Pack Like A Pro: Meet Ultra-Runner Sally McRae

Pack Like A Pro: Meet Ultra-Runner Sally McRae

Born and raised in Southern California, endurance athlete Sally McRae wasn’t immediately drawn to running. As a child, she competed in soccer and gymnastics, only joining the track team as a sprinter in high school as a way to stay in shape. She went on to earn a soccer scholarship to Biola University, where she even served as team captain. It wasn’t until after she graduated that she discovered the joys of long distance running, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in just her second race of that distance. In 2010, she took up trail running, and hasn’t looked back, competing in wide variety of ultra-distance events and earning a spot on the Nike Trail Elite team. 

Recently, we had the chance to catch up with Sally to find out what she’s traing for, what gear she finds indispensable, and the one item she can’t wait to get her hands on.

Gear Institute: Hi Sally! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Tell us what you’ve been up to and what projects you’re working on.

Sally McRae: Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc wrapped up 6 weeks ago, and now my coach has me
transitioning onto the roads for some solid, fast training and racing. I’ll run a road
marathon at the beginning of 2016 with a handful of 5k, 10k, and half marathon races in
the next few months as prep. The goal is to get fit and fast before I dive into another
phase of Western States training…which is the ultimate focus right now. Everything I’m
doing right now is geared toward running that race faster and stronger than last year. Focus,
focus, focus!


GI: Sounds like a very busy training schedule! Speaking of which, when you set out on a run, what are some items that you always take with you?

SM: There are several items I try not to ever leave home without. First and foremost, is my Buff. I feel naked without it. I use my Buff to wipe my eyes and nose. I’ve also used it to cover my ears and mouth when I hit hordes of mosquitoes, or if I trip and face plant on the trail, I use it as a bandage. I’ve even used it for other things too, but we don’t need to disclose that right now. Ha! The Nike Trail Buff is my fave, but it is currently only available to our team.

I always wear my Garmin Forerunner 220 GPS watch when on a training run. I like the big face and basic buttons. I prefer simpler watches and not having to flip through multiple screens while moving, so this is the perfect choice for me!


Despite the fact that they seem to have become a fashion statement on the trails lately, I’m rarely spotted out without my trucker hat. I’ve always worn a hat because I don’t like wearing sunglasses. I had eye surgery in 2013 to remove a pterygium so the big-billed trucker hat became my best friend. They’re also great at hiding my often filthy, messy hair. With a very tightly packed daily schedule, I usually don’t have time to do my hair, so a hat is a must for me!

Since I run solo in the high country for long hours at a time I also carry several things to help keep me safe. I never hit the trail without pepper spray, a pocketknife, and a body alarm. My cellphone is a constant companion too.

GI: What are your favorite pieces of gear from your sponsors?

SM: My Nike Wildhorse 3 Trail Shoes are simply the best. My teammates and I were stoked to be included in the progress of this shoe. Unlike the 1st and 2nd edition, the 3 has a rock plate, better traction and is a little more durable for the long haul. I have worn them from start to finish in my last 100 mile races and was able to avoid black toenails, blisters, or fatigued feet. I freakin’ LOVE this shoe!


My Nike Breeze top is indispensible too. It doesn’t matter whether it is the tank top or shirt, if I’m not wearing it on the trails, then it’s in my bag to change into after the run. I like this top because it feels like air on my body, and it’s incredibly light, soft and comfortable. During the hot summer days, I would remove it mid-run and easily wrap it around my wrist- it’s just so thin! It kind of doubles as a Buff if needed too.


I can’t get enough of Nature’s Food Plant-based Protein Powder smoothies either. I drive 45-60 minutes to get to the big mountains so making a smoothie before I head out the door is part of my routine. I love Nature’s Food because it not only provides healthy energy, it’s void of a lot of the junk I used to consume in other protein powders. I also like having a no-brainer, go-to meal when I’m on the fly!


GI: Do you have any secret packing tips you can share with our readers?

SM: I have a few simple packing techniques I like to use when I’m on the trail. I can be a little hyper-organized about my pack, but I have found that if I use the same pockets to carry the same gear every time I run, then I won’t have to think twice about what I need or what part of my pack I need to dig through. I always know exactly where everything is.

For example, if I’m carry a bladder and two bottles, then the bladder will always have water and the bottle placed on my right will have some type of nutrition in it, while the one on the left will have water mixed with electrolytes. The small top right pocket is where I keep my phone and pepper spray, and the top left pocket will have gels or some type of food, and so on.

This is also part of the reason why I love the Victory Sportdesign Bag. It aligns with my need for organization so well. Initially, the shape of these bags was the first thing that caught my eye. I loved that they can stand on their own. So whether I use the bag to pack for a training run or for a race, it’s going to be functional and easy to sift through when I’m on the fly- especially if I don’t have a crew or volunteer to lend a hand. In the past I’ve needed someone to sift through the abyss of a pouch bag to locate what I was looking for, but the Victory bags solve that problem. I’m far more organized, and quicker through the aid stations as a result.


GI: What’s the one piece of gear that is coming out soon that you’re really excited about?

SM: The upcoming Nike Trail Pack! I was super excited when I was approached about helping
with the creation of this stellar pack. I got to meet with some rockstar designers and
unload all the things I do and don’t like about the current packs; and for the past year, I
have been trialing different prototypes. I wore the pack in a few races and I really love it!
The fit is incredible and the little details that I’ve wanted on a pack but haven’t, been able
to find in the past, are found on the Nike Trail Pack. I believe it’s due out in 2016. I’m stoked for the rest of the trail community to get their hands on it!

GI: Any parting words?

SM: Just that I love the trail community and all who are linked to it in some capacity.
Whether it’s the runners, sponsors, race directors, volunteers, or spectators, I am continually blessed to be a part of what I believe to be the friendliest, grittiest, most exciting sports community in the world! Big hugs and filthy high-fives to all of you!

Thanks for you time Sally. We appreciate it.

To keep up with Sally follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram