This Gear Junkie’s guide to rockin’ a Ragnar Trail Ultra Race

Racing on trails is awesome, but running constantly for 25hrs on technical single-track between a team of 4 can get a bit tricky. Whether you’re racing on trails by yourself during the dark hours in a non-race, on a team for a Ragnar Relay, or in some wicked ultra race, there are certain things you’ll need to get you through it.

Here’s a list of my must-have items from this past weekend’s Ragnar Trail Tahoe race:

  • A high-quality headlamp: It’s gonna be incredibly tough to meander through trees, rocks, and single track without a well-lit path. Granted, the moon can shine pretty darn bright, but the chances of your race being on the same night as a full moon are confounded by potential cloud coverage and time-of-the-month.
    • Things to look for in a good headlamp are:
      • Brightness– the higher the lumens, the brighter the beam; aim for something above 50 lumens.
      • Comfort– running causes gear to do a lot of bouncing around, so make sure that the headlamp isn’t going to move around on your forehead. It’s inconvenient if the headlamp bounces off your head, and it is can be dizzying if the lamp isn’t rigid with respect to your head.
      • Weight– this kind of goes with comfort; the lighter the lamp, the less you’ll notice it. But also take into consideration what material is on the forehead-facing side of the headlamp. If there are ridges that you wouldn’t notice while wearing it over a hat, but will leave dents in your forehead when wearing it during warm summer nights, it’s probably not the headlamp you want. Some headlamps come with “cushioned” backsides, kind of like a rubber backing that you put on the bottom of chairs to keep them from scratching hardwood floors. So long as that backing doesn’t come off from sweat, somethign like that is probably going to work well, and it will keep the headlamp from slipping around your forehead.
      • Battery life– carrying extra batteries isn’t a big deal, but changing them in the dark can be difficult. Getting a lamp that is definitely going to last you through a night of running is your best bet. Most require AAA batteries, but there are a few newer ones out that are USB-rechargeable, which means lower weight and a perfect plug-in for your solar charger during the day. On that note, make sure to pick up a pack of extra batteries, use fresh batteries from the start of the race, and get lithium batteries instead of alkaline (lithium are lighter).
      • I rocked my husband’s Black Diamond Spot, which was pretty decent. I somehow lost my other headlamp, which was also a Black Diamond Spot, probably at the last Ragnar Trail race I did. Anyway, the brightness factor on the Spot was fantastic, but it did bounce around a bit more than I’d have liked, and the tighter I made the strap, the more uncomfortable it was on my forehead. Whatever, not a big deal. But, I’m looking to upgrade for next time to Sprinter by BD or Petzl’s Tikka XP2 Core.
  • An easy-to-carry- and easy to refill- hydration device: I packed my handheld Nathan bottle carry, but only carried this for the night laps when I needed more volume and somewhere to stash a candybar.
    • I ended up buying a Salomon Sense Hydro at the race from the local vendor, and I am totally geeked about it. It was super low profile, with the glove coming in three different sizes (I went with small), and the flask reducing in size as it empties. It was leakproof for me, but my teammate- Chris- bought one that had a pinhole leak  which was unfortunate. The nipple is bite-and-squeeze, and the 8-oz bladder harnessed by the straps across your palm as well as a loop around the nipple. It was also easy to refill at the aid stations throughout the course- in my opinion, it was not so far that you’d need a pack but it was too far to not take anything (especially during the daylight runs).
    • My teammates, Sean and Stephen, both used a hydration pack, both of which were low-profile. Sean refilled his between his last two loops of his final run. Stephen even went on a lap or two without a bladder in it; he just threw a bottle where the bladder goes and stuffed food in the pockets. Sean rocked the Salomon Advanced Skin S-lab Set, which made me envious. That’s on my wish list for long-ass trail runs or even my next ultra race, although I am not sure I’ll use one for a Ragnar Relay (the legs were never more than 3hrs at a time, with at least two water stops).
    • Along with carrying fluids, I hydrated like a fiend with Nuun all weekend, especially the day before and the morning of the race. Running at altitude can be tough, but it can be made a bit easier by hydrating well. In fact, I drink twice as much as I normally do before a run or a race whenever I’m at altitude higher than 6,000ft (Ragnar Tahoe started at 7500ft), and I make sure that its not just water to avoid hyponatremia.
      • Cherry Limeade is fantastic and, in my opinion, should be THE drink of Ragnar Trail races. For the early morning run, the caffeine kept me alert. I wish I had slugged it with me for the night run (I needed the boost of caffeine).  Fortunately for anyone who is racing, the Nuun gang sponsors Ragnar events (including the trail ones!), so there is an endless supply of Nuun for your bottle-filling pleasure (although they sample caffeine-free kinds, but they are still delicious!)
  • A good pair of shades:
    • Not only is a sunshade a good idea (which the GearJunkie crew brought along), a good pair of sunglasses is a must. I have been on the cusp of buying new shades for a while now; my Oakleys from 2010 in Team Trakkers green are beyond scratched, and the Tom’s sunglasses I bought for my wedding broke. So, at the airport in St Louis, I bought a pair of Maui Jim’s Sugar Beach. Sure, airport purchases are never a good idea, but the price wasn’t horrible (MSRP) and they are not knockoffs. I frickin’ love these sunglasses. And, they look fantastic, have great coverage, and are polarized. Make sure to try out your sunglasses before running on trails; sometimes, they can bounce around and might go flying off your head if you’re doing a lot of weaving in and out of trees on singletrack. These ones are fantastic; they are super light weight, grippy, flexible, and scratch resistant (Maui Jim’s prides themselves on making shades for surfers, so they are sea-water resistant. Turns out, sweat is a lot like sea water).

