The ultimate guide to choosing gear is here.
By Taylah Danaë Baggs from Wildfire Sports & Trek
Adventure sports and more extreme challenges are becoming ever more popular as weekend warriors move off the bitumen and into the bush. Hiking and trekking, trail running, off-road triathlons and other adventure sports offer people an opportunity to compete not just against opponents, but also against themselves and the elements. It’s a challenge that improves both physical and mental strength, and can often be enjoyed in a team or non-competitive environment such as Obstacle Course Racing.
Of course, adventure sports do pose unique risks and require specialised equipment. That’s why it’s important to choose the correct gear for your activity.
Shoes are the most important piece of equipment you’ll use when exercising. They can be the difference between a great day or a rolled ankle, bruised feet or blisters.
First, decide what activity you’ll be using your shoes for: hiking, travelling, trail running, road running, or a mixture? Most sports stores will categorise their shoes by these activities so that you can easily view relevant options. We are often requested for a shoe that can be used on both the road and trail. The short answer we give in-store is that each requires a very different shoe and trying to do both activities with the same shoe will lead to poor performance and discomfort.
Next, get to know the shape of your foot so that you can pick an appropriate fit. Each shoe brand has a slightly different fit, varying between wide, neutral and narrow. Some popular brands include:
- Scarpa – narrow
- Salomon – narrow
- Inov8 – narrow (precision fit) and medium (standard fit)
- Merrell – medium
- Keen – wide
- Altra – wide
If in doubt, head to a store and try on different shoes until you notice whether you fit narrower or wider brands.
Grip is essential to consider when trail running and hiking, since you will often encounter uneven terrain, muddy patches, and loose surfaces. Long, sharp, angular lugs on a shoe’s sole make for an aggressive grip. The more aggressive the grip, the better the shoes are on uneven terrain and the less grippy they are on road surfaces. If you insist on running on concrete or bitumen as well as on trails, opt for a less aggressive sole. Shoe soles are usually made from Vibram (harder) or Salomon (softer) rubber. Softer rubber equals a better grip, but less durability: it’s easily destroyed by bitumen. Make sure to match the type of rubber to your activities. Australian conditions are often much drier and harder than Europe, which can be wet and boggy.
Shoes that feature ankle or foot support can reduce the risk of rolling your ankle. Mistakes are easy to make when you’re tired and getting sloppy and injuring yourself on a trail is a common but serious concern. You need additional support when carrying a heavier pack, since it puts more strain on your ankles. Shoes with ankle support (high top hiking boots) or foot support (some running shoes) are stiffer than others.
Lacing can be another factor to consider. Some shoes (e.g. Salomons) offer quick-lacing systems that get you in and out of shoes with ease and comfort. These laces don’t allow for unconventional foot shapes, however, as it’s impossible to customise the lacing style.
Outdoor sports require you to pay extra attention to hydration, as you’re more liking to be working hard in warm temperatures. In humid, muggy regions, your sweat won’t evaporate and cool you down, so you’ll end up sweating continuously. Either way, your sweat contains salt and electrolytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium) that you need to replace to function at high levels. Hydration and electrolyte replacement is essential to keep your muscles functioning and to help you avoid fatigue.
Hiking and Trekking
The best way to stay hydrated when hiking and trekking is to use a combination of a hydration bladder and a water bottle.
Any hiking pack will include a bladder compartment, which allows you to drink hands-free. A bladder will encourage you to drink progressively, before you’re dehydrated. It’s better to get a larger size bladder, such as a 3L, and fill it to your desired amount rather than purchase a smaller bladder only to find that you need a larger capacity later on. The drawback of a bladder is that it’s hard to clean and you aren’t always certain how much water remains.
This is where a water bottle comes in handy. Water bottles are easy to clean, so they are ideal to carry your supplements and easier to ration. You will need some form of electrolyte and carbohydrate mix to keep you going on longer journeys.
Hydration vests are a lightweight, low-profile alternative to hiking packs that carry hydration bladders and usually have small pockets for your essentials. These are now the choice of lightweight/fast hikers as well as trail runners.
Many trail races require you to have a method to carry at least 500mL of water. For an ultra-trail event, you can need up to 12L minimum capacity.
