Marathon des Sables Gear/Kit List

Marathon des Sables logoWith the 2010 Marathon des Sables (25th edition) kicking off in just a few weeks, it’s finally time to post my gear list from the 2009 version of the race. Where relevant, I’ve noted how I modified some items as well as some items I’d replace or omit in a future desert stage race. For those unfamiliar with the Marathon des Sables, it’s a self-supported, 7-day, 150 mile (250 kilometer) stage race across the Moroccan Sahara. The only assistance one receives during the course of the event are use of an 8-person Berber tent, a minimal ration of water, and emergency medical care.

I hope that this list will help others in planning for the Marathon des Sables or any other desert stage race. If you’ve run a desert stage race, please leave a comment noting what other items you felt were indispensable, what items in my kit you’d upgrade, or, more simply, your gear list. If you’re preparing for a stage race of your own, please feel free ask questions.

Marathon des Sables teams

Me (left) sporting some gear with my Dreamchasers teammates, Michael Wardian and Ted Archer, after the final stage.

Apparel

  • Atayne Shortsleeve T (157 grams) – I wore this one shirt morning, noon, and night at MdS. While not the lightest, it was comfortable and never smelled nasty despite my being able to hold it horizontally by race’s end.
  • Brooks Element Shorts (155 g) – Again, not the lightest, but these are my absolute favorite shorts that were well tested in the heat. In 2009, I brought an extra pair. I would not do that again. When I changed shorts, I left my old pair in the desert to save weight.
  • Montbell UL Wind Parka (85 g -> 84 g) – No one makes a jacket that’s significantly light than Montbell. I had this hooded version from a previous race, but next go around I’d shave another 2/3rds of an ounce by going with the Wind Parka’s lighter sibling, the Montbell UL Wind Jacket.
  • Montbell UL Wind Pants (65 grams -> 64 g) – Without a doubt, I’d bring these pants again. They block the wind and weigh next to nothing. I saved a gram by cutting off 3 tags and an inch off the end of each draw string. I stored both my Mont-Bell items in the pants’ stuff sack (3 g) which I also trimmed down. [Note: Don’t trim gear late at night. I cut a small hole just the waistline of my pants.]
  • Drymax Maximum Protection Running Socks (61 g) – My notes from before the trip suggest I took a spare pair of Drymax Max Pro socks and a pair of thinner Drymax Hot Weather socks. For some reason, I recall wearing one pair of socks throughout the race. Regardless, I had no blisters worth mentioning! For a future MdS, I’d once again wear the Max Pros and, at most, carry one pair of Dry Hot Weather socks as back up… but probably not.
  • Original Buff (38 g) – My dust mask, knit hat, and sleeping blinders for MdS. Don’t come without it! [iRunFar Buff review]
  • Raidlight Hat with Removable Neck Cape (weight unknown) – I didn’t go for the lightest possible hat. Instead, I opted for a wicking, white hat with a removable neck cape to keep sun off my ears and neck. The hat worked well and looked great with the iRunFar logo embroidered on both the front of the hat and on the cape.
  • Discardable Clothes (weight unknown) – As racers spend a full day and night in bivouac before the first stage, I brought an entirely disposable set in order to gain another day of freshness out of my race clothes. Don’t worry, the Berbers promptly scavenged my clothes, which were in good shape and bound for donation.

Footwear
Prior to last year’s MdS, I authored an article about the Footwear of the Marathon des Sables. As noted in the article, I wore Montrail Mountain Masochists (non-GORE-TEX version) for MdS. I paired the Mountain Masochists (iRunFar Montrail Mountain Masochist review) with 4 Deserts Gaiters. Rather than gluing the anchor velcro to the shoes, I had a cobbler sew velcro to the very bottom of the shoe’s uppers. I’m happy to report that no sand got in my shoes while racing the Marathon des Sables!

Pack and Sleep System
As with shoes, I’ve previously published my thoughts on my MdS pack and sleep system. In brief, I loved my OMM Classic Marathon 25 L pack, PhD Minim Ultra Down sleeping bag, and GossamerGear NightLight Sleeping Pad. For info on these and related components (i.e., hydration system) read the article I linked to in the open sentence of this paragraph.

Camp life Marathon des Sables

Me in the Berber tent with my sleeping bag, race pack, ... and duck taped glasses (see Luxury Items below). Photo by Michael Wardian.