      Shades, handheld, tank top, and buff. All awesomesauce and ready to rock the singletrack. Photo by Gear Junkie/Sean McCoy.

  • Get a buff: Let’s be real; Sweat in the eyes is annoying. I switched between a Gear Junkies and a Salomon buff all weekend, and it kept the sweat out of my eyes. I also learned all the cool things you can do with a buff (no pun intended), like make it into a toque or headband or neck gaitor. More importantly, you can get it wet with cold water before you head out on a run so that you stay cool (also, wet your shirt/shorts with cold water to keep your temp down).  I cut off about 3 inches from the end of one to make a sweatband, which was awesome, and soaked it before both my daytime runs. Now if only I had one with birds on it…
  • Recharging station: I love my Goal0 Nomad 7 solar charging panels, and it was awesome having it to keep my phone charged. I also stole some solar juice from Sean’s bigger charging station, and the USB compatibility is awesome for digital needs. The Ragnar Trail events have Suntrap Solutions for phone charging, but if you don’t want to worry about a que and want to charge your stuff at your camp site, look into getting a solar panel of your own.
  • Dry-wicking clothes: Running three times (or 6, if that’s how you roll in an ultra relay) in 24 hrs can be pretty gross. I brought a variety of running clothes in case my shirt/shorts didn’t dry in time for my next leg, and so I had something dry to run in for the night leg (standing around waiting for the next runner in wet clothes is uncomfortable). Salomon gave Chris and I, as winners of the sweepstakes, a pair of shorts and a shirt. I also brought along a Oiselle tank and a pair of Roga shorts. The Roga shorts were clutch for the long leg, when I was out there for 3 hrs, because the pockets are huge and have zippers- I didn’t lose any of my nutrition and I didn’t lose any of my trash after eating it. The tank was long and comfortable, which kept me from getting chafed by the number belt, and it dried super fast between legs (I ran in it for two of the three legs). As soon as I was done running, I changed everything I was wearing and laid out my wet clothes to dry. Fortunately, Tahoe was dry and I could put my stuff out on the parking lot (since that’s where we camped), but it might be worth bringing something to hang your stuff on just in case.
  • Good pairs of running shoes (note the plural): I ran three times, and each time I ran in a different pair of shoes. I started with the Salomon Sense Mantra. I was hesitant to run in these shoes, because they kind of reminded me of a “grandma-walking-shoe,” but after doing a lap with a lot of sandy downhill sections, I was impressed. My only complaint was, because they were a minimalist shoe, there wasn’t a lot of support in the forefoot for steep downhill terrain. But, that’s not what they are made for; they are a good all-around singletrack shoe. It’s pretty damn hard to find a shoe that’s made for downhill. I ran my midnight lap in the Brooks Cascadia 7. As much as I love Brooks, I finally realized in this race that the Cascadias are not for me. I ran in them at Leadville when pacing a MegaTough teammate, and I’ve run in them tons on singletrack in Michigan and Missouri, but I always seem to roll my ankle. I think I need a lower profile shoe for trails. Anyway, my third lap, I ran in the Salomon Fellcross 2, which comes out in September. These were, hands down, the best show I’ve run in on trails. Super grippy, super light, and they hugged my feet perfectly. There was no toe-smushing, or slipping feet on descents, and there were no rolled ankles. And along with the shoes, don’t forget socks: I wore a different pairs of Merino blend socks from Fitsok on each leg, and the ISW were my faves.
