This sounds easy right? Anybody can do it! Stuff 8lbs (3.7kg) of foods, 6lbs (2.8kg) of gear and off we go to the races. Technically, that’s correct, but nothing could be further from the truth. Once you start packing, you will realize that everything starts to add up and before you know it, you’ll be left with a 30lbs (14kg) backpack. Carrying that extra weight running in any multi-stage race will have you regretting it on the first day.
If you follow my four basic principles to packing for a multistage race, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Multi-Stage Race Veteran!
1. Buy the lightest gear that you find comfortable
There are no ifs or buts about it, you have to spend a pretty dough if you want to get the lightest gear. 50g here, another 50g there, and before you know it your backpack weighs a ton.
Here is a list of items that you can save a significant amount of weight:
Sleep Bag System
If one drops by a local outdoor store and purchased a regular down sleeping bag rated for 0C (32F), it will probably weigh in the range of 900g – 1000g. But, we are here to cut the weight down to a minimum, so let’s get down to the details. Down Sleeping Bag weight is based on three factors: fill power, quantity of feathers, and weight of the fabric. The higher the fill power, the fluffier the feather, and the more air it traps. This translates to higher insulating power. The amount feathers inside a sleeping bag also contribute to the warmth of a sleeping bag (no kidding right?). Finally, with better and better stitching techniques, fabric technology manufacturers can make fabric extremely lightweight while retaining most of its durability. A high-end sleeping bag can weigh a fraction of the amount of a regular sleeping bag. I would highly recommend that all competitors bring a down jacket with them as well because out in the desert, temperatures drops quickly at night and early in the morning.
A good sleeping pack can make a huge difference in your comfort and performance during a week out running in the desert. I can attest to the fact that waking up every night shivering in the cold desert air is hard on your mental psyche. It’s already tough enough to get through the desert on a limit calorie count, but quite another having a terrible sleep night after night.
There are companies that offer “combo” jackets/sleeping bag all in one. Basically, jackets that can turn into a sleeping bag, a jacket + half bag, or a jacket, with an added trousers and bootie. From my experience, these combo sleeping systems don’t offer the same warmth as your standard sleeping bag/jacket combo with the exception of products from PhD Designs. They make the lightest down jackets in the world with 1000 fill power goose down feather (highest in the industry) and with the lightest fabrics. But that also means you have to pay a hefty sum. Other recommended brands are Yeti and Western Mountaineering.
There are two types of mats: inflatable or foam. Although foam mattresses are the most reliable (no chance of puncture) and light, they are also the most difficult to carry because they don’t fold as well as the inflatables. If you are planning to hike most the way on your next stage race, I wouldn’t hesitate and recommend this as your best option.
However, if you are planning to run/compete, inflatables are a no brainer. You don’t want to reduce your mobility because of a sleeping mat. Products like Thermarest and Sea to Summit are some of the recommended brands, although I’ve had a bad experience with Thermarest NeoAir Xlite because of their defective valves.
Pro Tip: One trick I learned is to buy the smallest size mattress and place your backpack underneath your legs. Saves your some weight and also keep your feet elevated at night. Kill two birds with one stone!
A crucial piece of equipment that will hold all your food, equipment, water, and everything else for the entire race. There are many types of backpacks to choose from. Some packs fit better than others depending on your needs and physical attributes.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Keep the pack as streamline/compact as possible. If the weight of the bag is distributed unevenly or too spread out, you risk losing your balance on the more technical trails.
- Make sure the pack feels good when it’s full AND when it’s barely filled. As the race drags on, the pack shrinks.
- Does the pack keep your water bottles secure when it’s full of water? It’s no fun having your bottles bounce around while you run. Worst yet, dropping your bottles and having other runners behind you step on them.
- Does your pack fit securely around your body and not rub into your shoulders/back? I’ve seen many competitors tape their shoulders and back to alleviate the constant rubbing of the packs.
My personal preference is the WAA UltraBag 20L. They withstood my 8 Deserts Challenge and still going strong. I cannot say the same about the other bags. The main features I like about the WAA bag is their 270-degree front zipper, the many different configurations that you can customize, and its rectangular shape to keep everything compact. However, keep in mind that other brands are much lighter, and come in different sizes so it is just a matter of personal choice.
Recommended Brands: WAA, Raidlight, OMM, Ultimate Direction
Cooking Utensils & Kitchen Ware
Boiling Your Own Water: (BYOW):
Carry the smallest and lightest that you can find. I’ve seen competitors bring camping metal pots, but here are products out there that weighs a tiny fraction. Esbit has their signature solid fuel tablets and titanium pot products that make for perfect desert racing companions. It’s a no-brainer if you need to boil your own water out in the desert.
Hot Water Provided: (HWP):
Many desert races provide hot water for each competitor. This means life is a lot simpler. In this scenario, I would recommend keeping a used freeze dried food bag with you and reused it for the duration of the race. With a bit of hot water to clean after yourself, it’s super light, portable, and it just makes sense!
