What is a gear check bag?

If you’re not new to running then you probably already know what a gear check bag is. If you’re new to running or haven’t raced much then you might still be wondering – what on earth is a gear check bag?

A gear check bag (or drop bag) is usually a plastic bag tethered to your bib number that is used to store your valuables for post-race activities while you’re physically running a race.

what is a gear check bag - tear off ticket

Gear check tear-off ticket at the bottom of the gray race bib. This identifies your gear bag for pickup after the race.

What exactly is a gear check bag?

When you sign up for a big race such as a half or full marathon you’ll likely need a location to safely store your valuables and post-race necessities. Basically, a gear check bag is a type of trash bag or plastic bag offered by the race to store your gear and valuables while you are on the racecourse. Your bag is identified by a bib number. The bib usually has tear-off squares at the bottom for post-race activities such as finisher shirt pickup, beer tickets, and gear check bib id.

It is designed for runners and athletes to store their essential items in an overall organized manner for the race volunteers to retrieve quickly. It’s silly to assume that runners should carry all of their items with them during the physical race. This is why the bag is made available to them before and after the race. Gear check bags are extremely helpful to runners who don’t have a car near the finish line. It can store anything that might be needed for post-race comfort or activities.

what is a gear check bag

gear check bag drop/pickup

Do 5K and 10K races have gear bag checks?

Most of your 5k and 10k races do not have gear bag checks basically because the races are over so quickly that there is no need to store a large number of valuables. Also, the runners really don’t need a change of clothes, extra protein bars, and a high volume of liquids to rehydrate after the shorter races.

The gear bag checks are most common with the marathon and ultra-marathon races. However, some half marathon races offer bag checks simply because there is also a marathon or ultra-marathon being run on the same course.

When do I get my gear check bag?

Some races will give you the gear check bag during your packet pickup. Sometimes these gear check bags are also used to loot the swag from the race expos that go on a few days before the actual race. There is a gear check bag pick up area where you can collect your gear check bag or drop bag. The bag check area who kept your bag and noted your number will return the gear check bag to you on the basis of the number they allotted to you.

What should I put in my gear check bag?

The items that you’ll want to place in your gear check bag are things you’ll need for your post-race activities which are cooling down, light stretching, and recovery. below is the list of the essentials that you should keep in your gear check bag.

  • Deodorant – If you’re a sweater like me you may want to pack some emergency deodorant just in case.
  • Socks and extra footwear – When you run long-distances your feet might be yelping at the end of the race, begging for relief.  An extra pair of dry socks and a comfortable pair of shoes or sandals. If you really want to relax your feet check and aid them in a fast recovery try these Hoka recovery sandals.
  • Dry clothes – The last thing you want to do is walk around in your sweaty race clothes after the race.  You can change out of your sweaty clothes to begin your winding and cooling down after the long race. Also, if you’ll be moving around some more this will also reduce and chafing that could be starting to take effect.
  • Dry towel or wet ones – After the race is over, you’ll be drenched in sweat and you will be unable to take a shower. And in this situation, having some wet wipes handy might save your bacon. They will allow you to wipe away some of the caked-on sweat that occurred during the race.
  • Comb, hair clips, or a hat – These things are the must-haves, they should be in everyone’s bag. After a long race, if you have long hair, it will be all out of wack. Having some hair clips, a comb or brush, or a hat handy might be your savior after the race. A hat might be your best option in that it can pull your hair back and help protect your face against more sun.
  • Feminine hygiene products – This is the must keep for women.
  • Snacks – The race should offer plenty of snacks, but if you have your go-to snack that they might not have – throw it in the bag. I personally like Fluid Recovery drinks (Amazon).
  • Lip balm, body lotion, or cream – If you properly hydrated during your half marathon race you shouldn’t need chapstick. “Dry lips are a sign of mild dehydration”, WebMD-Why your lips are chapped). If your lips are chapped or you have a dry mouth at the end of a race you might not have hydrated properly for your race. Check out this detailed post – how much water should I drink for a half marathon.