  • Camp-site essentials:
    • Ice
    • A cooler with cold drinks (including cola, coffee [like Starbucks DoubleShot], and maybe even beer)
    • Calorie-dense snacks (Picky bars, almond butter, chocolate, you know- the good stuff).
    • A piece of paper or a spreadsheet to write down lap times, to keep you and your teammates sane (so they know when to wake up, mostly). The ultra team offers less flexibility; at least in the regular team, the person running two legs before yours can wake you up when they hand off to the runner that’s before you.  With an ultra, you can still do that, but you could be up for about 3+hrs before its your turn to run. Having an estimated time to run is nice for extra shut-eye, especially when the miles add up.
    • A large towel (to dry off with, to clean up with, to sit on the ground with, to wipe your face with, to keep yourself warm at night with, to take swimming, whatever, you’ll need it)
    • A camp chair
    • Pitch your tent in a shaded spot or bring along a shade tent (your tent will get hot)
  • And of course, last but definitely not least, camping gear:
    • Tent– I’ve had a two-person lightweight tent for years that I bought from Cabela’s. Their stuff is made just as well as the “brand name” stuff, but it’s significantly cheaper. I have an older version of the XPG 2-person tent, and it is super easy to put up (takes me by myself less than 5 minutes) and it is easy to keep organized inside. If you’re car-camping, then a bigger, heftier tent would probably be fine, but if you have to fly to the race, go for a lighter tent (that is easy to pack in your luggage). Depending on your teammates, you can coordinate sharing a tent as well; Three GearJunkie folks slept in one tent (albeit, it was a 6 person tent). There’s no reason that everyone needs to bring their own tent, especially if you don’t mind getting close with your teammies.
    • Sleeping bag– Again, I have a Cabela’s XPG bag (15degrees).
    • Sleeping pad– this is essential, especially if you find yourself in a situation like we had at Tahoe where the camp site is under construction and the racers have to set up camp in a parking lot. I have a Thermarest, some teams brought blow-up air mattresses, and the Gear Junkie guys even off-the-shelf’d some pads from Walmart (which, as it turns out, were pretty crappy). Both for comfort and for keeping the heat in, definitely bring a sleeping pad with.

Have you done a trail relay or a trail stage-race before? Did you race as a regular or an ultra team? What gear did you find to be essential for surviving the weekend?

My favorite fall running gear

The temperatures are dropping and the November winds are gusting. Yes, it’s not yet November. But it’s the U.P. And that means, gusts of up to 50mph.

Oh yes, I will miss this place when I move. But until then, I am really excited about doing some serious trail running. I absolutely love the sound of leaves crunching under my feet. I love the smell of the dirt, the clear, cool air, the everything that comes with a late October run in northern Michigan.

But, of course, autumn running means I can no longer run in just a sports bra and shorts, unless I am confined to the treadmill. And although that can be fun, I’m just not ready for that yet. Where I live, there is really no shot in heck that the weather is going to deliver any sort of Indian Summer-like awesomeness. And that’s ok. I’m ready for the cold.