Mandatory Gear
For the most part, I was quite happy with my mandatory gear choices.

  • Recta DO 150 Compass (24 g) – The absolute lightest 1-2 degree compass I could find. I ordered it from Europe!
  • Petzl e+LITE (21 g) + 2 spare batteries (7 g) – I brought the E+Lite and used it without a strap. I thought it was fine for the few hours of night running I encountered. [iRunFar Petzl e+lite review] If I were going to be moving all night, I’d likely bring a Petzl Zipka Plus2.
  • Coghlan’s Survival Sheet (51 g -> 26 g) – I cut down this lightweight survival blanket to make it even lighter.
  • Derma-Safe Folding Utility Knife (7 g) – More of a razor in a sheath than knife, but it counts.
  • Succeed S! Caps (50 caps for 60 g) – The race provided required salt tablets, but I brought my own as I’ve always found success with S! Caps. I actually went VERY light with S!Caps through MdS… maybe 10 through the whole race. Maybe my heat acclimation regimen worked!
  • Signal Mirror (<1 g) – I used a sub-1 gram circular, acrylic crafting mirror that is about a half inch in diameter. [Read up on signal mirror use in emergencies!]
  • Safety Pins (<1 g) – I found the lightest safety pins I could find – 10 x size 00 coilless safety pins.
  • US Passport (0 g) – I did NOT modify my passport! :-)
Mandatory gear MdS

Check out the mandatory light (Petzl e+LITE). I'm also sporting my Mont-Bell jacket and, if you look carefully, you can see me holding my solar charger. Photo by Michael Wardian.

Medical Kit
I’ll spare you the itemized bullet points on this one. I brought Body Glide (sample size stick – 10 g), 7 sample packets of SolRX sunscreen (sunscreen mandatory – 52 g), Aspivenom pump with large tip (venom pump mandatory – 29 g), 10 adhesive bandages of various sizes (6 g), 7 alcohol pads (tropical disinfectant mandatory – 7 g), soap (half a hotel bar – 5 g), spray hand sanitizer (16 g) [You cannot disinfect too often in camp. Seriously!], a “foot kit” (2 large GlacierGels and 2 each of small, medium, and large Blist-O-Bans – 15 g), a “med kit” (50 Excedrin, 6 No-Doz, 3 grams of lopiramide – total around 50 g), Engo – a friction reduction patch (1 large sheet – 6 g), Voltaren Gel – a large tube of a blissful, topical anti-inflammatory for my Achilles tendonitis (52 g), a heel cup also for my Achilles (34 g), athletic tape (8 g – I cut the central cardboard tube out to reduce weight), and lip balm with sunscreen … and caffeine(!) (10 g).

Luxuries

  • Prescription glasses in softbag (21 g for glasses, 9 g for small Oakley cleaning bag) – I debated long and hard before deciding to bring non-sunglasses for camp and the long (night) stage. I proceeded to break the prescription glasses during twilight on the long stage. I wouldn’t bring them next time.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste (15 g of toothpaste and 15 g ->7 g for toothbrush) – I cut the tooth brush down from 15 grams and squeezed out toothpaste I didn’t think I’d need. I’d bring this luxury again.
  • iPhone 3G + headphones (147 g) – I bought this larger iPhone to combine a music player, camera, notebook, dictaphone, games, etc. in one item. The iPhone failed at the end of the first day due to battery failure. This was unplanned. See below. I’m not sure whether or not I’d bring it to another stage race. Probably… with a better charger.
  • SolarStyle SC017 Solar Charger + Garmin Charger + Accessories (65 g for charger, 16 g, 14 g for accessories) – This solar charger was lightweight. It was also worthless. It could not charge my iPhone reliably and could barely charger my Garmin Forerunner 305. I abandoned it prior to the long stage. I had modified my Garmin dock by removing the heavy metal plate hidden in the unit.
  • Ear Plugs (5 g) – Ear plugs should be mandatory. I bought the most soundproof ear plugs I could find… and was thankful I did!
  • Baby Wipes (14 g) – Before the race, I dehydrate 83 grams of baby wipes down to 14 grams. These were appreciated. That’s all I say.
  • Face Lotion (17 g) – I brought face lotion thinking my face would be painful dry. It turns out that if you don’t have enough water to rinse your face, your body produces plenty of oil. I wouldn’t bring it next time.
Rock Oven Marathon des Sables

With few luxuries and much time, I built a rock oven with a wind shield one day. Photo by Michael Wardian.

