Sure, you can research the best hiking boots and trail running shoes as tested by journalists like us who spend a lot of time in the mountains, but do you ever wonder what gear the world's best athletes are using? We do too, all the time, which is why we asked some pros across various disciplines what their favorite piece of kit is. From the best headlamps and headphones to waterproof jackets and good old Dutch courage, here’s the gear that elite athletes can't live without in 2023.
A survivor's mindset – Bear Grylls
Adventurer and presenter Bear Grylls has parachuted out of helicopters and run through forest fires, so when we got five minutes with him late last year, we naturally wanted to know what one piece of kit he’d never venture into the wild without, and as you might expect, it's not something you can pick up on Amazon, sadly.
“A survivor's mindset of courage, determination, positivity, faith and resourcefulness. With that you can conquer most things!”
In the new season of his show Running Wild, Grylls teaches essential survival skills to celebrities including Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Florence Pugh, Simu Liu, Anthony Anderson, and Rob Riggle that they have to master and then prove that they can use in a high-stress situation. His most memorable moment? Filtering dirty water for Natalie Portman through his underpants.
“She looked horrified.”
OS Locate App – Mike Pescod
When mountaineer Mike Pescod isn't guiding others on expeditions of Scotland's top adventure spots such as Ben Nevis and the Cuillin Ridge, he's working with Lochaber Mountain Rescue to help other hikers and climbers in need, so he knows a lot about the gear and tech that's needed to navigate and survive in the wild. In addition to wearing the right hiking layers and knowing how to read a map and use a compass, he relies on Ordnance Survey's OS Locate App to get the most out of his adventures.
"This gives me access to all the OS maps of the whole country at 1:25k and 1:50k scales. This is so useful for planning my days out before I go, and also for finding my route using the map and my GPS location on my phone."
For more expert planning and survival tips from Pescod, read our article on how to survive a night on a mountain.
Shokz Open Swim Headphones – Sean Conway
As the first person to swim, cycle and run the length of Britain, Sean Conway is a record-breaking endurance athlete and adventurer and brand ambassador of the US leading alcohol-free beer brand Athletic Brewing Company. In 2013, he became the first person in history to swim the length of Great Britain, spending 135 days at sea, something he wouldn’t dream of doing now without a little entertainment to keep his spirits, ahem, buoyed.
“The thing I can’t live without for swimming is the Shokz Openswim headphones. I download audiobooks and podcasts, which means I can swim for hours and the time just flies by. Also, when I’m swimming badly, I listen to podcasts about how to swim better and apply it there and then. I love it.”
When he’s not in the water, you can find Conway on two wheels – his most recent achievement was the world record for cycling unsupported across Europe. He completed the 4000 miles route in 24 days, 18 hours and 39 minutes. Wonder what podcast he listened to for that?
Montane Phase Lite Waterproof Jacket – Jenny Tough
She might be tough by name and nature, but adventure traveller and endurance challenger Jenny Tough understands that success in the outdoors is all about fending off the elements whether she’s trail running, trekking, cycling, skiing, paddling or sailing her way across the world.
“I've always believed that if you are going to invest in one piece of kit for the outdoors, it should be a good waterproof. It's simply one item that either works or it doesn't – and if it doesn't work, it's uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst. The Montane Phase Lite is my go-to jacket throughout the year. Not only is it completely waterproof in even the most dreadful winter conditions, but it's incredibly comfortable for movement. The design team at Montane have clearly thought through how athletes in different sports like to move and their various needs. It's breathable, flexible, and fits just right. I'm also a huge fan of the new colourways!”
Currently living in Edinburgh, Tough can be mostly found bikepacking around Scotland and abroad, or fastpacking across mountains. She was the first person to run solo and unsupported across The Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan, and the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa, on her ‘Run the world mountains’ mission to run across a mountain range on every continent.
Silva Trail Runner Free headlamp – Brian Sharp
Running coach Brian Sharp is an ultrarunner, and living in the Highlands of Scotland means that for a lot of the year, his runs are longer than the day itself. So he can keep going safely in the dark, he says he never leaves the house without his Silva Trail Runner Free headlamp.
“Always take a head torch, because you’re not the type of person who doesn’t do the run because it’s dark at night. So, take the head torch and complete your run, and be awesome.”
Sharp has been quietly working his way into the elite categories proving himself hard to keep pace with – he has a 50 km personal best of three hours and 29 minutes, and in 2022 he placed 1st in both the Copper SkyTrail and 1st in the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra.
Ursuit Drysuit – Piers Copham
Super sailor Piers Copham learned to sail at age six when he was growing up in northwest Scotland. He reportedly fashioned his first dinghy out of an old rowing boat and used a bedsheet as the sail, but these days he relies on slightly more high tech gear when he’s solo-racing across the Atlantic in a racing yacht, namely in the form of an Ursuit Drysuit, an extremely lightweight drysuit that keeps him warm and safe on high seas.
“It really has made heavy weather sailing an order of magnitude more comfortable – a major contributor to the decision to continue racing in winds up to 50 knots off Finisterre in the 2021 Minitransat when only six out of the fleet of 90 continued racing (and 4 were clear of the main storm). Or was that stupidity?”
In addition to sailing, the Cambridge-based athlete also rows and trains every day. He has participated in the last 10 World Masters Championships and won a European medal.
GORUCK M22 Backpack – Katie Knight
Katie Knight is an ultramarathon runner, hybrid athlete and all around badass. She claimed her first title as 2021 World's Toughest Mudder Champion and won the 2022 GORUCK Games and it’s no surprise that she goes into each event like a soldier going into battle – which is why she trusts gear inspired by the military, such as her GORUCK backpacks to lug her gear.
“A piece of gear I won't be adventuring without this year are my GORUCK packs – from my original GR1 to my Rucker to my new M22. These packs are the most durable and comfortable pieces of equipment to use for my training, everyday life and travels.”
Boulder-based Knight came second in the 2019 Bryce Canyon Ultra, racing 50 miles across Utah’s single track, and is partial to the odd extreme triathlon and CrossFit competition too.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.