I know this is the post you have eagerly been waiting for, at least if you are running Marathon des Sables in 2017! I changed quite a few things from the kit I used in 2015. Just because something worked doesn’t mean that something else can’t be better and I am pleased to say that I was very happy with what I brought this year.
If you consider more or less copying my kit list (some people did for this year and with great results), just bear in mind that my main priority is to go as light as possible whilst being able to perform at a high level. This means that I sacrifice some “comfort items”. I do think there is a benefit for everyone in trying to go reasonably light, but we all have different race ambitions and we are all different. If you want to take a few extra items to enjoy the experience more then I think you should. However, if you start packing lots of stuff “just in case” the pack weight can increase at alarming rate and you could be in for a very tough race.
With the technical developments of both equipment and food you should be able to take everything you need at less than 8kg plus water (excluding your running gear & shoes) including things like charger, trekking poles, generous food supplies, foot care items and a warm enough sleeping bag. My kit weighed approximately 6.5kg plus water.
Before the race I was working with Raidlight to develop a new ultralight pack that could fulfil the demands of multi-stage racing. This was based on the new lazer cut Responsiv range of race vests. After a few iterations we came close enough to a pack would work for MDS. This was actually amazing. It was very stable, just big enough, and incredibly light weight at approximately 280 grams. My final feedback was provided to Raidlight after the race and hopefully we will see this pack in production towards the later part of 2016.
Just like in 2015 I opted for the Raidlight Classic bottles but I went for 600ml instead of 800ml like in 2015 (in reality these are 750ml). I had done some testing in the heat chamber and figured I could cope with some dehydration at the benefit of carrying less weight. I certainly found it more comfortable running with less weight. At most check points you get 1.5 litres so it’s easy enough to drink 300ml and pour the rest into your bottles. However there are exceptions when you are going into dunes or particularly long or tough sections when you get more. There were a few times when I was pushing the limits and it wasn’t fun. Whether overall it was a good decision to go for the smaller bottles or not I am slightly undecided about. I think it was but I would’t recommend it unless you are intending to race fast.
I wore the Raidlight Performer T-shirt. (Men’s version here). If anyone is curious about colour it was black. My perception is that colour is pretty irrelevant though. I wore white last year but I could’t tell the difference. I also had the Raidlight Skort (“Jupe”) which I think is an excellent piece of kit. It looks great, the skirt flaps nicely in the wind and is light weight and the shorts have pockets on the hips for snacks or other bits that you want to have to hand.
For headwear I had just a Raidlight visor. I liked the simplicity of this. It’s very light weight and the peak is long with dark underside to reduce glare.
I had the Shock Absorber N109 sports bra (the best I have found for those of use who need a bit of support).
This is always tricky as you never really know how cold it will be until you are out there. Turns out that this year it was cold as we started and then it got warmer.
My Yeti Argon Body Warmer was a superb piece of kit but given how cold it was I wished I had opted for the version with full sleeves. If you can afford it I really recommend this down jacket as it’s incredibly high quality, VERY light and keeps you warm. The men’s version is the Strato and the women’s is the Cirrus. If your sleeping bag is light weight you may need it at night and it’s great during the morning when it can be pretty cold and the last thing you want to do is crawl out of your sleeping bag.
If your budget doesn’t reach to this or you want to spend your money elsewhere then check out the Raidlight Combi Duvet which is a sleeping bag that also transforms into a gilet. It is heavier but a good value option that works well in the desert.
I made these light weight flip flops out of a pair of spare insoles and a shoe lace that I had with me. Inspired by Sondre Amdahl (read Sondre’s MDS blog here). These worked very well considering the very simple construction and the fact I made them in camp out of what I had available.
