Thursday, 20 September 2018 09:35

A big day in the mountains testing Decathlon’s latest range of trail running kit

Written by Ward Linney

I had often visited Decathlon stores when on holiday in France and had always been impressed by their range of sporting equipment. Their own brand clothing seems especially popular over there, so when Decathlon-UK offered MyOutdoors a collection of their latest trail running gear to test, I was more than happy to volunteer my services.

To buy the full collection of kit would set you back less than £150, so it’s clearly aimed at the budget end of the market. There are however, plenty of examples of a budget price tag not equating to a product with a budget feel and on first inspection, (with the possible exception of the sunglasses) this collection looked to be similar in quality to the higher end kit I was used to. After taking it out for a couple of long runs from home, my opinion didn’t change, so I set about planning a real test for it, on a classic UK mountain running route.

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I took on the Welsh 3000-foot challenge 11 years ago as a walk, starting at half 4 in the morning and using all of the available daylight, to finish in about 16 hours. It has stood out since then as one of my best mountain days, and it has also been something I’ve wanted to repeat at a faster pace, since taking up ultra-running.

The Welsh 3000s challenge is 24 miles, but if I include the climb to the start on the summit of Snowdon and the (slightly tougher than necessary) journey from the final summit back to Llyn Ogwen, I would get 35 miles and over 4000m of ascent out of the day. This fitted in perfectly with my training plan and would certainly be a long enough day to get to know the kit, so at half eight in the morning one Saturday, I set off from the Pen Y Gwrd, kitted out head to toe in Kalenji, ready for an epic day in the mountains.

The march up the Pig Track took about an hour and a half. Both myself and Dan, who was joining me for the day, felt fresh legged as we climbed, trying to make good time whilst taking it steady enough to reserve our energy for the 24 miles that mattered, between the summits of Snowdon and Foel Fras. We reached the summit just before 10, crucially just before the first train arrived, so the summit trig was free for us to just clamber up without queuing. It was raining, windy and cold so we didn’t loiter any longer than it took to take a quick start photo before the 10 minute dash across to the easiest summit of the day, Carnedd Ugain.

The weather was changeable all day and the cloud level seemed to be settling around the 3000-foot mark. This meant that we had good views from time to time between the summits but not on them. The frequent light showers also meant that the rock was particularly slippery, making the airy scramble along the Crib Goch ridge a slow affair, but thrilling non the less.

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Dan carefully making his way along the slippery rocky ridge of Crib Goch. 

Once the summit of Crib Goch was bagged we set off along the north ridge and down the scree slopes into the quiet confines of Cwm Uchaf. We found this descent to be the most navigationally challenging section. With the cloud coming and going and with no paths to follow, it was a case of picking our way down avoiding the crags and bogs, which also made for slow progress. This is definitely a section worth recceing if you’re serious about getting a good time. Eventually we found a good path running along Cwm Glas Mawr which lead us down to the road and the easy running to Nant Peris.

There is a toilet block in the park and ride car park just off the main road here that can be used for topping up water, but both of us were still well stocked so we cracked on with the rather tedious climb up the grassy flank of Elidir Fawr.

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Suffering on the climb up to Elidir Fawr

To reach the summit of Elidir Fawr we had to gain 2700 feet in just over 2 miles. Any thoughts of running were put far behind us and we marched up this mono-pitch slope, calves burning all the way to the summit shelter. After a brief rest and a bite to eat, we made the most of the runnable terrain at this end of the Glyderau and made good progress over Y Garn and up to the summit of Glyder Fawr.

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Enjoying the runnable terrain while it lasted. (Photo credit – Dan Lewis)

The slippery rock again slowed our progress over Glyder Fach and Tryfan where I had my only down point of the day. I found the scramble up the south ridge of Tryfan particularly draining, coming as it does just after the half way mark, when legs are starting to feel tired but the end is still far from in sight. What was in sight though was Ogwen Cottage far below us, where we resolved to have a bit of a break, a cup of tea and some food.

