September 5, 2012

Petzl NAO review and other CCC gear.

I'm the first to admit that I am the sort of runner than pretty much likes to lace up my shoes and just head out the door.  I am definitely not one of those people who pours over maps looking for new routes, nor do I spend hours analysing race courses in advance or checking out the latest gear, but one thing that was obvious with CCC 100km is I was going to have to do at least some sort of logistical and gear prep.  UTMB and CCC both have the same, reasonably extensive, mandatory gear list (which can be found on their website).  At first the list looks a little over the top but as we were to find this year, the weather can be pretty rough and you might well end up using a fair chunk of your gear.  The race organisers reminded us that the mandatory gear list was the minimum required and that some racers may well choose to take extra/ more items.  That said, I think anyone would be looking to take what they need yet keep their pack as light and compact as possible.  Here's a few of the items I took and why:

All geared up at the finish line.  Credit - Endurance Magazine

- Waterproof jacket with hood.  I chose the Mountain Hardwear (MHW) Quasar Pullover.  7.8oz, no fuss, no frills but 100% breathable and waterproof.  I wore this for 80% of the race and was very comfortable in in.

MHW Quasar Pullover

- Waterproof pants.  I took the MHW Epic Pant.  I didn't wear these at all but did consider putting them on at one point and definitely if I had slowed down they would have been needed.  7.8oz, light and unrestrictive - I would have been happy to run in them had I needed to.

- Waterproof gloves.  I laughed when I saw this on the list and so got the Mountain Hardwear Epic glove thinking that there was no way I would wear these but ended up wearing them for most of the race. Definitely a bulkier glove than I'd normally wear for running but if you are out there for a long time and it is raining heavily then waterproof gloves are essential.  I was glad too to have a lighter glove (such as the MHW Butter Liner) to wear when it wasn't so cold/ rainy as they were better for still being able to open gels etc.

MHW Epic Glove

- Tights or combination of tights/ long socks to cover whole of leg.  Again, I anticipated running in shorts so just got some light tights at a thrift store to check off the mandatory gear requirements but ended up wearing them for the entire race (best $3 I've ever spent at the Salvation Army!)  If I run CCC again I'd likely wear calf compression sleeves and 3/4 tights.

- Long sleeved shirt.  I wore he MHW Wicked Lite Long Sleeve under my waterproof jacket for most of the race and I had it in white so had it got warm I'd have been happy running in it for a while even in the sun.  For future, if I had crew again I'd have spares of this in case I got rained on and wanted to change mid-race.

- Minimum 1 litre of water plus a 150ml min cup (not all aid stations provide cups).  I used my usual bladder and 1 litre was enough as aid stations are quite frequent, though more might be needed on a hot day.  For the cup, you can easily buy one at the expo or buy a small drinks carton and cut the top off!

- Bandage.  Ok, this was the one piece of gear that seemed a little excessive - but spend $4 at the drugs store as your gear can get randomly checked mid race so no point in getting a time penalty for not bringing something like this.

- Space blanket.  Run a road marathon, it's good training and you'll get a space blanket for free at the finish line :)

- Race bib elastic.  You must have your bib number on your front, unfolded and not pinned to your shorts/ tights.  As it's very likely you will be changing shirts/ jackets you don't want to pin your bib to your shirt so I got a alice band hair elastic and wore the bib pinned to this around my waist!

- Poles.  If you use poles you have to carry them with you for the entire race.  I chose not to use them at all and was happy with this decision for the 100km CCC.  For UTMB 168km I might well get light poles as much for the steep descents as the climbs.  Some sections of the course can also get very muddy so I can see the benefit of poles there (but falling on your butt can also be a fun part of any trail race too!)  It seemed that most racers who had poles were able to fix them to their pack which I think would be useful as there are decent stretches of the course where poles really are not required and personally i think I'd find them annoying.

- Warm hat and cap/ bandana.  Go Euro and get a Buff as they are multi functional so useful in both the cold and the heat.  For the warm hat (which I wore a lot as it's easy way to regulate heat by taking hat on/ off) I wore one similar to the MHW Effusion Dome.  I chose not to wear a cap as I feel they block your vision especially in forested trails, plus can be a hassle when you are wearing a headlamp....

