein bar. It's an easy tool to travel with, as the belt and water pouches are flat and lightweight (the belt weighs 2.3 ounces).
5. Compression socks for the flight and post-run
Compression socks, according to our review of the best ones, reduce swelling and improve blood circulation for travelers on long flights, athletes, and people who simply walk around a lot. That means they're on triple duty for your destination race. I used the Sockwell Women’s Circulator socks after all my training runs leading up to the trip and during the 15-hour flight to Sydney, Australia. (That's where I touched down before heading to New Zealand.) I chose the black pair so they'd blend in with my clothes, but Sockwell also offers several colors and fun designs. They're a bit snug to get on, but they hugged my ankles during the entire flight without drooping or wearing down. I also put them on after my training runs or after a long walk or hike.
In Reviewed's test, our tester also loved my Sockwells for their gentler compression, and recommended Figs as the best overall, for offering a bit more support but still feeling very comfortable.
6. A weapon against jet lag
Those last tune-up runs before the race are hard enough. Try doing them when you're mentally and physically fatigued, and your digestive system is struggling. For those travel-related reasons, it's best to arrive to your destination race at least a few days in advance. To help combat jet lag, the Timeshifter app can help you adjust to a new time zone.
To set up a profile, I told the app my name, gender, age, and the times I usually fall asleep and wake up. I used the advanced settings to tell the app that my normal chronotype is "early bird" and I'm cool with drinking caffeine. For my Australia/New Zealand trip, I started the acclimation process during the flight. Timeshifter told me when to take a nap, drink caffeine and avoid light, starting with the flight and continuing for a few days afterward. My body still struggled with sleep for about a week, but the app helped because I didn't have to constantly do the time-change math to figure out what I needed.
- Get Timeshifter for iPhone on iTunes for $24.99 a year
- Get Timeshifter for Android on Google Play for $24.99 a year
7. A wedding band that goes the extra mile
While wedding bands can symbolize a beautiful union with your partner, they sure can be a pain while traveling or exercising. My engagement ring digs into my swelling fingers on the plane and when the temperature rises and catches on random stuff (a hazard when you work out). It's also not 100 percent wise to travel with an expensive piece of jewelry. HonorGear silicone wedding bands offer a cost-effective alternative that safely symbolizes your union. The rings come in many sizes, so I was able to find one that fits perfectly—and I love the fun colors, too. I wear mine during workouts and on my international trips.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.