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Here is a collection of the tried and tested gear that we recommend… or don’t. Use the links below to jump to the section you’re interested in.

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Apparel * Sunglasses * Hydration Systems * Other

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APPAREL

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The Original Wright Running Sock

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There are more varieties of the Wright Sock than I care to mention these days, so I’ll stick to the core product – the original WrightSock Anti-Blister Double Layer Running Lo-Quarter Sock. (Try saying that three times fast after five martinis.)

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The Wright Sock premise is that a double-layered sock, involving some fancy-schmancy materials, can help to prevent blisters. But does it deliver?

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The jazzily-named Wright Sock Ant-Blister Double-Layer Running Lo-Quarter Sock. It's still a sock.

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I have used Wright Socks since they were introduced to me at the Badwater Ultra in 2004. And I mean, the same Wright Socks. They’re a bit grimy and I’m finally buying some new ones, but three pairs have lasted a thousand miles – and I’m a heavy guy.

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These socks do exactly as they’re supposed to. They provide comfort for the bottom of your feet. They’re light, airy, and the cut is good for athletes who use low-backed shoes. I have had some shoes that protruded over the top of the sock at the back, which wasn’t too spiffy, but you can buy these in a quarter or crew cut if you prefer.

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The socks are extremely effective in the heat; I have no idea if they’re ‘wicking away moisture’ or simply staying dry, but there is nothing more unpleasant for heat running than moist socks and these definitely prevent that happening. After a 10-mile jog in 120 degree heat, they’re still almost totally dry to the touch.

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It’s hard to get overly excited about what are, essentially, socks – but these are Christmas presents that any long-distance athlete will thank you for.

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Overall Rating: 9/10 – an exceptional running product at a very reasonable price, if you shop around online a little.

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SUNGLASSES

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BluBlocker Viper Sunglasses

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When you run in the heat, you usually run in the sun. Over the years I’ve owned a dozen different pairs of sunglasses, but for the last six or seven I haven’t deviated from my faithful BluBlockers.

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Yep. BluBlockers. I wouldn’t have believed you either.

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Who knew QVC sold something good?

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My fiancee bought me these – well, their predecessors – as a present for a Death Valley trip. Any trace of skepticism I had about wearing a TV fashion accessory was quickly dispelled when I put them on in the gloriously blinding sunshine that day.

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What these clever lenses do is block the blue, surprisingly, from the sky. That may not sound very appealing until you try desert running, where everything is so bright that you can hardly take your eyes off the ground – which rather defeats the object.

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The result is a clarity that you simply can’t believe, and which continues to defy belief years later when you put them on for the thousandth time. They bring the world into a sharp, exciting focus, eliminating the glare that prevents you from seeing more than a hundred feet ahead. With these, the mountains in the distance seem as though you could reach out and touch them. Heat shimmer is manageable. And the price isn’t a diminished experience of the environment at all – it’s about seventeen bucks.

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The glasses also have side lenses to ensure that ambient light doesn’t ruin the effect.

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Last summer I drove 1,150 miles straight through to California on an impossibly bright day, and never once experienced eyestrain or fatigue. Better yet, there was no discomfort – they’re easy to wear and have little rubber gizmos to hold fast to your face without causing irritation.

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Of course this would all fall apart if they didn’t hold tight when you’re running – but even the most strenuous efforts to dislodge them are mostly fruitless. I probably adjust mine every half mile or so when the sweat is really streaming, but compared to – for example – my old Nike Terminators, that’s simply no hassle at all.

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After a couple of years, my most recent pair has lost one nose clamp (although strangely they still fit and are perfectly comfortable) but when running the slippage is more pronounced. I’ve just ordered two more pairs, in case they stop making them any time soon.

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Overall I have to say this will probably be my one and only review of sunglasses on this site, because I simply can’t imagine finding anything as good, never mind even close to the price. The only problem will be… you’re wearing something they sell on QVC.

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Life’s hard.

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I recommend searching Google before picking them up at the BluBlocker site though. You can find them for six or seven dollars less than retail at many places.

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Overall rating: 10/10, and that’s going to be a rarity.

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HYDRATION SYSTEMS

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Fuel Belt ‘Terminator’ 48oz Hydration Belt

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Running in the heat is hard enough without having to carry your own water. But if you’re ever heading off the road and away from car support, that’s exactly what you’ll have to do. And since you will want to be carrying a lot of water if you’re running any distance, selecting your hydration system carefully is critical.

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Speaking of critical, that’s exactly what I was when it came to my previous belt – Nike’s Hydration Belt was frankly dismal. Although it was pretty well-balanced, that fact that I had to contend with bottles falling out left and right nearly put me off the belt concept for good.

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Luckily I found Fuel Belt’s offering, and I’m delighted with the results.