Of course, my excitement has something to do with some new additions to my wardrobe and gear stack.

For starters, I am getting by (both running and every-day) with my new favorite long-sleeve top: the lucy Distance 1/2 zip. The bright color matches the awesome Northern sky, and it brightens up my day now that all the leaves have fallen from the trees. Not only that, but the shirt comes equipped with so many cool features, it’s hard not to notice. For example, the sleeves have thumbholes, which I’ve come to the conclusion make for awesome cool-weather tops. The fit is perfect; it is the longest top that I own for running, but its not baggy whatsoever. The Distance Zip has the classic lucy fit, which for me is like a glove. This top also has a stash pocket and venting, so my temperature stays pretty well regulated. It even has a hood, something “bonus” that I’m digging after coming off my previous fave, the Propel jacket. All in all, this is another hit for lucy activewear.

lucy Distance 1/2 Zip

While I’m on the subject, I’ll point out my love for layering, too. My favorite base layers are the Icebreaker GT Dash crew and the lucy seamless Motion top. Not to mention, I’m proud of my friends in Team Mega Tough for rockin’ their Icebreaker tops in their ultras this season. The Dash crew has yet to get stinky, and it is washed a lot less than anything else I own. In fact, I think the last time it was washed was in August, and that was at least four long runs ago. And yes, at this exact moment, it is sitting in the bottom of my locker…

The Icebreaker Dash Crew makes 50miles look gooooood

Another new fave of mine are the Saucony Kinvaras. Yes, they are hunter orange. Yes, this was a strategic color choice. I love running on the ORV trails around the Keweenaw, but unfortunately these trails are often used by hunters. So, I went with the obvious choice: Hunter’s orange. Actually, Saucony dubs this ViZi-PRO, which is good for road running, too- keeps the cars alert of your whereabouts. I’m looking forward to owning a pair of the ViZi-PRO Elite arm warmers, just in time for rifle season, of course. Anyway, the shoes are rad; lightweight, minimalist shoe, but I don’t feel like I’m barefooting it whatsoever. My feet feel happy and comfortable, and I can rock these shoes without socks (and without blisters!). I use them mostly for shorter runs and intervals, since my body likes a more stable shoe for the long haul; but I have taken them out on a few long runs to see how they fly (and boy, do they fly). I’m tempted to try them in a marathon next year… they’ll at least make a debut on my feet for a half marathon sometime in 2011.

Saucony Kinvara... in hunter's orange

And lastly, I am digging my new Nathan handheld, the Sprint. This little darling is perfect for longer races. For long training runs, I’m going to stick with my Nathan Quickdraw Elite and Nathan Storm waist pack, but the Sprint is my go-to race gear. I had some issues earlier this summer with lugging around my number belt, my Trail Mix belt, and having stuff in my jersey pockets… so I simplified things for Rev3 FullRev in Cedar Point to now only carrying a handheld. For fall running, it’s going to be great, because I’m building back up with a lot of 1-2hr runs where I don’t always use all the hydration that can be carried with  my waist belt.

So that’s that. What are some of your favorite things to use while fall running?

To and fro

In case you haven’t caught on yet, I really like riding my bike. Although I don’t think I could ever like it “too much”- I definitely have spent more money/thoughts/time with my bike than the average joe (but not the average triathlete- some of those suckers spend five times as much as I have on their bikes… and still get pwnd on the uphills).

Anyway, I digress. The point of this post is to discuss how to get to-and-fro, with the bike. Whether its rubber-side-down or in a box, having your bike with you where you’re going is important. For example, in early June, I traveled to Middlebury, Connecticut for the Rev3Quassy race. It might have been a little challenging (and slow) to not have my bike when I got there.

Bike transport options:

Check your bike:

Fly Southwest, WestJet, or AirCanada— Southwest just seems to love everyone under the sun. They only charge $50 to check a bike, and they allow two checked bags for free. Practically every airline charges a fee to check a box that is oversized (eg. one that holds a bike), and some charge more than others. Slowtwitch has a great forum feed that discusses airline fees, and you can check it out here.