2. Bring only what you need
If you are newcomer to multi-stage racing, you should be reminded that you aren’t going on a camping trip out on a nice summer day. Running on soft sand, at high altitude or up a technical ascent will tax your body in ways you will not expect. Don’t make it tougher than it already is by lugging that extra weight. By Day 2 or 3 of competition, your shoulders, back and/or feet will beg you to throw away all the excess weight. Here are some tips to keep your weight down to a minimum.
Forget about extra change of clothes
You can wash your clothes with the water you use to wash your feet. Clothes dry quickly out in the desert sun. Moreover, you are going to smell like a skunk for a week, and clean clothes won’t make you smell any better. Running in the desert is supposed to be hard. You just have to go with the flow!
Bring only two pairs of socks with you
One pair for the shorter stages and another pair for the long stages. It may sound pretty extreme for some of you, but it’s very absolutely necessary if you want to keep the weight and space down. If you are prone to blisters, clean your feet regularly at the end of each day, and buy properly fitted shoes.
If you find that it’s hard to reuse socks, simply use a small amount of water and give it a good soak and rinse. It’ll dry in no time out in the desert. Many runners suffer on the long stage from blisters and such, so reduce the risk of blisters, and bring a second pair. I find that a new pair of socks not only breathes new life to your feet but also acts as a pick-me-up just before you go into battle.
Pro Tip 1: Many runners believe that out in the desert you need to upsize your shoes to prevent blisters. That is simply not true. Blisters are caused by friction between your skin and shoe lining. Loosely fitted shoes or having your shoes poorly tied is an invitation for blisters to appear. A properly fitted shoe should feel snug, but not tight, and contours your feet well.
Pro Tip 2: Another common myth is upsizing your shoes accommodates the swelling of your feet. Swelling limbs are caused by excessive salt intake. Excess salt retains more water in your body, which leads to very unhappy feet! Don’t make that rookie mistake. Dial down on the salt and increase your water intake will go a long way.
Forget about power packs or GPS watches
We all want to track our progress or recharge our cameras with battery packs, but they aren’t necessary. Most action cameras have a battery life of around 120mins, so there’s plenty of battery for you to take all the videos you need. If you are planning to take more than 2hrs of video during a race, you are not likely going to care all about much about carrying that little extra weight. Keep your GPS watches at home. Unless you really want to track your route or you are an elite athlete, your GPS watch will run out of juice way before you reach the end of the week.
My prefer mode of racing is using a simple digital watch. It tells time, and that’s all you need!
Bring just enough calories to get you through the day and some pick-me-up snacks that you crave.
Train your body to burn body fat to keep the calorie count to a minimum. By burning that fat stores on your body, you can reduce your caloric intake and still perform at a high level. For a person planning to hike most of the way, this is an excellent option. Low-intensity exercise doesn’t require high amounts of carbohydrates. For athletes who are looking t o compete and/or run significant portion of the race, carbohydrates are your friend. This is a controversial topic because LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diet have been endorsed by some elite athletes as well. From my experience, however, unless you have done many races to give yourself confident that you can, stick to the norm. For athlete between 50-80kg, 2300-2800cals/day should be sufficient. An extra 500cals/day can add 600g to 1kg worth of weight to your backpack!
Another trick I use to keep my spirits up during those down moments in the race is nibble away at snacks that you would enjoy back home. Tiny pieces of dried mango, candy, salami, or a cup instant coffee can go a long way. The trick is to keep those negative thoughts from spiraling out of control so you will persevere even when waving that white flag feels like the easiest option.
3. Repackage everything
One of the things I noticed in many races is seeing competitors bring everything in its original packaging. That’s just not smart! A lot of these packaging is filled with air, taking up a lot of unnecessary space in your pack. It’s much easier to keep everything light and compact when it’s organized.
Divide into daily portions
I also recommend dividing your ration into daily ‘drop bags’ rather than clumping under specific food groups. It’s so easy to over consumed during a race when you are hungry. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up with an empty backpack halfway through the week! By then, you’ll be forced out of the race by the medical staff.
Repackage Freeze Dried Foods
This should be obvious but apparently, this is not the case for most people. Many competitors show up at races with all the freeze dried foods in its original packaging. You can save a sizeable amount of space simply by removing all packaging and put them in individual ziplock bags. There are others who will go to extremes like vacuum-seal their meals, but I’ve never run out of space in my pack. If you feel there’s a need, go for it!
4. Customize your equipment
There’s nothing wrong with using standard gear, but if you are looking to shave every gram and using those savings towards increasing your daily food intake, you have to be more creative.
Cut out all loose straps from your backpack
Once you have your backpack fitted and found a comfortable setup, cut out all extra straps. Not only does it save you some weight, but it also avoid those straps getting in your way during the race. Be careful not to cut too close or you’ll end up with an unusable bag! Remind yourself to heat the ends of each cut strap with a lighter afterwards to prevent fraying.
