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What NOT to pack for an overnight relay

Having already covered the top 10 things to pack for an overnight cross country running relay, here are things you might think you’ll need but can actually leave off your list:

1) Extra clothes. You won’t need them. In a relatively accessible bag, pack a “running outfit” for each of your three legs (we recommend packing each running outfit in a plastic bag so you can seal it back in that bag when it’s sweaty), something comfortable to wear in the van, and a weatherproof jacket along with some basic toiletries to keep you human. In a small, separate bag that can be easily stowed underneath a van seat, pack the rest of your toiletries, a change of clothes for the restaurant and/or bars you’ll party at after the relay and maybe a swimsuit if your hotel has an ocean/lake/swimming pool/hot tub. If you’ll be in a cold location, bring an extra long sleeve layer, gloves, a hoodie and a hat. That’s all you need. Don’t waste space on any other clothes, and no one will look cute anyway. We won’t tell anyone if you were the same jeans before and after the race.

2) Food for everyone. Don’t make a bunch of PB&J for everyone in the van. Maybe you’re all friends, but not everyone likes the same thing. Sometimes, you just want to get out of the van and sit down for a normal meal, too. Before the relay starts, find out what’s being served at the major exchange points. Map out restaurants that will be open near the major exchange points. For snacks in the van, let everyone bring their own food with the intent of sharing some of it with the rest of the van. Everyone has different tastes and this is especially true before and after a run.

3) Alcohol. While it may be tempting to throw back a few celebratory brews at major exchange points or immediately following your legs, it is against the rules in the Ragnar Relay Series and most other overnight cross country relays. You’ll need to stay hydrated anyway. Save the alcohol for the finish line where there will be plenty of time to bond with your teammates and fellow competitors while sharing stories of your relay experience.

4) Camp chairs. There’s not as much down time as you think during an overnight relay. Sure, you may spend 5-6 hours at each major exchange point, but after your first major exchange, you’ll be spending most of your down time in the prone position. You get to sit all day in the van, so sitting is that last position you’ll want to be in when you’re at a major exchange. Don’t take up valuable van space with chairs. That space is much better used for compact sleeping bags, blankets and a tent.

Having lots of space in the van goes a long way toward everyone’s comfort during an overnight cross country running relay. So, don’t clog that space with useless items. Pack the essentials and leave the rest at home. Then, remember to have fun and soak up the scenery with your teammates. There are far worse ways to spend a weekend!

For a list of what we DO recommend packing, click here:

Written by

Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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3 Responses to "What NOT to pack for an overnight relay"

  1. Jimbo says:

    I couldn’t agree more with all of these, especially the food and GPS. Our first Ragnar, we did the peanut butter sandwich thing, and I don’t think a single one was eaten.

    Our GPS was actually WORSE than not having any at all because it kept routing us away from the course. So the first three legs we were away from our runners, scrambling to get to the next exchange, and generally missing the race. We turned it off and put it in the glove box and didn’t pull it out again until the ride home. The race notes were perfect for navigation.

    Another reason NOT to bring a GPS is that it takes up a very desirable power outlet slot, which are always in demand for keeping phones charged.

  2. Grant says:

    Everything else is right, but I gotta disagree with the idea of not using a GPS. You wouldn’t go without a map, and a GPS does way more than a map, including telling you where you ARE when you aren’t sure (I won’t use the word lost) because the directions were a little vague….

    And the power outlet thing is easy to solve.

    Sure, a GPS can route you the wrong way if you are trying to follow your runner (unless you take the time to load the route into it, then having a GPS kicks butt when your driver isn’t familiar with the area, or can’t see the non-existent street signs or route markers….)

    But 1) it has an accurate street level map that you can use to compare to the Ragnar (or other relay) map and directions, and you don’t have to have it ‘navigating’ since it can easily be in ‘moving map’ mode and not telling you where to turn, just telling you where you are.

    2) it’s handy for finding the closest restaurant, grocery store, etc., even when you know the area.

    3) as I said, you can actually load routes into the GPS that will exactly follow the driving route for the relay (and is way faster and easier than: “Um, is that where we’re supposed to turn? Somebody read the directions again. What did that sign say?”)

    Sure, in a vehicle, power outlets and charging is at a premium. But saying don’t bring a GPS because it takes up an outlet is like saying don’t bring a second pair of running shoes (or a sleeping bag) because it takes up space. All of these things are good resources if you take the time to find a solution.

    Solutions abound. Radio shack sells the cigaret lighter plug splitters. Brunton and a million other companies sell tiny DC power packs that charge in an hour or two from AC (or DC) power (at your sleep stops) and can recharge cell phones 3-4 times before being recharged. Heck, in our last Ragnar, we used one of those DC car-starting battery packs. It was a cheap and really tough, and a perfect solution. With one charge, it charged everyone’s phone, some cameras, and two lights, for the whole race, and took up less space than one blanket and pillow.

    Take a GPS if you are willing to set it up because you want that extra comfort of knowing were you are, and you want to find your runner in the dark, or when you had to make an emergency stop and need every moment and no missed turns. If I was a runner in your van, I’d be ‘unhappy’ when you were late to the exchange because you didn’t use a GPS.

    • Digital Running says:

      In the end, we have seen enough mistakes in race course guides to agree with you. Digital Running now brings a GPS to each race pre-programmed with exchange points. We have removed a GPS from our What NOT To Pack list. Thanks!

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