When prepping for an ultramarathon, there will be constant reminders about putting together drop bags. The race website, Facebook page, and race manuals will mention the subject multiple times. Drop bags are bags or containers that are placed at aid stations giving trail runners access to items that they would not want to carry.
Usually the drop bags are located at aid stations specified by the race director. They are a great resource for trail runners, especially if the runner does not have a crew.
During a looped 50-mile race, I knew that I would want to keep items in a drop bag halfway in the loop as you only see the crew every 16 miles. By using a drop bag I did not have to carry as much weight in nutrition and other items.
Within six miles of the race, I was beginning to have GI issues. Most races have only specific aid stations that crews are allowed, so my crew could not just hand me the remedies. I had ten miles till I would see my crew next. Luckily my drop bag was just ahead to help relieve my issues and get me back on the trails to continue the race.
18 essential items to consider for your ultramarathon drop bags:
Drop bags are vital for runners that opt out of having a crew. Also they are perfect for when there is an aid station that a crew might not have access to. When putting together a drop bag, I highly recommend keeping it simple and only relying on the necessities. There are many drop bags that are huge and honestly over doing it.
Research the race. Decide if there will be a crew supporting you. Are there sections where the crew does not access to? These are some of the factors to examine before a race. The following items should be considered when putting together your next drop bag:
1. Any Medicines You Might Need
Most races do not stock Ibuprofen or other medicines to distribute out to runners. I highly suggest putting any medicine you might possibly need in your drop bag. After participating in a few races, you will start to notice possible issues that will arise. Medicine that I always bring is Imodium. There is nothing worse than GI issues and no remedy to prevent the risk of dehydration.
2. Anti-Chafe Product
Anti Chafe products have smaller containers that can be carried throughout a race. Since buying bigger quantities usually gives more bang for your buck, I usually purchase the larger quantity. Carrying around a large stick of anti chafe product is not ideal. Putting some in your drop bag is a great way to have access to this product.
My favorite anti chafe product is Body Glide. They make different deodorant-like products for different areas of the body. Foot Glide is my go-to as I have more issues with blisters than anything else.
3. Blister Kit
Blister kits are always convenient to have in your drop bag. I usually have a small Ziplock baggie full of supplies I would need. This includes Band-Aids, Vaseline, Duct tape, and Foot Glide. One product I have, that I highly recommend is Moleskin. I have been using this stuff since playing competitive soccer. Moleskin definitely helps with blisters and works.
4. Extra Pair of Socks
Depending on the trail running shoes, they usually dry quickly unless they are waterproof. Unlike shoes, no matter what type of socks you have on they easily hold in moisture. Having wet socks can cause blisters and be uncomfortable for a long race. I highly recommend placing a change of socks in your drop bag, as there is nothing like changing into new, dry socks when your feet are miserable.
One pair of socks I highly recommend are the Injinji socks. They are toe socks and help with preventing blisters. If blisters are not an issue or you do not prefer toe socks, Balega is another great brand for trail running.
5. Extra Headlamp
When knowing that there will be some running in the dark, I usually carry a headlamp in my hydration pack. Sometimes plans go wrong and you might need your headlamp before seeing a crew member or drop bag.
Even when carrying one around, I do like to throw one in the drop bag because of the possibility of my headlamp dying or having issues. I always have a backup. There have been countless times where I have had to grab the backup in my drop bag.
6. Extra Batteries
Like a headlamp, I always have extra batteries in my pack. Having extra batteries in my drop bag is helpful as well. There have been times I could have sworn that I switched out the batteries and did not. Not having a lighting source during a race can lead to a slower time or DNF. Having a lighting device and the extra batteries in the drop bag is so important.
7. 500 Calories of Extra Nutrition
As much as trail runners plan and bring the proper amount of food for a race, there is always the chance that you might run out of the nutrition that works for you. I always try to eat other items besides my gels (GO Isotonic Energy Gels) at aid stations to get a variety and prevent the risk of running out. If a section does take longer and ultimately I end up using all my gels, having extra in my drop bag is helpful.
Sometimes I pack items that are not at aid stations and are a little more fun than the average gel. Placing snickers or trail mix in my drop bag gives me an item that is different. Also if I am struggling, that snack becomes something to look forward too.
Most races have an electrolyte drink. Research and see what will be at the aid stations. Some electrolyte drinks do not settle well with people, and they prefer to use a different brand. If this is the case, I would put electrolytes in your drop bag. A lot of runners like Gu Roctaine or Tailwind Nutrition.
9. Sunscreen and Bug-spray
Most races carry sunscreen and bug-spray at their aid stations, but do not always assume this. Look at the race website and see if they are on the list for aid station items. If not, I highly recommend adding them to your drop bag. There is nothing worse than being sunburned, full of mosquito bites, and running for miles.
50K Race Drop Bag Considerations:
All of these items should be considered when putting together drop bags. When setting up a bag for a race, I highly suggest making it simple. If the race will provide the items possibly needed, consider opting out on bringing your own. I try to use as much of the race provides as I can, that way I do not have to haul or bring as much.
For a 50k race, the above items are all products I would consider for a drop bag. Anything more would be overkill. Although depending on the race, you might need extra items because of weather or other factors.
Most 50k races do not require as much gear because they never take nearly as long as a 100 miler. Dress properly for the race. Changing shoes is usually not necessary, so avoid packing them in the drop bag.
50 mile Race Drop Bag Considerations:
50-mile races will take up a good portion of your day. They are great because they can be finished in just a day. Except a lot can happen during that time. One item I would suggest adding to your drop bag in a 50-miler is a change of clothes.
10. Change of Clothes
Weather can change drastically throughout the day. You might want to throw on a shorter sleeve shirt during the day and more clothing at night.
