Thursday 19 April 2012

Marathon des Sables kit: what worked and what didn't

So here is the final list of kit that I took out to the desert. Be warned. If you decide to do MDS you will face down a week of packing, unpacking, panic packing, panic unpacking, repacking, then ditching half of what you originally packed on day 4!

My bag at the start, without full water bottles and the supplied kit weighed 9kg. I figure the only way to get it down further would be to omit the luxuries - iphone, spare shorts etc, and to go low on food. Don't take a stove, repackage your meals, take the bare minimum of calories.

There is also a definite knack to packing your kit. This is what worked for me:-
Food first - day 7 up to day 1. Pack recovery snacks separately to race food.
Then the rest of your stuff on top.
Pack a bag with your camp kit - then everything you need is in one bag - headtorch, ear plugs, spork etc etc.
Camp clothes in a separate bag.
Pack a separate medical bag. Keep a few essential medical supplies in an easy to get to pocket when on the road.
Pack your passport, cash and card in a separate pocket or right at the bottom.
Pack your hopefully-won't need-but-if-I-do-I'll-need-them-quick in a separate bag in another pocket e.g venom pump.

When on the run I kept loo roll, tape and medical stuff in the side mesh pockets. In my front Raidlight pocket I kept food, salt tablets, tape, zeozorb, bodyglide and lipbalm.

Anyway - all good fun.

Backpack - Raidlight Runner. 32l. The bag itself was brilliant. I didn't have any problems with it at all. I ended up borrowing someone's smaller Raidlight pocket bumbag to add to the front which I would definitely, definitely recommend. It meant I could keep essentials close to hand - lipbalm, salt tablets, food, tape, bodyglide. I also wouldn't buy the 32l again. It was way too big. 20-25l is plenty.

Lots of people suffered from chafing around the shoulders and bag. I was very fortunate not too. I'm not sure if this was because I trained a lot with the bag (not necessarily a heavy one), but it probably helped get me used to carrying it. I also taped my back and shoulders and used bodyglide to help.

Hydration - One Raidlight bottle and one For Goodness Shakes bottle. Hated, hated, hated the Raidlight bottle. I knew I would. It leaked randomly and after day 4 the top got stuck so you had to pull the whole straw off to have a drink. I'm sure there is a gap in the market for a well-designed desert bottle!

Sleeping bag - Mammut Ajungilak. Great sleeping bag. Can't fault it. The weather this year was a little unpredictable so I was either way too cold at night or way too hot. Not really much you can do about this other than take a liner, or wrap yourself in your survival sheet.

Sleeping mat - Thermarest Neoair extra lite. This was a rubbish choice really. It punctured on day 1. You can still use it - it is a slow puncture, but I just couldn't be bothered to dig out the repair kit to try to sort it out. If you are lucky and it doesn't puncture it is fairly good. It keeps you away from the cold ground. Otherwise the ground isn't really that bad to kip on. They provide a carpet to sleep on. You are not directly on the sand. I'd take a foam mat if I would do it again.

Trainers - Brookes Cascadia. Great choice though I did get severe shin splints in my leg shin, so not sure if that was partly down to the trainer or to the terrain. I've never had them before. Otherwise the tainers were very comfortable. I was very lucky to only get blisters the first few days, and on my toes, so not too much of a problem to carry on with.

Brookes were also very grippy and not too heavy - great for the long days and traversing up and the down the rocky parts.

Gaiters - Sandbaggers. Could not fault. I think I got a bit of sand in my shoes on the last day (6 miles of dunes) but not much. Would definitely recommend them. I bought the velcro ones and got the velcro sewn into my trainer. I then gaffer taped that also.

I would say they rip easier than the Raidlight gaiters, so be careful when going through the many acacia plants. Take gaffer tape and needle and thread for repair jobs.

Torch - Petzl lite. Great. Essential.

Spare batteries - Did not use.

10 safety pins - Used only for pinning my number.

Compass - Did not use. It is pretty essential that you do know how to use a compass though so worth having a play before you go!

Lighter - Essential if you want hot food!

Whistle - On rucksack already. Did not use.

Knife with metal blade - I took 4 Deserts Jelly Card. I didn't use the knife but I did use the scissors an awful lot to cut tape. Would recommend this.

Tropical Disinfectant - Tea Tree Oil. Did not use.

Anti-Venom pump - Did not use.

Signalling mirror - Did not use. Could not bare to see what state my hair was in!

One aluminium survival sheet - Did not use, but could be useful if you are cold at night!

Road-book - Some light bedtime reading!

Distress flare - Annoyingly heavy.

Salt tablets - Essential! Liked popping my salt tablets. Quite staggering how much you have to take. Each tablet has .5g of salt in it. They recommend up to 20 tablets a day!!

Punch card - Attached to rucksack.

Luminous stick - Given to you on day 4.

1x running top - Under Armour Heatgear pink baggy top. Brilliant. No problems. Kept me as cool as possible.

[2]x running socks - 2x pairs of Injinji toe socks. 1x pair Hilly mono skin. 1x pair Bridgedale Trail. These all worked fine. I started off wearing two pairs but progressed to just wearing the toe socks. In hindsight I wonder whether I should have just gone with the toe socks as my feet were incredibly swollen from day 1. I'd also probably buy the Injinji compression socks as well. Injinji toe socks are really good. I wore the mono skins one morning and felt the difference. I felt like I would get blisters really quickly. The toe socks helped keep each toe separate and doing it's own thing, minding it's own business.