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Looking down to Llyn Ogwen from the summit of Glyder Fach

While the record time of 7 minutes to get from the top of Tryfan to the road was very safe, we made decent progress and we were happy to wander into the café and to take in some bread and soup and ignore the looming presence of Pen yr Ole Wen for half an hour or so.

The climb up Pen yr Ole Wen is probably the most physically demanding section of the challenge, however, The knowledge that the lofty runnable ridges of the Carneddau are the prize for this effort, made it psychologically easier. It’s still a slog though and picking the right line up the mountain is not easy. After a few false summits the top did eventually appear through the mist and I started to really enjoy the running. Despite the tiredness in my legs, I knew that we had broken the back of the route and that the terrain between here and Foel Fras was a lot gentler than what was behind us.

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Showing no signs of suffering at the top of Pen yr Ole Wen!

We quickly took in the summit of Carnedd Dafydd and picked a good line around the flank of Carnedd Llewelyn to reach Yr Elen. This little section is also worth a recce if you’re precious about the seconds, as the path disappears about half way along the traverse and you could easily end up loosing/gaining unnecessary height if you take the wrong line.

After the yomp up the west ridge, the summit plateaux of Carnedd Llewlyn was ensconced in cloud. I made my usual mistake of getting my map and compass out only once I was already lost, so it took a while to find the summit cairn. From here on we were in the mist all the way to the finish, but the summits of Foel Grach and Carnedd Gwenllian were quickly dispatched.

It was on the rocky outcrop that marks the summit of Carnedd Gwenllian that I noticed we had just 15 minutes to make it to the finish in order to scrape in under the 10-hour mark. While this wasn’t our original target, it was enough motivation for me to get my head down, tell my legs to shut up, and get it done. We reached the Trig point that marks the end of the challenge in 9 hours and 55 minutes and were rewarded for our efforts by the mist dissipating in the cool evening air to reveal the sight of the mountains we had Just traversed in the fog in their full glory.

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The Carneddau from Foel Fras

As the sun set and the full moon rose we walk/jogged our way back over Carendd Llewelyn and down to the Ogwen valley just making it to the road as the darkness made walking without a head torch difficult. The moon lit our way back to the car and we were both relieved to finally sit down after 14 hours on our feet.

Kalenji Kit

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the kit I was using much. That’s because I didn’t notice it. This is a big compliment, as it meant that it all did exactly what I wanted it to do.

Kalenji Gilet Trail 5L Water Bladder Pockets

This retails at £20 and is an absolute steal at that price. Similar vest from the top brand competitors are at least £100 more than that and I'm struggling to think of a reason why you would pick one of them unless the fit of the Decathlon one does not suit you. It has 2 chest pockets that will take a 500mm flexible flask each, a Velcro sealed rear pouch for a 1.5 litre camelback or similar, 2 Velcro sealed waist pockets which would be suitable for gels, bars etc. and a rear elastic pouch which is big enough for a lightweight waterproof jacket and trousers and a few other bits and bobs. The capacity is more than enough for a long day in the mountains and while I was initially concerned about a lack of zip up pockets for my more valuable items, I found them to be secure and they kept everything nicely in place.

During the 3000’s run I had; 1.5 litre Camelback, 500ml soft flask, waterproof trousers, waterproof jacket, mid layer top, map, compass, whistle, micro first aid kit, 6 gels, 4 energy bars and a head torch. They all fitted in the vest fine with no space to spare.

The only problem I had with it was that there is no clip to hold my camel back in place. It fits neatly enough in the bag but when I got towards the end of my water the camelback slipped down to the base of the bag and I had to re-adjust it to get the last of my water. I found the best use of this vest is to leave the camelback at home and carry a 500ml soft flask in each chest pocket. This also gives you a bit more storage space in the rear.

