Even before I left for the desert a lot of people were asking what kit I was taking. Since I’ve been back not a week goes by where I don’t get asked for advice on what kit to take for next year’s race. So I thought I would compile a list of all the kit and food I took and give them all little review so that if anyone is looking for kit for a multistage ultra they can see what worked for me. If you need any advice or have any questions about the kit just comment below and I will answer!
So without further a do:
Bag: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20
I had tried the offical Marathon des Sables pack produced by WAA but it was overly complicated and felt too fragile. I was proved correct as most I knew who had one experienced one problem or other with them. The Fastpack was down right incredible. It features a roll top close so as I began to eat my food the bag would need less space so I could simply roll the bag down and limit the movement of the kit within it. The fit was spot on and I experienced no rubbing but that took a lot of trial and error in training. The pole storage on the front was perfect and the water bottles from Raidlight fitted great. The external pockets were a little lacking which is why I brought the Salomon waist belt last minute. I also struggled to find a place for my roll matt so enlisted help to create a velcro system for the back which thanks to the loops on the back was simple to create. For anyone thinking about bags for Marathon des Sables or any multiday ultra, go try on an Ultimate Direction bag and thank me later.
Poles: Leki Micro RCM
These we an absolute god send. I cannot recommend these poles more highly. They are lightweight and fold down to three pieces so easy to carry. They also come with glove attachments that you use to clip into the pole allowing for effortless use. They also have a large cork section at the top for grip which never got sweaty or slippery.
Water Bottles: Raidlight Press to Drink Hard Bottle 750ml
Bulky and annoying at times but they worked well. They sat quite high up in the Fastpack and I could have adjusted the straws but having them occasionally poking into my face was a good reminder to keep drinking! One problem that was of my own making was when you put in an effervescent tablet water will try and escape out the straw causing leakage.
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 935
I will be doing a more comphrensive review of my running watch in a future post but for now all I need say is it is a brilliant watch with a brilliant battery life. Was the perfect watch for the conditions.
Waistbelt: Salomon Pulse Belt
This was a brilliant last minute purchase. I used it to store my phone and rubbish during the race. But the best bit was the loops usually used to store poles which I used to store a water bottle when I picked up extra water at checkpoints then I could carry in my water bottles.
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 13 (Gifted)
Not one blister. I think that is as good as it comes for Marathon des Sables shoe reviews. They were comfortable throughout and never felt any rubbing or hot spots. I went a whole size larger as the pair I trained in were a little on the tight side and with your feet swelling in the heat they fitted perfectly. Grip coped well in the rocky terrain and I never felt any thorns or sharp rocks through the sole unlike a lot of other shoes people wore. My shoes honestly still looked brand new by the end of the race. The wear on some of the other brands were pretty shocking, with people having to super glue the soles of their shoes back together.
Socks: Injinji Midweight Toesocks
I have been using these socks since I started running and they did not disappoint in the desert. The only thing that was annoying was if they got sand in them as they were a real pain to clear every toe of every grain. They are a piece of kit I recommend to anyone getting into running and can do so with even more confidence after they did so well in the desert too.
Gaiters: MyRaceKit Desert Gaiters and Raidlight Desert Gaiters.
I took two pairs simple out of fear of one ripping and I’d be stuck with one shoe filling with sand all the time. I used myRaceKit ones for much of the race until the long day where they caused some pretty horrendous cankles and while prickly heat was caused by both it was a lot less pronounced in the Raidlight ones. Both feature little kickguards to help protect against stones ripping the material and I had no issues with tears. The reason I only used the Raidlight ones until the Marathon stage is because their sizing is quite limited and since I have size 12 feet they struggled to fit which caused my left shoe to pinch in. This had resulted in a hot spot during training and I was worried that it might cause real issues in the race but I had no issues with it on the marathon stage at all and wish I had put them on earlier because the way they fit around the ankle is a lot more comfortable than the myRaceKit ones.
