This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Drop Bag Preparations”, please leave it below in the comments section…
You can think of drop bags as something like ring buoys. The various gear, food and supplements packed into them can save you from “drowning” when the course gets too tough or something bad happens on the trail. Some ultrarunners are adaptable enough to simply rely on what aid stations have to offer on the shorter races. But at the longer races like 100-mile events, they can become a crucial factor to a runner’s success.
What to pack
One of the pre-race preparations that confound most beginners in ultramarathons is what to put in their drop bags. The basic types of items that usually go into drop bags are:
Cool/warm clothing, headlamps, ointments, energy gel caps – the specifics depend on what works for you and the conditions of the race. Food and drinks are actually the least important because these are available in aid stations. Unless you have a food allergy, a very strict diet, or some unavoidable preference, you don’t really have to prioritize this. If you discovered in training that only a particular type of sports drink was most suitable, then go ahead and include it. But if the stations have it, then take it off the list.
Some veteran ultrarunners say they don’t bother with drop bags because rummaging through them then putting it back in order can eat up precious time. While such a disadvantage can be true of drop bags, this approach obviously can’t work for everyone. So the point is if drop bags are part of your strategy then only bring what is absolutely necessary.
How to pack
Some races allow for a single drop that can be used many times while other events allow for multiple drop bags each accessible only once. The second scenario can be more logistically challenging as it wouldn’t be practical to pack spares of each type of item in every bag. So a lot of planning has to be done here. The extra flashlight and batteries for example should probably be in the drop bag placed at the later sections of a 100-miler, at the station you’ll reach when night falls.
Labeling your drop bags can make your pit stops more efficient. Remember that the other runners have their bags at the station too. Imagine the time saved if you didn’t have to fumble around looking for yours. It can also lessen the chances of other runners mistakenly opening and using your drop bag. Such accidents do happen so put your name on everything from water bottle to spare shoes. Some ultrarunners recommend that you don’t put an item in your drop bag that you aren’t ready to permanently let go.
Waterproofing is another important aspect. You shouldn’t rely on the aid station staff to keep your drop bag dry when it starts to rain. Ziplocs or regular plastic bags and duct tape should do the trick.
It doesn’t have to be a bag
Backpacks, duffel bags, plastic boxes, shopping bags, garbage bags, buckets – a drop bag can actually be any kind of container allowed by the race rules. The important things to consider are that it can be waterproofed and that it’s big and sturdy enough to accommodate what’s necessary.
Do you have questions about how to prepare your drop bags, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.