My favorite: “Not Good: United”- which is the only airline I can fly without having to drive 100miles. My other options (with the 100mile drive)? The “The WORSE: Delta”. So it goes in the UP.

When you check your bike– remember the importance of properly stowing the bike. You spent HOW much money on that thing? I’d hate for it to get dinged up and damaged by the ground crew. Some sweet bike bags and boxes can be found here. Depending on the bike and its size, it should be stored a particular way. For example, my Scott Plasma Contessa has a seat mast (read: cannot adjust seat height without permanently altering geometry) and an integrated fork. So, I need to be careful about how I stow my bike.

Some more tips? When you’re checking your bike, avoid any containment that screams “BIKE”. Since many airlines have bike policies, if they find out you are checking a bike they’ll be sure to charge you. American Airlines has a special policy of charging at least $100 on top of the normal baggage charges if you check a bike. So, try to be as subtle as you can. And even though it looks cool, avoid putting huge labels all over your bike box that might implicate you…

Unfortunately- not everyone can fly SW or any of the cool airlines that don’t charge an arm and a leg for checking a bike (myself included). Unless I drive to a bigger city that’s >7hours away, I am looking at spending at least $150 each way (plus any extra charges that the airline might decide I owe) to take my bike with me on the plane. And since my checked bag full of clothes didn’t make it to Connecticut when I arrived, there’s the risk that the bike might not make it either.

So what are some other options?

FedEx it– I got my local bike shop to disassemble my bike and put it in its original box with the wheels and everything, and then I sent it via FedEx to Bicycle Works, the bike shop in Connecticut right by the race location. FedEx is sweet, because stuff moves even on the weekends, and I could track my bike and I knew where it was practically all the time. It was also very convenient because the bike was assembled by Bicycle Works when it arrived (and it got tuned up, too) before I even got to town, and after the race I just dropped it off and they literally took care of everything for me. It did cost a little more money than I wanted to spend ($75 to send it from Michigan to CT, $100 to have Bicycle Works receive, assemble, and disassemble it, and $110 for them to ship it back to me) but it was still cheaper than checking it on the plane (I flew United).

TriBikeTransport I’ve never used them, because I don’t live anywhere near where a drop off would be, but dang, do I wish I did. Here’s how it works: Drop your bike off at one of the Partner Bike Shops by the drop-off date for your race (listed on their website here) and they get your bike to your race site three days before the event. They even bring it to the athlete village. Depending on the race and where you are traveling from, it can cost anywhere between $290 and $340USD with $1000 value insured (you can get additional insurance for $6/$1000value). Without having to disassemble your bike, go back to the airport later to pick it up because it didn’t make the connecting flight, or worry about it going missing off a UPS truck, you can have that much more peace-of-mind as you prepare for your big race. Again, a downside of this service is that if you don’t have a TBT anywhere near you, well- you’re S.O.L. Another downside? They don’t do a huge amount of races, mostly just M-Dot ones. But, in 2011, they will be transporting to Lavaman in Hawaii, Wildflower, and Escape from Alcatraz.

My favorite means of transporting my bike?

My trusty steed, the Chevy HHR. This 2009 station wagon can fit my bike in the back without even taking the wheels off, and the bike is protected from the weather and bugs on the drive. I even took this bad boy all the way to Knoxville from the UP, which was a much longer drive than I ever wish to do for a race again (22hours). If you’ve traveled with your bike to a race, though, you know how convenient it is to have a car that has enough room so that you don’t have to worry about whether-or-not your bike will fit. Is it bad that one of the major reasons I bought a car last summer what because I wanted to have a means for transporting my bike to and fro? … Nah.

What other ways do you transport your bike?

In Motion- lucy style

I’ve never really thought of myself as a fashionable runner. I train in whatever is clean, and when I previously lived in an apartment that didn’t have a laundry facility, that would mean I was training in whatever was clean. Since Baberaham and I have moved to a house and I bought a washer and dryer, I get to cycle through my running clothes more frequently (and am notably less stinky because of it).