Top: X-Bionic Fennec Short Sleeve
The website for this top has the most amount of marketing spiell I have ever read, their website sounds more like they are selling spaceship components: “The microcapillary structure of the filaments also increase heat storage and insulation capacity”. While I’m not sure I buy in to all the hype and out of all the kit I wore this was my least favourite I would still recommend you try this top out if you are going to attempt a desert or high heat ultra. While the marketing might be way way over the top I didn’t struggle in the heat as much as I feared and this may in part be down to this top. Just as a prewarning to those larger runners like myself, it isn’t the most flattering!
Shorts: Ice X Compression Shorts
I had been using these lycra shorts for a few months before MdS and loved them but weren’t too sure if they would fair that well after seven days of not washing them in the Sahara. But I was really impressed with how they coped and with no chaffing and minimal glutes and quad pain I have ordered another pair this week to keep using them.
Hat: Myracekit Desert Cap
I have a giant head so finding one that fitted was half the battle really. It came with the desert attachment to keep the searing sun off your neck and it did the trick. Hardly the most fashionable thing but the desert was not particularly the place for the fashion concious.
Headwear: Buff x2
Wore it around my wrist for most of the race to mop the sweat of my brow and to pour water on to cool my body down at times of extreme heat. I also used it to cover my face when the sand storms came in. At night I would either wear it on my head to keep me warm or over my eyes to protect against the headtorches of people heading out for a late night wee.
Warm Layer: OMM Rotor Smock
Really pleased with this last minute eBay purchase for the cold nights. The top is super lightweight made with a synthetic insulated material that despite its weight was incredibly warm. One of the big pluses is that it packs into its own zipped kangaroo pocket to create a pillow. I would stuff extra clothes inside the pocket and with the fleece inner-lining it was a really comfortable pillow. I used it during my training runs in the UK and it stood up well against snow and rain but it certainly isn’t waterproof! I will be packing this top for most ultras I run in the future.
Sleeping Mat: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite
I went for this mat rather than the inflatable ones as many runners I had spoken to had popped theirs on a thorn or sharp stone and wished they’d used this one instead. It is incredibly lightweight and feels remarkably comfortable considering it looks like a torture device. I cut about a quarter of it off to save on weight and space as it is quite bulky.
Sleeping Bag: Yeti Fever Zero
I think choosing my sleeping bag was the hardest kit choice of the race. There are some truly ridiculus prices for sleeping bags that are recommended by some websites. Having already paid a large fortune on this race I simply couldn’t spend anymore so shopped around for the cheapest sleeping bag I could find. I picked the Fever Zero because it was heavily recommended by a few runners I had met and it is crazily lightweight. It is like holding air, weighing just 280 grams, yet still kept me warm and snug in those cold Sahara nights. I didn’t use a major retailer in the UK, instead opting to use a German website that had it for £205 vs the £360 price tag on most websites. It scrunches up to the size of a Pringles tin and I actually used the bag my poles came in to store it and my warm jacket, attaching it to the side of my bag.
Charger: Veho Pebble Explorer Pro
This is a battery pack that is recommended by most MdS websites and I followed the pack on this one as I didn’t want to run the risk of buying one that couldn’t cope with the heat. It is a heavy piece of kit so if you are going for a decent place in the race I would opt for a smaller option but I was glad to have brought it. I would use it to charge my phone and watch each morning and I still had 20% left at the end.
Pillow: Klymit Pillow X
Folds away to nothing but was a pretty sizeable pillow when inflated. Will defintely be using this one again.
Headtorch: Black Diamond Spot
This headtorch was fantastic, with three different settings (two brightening white lights and a red light). The red light was great for use in the camp as it didn’t disturb others and the brightness of the lamp during the long stage was a literal life saver. With both white lights on full it does drain the battery life pretty quickly but since we had to pack a mandatory extra pair of batteries this wasn’t an issue.