2x running shorts - Under Armour Heatgear again. 1x baggy. 1x tight. Both were great. I'd probably only take 1 pair - the baggy pair next time.

1x hat with neck guard - Essential!

1x buff - old one. Blue! Another essential. Quadrupled up as a snot rag, hat, sleeping mask and wind shield!

1x bra - I took an extra sports bra in case my one started rubbing. It didn't so I probably didn't need 2 bras, but was nice to have a change half way through!

1x sunglasses - I managed to get a pair of reasonably cheap prescription wraparound sunglasses which was great news. The glasses have a prescription insert attached to them which you then get your optician to add your prescription. The glasses were a little odd to start with as they feel a bit chunky and they also slightly distort the ground when you go downhills, but otherwise they did a great job.

Glasses - for the camp/night stage. I didn't bother with contacts at all, though I took a couple of spare pairs just in case the glasses broke.

1x spare t-shirt - Even when dirty it was nice to change out of your running top into another top so I would take this again.

1x windstopper - Used a little when it was cold in the mornings. Not essential though.

1x lightweight fleece - I bought a lovely red Montane fleece which was lovely to put on in the cold evenings.

1x slippers - I took Trekmate polar slippers. These were great in one sense as they protected your feet from the sand and were really comfortable, but on the other hand, they did make my feet really sweaty so I was paranoid about my feet getting worse! I think I probably would take these again as they were brilliantly comfortable if you had blisters. Otherwise I would probably take sandals with one strap across them, not flip flops.

1x leggings - Old pair of skins.

1x stove - Esbit pocket stove. Great. You can get by without this but you will be eating cold food for the whole week.

1x cooking pan - Esbit titanium pot. Great.

Fuel - Esbit solid fuel tabs. Bit of a pain to light when it gets windy but boil the water fine once they are lit.

1x spoon / fork - Esbit spork. Good.

Wind shelter - tin foil. Didn't bother. Just used bits and bobs from around the tent. The big water bottles you get given as rations generally work fairly well as they are a bit taller as well.

Hand sanitizer - Essential. It's really important to get into a good routine with hand washing. Tummy troubles are the last thing you need out there.

Foot and back tape - Dreamtape and Hapla. I took a couple of different tapes and of different sizes. They both worked well once I'd practiced taping my feet a bit - there is a definite knack to it! I'd probably only take one type of tape again as Doc Trotters have loads of the stuff.

Painkillers - Ibuprofen. I took 2 a day. Don't know if it did anything. I also took more when my shin started causing me problems. Doc Trotters also carry paracetamol and tramadol - both of which I used!

Suncream - P20. This stuff was amazing. It looks like oil but you just need a small amount and it protects you all day. I ended up with a fairly nice yet random light tan!

Body glide - I found this useful. I applied it on my back, shoulders and on my feet.

Engo blister pack - I took these but did not use them. I don't think I'd take them again.

Immodium - Was used. Let's just leave it at that!

Friars Basalm - I took a tiny pot of this with a small brush to help make the tape stick. I did use this quite a lot.

Zeosorb - I took a small pot of this too which I used a lot. It helped keep my feet dry.

Alcohol pads - Really useful. One to clean your feet in general and two to clean blisters pre taping. However Doc Trotters do have these so you can get them from them.

Lip balm - Essential. My lips got really chapped from the wind and sand more than anything.

Compeed - Here's a tip! Compeed melts in the Sahara so do not put these on blisters! Compeed is great for hotspots though so I would take this again.

Anti inflammatory gel - I used this a lot for various aches and pains. Not sure if it did much though.

Water purification tabs - A just-in-case. Don't think I'd take these again though as 1) there is no water about 2) there are more than enough MDS bods about. I would think it's nigh on impossible to get lost for long anymore.

iphone with Speck cover - I used this for music on day 4 and 6 and for taking some pictures. A lot of people's solar chargers did not work so prepare for this! I just left my iphone off until I needed it.

Sewing kit - Needle and thread in case of emergencies. Did not use.

Toothbrush and paste - My teeth were clean if nothing else!

Toilet roll - Took the roll out of the middle, then took about half a roll. Lasted well. Thank goodness.

Ear plugs - Useful to combat 500 odd snoring folk.

Watch - Breo. I don't usually wear a watch but found this really good to have as you can monitor when you last ate or drank, and when roughly the next checkpoint will come!

Cotton buds - Didn't use.

Pen and paper - Alas! I was going to write along the way but I was so tired each day I didn't.

Gaffer tape for gaiters - Took a tiny bit spare in case of emergencies.

Cord to fix pack - Ditto.

Passport and travel details - I took my passport, bank card and noted down my insurance details.

EUR 200 - You have to take this for emergencies so I'm told. It was also fairly useful for the shop at the end you had to visit to collect your finisher's t-shirt. Cynical - moi?!


  1. Thanks for this post. It's one of a couple I'm finding really handy as I get ready for the 2014 MdS!


  2. Started training for 2015 this year. Very helpful run through of the pack. Thanks for the blog, and big respect for taking on the toughest race on earth!!


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