Here are some points to consider when choosing your running vest:
- Size – how much water do you need? Will you carry anything other than water (e.g. phone, keys, head torch, map, gels, emergency blanket)? Be careful: look for both the bladder size and the capacity for all your other gear, which are both written in litres.
- Separate compartments – does the vest have enough pockets to keep your supplies separate, so you aren’t digging around in the middle of a run?
- Female fit – do you experience chafing across your breasts? Many vests are designed specifically for female bodies.
A cheaper option for shorter trail runs is a hydration belt: a stretchy belt that carries small water bottles. Hydration belts are also great alternatives to backpacks for long, leisurely walks in hot areas such as Queensland as they’re ideal for carrying phones and other personal items as well as water. Look for pockets that are large enough to fit your phone.
Plain water won’t cut it when it comes to replacing the minerals and nutrients that your body loses through sweat. Popular sports drinks such as Gatorade do replace some lost electrolytes, but they often include a lot of sugar.
Healthier, more effective liquid supplements include electrolyte tablets and carbohydrate mixes. Electrolyte tablets dissolve in water to provide you with lost salts and electrolytes. They are fizzy and usually the easiest on your stomach. For longer, more intense activities, carb mixes are powders that provide you with both electrolytes and carbohydrates to keep you hydrated and energised.
Many outdoor sports enthusiasts who want to improve their performance are opting for watches and sensors that translate their workout into relevant statistics.
Sports watches range from entry-level to high-end catchalls such as the Garmin Fenix 5 or Suunto Spartan. Decide on which features you need from a watch before you start looking. Most modern sports watches have a built-in GPS: essential when exercising in new areas.
In our experience, customers love distance and pace measurement (which any GPS watch does) and mobile phone connectivity. Additional features are very specific to your training schedule or outdoor activities. Some watches are specified to match sports such as running or triathlons. If you vary across many sports, or engage in more extreme sports such as mountaineering or paragliding, you may need a high-end, multisport watch.
The most popular additional feature is a heart rate (HR) monitor, which informs you how hard you’re working. There are two options for HR monitors: a built-in monitor on your watch or a separate chest strap. The watch HR monitor is convenient and doesn’t run the risk of chafing like a chest strap. However, you must wear the watch tight enough to sense your pulse. Chest straps, while inconvenient to put on and potentially less comfortable to run with, are also generally more accurate.
Other specifications you may want include:
- Altitude – how high you travel. Altitude comes solely from GPS on entry-level watches; on more expensive watches, it’s derived from both GPS and barometric pressure.
- Cadence – number of steps per minute.
- Vertical oscillation – your bounce while running.
- Ground contact time – milliseconds your foot spends on the ground while running. A balanced option includes the differentiation between your left and right foot ground contact time as a percentage.
- Stride length – length of your stride from one footfall to the next.
- Vertical ratio – the ratio of vertical oscillation to stride length (a lower ratio typically indicates better form).
More expensive models also feature better battery life. They also usually feature ultra-popular Steel or Sapphire bands, which are can be worn at work or out to dinner. Ensure that your chosen model can support the functions you require over the duration you normally exercise so that you aren’t stuck without battery halfway through a run or a hike.
Aftershokz Bone Conduction Headphones, which come in wired and wireless models, are the next big thing among athletes and casual exercisers alike. These headphones use your cheekbones to transmit sound from a connected mobile device straight to your inner ears, bypassing the eardrums entirely. This allows you to hear both your music and surrounding noise such as approaching cars, bike bells and other hazards – or perhaps the soothing ambience of birdsong when you’re on a trail. They’re also ideal when you’re hiking with a group and want to listen to your own tunes and chat at the same time. Aftershokz don’t fall out of your ears and don’t make you sweaty like other headphones.
Choosing the right gear will help you to love your next outdoor adventure, no matter what your passion might be.
Wildfire Sports & Trek is an Australian outdoor sport equipment retailer. Wildfire stocks a wide range of premium and specialist brands across fitness electronics, footwear, packs, gear, clothing and nutritional products, including Garmin, Osprey, Salomon, SCARPA, Merrell, and many more.