Nutrition
I wrote about my Marathon des Sables nutrition plan before the race and am happy to report that it worked splendidly. I never had any nausea and always looked forward to the next item. Backpacker’s Pantry meals, Gu gels, Roctane gels, Clif Shot Double Espresso gels, Clif Shot Bloks, Clif White Chocolate Macadamia Bars, and a couple packs of Justin’s Nut Butter did the trick. Oh, and how could I forget First Endurance Ultragen, Cappuccino flavor twice a day! Before the race, I had fun comparing the contents and caloric density of various energy gels.

Call for Questions and Comments
As suggested earlier, I’d love to answer any questions you might have about the gear I used. I’d also love to hear what gear others have or have not found success with at “self-supporting” stage races. I’d particularly love to learn of any gear improvements – whether in functionality or weight.

There are 15 comments

  1. dan

    you covered everything but your shoes. when running in the desert i either destroy my feet with sand in my socks or i sweat with gore tex shoes.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Good point, Dan. I simply forgot to link to my shoe choice, the Montrail Mountain Masochist. I mentioned them in an article I previously wrote about shoes for the Marathon des Sables: http://www.irunfar.com/2009/03/footwear-for-marat… .

      I used the Mountain Masochists (non-GORE-TEX version) with 4 Desert gaiters: http://www.racingtheplanet.com/store/gear/footcar… . Rather than gluing the anchor velcro to the shoes, I had a cobbler sew velcro to the very bottom of the shoe's uppers. Sand never got in my shoes. :-)

  2. Grant

    you should check out the new Mont Bell Tachyon Anorak- 2.3oz, lighter than both the UL jacket and Parker and has a hood. Guess they save weight with the 1/4 length zip?

  3. Grant

    I work for the Mont Bell distributor here in New Zealand and have been reading the new catalogs cover to cover. It looks like a pretty sweet option, but all there stuff does.

    We mostly just import there mountaineering gear, so there is a heap of this lighter weight running/adventure racing type stuff I haven't gotten my hands on- yet. Have you checked out any of there running packs?

    1. Bryon Powell

      That would explain it, Grant. You'll have to keep me in the loop re MB. I'm a big fan of every product of there's I have: wind pants, wind jacket, a light synthetic parka, and the 0C super stretch sleeping bag.

      I've never run with any of Mont-Bell's packs… I didn't even realize they made 'em! Perhaps, I need to get better connections with their US operation.

  4. Bryon Powell

    I've recently received two sets of questions from an iRunFar reader. I answered them privately, but thought I'd share the answers with all of you.

    First set of MdS Questions:

    Reader – I don’t know what constitutes: “Topical Disinfectant?”

    Me – I don't know what constitutes tropical disinfectant, either. However, I brought 7 small individual packets of alcohol wipes and was told ahead of time that should be fine.

    Reader – Do they really not mind if I trim down the survival sheet?

    Me – No one ever looks so closely as to unfold your survival blanket. Unless you're at 6.50 kilos (or less) I can't imagine anyone looking at particular gear items. Just in case they do… and for your own safety, I'd make sure the blanket is functionally large. I think I basically cut mine in half. Also, find one that seems light/thin for the surface area and repackage it. I think, I eventually just used a small piece of packing tape to keep the blanket folded… and put it in a small baggy that held other necessary, but not often used items.

    Speaking of repackaging, I'm guessing you've seen info on repacking meals once you're in Morocco. If not, let me know. You can save a good deal of weight by repacking each dehydrated meal into heavy duty gallon zip lock baggy.

    Reader – Did they check your gear at any point after race start? Particularly to see if you had 2000 kCal / day (the last day is my concern).

    Me – They did not check my gear once the race started nor did they check the bag of my GF who finished second overall for the women. I'd make sure you comply the final day – it's not worth saving a few grams at the risk of being disqualified. For what it's worth, I shed lots of gear en route. For instance, any clothes that I changed out of got let behind. Every day or two, I'd pare down my med kit and other expendables.

    Reader – Are toe socks not a good idea for swelling? They work so well for me.

    Me – I've never run much in toe socks, so I can't really say. I wore Drymax Maximum Protection running socks and came out of the race with the best looking feet in my tent. If I had a blister, it must have been of a purely incidental sort.