- 2 headlamps with spare batteries.  Yep - our race started at 10am and we had to carry 2 headlamps even though sunset was not until about 8.30pm!  Again, seemed a little over the top but in the need to check all the gear boxes I carried 2 x Petzl e-Lites for the majority of the race.  The e-Lites weigh in at just 27g each and incorporate a whistle (also on the mandatory list!) so were perfect.  Once I got to one of the later aid stations I then switched one of the e-Lites for my Petzl NAO which was the headlamp I actually used in the dark (but is considerably heavier so I was glad not to carry it all day).
Petzl e-Lite - 27g

Petzl NAO review

Petzl were kind enough to provide me with a NAO for CCC.    The first thing to say is that the NAO is RIDICULOUSLY bright.  On the several occasions I have run with others when using it there have always been comments about how bright it is.  It is pretty much like having a mini-lighthouse attached to your head.  No joke.  I am self confessed bad runner in the dark, especially on trails I don't know I'll tip toe along picking my way along the trail slowly.  But with the Petzl NAO I can honestly say I don't think I run significantly slower than I would in day light, so bright is the light.  This obviously becomes more important the more of your race will be in the dark (UTMB compared to CCC).  It was great to run with confidence that (a) I was going the right way and (b) I was not going to trip over any rocks or roots.

Petzl NAO
The NAO is a reactive light meaning that it gauges the ambient lighting and adjusts the power and focus of the beam accordingly i.e. the darker it is the brighter it will shine, or the more closely you focus the light on something (such as a map) it channels the beam in.  As such, the power of the rechargeable lithium battery isn't wasted unnecessarily.  The NAO can in theory last a full night of running but in order to do so it should be focused on the ground just ahead rather than up and into the dark sky.  For CCC this wasn't really a concern and when it was first dark I set the light on the lower of the two settings to ensure conservative battery use, and then when it got darker I clicked it up to the brighter of the two settings.  This was super easy to do as I ran along.

The NAO has a rechargeable battery but can also be used with AAA batteries in an emergency, or spare lithium batteries can be added.  This is definitely a big bonus as otherwise the unit would be rather restrictive if you were to use it for running an entire night (when batteries are very likely to need to be changed) or on a backpacking trip where you might not always have access to electricity to charge the battery.

The fit of the headlamp was great.  At 187g the NAO definitely is not light weight so I had some concern that it might move around a little but have not noticed this at all, and the straps are easy and quick to adjust if needed.

Overall the NAO is an excellent lighting system for night trail running.  If you are more of a techno-whizz you can download your own personalised settings onto the light which will invariably make it even more useful and perform better.  I can see that I will now have trouble using any other headlamp as I've been spoilt with my mini-lighthouse.  It's not a light that I'd want to slip into my pack 'just in case I end out after dark' (for that I have the e-Lites) but if I know for sure that I am going to be out in the dark the NAO will be my light of choice because of it's bright beam, smart battery use and snug fit.


  1. So that's your secret!!! you run so fast so you don't have to run in the dark, because you think your bad at it. i get it now :) Congratulations on another great race!

  2. Nice review, thanks. The NAO that I ordered late last week just shipped this morning ... can't wait! Gotta confess, I'm a bit of a headlamp/flashlight junkie. When you wore the NAO, did you use the "over the top of the head" strap as well?

  3. Hi Ellie, great reviews. We have met in London marathon 2012 fair, ian corless introduced us. I finished UTMB this year and TDS and CC previous years. I have sample lists as well for your and your blogreaders` reference...

  4. Stephen - yes, I used the strap that went over the top of the head too and found that it didn't bother me at all and that the headlamp stayed in place really well!

  5. Ellie - as someone who has one of the 'cheaper' Petzl head torches but would love to upgrade (if I can justify it) I was very interested in the NAO review. I've just googled it (to get an idea on price) and it may have to wait a while. Looks like a lovely bit of kit though...

  6. Drew, yep - unfortunately the NAO doesn't come cheap but if you have some extra gear money to spend at some point i would think it's worth it, especially if you also cycle as I happily plan to use it on my bike commuting this winter. More uses would justify the price :)

  7. Great piece Ellie. I just ran my first ultra at night. The Javelina Night Run 50k (same course as the Javelina 100 mi) I had a blast and barely used my headlamp because of the full moon.

  8. I got a Petz-NAO headlamp because I do outdoor concert photography. Mainly I am so paranoid about leaving my equipment behind in the dark I needed something that wouldn't be one of those things that I would also need a light to find. Having this on my head made perfect sense. The battery life is good and the light is excellent. I did some research and called a few places before buying. What sold me was a phone call I made to this company ( ). They took the time to describe the product and were great at making me feel secure in my purchase with them. Anyway, this product has well earned the time and money I paid for it.