What shouldn’t I put in my gear check bag?

We’ve talked about the things to keep in a gear check bag but there are certain things that you shouldn’t carry in the bag. I have listed down all those things that you should not keep. Your bag might get lost so I would advise you to not keep things that you cannot replace. You would not want your documents to get lost. So it is advised to not keep them in the drop bag. The list of materials and things that you shouldn’t carry in your drop bag is as follows:

  • Medications – Medications that you need to take obviously shouldn’t be stored in the bag. If you need them on the course for some reason you won’t have access to them.
  • Identification –  Don’t keep your driver’s license, passport (if you’re out of your home country), debit card, or credit card in the drop bag.
  • Car keys – How would you feel if you lost your car keys? Most newer running shorts have a small zipper on the rear of the shorts or one of the sides of the shorts. You can easily store one car key in the zippered pocket.
  • Fluids – you really shouldn’t need any fluid considering the race should have plenty to offer you. It’s just extra weight you might not need to carry around with you.
  • Money – This one should be self-explanatory – don’t leave cash in the bag.
  • Other valuables – items like jewelry and wedding rings (check out rubber wedding rings for such the occasion).
  • Smartphone – Most runners run with their smartphone, however some don’t – like me! If you’re wondering where you should keep your valuables during a race, check out this post about ways to carry your smartphone and other valuable items.
What is a Gear Check Bag

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Gear bag check process

While there is no wrong or right way to use a gear back these simple steps will walk you through what to expect when arriving at the race:

1. The night before the race

place all of your items you’ll be needing for the post-race.

2. Triple check your bag to make sure it has your Bib Identification number on it

You don’t want your bag to be placed in the heaping pile of UBGs (Unidentified Gear Bags)

3. Morning of the race

Place all of your items in your identified (fourth check on the Bib ID) gear check bag about 20 minutes before the race. If you’ve worn an extra layer of clothes to keep warm, it’s time to tuck these away in your cozy bag.

4. Drop off your bag in the bag drop area

You’ll see signage at the race clearly defined as the Gear Check or Bag Drop Area. If you can’t find the area, ask a volunteer. Hand your bag that has your bib Id labeled on it or attached to it to the volunteer working the bag drop area.

The volunteers gather all of the gear check bags, from multiple drop points, and place them in the gear bag pickup area. They will spend some time trying to organize the bags based on bib numbers, but trust me it’s never perfect and these are volunteers so please be grateful that they are there helping you.

what is a gear check bag - gear pickup signage

gear pickup signage

5. After the race

Go back to the area where you dropped off your bag and claim your prize – in this case, your valuables.

Do I need to use a gear check bag?

A big yes! You need to keep a gear check bag with you because it’s important and useful for runners and athletes. They are just so awesome and helpful for everyone. You cannot keep everything you want but you can keep everything you need in a gear check bag. You need a gear check bag because you can not keep the things you need in your hands or pocket as they are a lot. For keeping your belongings and necessities safe and secure, you need a bag and that bag is a gear check bag or drop bag. All you have to do is collect a gear check bag and they’ll assign you a number for that, for identification purpose. And when you’ll finish the race you’ll get it right in your hands.

Is there any other choice other than a gear check bag to store my stuff?

If you’re really not looking forward to standing in line after the race to get your gear, then you’ve got several other options:

  • Friends and family – Let a friend/family member hold your gear while you race. Not only can they hold your stuff they can be there to cheer you on at the finish line.
  • Car – This is normally where I store my gear especially for smaller local races where the walk to the car is less than a mile. This motivates me to keep moving for a couple of extra miles after my half marathon or marathon race.
  • Minimize what you bring – Some racers minimize what they bring. If they bring extra layers to keep warm before the race, they’ll simply shed their extra layers. The race volunteers will collect all of the littered clothes and donate them to a local charity.

Is there anything else I need to bring for a half marathon or marathon race?

For an extensive list of what you should bring for a half marathon or marathon race checkout this post – Race checklist.

Coach Scott

12-Week Half Marathon Training Plan based on your current fitness level!