And since we’ve moved, I have started to put more thought into what I wear when I am training. And being more color-coordinating-conscious has become a part of my garment-selecting process. For example, I like to run in my Saucony meadow-colored Empress shirt and matching Run Lux shorts, but rarely reach for my bright yellow shorts from college and a mismatching tee.

So, obviously, I’ve become more and more into the gear from Lucy activewear. The really sweet PR folks sent me some apparel to preview before their June release, and I am loving it.

But what I really love, most of all, about this stuff is the comfort of the fabric and fit. The new print, In Motion (azure), is super-stellar too!

The new Propel line, which has just been released, has some really flashy looks. The In Motion block patterning on the Propel Tank camouflages my tube-shaped torso, and gives me a more feminine look. It even comes in a berry-color too! Sure, I really shouldn’t care about what I look like when I run, but what really impresses me about the lucy clothes is that I don’t have to wear them just-to-run. They are nice enough to wear anywhere, and I have been known to wear my spandex to work (and even out to the movies with B).

What’s even more impressive, is that the Propel tank is fitted just-so that, for a small-busted gal like myself, I can get away without wearing a bra. Seriously. There isn’t a built-in bra (which is often hit-or-miss with tank tops), but its fitted and seamed just right to provide support and comfort without any extra underwear. I dig that. Granted, when I wear the top for running only, I wear a sports bra out of habit…

I also dig the coordination of the tops and bottoms. I have a legit running outfit when I get some lucy stuff. The Color Blocked Propel Knee pants have a wide waistband that matched the tank, so I don’t have to worry about low-rise belly popping out when I am jogging along. The seams on the capris are both functional and fashionable, and the colors are bright but not obnoxious. The drawstrings are not chinsy, and won’t get eaten by my dryer after round one. Plus, reflective piping keeps me a little more visible by the cars at dawn or dusk.

The tank top has a slit in the back that aids in venting, and the capris have a stash pocket for keys, goo, or my ID. The capris don’t ride nor are they low rise, and I am not worried about looking good when I am running through downtown, I just run.

In one word, lucy clothes are FUN. They are well constructed and modest, and absolutely functional.

Check out lucy’s new summer line here.

Endurance Meg’s Chamois Cream Review

I started biking about two and a half years ago. My friend, Ben, convinced me the day before to roll out on a long ride with him. He was signed up for the Copper Country Color Tour – a 50, 100, or 200K ride that cruised the leafy-tree-lined roads of the Keweenaw during peak color-change. Of course, I didn’t have a pair of padded shorts, or a road bike, so I borrowed my boyfriend’s spandex and rented a bike with clipless pedals and a pair of shoes from Downwind Sports. And, of course, we went big- signed up for the 200K – and had a sort of epic-fun day.

I discovered a lot from that one day of riding, including a passion for road riding and the way seven hours of riding can lead to an odd craving for pickles and Snickers. I also learned the importance of having a good pair of shorts and anti-chafing cream.

Known to the masses by many a name, chamois cream (or butt cream, butt lube, anti-chafe cream, butter, etc. etc) is an important staple for any newbie rider, but its also key for many riders in keeping comfortable (even when they’re on their 8000th mile of the season). Yes, you can get used to riding without chamois cream. But why not just use it and save yourself the pain and suffering? Saddle-soreness is mitigated with the use of chamois cream, and it can also provide anti-microbial and cooling effects. Besides, if reduced chafing on the inner thighs isn’t enough, chamois cream alleviates chafing on the, um, unmentionable areas, too.

I am a huge proponent of chamois cream use, but I know of a few tougher-than-nails people that don’t use it very often. If I am going out riding for more than half-hour, I am lubed up (ok, call me a wuss… I don’t care). But the truth is, I didn’t realize its importance until I started Ironman training, and I realized very quickly that comfort in my nether-regions wasn’t entirely due to having the wrong saddle or the wrong shorts. Using the right chamois cream made rides much more tolerable and now I don’t want to cry after every 100-mile ride (at least, not because of that).