Shoes & Gaiters
Last year I rain HOKA ONE ONE Clifton. See my review of these here. They worked really well but knowing the race was longer this year I was pondering a more durable shoe. After extensive testing of the HOKA Huaka I decided this model would be a safe option. I wore these in Lanzarote during a training camp I hosted with Ian Corless and I was impressed with how they performed over the volcanic terrain which was covered with sharp rocks. They are also light weight which of course was a key factor. The RMAT foam makes this model more resistant to both abrasion from rocks as well as compression from the heat and with the generous cushioning it really is a great desert racing shoe. I will definitely take this to my future races this year.
Like last year I wore the myRaceKit gaiters and had no issues at all. I made a customisation this year (for weight saving purposes) which involved removing the velcro and stitching the gaiters straight to the shoes, also inserting a zip in order to make this possible. It worked really well and I was happy with the solution. I got no sand in my shoes.
Just like last year I opted for the Yeti Fever Zero. This weighs approximately 252 grams in a size M without the stuff sack. This bag has the same rating as the Yeti Passion One but only a half zip. I had a mummy liner with me but I ended up handing it in with my main luggage in kit check.
I also had a Thermarest Prolite XS sleeping mat weighing in at 233 grams. This was excellent and provided some extra warmth and comfort. It also served as back padding in my pack as it has a thin foam layer in it.
The Exped Air Pillow (45 grams) was great and well worth taking. Most nights I put my backpack under my knees as a bolster to raise my legs, hence the recommendation for a pillow.
Earplugs are essential and the buff was handy as a facemask. It was good to be able to sleep when I needed to irrespective of what else was going on.
My food was vacuum packed in order to save weight and volume, no different from last year. All in all I had in the region of 19,000 kcal, weighing in at about 4.5kg. This was a mix of freeze dried meals and smoothies from LYO FOOD, Ultra Fuel plus other powders, savoury snacks, noodles, gels, nuts, dried fruit and sweets. My food worked very well. I was particularly impressed with how well the LYO FOOD’s meals rehydrated in cold water as I hadn’t taken a stove this year. It really was just a matter of waiting a few minutes. This is unusual for such high quality food and a nice surprise for sure. I also appreciated the freshness of the LYO smoothies and drinks.
When planning food for this race I think it is important to not get blinded by calories per gram. You need actually be able to digest the food and fuel your running. We are all different. Some people get on well with a fat dominant diet and some get on better with carbohydrates. My experience is that as the race goes on you will crave more savoury foods and start to reject the sweet. Ultimately you need to take food that has worked in training and try to aim for a variety of flavours. Plan the food based on the race structure and your race ambitions.
I normally “front load” calories so that the last two days (Marathon stage and the charity stage) have the least amount of calories. This is because the competitive race finishes after the Marathon so carrying around a lot of food for a week just to have a nice dinner once the race is over is not going to help… For the last day I just have Macadamia nuts.
I often get asked if you need to take goggles. I don’t think it is necessary personally but they might be useful for those wearing contact lenses. For the third year I was pleased to have Sziols X-Kross glasses. The frame weighs 18 grams and these are so far the only sun glasses for running I have found that fits really well on me (a small head and long eye lashes makes it very complicated to find suitable glasses!). The added sweat band is an excellent feature and the nose clip is comfortable and non-slip. Interchangeable lenses of great quality and with ventilation makes these glasses my preferred choice for running.
Compulsory Kit from myRaceKit
Black Diamond Ion Headtorch + spare batteries
Swiss Army knife
Lighter (standard type)
Gurney Goo anti-chafe
Hypafix tape (The best choice for toe taping. Thin, low friction and very good adhesive)
Hypodermic needles (included in myRaceKit foot care kits)
Tingerlaat Sun Cream (2 x 20ml tubes, 1 application per day was all I needed)
Andrex travel loo roll
myRaceKit Multi-Stage Personal Care Kit
Some extra Wemmi Wipes and a PackTowl (cut down) plus a few soap leaves for washing
Garmin 920XT x 2 (in order to avoid charge cable)
Breo wrist watch (12g)
2 x iPod Shuffle with Yurbuds headphones
Compulsory GPS Tracker & Chip