Another factor that might make you want to change your clothes is humidity. If the race takes place in a humid location, consider dry clothes to change into. Wearing damp clothes can cause chaffing and just be irritating.
My recommendation is wearing a short sleeve shirt under a long sleeve shirt at the start the race. Then if I need to take off the long sleeve, I am not dealing with switching to a completely different shirt. The shirt can be thrown around my waist, as it is lightweight and basically like carrying nothing.
Then in a later drop bag I will throw a long sleeve shirt into it so that I can wear the shirt over whatever I already have on. Again, its lightweight and gives you a back-up plan for cold weather.
100 Mile Race Drop Bag Considerations:
When running possibly over 24 hours, you will want some other items in your drop bags. Below are additional items to include in drop bags for a 100-miler race…
11. Extra Pair of Shoes
The goal of most hundred races, is to not change shoes. Usually I do not think it is necessary, and changing shoes can waste time for not making much of a difference. Most 100-mile races I do, I never change my shoes. If anything, changing my socks usually does the trick if I am wet.
Although, wearing one pair of shoes is not always realistic. I had one race where there were constant river and creek crossing. Crossing water constantly destroyed my feet. Changing into dry shoes whenever I got the chance helped a lot physically and mentally. If there is a lot of water, bring extra shoes. If race might have one or two water crossing, try not to pack an extra pair of shoes because they will probably dry out fairly quickly.
12. Hat and gloves
No matter where the race takes place, the nights will probably get colder during a 100-mile race. A hat and gloves can make a huge difference in your warmth and comfort. Throw these in a later drop bag as they will seem like gold if the temperature begins to drop. Being warm is important during the night portion, especially if you are moving slower as most people are.
A jacket is a great item to put in your drop bag for a hundred-mile race. I usually choose a raincoat as they are waterproof, lightweight, and serve as windbreakers. Depending on a race you might want something warmer. I prefer a rain jacket because they can serve multiple purposes and help keep you warm.
A rain jacket I highly recommend is the Patagonia Rain Shadow. The jacket is lightweight and can be thrown over my hydration pack. If I decide I no longer need it, the jacket can easily stuff into my pack without taking up too much space.
14. Hiking poles
A lot of races have hard climbs after the halfway point in a 100-miler. Even if they do not seem that difficult on an average day, they will be hard with 50+ miles on your legs. Think about packing trekking poles in your drop bags as these can be the perfect solution for tired legs. I like to save trekking poles for later bags, as I usually never pull out trekking poles until after mile 60.
Leki Micro Trail Vario are my favorite poles to bring along on the trails. These poles are lightweight. I did have different poles in the past and making the switch to the Leki brand was the best decision. They are foldable, lightweight, and also have frame straps. The frame straps connect the poles to your hands, and allow for you to easy release them from your grip by snapping them out.
200+ Mile Race Drop Bag Considerations:
When it comes to drop bags, 200-mile races are a whole new ball game. Time between aid stations can be a lot longer. Also 200-milers take and allow a lot of time. Runners can be out on the course for days. Having drop bags is probably the most important in this distance.
15. Ear plugs and Sleeping Bags
Not only are there aid stations throughout this distance but sleep stations are offered for race participants. Races can last multiple days, so sleeping is an aspect of the race. Many of the sleep stations have certain amount of time you are allowed to doze off. Having a sleeping bag and ear plugs will make it easier to fall asleep.
The night might be cold and the commotion in the background can keep you from getting a good couple hours of rest.
Being up for hours and little sleep is a big aspect of 200-mile race. Evaluate how much sleep you might need and consider bringing some sort of caffeine in your drop bags. Be careful as I suggest to only use caffeine when necessary.
17. Warm Jacket and Pants
Running through the night multiple times will require warmer items. This is partly due to the fact that you will be going much slower in a 200-mile race. Bringing warm items during the night is important, especially if you know there will be a lot of walking and power hiking.
Rain pants are an easy item to throw over pants or shorts. As for a jacket, I recommend the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket. The lightweight jacket is warm with 800 down fill. The jacket is also water resistant and compresses into its own pocket. If you ended up carrying the jacket in your hydration pack, 7.3 ounces is nothing.
18. Water Treatment
Aid stations can be 15+ miles away during a 200-mile race. Sometimes you will need to rely on refilling your water at streams or rivers. Bringing some sort of water treatment for these sections is not only helpful but smart. There is nothing worse than running out of water and having miles till your next aid station. Pack some sort of water treatment in your drop bag if you know it will be needed during a certain section.
My favorite water treatment is the Life Straw. Not only can you use it to drink right out of the stream, but you can also attach it to your bottle. If you have a bladder, consider iodine tablets as they are easier to fill and clean water with.
My favorite types of bags to use as drop bags:
When putting together a drop bag, I like to keep it to a one-gallon Ziplock baggie. Ziplock baggies are waterproof and keep you from bringing too much. As most races require you too, put your name, bib number, and aid station on the drop bag with a sharpie.
If the race is longer and you will need bigger items like shoes, I would consider using a dry bag. They come in multiple sizes, are reusable, and waterproof.
At the end of the day, assess if you will need drop bags. If you will be tackling the race without a crew, I think it is very important to use drop bags whenever the race will allow you too. If you have a crew, try to only use drop bags where a crew will not have access, or if you are not sure they will be able to access the place in time.
Remember that looking for and retrieving drop bags is time consuming. Relying on a crew will be much faster and ultimately easier to get access to supplies needed. Research and rely on aid stations as well to provide items that you do not want to bring or carry.
Up Next In Trail Running:
Maddie is an avid backpacker, climber, and trail runner. When she is not out on the trails training for ultramarathons, she is exploring with her husband and son in their 1996 F350 and camper. If you cannot find her outdoors she is probably at a brewery drinking a sour.