Earlier in the season, I contacted practically every butt cream company I could find. The mission: to test out chamois creams and provide my readers with a thorough review, a side-by-side comparison of the biggest names in the business. The tubes and jars started rolling in, and I must admit I was a little overwhelmed. I had a lot of biking ahead of me…

Here’s how the review worked.

Step 1. Read the ingredients. Is it something I would have bought anyway?

Step 2. Look up the price on Google Shopping. Write down the lowest price equivalent (not on eBay) listed. Again, is it something I would have bought anyway?

Step 3. Try out the chamois cream on a trainer ride that lasts between 45min – 1.5hours. Note the thickness, scent, feel, etc.

Step 4. Try it out on a longer ride (at least 2hours, but more like 3-4). How did it feel?

Other:

  • Wash the bike shorts in between rides.
  • Use the same pair of bike shorts for each comparison (Craft Active)
  • Use approximately the same amount (a dollop on the end of my index finger)
  • Apply directly to skin, not chamois pad.
  • If the trainer ride didn’t go well, I didn’t wear them on a long road ride

Note: I didn’t get every anti-chafe product out there, and although I have a few bottles, I’m not including the anti-chafe sprays or sticks in this review. There are some really slick (har, har) products out there, like SBR Sport’s Tri-Slide, that can be used as chamois lubes, but I wanted to (fairly) review products that were explicitly intended for the same use (that is, lubing up the crotch/chamois).

And the results? I made a table to describe each product in detail. See below for more information.

*becomes less viscous after application, as it warms up to body temp
DNW = did not wear

And to preface my review, I use a lot of the same words that have some weight-

Parabens – a common ingredient in chamois creams that fend off bacteria, but might be linked to breast cancer.

Chamois– (pronounced shammy) if you haven’t caught on yet, the chamois is the pad inside bike shorts that provides cushion and reduces friction between the saddle and your crotch.

Tingly– Yes, I mean tingly. Think Icy-Hot (only not *always* as strong).

My first chamois cream was Paceline Product’s Chamois Butt’r. Baberaham bought me a tube from the Bike Shop soon after I had major issues on a long ride. Although it was my first, it wasn’t my first love. Although it did the trick, I’d still complain after about two hours. Granted, it could have been because I was just a beginner biker, but at the end of rides I was not very happy. I also found it to be sticky. On longer rides, I felt like someone had put gum in my shorts. More recently, I used it on a hilly 30-mile ride, and must have missed a spot (by the way, blisters are rarely, if ever, good). Good news about Chamois Butt’r is that I can get it through my local bike shop and its not very expensive. Overall, I give this chamois cream a C.

My pops bought me a jar of Assos from Machinery Row in Madison the day before IMoo last year, mostly because I just wasn’t confident that the Chamois Butt’r would survive for 112 miles (or, rather, that I would). Assos has the reputation as one of, if not THE best chamois creams out there. I didn’t read the ingredients, but I tried it out while sitting in the hotel room to make sure I didn’t have any allergic reaction to it. I knew to expect a tingling sensation, but boy-o-boy did I experience one. It was a little exhilarating, to say the least. I really liked it, so I rolled the dice and used it on race day. I am very glad I did. For the entire 5hours and 49minutes in the saddle (not to mention the hour fifteen in the water beforehand…), the cream stayed put, and the tingling managed to keep things cool even though the temperature was busting into the 90s. The Assos cream has been my go-to cream, and I have set it as the gold standard of chamois creams in my little collection. It does contain parabens, which is a downside. And, of course, its on the more expensive side, which in part is why this awesome cream only gets an A- in my book.

The Century Riding Cream by Sportique is interesting, to say the least. It’s really thick, and somewhat difficult to squeeze out of the tube, but that might be a good thing. It is a little more tough to put on, but once its there, it stays put and doesn’t leave a nasty residue behind on my chamois pad. The scent is pretty strong and spicy. It lingers, too, and I could smell it even after a few hours in the saddle. A downside to this cream: B doesn’t like when I use it because of the smell. The cream isn’t tacky or sticky, though, and I love that the ingredient list has so many things that I can recognize, including olives. Also, it tingles (which I like). I’m a fan, indeed, but I still find myself reaching for the Assos instead (maybe because its easier to apply?). I give this cream an A-.

