With 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.
- 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 running 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 running 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.
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.
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! :-)
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).
- 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.
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.