Energy gels come in different sizes and shapes, and the races and adventures that we do are just as varied. Here’s a simple guide on the best ways to carry energy gels for anything from training and road races to ultra distances on trails. We will also include several tips to make fueling easier.
Best gears for carrying energy gels
Let’s begin with some of our favorite apparel and gears for bringing energy gels.
(These recommendations are not sponsored by the brands. They are tried and true products that we’ve used and enjoyed.)
Designs of running shorts have improved by leaps and bounds, not just regarding materials and comfort but also the thoughtfulness behind the pockets’ size and placement.
If you’re doing road work under the marathon distance or just spending a few hours on trails, here are three running shorts that will allow you to carry sufficient energy gels.
Unfortunately, this is not an affordable pair of shorts, but certainly one of the best designed. It has five pockets, including one that’s zipped secure for more important items.
With a running belt integrated, this pair is highly flexible for all kinds of fuel of varying shapes and sizes. I can even fit a 500-750 ml soft water flask.
If you’re a leggings/tights sort of runner, Saysky produces one of the best-designed half tights with pockets integrated on the side. A good option for shorter efforts.
Things to consider when selecting a pair of shorts:
- Some energy gels are big. One of my favorites, Precision & Hydration PF90, probably won’t fit in most shorts pockets.
- Will the energy gels stay in your pockets when running faster or climbing up a mountain and requiring bigger steps?
Running belts are my favorite fuel-carrying option, especially for road running and marathons. I prefer compression belts because they keep the gels, bars, and water flasks snugly against my waist and hip with minimum shaking and jiggling and everything is conveniently accessible. Many also provide design details for pinning bibs and storing trekking poles.
Things to consider when selecting a running belt:
- Does the belt have partitions? Or is it one open space? I personally prefer partitions. It’s easier to organize the different items.
- Some belts scrunch and ride up above your waste, making it difficult to reach in. Selecting the proper size is essential to prevent this issue.
Hydration vests and packs
Vests and packs are your best bet to go the distance in the wilderness. You’ll need to carry more than just energy gels in these adventures. Weather and local wildlife are unpredictable, so it’s wise to be prepared – a first-aid kit, whistle, warm clothing, smartphone, rain gear, sufficient fluids, etc.
For energy gel and in race situations specifically, ensure the vest and pack have plenty of pockets and compartments in the front for easy access. I’m not flexible, so reaching behind while moving is difficult for me.
Things to consider when selecting a pack or vest:
- Waterproof or not waterproof.
- Do your races have mandatory gear requirements? If so, pick one that can fit everything.
- How easily can you reach all the compartments while in action.
- Most vests have a pocket for water flasks at the front of each shoulder strap. Is it easy to take out the flasks and insert them back in? And can your existing flasks fit in the pockets? So many vest brands get this wrong.
Gloves are a super convenient option if you’re going on a run in cold temperatures. Slip a gel or two in each glove. No fancy apparel is needed, and it only adds a little weight. However, bigger gel packaging such as SiS or Huma likely won’t fit.
Bonus tip: Cut the finger slots for your thumb and index finger for better gel-opening dexterity.
Tips and suggestions for carrying energy gels and fueling
Most of you reading this are not elite endurance athletes allowed to place water bottles filled with your favorite fuel every 5 km along the marathon course or blessed with a crew catered to your every need at ultra aid stations. When it comes to fueling, mere mortals like you and I must be self-reliant.
Some online articles suggest using safety pins to pin energy gels to your shorts’ elastic band. I don’t recommend that for several reasons.
- The energy gel sachets won’t rip as easily as expected. A lot of fumbling around is likely.
- The energy gels will dangle and slap against your body. Annoying as hell.
- The pins might break apart when you rip open the energy gel, leaving sharp objects hanging on your shorts.
I highly recommend spending a little to purchase proper gel-carrying gears. It’s worth the better running experience.
Running in circles isn’t the most fun but can benefit training and fueling. It’s a great way to not have to carry energy gels on you.
Create a loop. It can be one km or more. The start should be a spot where you can safely and conveniently set up water bottles and leave a few energy gels (for example, the top of your car in the parking lot or a bench in the park.). We have a popular 5 km loop here in Taipei where many runners and running groups set up shop for refueling.
First and foremost, this may only be legal for some races. But I’ve seen people do it, and I believe nobody cares at the weekend warrior-level of competition.
If you are running a local marathon and familiar with the course, station trusty friends along the way to hand you disposable water bottles with your preferred sports drinks (you can also tape a pack of energy gel on the bottle).
For runners with sensitive stomachs, I’ve found that drinks are easier to handle when compared with gels. This also eliminates the need to reach into and fumble around your energy gel-carrying gear.
Practice your race-day fueling. Not just identifying a suitable energy gel that tastes and sits well, but also practice smoothly grabbing the sachet out of your fuel-carrying gear, ripping it open, and consuming the content. You’ll be surprised that something simple when running at easy efforts can become slightly more complicated when going at half-marathon or marathon paces and when you’re fatigued mentally and physically.