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The most important thing to me when it comes to carrying water is invisibility. If, after the first 100 yards, I have forgotten that I have three-and-a-half pounds strapped around my waist – that’s an unqualified success. And that’s precisely what this Fuel Belt delivers.

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It wraps tight and snug, fastening in such an emphatic manner as to instill great confidence. Once velcro’ed together, it stays where you put it: no bounce, no chafing, nothing. It just stays where it’s supposed to be, no matter how long the stride or how long the run.

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The bottles are contoured for easy handling, and marked with fluid ounce markers – which are handy for figuring how much water you really need to carry next time, if you don’t use it all. They snap into their holsters and you gain the extra assurance of an elastic loop to keep them there.

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The belt also comes with a pocket, divided into two sections. It’s fairly well-sized and functional, perfect for a set of keys and a chapstick, for instance. It also has reflective tabs, as is common to almost all running accessories these days (and quite rightly).

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In reviewing my running products I don’t usually mention form as well as function, but in this case I should add that the thing just plain looks good – and doesn’t make you look like a dork even when it’s fully-laden.

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Overall rating: 10/10 – I really don’t see what else they could do to make this better. At least until we discover anti-grav…

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Nike Running Hydration Belt

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The Hydration Belt is a great concept. Four water bottles containing a total of 24oz of liquid; a padded belt; a decent pocket for keys or a cellphone; and reflective strips to keep you safe.

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As I say, a great concept. Unfortunately, it is poorly executed.

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Looks great. But isn't.

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I’ll start with the positives. The belt is snug, comfortable and secure. It doesn’t bounce or jog around, even with a full load. And it distributes the weight wonderfully, so that you can hardly even feel the two pounds of water you’re carrying.

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The pockets are generous, easy to access and offer a variety of padding options, including one that’s spill-resistant to keep your sun cream in. The bottles themselves are pop-tops and take no time at all to transfer from the belt to your mouth.

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So far, so good.

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I took my belt up the Artist’s Drive in Death Valley, an elevation gain of around 1,000 feet over three miles. It’s a tough course, and 125 degree heat didn’t help. However, it’s hardly fast, as you can imagine. I crept up the hill at snail’s pace, which makes the fundamental flaw even harder to comprehend.

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I only ended up drinking from two of the bottles. And when I reached my car, they were gone. The ‘snaplock’ feature simply doesn’t work. I had thought that they were safely returned to the holster, but apparently not.

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Remember: this was my first run with it, and I was plodding along slowly.

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In conclusion – for all the well thought-out features, a hydration system is completely useless if it doesn’t provide a vessel for carrying water. The Nike Running Hydration Belt patently fails in its most basic task.

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Overall Rating: 2/10 – the two points are because a more fastidious runner may be able to retain the bottles better than I could.

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OTHER

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ThermaPen by Thermoworks

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In my quest for an ultra-accurate thermometer for use in extreme conditions, I finally discovered the ThermaPen. With a range from -58F to 572F, it promised to endure long after I expired pathetically on the pavement, and it was advertised as providing virtually instant readings.

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I’ve been testing my orange version (naturally) for the last few weeks, and here’s what I discovered.

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Great for grilling, less impressive for running.

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The ThermaPen is light, although bigger than expected, and is a model of simplicity to use. You open it. That’s it. Pretty straightforward. Once open, the large monochrome reading proves easy to discern in fairly low light (the sauna) and in bright sunshine too.

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The device is splashproof (in case you drench it in sweat) and doesn’t seem too frail, although over-extending the probe would break it.

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The real test, however, is accuracy and speed. It has the former. And sadly not the latter.

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Once it reaches the ambient air temperature, it varies by about 0.5F from time to time, returning quickly to its marker. I conducted the suggested calibration test, dipping it in ice water, and the reading proved to be about 3F off the manufacturer’s claim; 35F instead of 32F. This despite a certificate of calibration. Maybe I did the test wrong, although it’s hard to see how.

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The real difficulty is getting the thing to actually settle on a reading at all. In the sauna, ten minutes after opening the probe it was still rising steadily. I spoke to their customer support folks, who told me that the three second reading was for measuring the temperature of meat. This is not clearly marked on their website, and since I had spoken to the sales manager and explained exactly what I needed and why, the recommendation is a little bewildering.

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I think with some foresight it will be useful in Death Valley. I’ll leave it out for an hour before I leave for my run, then tape it to my hat with the auto-off function disabled. That way I should get continuous, fairly accurate readings.

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This is a very nice piece of equipment but unfortunately it is not entirely suited to the purpose of measuring regular temperatures on a run. As I say, the workaround should do me – but I wish I didn’t have to think that hard about what is billed as the ultimate in thermometers.

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Overall Rating: 6/10 – great for grilling, less impressive for running.

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