Suntan Cream: Reimann P20
SPF 50 and highly water reistant. Seriously cannot recommend this suntan cream enough. Never had to reapply during the shorter stages. Also had a suntan lip balm which I would constantly reapply and it worked well.
Cooker: Esbit all-in-one Cookset
Brilliant, lightweight and crucially came with a little windproof section to burn the fuel in. This was the best purchase I made when it came to kit as it would cook my water for food effortlessly and packed away really well. I used my spare shoelace to keep it all together while in my pack which limited the rattling around. The little handles made pour the hot water a doddle even when I was incredible sleep deprived cooking my hot food during the long stage. This is one of my top tips for anyone doing Marathon des Sables or any other multistage race in the future.
Toiletries: Wooden toothbrush and travel-size toothpaste. 100ml sprayable deodorant for my pits, my bits and my feet each day to try and reduce chaffing and blisters (it worked). 24 Paracetamol. Antiseptic gel and wipes. Plaster tape.
Flip Flops: I packed some to walk around the camp at night as I want to maximise the time out of my running shoes to allow for my feet to dry out and recover. They ended up becoming the communal flip flops for the whole tent.
Mandatory Kit and Miscisllaenaous Bits: Whistle. Knife. Anti-venom pump. Signalling mirror. Aluminium survival sheet. 200 euros. Folable Spork. Extra shoelace. Gaffer Tape.
Great British Porridge: This porridge was a real find in the lead up to MdS. Made with oats, dates, coconut milk, peanuts, strawberries and chia seeds and needs only hot water and a few seconds to turn it into a really tasty and hearty breakfast. It isn’t marketed as an expedition food but having tried some of the boil in the bag porridge options this was in a whole other league in terms of taste and consitency. I added in a couple of tablespoons of rolled oats to every portion just to add a bit more texture, which really boosted it.
Nescafe Gold Latte: I used these sachets to give me a really tasty caffeine kick every morning and actually ate one straight out of the packet during the long stage to try and wake me up. Wouldn’t recommending eating it but I would recommend bringing something like this if you are a coffee addict like me.
Mid Race Fuel:
Clif Bar: I am not a massive fan of the other flavours of Clif Bar but the Alpine Museli Mix was brilliant. I would chomp down on one each morning after about an hour on the course and the mix of peanuts, raisins, chocolate and seeds was a real pick me up.
Torq Gels: A lot of people thought I was mad bringing gels to the desert but they worked incredibly well in the heat. The flavours were Apple Crumble, Rhubarb and Custard and Lemon Drizzle so I had some home comfort in the taste of them as well as the hit of energy I needed.
High 5 Tabs: I used the tropical flavour of these efferphesant electrolyte tablets. The race organiser for the UK contingent called them fairy dust but I would argue that they aided my consumption of water at the very least!
Peanuts and Salami: Salt and fat what more can you ask for!
Dried Mango: Something sweet and chewy I could keep in my mouth while drinking to distract myself from the masses amounts of tasteless water I had to consume.
ForGoodness Recovery Shake: I would pop the powder in to about 500ml of water straight after I finished each stage and not only did it aid recovery it tasted like a chocolate milkshake. I usually hate the flavour of protein shakes but I actually looked forward to this one. I had used the shake extensively during training and I really think it helped repair my battered body for the next day ahead.
Expedition Foods: For the main meals I followed the crowd and brought the brand that most other competitors buy, I chose to go for the 1,000 calorie option rather than the 800 simply because I am a larger runner so burnt more calories per day than most. Decanting it into zip lock bags rather than their boil in the bag bags saves a lot of weight and you can just cook them in a cut up water bottle. The flavours for the most part were pretty good with the Chicken Tikka and Carbonara coming out on top for me and the Hotpot being the least flavoursome. I mean they aren’t going to win any Masterchef trophies but they filled my belly and kept me fuelled.