What You Need To Bring To A Marathon

Remembering everything to take with you on the day of your marathon can be a tough task.   In between the nerves and the last-minute checks, it is easy to overlook a part of your marathon gear.

This post is all about everything you either need for a marathon or should at least consider taking.   Some stuff is mandatory for everyone, whereas other items are dependent on the race conditions or personal preference.

As you’ll see, the number of items you might want to carry with you can quickly add up – so I look at potential solutions to this at the end of the post.

Shoes And Gear
What To Bring?

Before You Leave Home

Alright, there’s a bunch of things you need to have done before you leave home on the morning of your marathon.   I won’t spend too much time on these (see my other post, Pre-Race Checklist: 24hrs before your marathon) but here are the key things to remember.

  • Ensure your GPS device is fully charged;
  • Have your race bib already pinned to your race shirt (and your race chip on your shoe, if you have one);
  • Have all your gear that we’re about to discuss laid out the night before, ready to go;
  • Apply suncream, if required;
  • Use lubricant or Vaseline on your feet, nipples and anywhere that could rub.

Alright, now the pre-race essentials are in place, let’s look at what you have to bring along with you.

Fuel – Gels, Nut Butters, etc.

Taking some energy gels, or other energy food is very commonplace in marathons.   Unless your race is really well supported with sports nutrition provided at the checkpoints, you have to bring your own fuel.  When running for hours at a time, your body needs to be topped up with fuel, and the quickest way to deliver it a shot of calories is through energy gels.   These days, more are more runners are seeking out more natural alternatives, so are moving over to nut butters and all-natural trail bar solutions.   For the majority of marathon runners, however, energy gels power us through those the tough stages.

Related: 18 Healthy Whole Food Alternatives To Gels For Runners

How many to take?   That really depends on which gel you’re taking and what your body is used to.   Popular gels such as GU are recommended to be taken every 45 minutes during marathons.   This is quite a lot, and a lot of runners struggle to process this much – they might take one or two at strategic points throughout the race.   Luckily for me, my body can process the gels without many issues, so I typically take 5 gels with me to a marathon.   I take one 15 minutes before the race starts, then one every 45-50 minutes from then on.

Related: How Frequently Should You Take Energy Gels During Races?

GPS Device (Watch or Phone)

I’ve written at length about why I think a pacing strategy is essential for a successful marathon.   And the only way to stick to your planned pace is by measuring it throughout your marathon, either using a GPS watch or a phone.

I recommend using a watch, simply because of how accessible it is.  A phone is fine though, and any smartphone these days can be used with a run tracking app such as Strava or Nike Run to track your run.

Whichever one you use, don’t forget to have them fully charged before you set off!  Using active GPS tracking for an extended period of time can be a big drain on batteries.   And don’t forget to push the ‘start’ button as you cross the start line (something I’ve done more than once…).

What You Need To Bring To A Marathon

Water (and a water bottle)

The decision to carry water, and hence a water bottle, can depend on how well supported your marathon is.  I’ve run big city marathons where there are water stations giving you bottles every kilometre – there is little need to take your own.   Other races are more sparsely supported, so bringing some water of your own is a necessity.  The lesson is always to research the level of support before you set off.   I always take around half a litre of water with me to the start line – it is something to sip on and helps me pre-hydrate, but not too much that I’m going to be carrying it on my run for extended periods.   Remember one litre of water weighs one kilometre, so carrying excess water around with you (whether in a bottle or in your belly) can slow down your race.

Warm Clothes

Many marathons start early in the morning when the weather is still cold.  This can mean a lot of standing around, potentially shivering, before things start.   Therefore it’s fairly common, especially in cooler climates, for runners to take some warm extra layers with them for the start, which they then discard when they start running.  A well-organised marathon will be able to advise you on this topic, whether you need to bring extra layers for the start line


Don’t forget to bring these along.   They can be easy to forget, especially if your race starts early in the morning when it is still dark.

Sweatband / Hat / Buff

Hours of running inevitably cause you to sweat, and you want to have a method of keeping that sweat from pooling on your forehead and running down into your eyes.   During your training, you’ve probably discovered a method that works for you.   Here is mine – I keep a buff neck-wrap around my wrist, and use it to quickly wipe away any sweat.

London Marathon featured

Toilet paper and alcohol gel – or Wet Wipes

There’s a good chance that you’ll need to visit a restroom over the course of your marathon.   Running long distances and surviving on energy gels seems to compound this.   The standard set-up is for the marathon organisers to have placed portaloos every few miles.

It is worth noting where these are on the route before you even start the race, so as you start to feel the urge, you can plan ahead.   It is also worth noting that unless you’re planning to be in the top 50 runners, the portaloo might not be in pristine condition.   This is why I always carry a few wet wipes and some alcohol gel too.

Music and a camera

I’ve grouped these two together because the most effective way of carrying either of them nowadays is to take a mobile phone.   Do people listen to music during marathons?  Yes.   Many.   Some people might discourage it as it lowers your sense of awareness, especially if you are running as part of a big crowd.   I tend to keep my music until after the halfway point, where I realise the next few miles require me to simply “get my head down”.   Then I’ll stick on a premade playlist of music that I know drives me along.

The same thing goes for a camera.  Practically every smartphone these days has an excellent camera built in; they’re also compact and weigh under 200 grams.


Carrying some cash is always a good idea, even if you have no intention of using it.  You might decide you want to buy some snacks at the finish line.   Or – worst case scenario – you have to drop out and get a taxi back home, or to your hotel.

How To Carry Everything

Alright, so you probably notice that I’ve listed quite a few items. Clearly, it’s way too much to just carry in your hands as you run.   That’s why in every marathon I run these days, I wear a lightweight running pack – something like the Inov-8 Race Elie Pack.   It is essentially a waistcoat filled with pockets that are easy to access, and designed for things like water bottles and gels.   The placement of water bottles in the Inov-8 pack really hugs your chest, so there’s no unwanted momentum.   The pack can also be used for holding a bladder-style system, but personally, I’m not a huge fan of these.  With my Inov-8 pack, I can comfortably find homes for everything mentioned above.   The best thing is it is very discreet and doesn’t affect my running form at all.

What You Need To Bring To A Marathon

Running vest in place

Another popular option is to run with a waistbelt.   While these are popular, I tried a marathon with one once and found that having additional weight distributed around my hips changed my running style, and not for the better.   It led to some discomfort after three hours of running, so that’s when I sought out a running vest.


What do you take with you on your marathon?

Does anyone have any tips they can share with other marathoners?

Have I missed anything?

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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