    Set of Unsolicited Advice Accompanying My First Set of Responses:

    * You've got TP on the list. Personally, I suggest paper towels, as they hold up much better when wet (sweaty). That said, my GF just bought the small rolls of camping TP last night. Also, I highly recommend drying some baby wipes. Sprinkle a couple drops of water on them and they're a great "final rinse." Sorry for the too much information, but this is an area of your body you don't want to neglect.

    * Take good care of your e+LITE. Mike Wardian had problems after getting sand under the mode selector arm. My GF won't be bringing one this year as she didn't think it cast enough light last year. I'd likely use it again, especially since I can't see the long stage being as long.

    * I'd seriously reconsider carrying so many pairs of socks. What's the thought process behind so many? You've got plenty of time to dry 'em and shake 'em out in camp!

    * Patagonia Houdini – Likely a good jacket (lotsa folks like 'em), but if you're being really particular about weight look around and see if someone has a lighter jacket you can borrow. There are a bunch in the 3.0 ounce or lighter range.

    * Consider whether you need an extra shirt. Your shirt will dry in minutes and you'll be salty, sweaty, and dirty anyway.

    * Once you are in Morocco and have everything repackaged, start trimming the heck out of your pack. In retrospect, I'd recommend bringing three items (1) tiny scissors… or more correctly, fine pointed scissors for fine work, (2) a pair of strong scissors/swears for cutting straps, seams, etc, (3) a pair of wire cutters. Why wire cutters? To cut of buckles and other plastic bits that wold be a PITA to cut off with scissors. You should be able to cut well over a 100 grams off any pack by taking off external pockets, unneeded bungies, ends of straps, etc. I even cut down my pack as the race went along.

    Second set of MdS Questions:

    Reader – Can you purchase odds and ends in Ouarzazate prior to departing on the bus?

    Me – Do not count on purchasing odds and ends in Ouarzazate…. it's a small Moroccan city. Plan to buy your lighter there and that's it.

    Reader – Do you just take wet wipes out of their package and let them sit exposed? & Did you take a half of travel package of wet wipes?

    Me – I traveled with a full set of wet wipes. I dried them by laying them out for an hour in my hotel room. It's reeeeeaaallly dry there.

    Reader – I haven’t seen about repackaging meals? Why wait until Morocco? Do you dump contents into a Ziploc and then just use like you normally would?

    Me – We waited on repacking meal so as not to run into customs questions. To repack, we simply emptied the container of dehydrated food into the gallon freezer bags. Be sure to get the freezer bags, they're sturdy and you'll be "cooking" in them. We also cut out the nutrition info (very tight around the nutrition panel) and put that in each meal. That way we had a reference if questioned about calories in the meal. I also carried a chart with a breakdown of food and calories per day as a back up.

    Reader – Did you consider just bringing a lightweight long sleeve shirt?

    Me – I may have considered bring a light long sleeve, but didn't in the end and was fine with it. What would be it's purpose? A very light wind breaker will be lighter and keep you warmer.

  5. Gingergav

    Useful comments – thanks! I'm moving to Dubai in August so no plans to do MDS yet but your info is proving very useful as to what to take with me so I can keep running on roads and on trails when i'm there. Thanks!

    Do many people use standard road running shoes, or do they all use trail shoes?

    1. Bryon Powell

      Gingergav,
      I'm glad you find these comments useful. I'd guess that the vast majority of folks use trail shoes at MdS. Most of the race is off trail, a bit of rock protection is nice as is the added traction at times. Just make sure to find a shoe that's quite breathable rather than an overbuilt light-hiker type of trail shoe.

      -Bryon

  6. Brian Grossman

    Bryon—-I will be heading over to Morocco in April for MdS. This article is fantastic–thanks for the advice. Question on GAITERS—-what brand did you use? 4 Deserts Gaitors? Please advise on your gaiter experience and that of others. Thanks in advance for the beta.

    –BRIAN

  7. Bernardo Frau

    I have been usign your comments to prepare my check list and I am almost ready. Can you tell me the weight of the distress flare? You were very kind to even send me your excel check list but my computer failed months ago and I lost it. I have recorded 330 grams but I am not sure if I took it from your file

    Tks

  8. Tim A.

    The Darbaroud website advice is to wear loose fitting cotton clothing: I've only found one person who went for non-synthetics (based on experience of living in the desert, they found it cooler); what are your thoughts on this for the hot arid environment?

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