That said, it is the simplicity of this vest that make me like it most. There are no extraneous straps, toggles or strings that lots of similar vests have. This may be a down side if you like to strap loads of kit to the outside of your vest but as someone who likes to have everything tucked neatly away and has low tolerance for things flapping around in the wind, it suits me perfectly.

The vest itself was a good snug fit and didn't move about at all, even on fast (for me) descents, I had no chafing or discomfort even after 14 hours on the hill. In short, I really rate this vest and I'll definitely be using it for my upcoming ultramarathons and long training runs.Decathlon full 8 

Kalenji 500ml Flexible Trail Running Water Bottle

This is a neat little 500ml flask that fits perfectly in vest chest pockets. It’s easy to drink out of, the bite valve works well and doesn't leak. You can twist the top to lock the valve which is a handy feature if you want to stash it in a bag. It’s less than half the price you'd pay for something similar from the top brands so I'll be using these a lot, as I'm slack when it comes to cleaning soft flasks and they go manky very quickly when I own them!

Kalenji Men’s Short Sleeved Perf Trail Running T-Shirt

I love running, but I also love biscuits, so I tend to run in baggy t-shirts. The top I was provided with for this review is tight fitting. While this left me a little self conscious at first, I soon (after vowing to do more sit ups and less fry ups) got used to it and definitely felt the benefit of having a top that clings to the skin when running with a hydration vest. It's just way more comfortable, it breaths better and doesn't bunch up or need adjusting on the run. It's also got a couple of little pockets that you can stash a gel or two in.

Kalenji Men’s Trail Running Compression Baggy Shorts

These have a compression liner that reaches down to just above the knee (on my little legs anyway) and a baggy cover. I have been running in shorts with a compression liner for the last 5 years and I much prefer it to not having one. It reduces chafing and feels comfortable over long distances. It does come at the cost of being a little warmer and these particular shorts are definitely on the toasty side, so I'll be wearing them more in cooler conditions. They were perfect for the mixed weather we had for the 3000s though and performed well throughout the day with no discomfort. There are plenty of pockets. Two with zips for your valuables and 4 without for gels and the like. This feels a bit excessive to me as I'm either doing a short (10 miles or less) run where I don’t carry anything or a long (20 miles+) run where I'll have a bum-bag/vest. However, if you’re the sort that likes to take your phone and a couple of gels with you on a half marathon this is a really useful feature. Since having these, I have found they have become my ‘go to’ pair of shorts for all of my long runs and races.

Kalenji Trail 500 Glacier Running Glasses

Not a huge amount to say about these. I didn’t wear them for the 3000’s as the sun didn’t show its face all day. I did wear them for a couple of my training runs on the Malvern hills and they stayed put and only steamed up when I was really pushing it on the climbs so were up to the job. I wasn't blown away by the comfort or the style but they're an inexpensive pair of sunglasses so you’re getting what you paid for there!

Kalenji Kiprun Thick Socks

These weren’t included in the kit Decathlon sent me, but I’ve been wearing these for all of my runs for the last 3 years. I wore one pair, without changing them, for the full 95 miles of the West Highland Way race without a single blister or sore spot so I recon they’re up to the job.

Kalenji Kiprun Trail MT Mens Trail Running Shoes

I have to admit that I didn’t wear these for the 3000s (sorry Decathlon!). I was only 3 weeks out from the biggest race of my year (Glencoe Skyline) and was too nervous of risking injury by wearing something I wasn’t familiar with. I’ll give them a few good outings later in the year and do a full review then.


I haven’t done enough miles to really test how well this gear copes with wear and tear, but as far as comfort, performance and ease of use is concerned it really hits the mark. I’m yet to test the shoes properly but I can safely say I’ll be using the rest of the kit again and again. I was particularly impressed with the hydration vest and the shorts. These have both made it to being my first choice of kit for my long runs and I’m sure, when I’ve had time to do more sit-ups, the t-shirt will join them. Most importantly, this kit allowed me to have an epic day running the mountains in complete comfort, and that’s everything I wanted from it.

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