Booty Balm is nice, but another tricky one to apply. The balm in the jar is solid, and I have to scrape to get to get it out. Like the Century cream, though, once its on, it stays put and isn’t tacky. It doesn’t transfer at all to my chamois pad, either. According to the website and rep, it’s designed to “work with the heat of your body” – and it does become much more compliant once its applied and worked in a little (otherwise, though, it can be sort of chunky if I don’t rub it in; but it doesn’t take long to rub in!). The scent is not overwhelming and quite pleasant (think lemon and summer), and there isn’t any tingling sensation (likely because its specific for women; the Ballocks cream is the men’s version). It’s a little on the expensive side, but a little goes a really long way. I give this an A- as well.

Beljum Budder is something I first became aware of because Selene Yeager talks about it in her Fit Chick section of Bicycling Magazine (My First Ironman, December 2008). I then saw it on Loopd.com, but I never did try it until Beljum sent me a tube per this review request. I was expecting it to be a step up from Chamois Butt’r, with some tingling like Assos, because it contains witch hazel. It didn’t tingle, though, but I was impressed with how smooth and silky it was. It literally sparkles, and it goes on thin without leaving a residue. It’s easy to apply, and it isn’t tacky either, so I didn’t stick to my chamois. It was moisturizing, too! The price-point is pretty pleasing. Since it’s probably ok to not ride every ride with the tingling sensation of menthol or wintergreen, this cream is pretty high on the list. I give it an A.

Dave Zabriskie’s brand, DZ Nuts, recently released a women’s specific version of their chamois cream called Bliss. The neutral scent and thick cream are pleasant to put on, and it’s nice to know that companies are taking notice of women’s needs. The cream was easy to apply and stayed put without transfering to my chamois, and I didn’t notice any hot spots after a few hours of riding. However, I wanted to reapply or wished I would have laid it on a little more thick, but I didn’t want to use too much because its so dang expensive. I think I’ll buy the regular DZ Nuts next time and leave the Bliss for women who don’t want the tingles. Bliss gets an A-.

Udderly Smooth makes a chamois cream, along with a plethora of other farm-hand products that are amazing at relubricating skin (…udder, get it?). Their line is creamy and thick, and really gets into and moisturizes dry skin.  Unfortunately also loaded with parabens. The chamois cream smells like baby powder, but it stuck to my chamois (and took a few washings and scrubs by hand to get it all out). It was also a pain to get off my skin because it was a little greasy. It is, however, the most economical (and readily available) chamois cream, because its stocked at stores like CVS and costs a quarter of the price of most other chamois creams. Because of the stickiness and the parabens, Udderly Smooth Chamois Cream gets a C-.

One of my new favorite creams is Friction Freedom, which is practically the same as Assos – only without the parabens. It feels the same, smells the same, but it costs a little less and is safer. I wore this in the half at Rev3 Quassy, and it worked like a charm. My only qualm is that I needed to reapply it to my bike shorts during a 70mile ride, but that could be because I was wearing bike shorts on my tri bike… But I now reach for the big Friction Freedom tub before I reach for Assos, which is really saying something. I give it an A.

So which one do I like best? Well, that doesn’t really matter. It’s important to remember that not everyone likes the same thing, and what works for me might not work for you. The intent of this review isn’t to tell you what chamois cream to buy next, but to give you my take on the side-by-side comparisons so you can make a more educated decision next time you try a new chamois cream. So take this review for what it is, my opinion and my analysis of a wide range of products. I tried to be systematic about it, but it’s hard for me to quantitatively assess something so qualitative as the happiness of my … well you get the point.

I’d like to thank the following companies for sending me their chamois creams (and other products) for free, so that they could be included in this review: Sportique, Chomper Body, Beljum Budder, Udderly Smooth, DZNuts, and Friction Freedom. Although they sent me their creams for free, they didn’t pay me to review their products, and the text written in this post are my own thoughts and assessments.