Trail Running's Ultimate Gear Test

Staff Writer
This year's Mont Blanc run will be wintry and wet. Perfect.

If you're in the market for some lightweight trail running gear, you may be in luck. The latest stuff is about to get a full-scale shakedown.  

As we wrote last week, Chamonix is THE place for mountain sports, and this weekend 6,000 runners from 73 countries will descend upon the town for a series of mountain races, culminating with the The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 104-mile race around the iconic French massif. Actually, "around" isn't quite the right word: The UTMB gains and loses elevation equivalent to an ascent and descent of Everest in conditions that, while not exactly Himalayan, are often wet, cold and miserable, especially for runners in lightweight trail gear.

Two years ago, in fact, one of the North Face athletes finished the race nearly hypothermic—understandable, perhaps, because, even in such conditions, who wants to a jacket? The North Face has since developed a new material called FlashDry, which allows for rapid evaporation of moisture but is also really, really lightweight. We saw it demo'd in New York last winter, and recently test-driven a jacket. It's pretty remarkable material: So light, it feels strange, like there's hardly anything to it, even with so many zippers, pockets and functional design touches. When conditions are iffy, TNF reasons, there’s no reason to leave it behind. 

But athletes are athletes, so race organizers aren't leaving that decision up to them. Runners are required to bring a mandatory equipment kit of 16 items, from cell phones to survival blankets, and multiple layers of technical apparel.

You can see for yourself how it all works out. has an extensive preview of the mens' and womens' fields. There will be live video coverage online, starting today. And it looks like conditions will be highly test-worthy. The official website is calling for wintry, wet weather, with temperatures at altitude down to –10° C (14° F).