Remove all unnecessary accessories
Some packs come with accessories that you won’t ever need in a multistage race. These packs aren’t customized, so it just makes sense to strip away all unnecessary clutter. Excessive quick ties, straps for accessories you don’t plan to use, extra paddings, and rain covers are some examples.
5. Look out for specialty items
There are non-traditional ways to assembling your gear list.
- Nanosized Toothpaste – Airlines, hospitals or dollar stores sometimes sells them
- Hotel Sandals – Hotels that offer complementary sandals makes some of the lightest ones out there
- Toothbrush – Travel size / Disposable toothbrush not only can save you weight but also space
- Signaling Mirror – Use Round Mirrors instead of signaling mirrors to save some weight, although this might not be allowed in some races. So beware.
The list goes on and on, but the message is clear. Be creative!
This is the what you all came here to see. The list that comprises of all the items you need to pack inside your backpack (does not include what you wear on your body) to be successful in any multi-stage race. Below is a sample list. Enjoy!
Mandatory List for all races:
|CheckList||Item||Weight (kg, lbs)|
|Backpack||Raidlight Responsiv 20L Race Vest||0.572lbs (260g)|
Sleeping bag (Socks)
|Wafer Down ‘K Series’ (Jacket, Pants, Socks)||0.099lbs (45g)|
Sleeping bag (Long Tights)
|Wafer Down Trousers||0.330lbs (150g)|
Sleeping bag (Warm Down Jacket)
|Wafer Down Jacket ‘K Series’||0.418lbs (190g)|
|Head torch and a complete set of spare batteries||Diamond Ion Headlamp and Spare batteries||0.121lbs (55g) + 0.0334lbs (15.2g).|
|10 safety pins||–||0.009lbs (4g)|
|Compass, with 1° or 2° precision||Silva Starter Compass||0.056lbs (26g)|
|Lighter||Bic Mini Lighter||0.055lbs (25g)|
|Knife with metal blade||Victorinox Classic Alox Knife||0.0374lbs (17g)|
|Tropical disinfectant||Polysporin Triple Ointment||0.033lbs (15g)|
|Signalling mirror||Survival Micro Mirror||0.044lbs (20g)|
|1 Aluminium survival sheet||Emergency Blanket||0.121lbs (55g) (or Cut to size)|
|1 Tube of sunscreen||Think Sport Sunscreen||0.125lbs (56.7g)|
|Toilet Paper||–||0.013lbs (6g)|
Mandatory Equipment for MdS specifically:
|CheckList||Item||Weight (kg, lbs)|
|Spot Tracker||–||0.249lbs (113g)|
|Anti-venom pump||Sawyer Products B4 Extractor Pump Kit (Yellow)||0.062lbs (28g) [Pump only]|
|Whistle (Cannot use the whistle that comes with the Backpack)||Distress Whistle||0.0014lbs (7g)|
Mandatory Equipment for other races specifically:
|CheckList||Item||Weight (kg, lbs)|
|Waterproof bag||Sea to Summit 35L||0.110lbs(50g)|
|Backup Headlamp||Diamond Ion Headlamp||0.121lbs (55g).|
|Survival Bivvy Bag||Emergency Bivvy Bag||0.238lbs (108g)|
|Lip Screen||True Natural Lip Balm SPF 30||0.051lbs (23g)|
|Waterproof Jacket||Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket||0.396lbs (180g)|
|Rain Poncho||Ultra-Sil ® Nano Poncho||0.319lbs (145g)|
|Warm Hat||Outdoor Research Lingo Beanie||0.099lbs (45g)|
|Gloves||Convertible Wrist Warmers||0.079lbs (36g)|
|CheckList||Item||Weight (kg, lbs)|
|Eating Utensil||Esbit Stainless-Cutlery 2in1||0.081lbs (37g)|
|1 spare pairs of Socks||Injinji Trail MidWeight Mini Crew||0.110lbs(50g)|
|Blister Kit||Anti Chafing Foot Care Kit Deluxe||0.343lbs (156g)|
|Ear Plugs & Eye Mask||–||0.066lbs (30g)|
|2 x Water Bottles||Press-To-Drink Bottle With Flexible Valve (750mL)||0.418lbs (190g)|
|1 pair of Sandals||Hotel or Self-Made Slippers (with strings and insole)||0.066lbs (30g)|
|Hand Towels||Rough Country Lite Towels||0.066lbs (30g)|
|Chafing Cream||Body Glide||0.022lbs (9.9g)|
|Hand Sanitiser||Hand Gel 50mL||0.110lbs (50g)|
|Cooking Pot||Esbit Titanium Pot||0.233lbs (106g)|
|Cooking Fuel||Esbit Fuel||0.407lbs (185g)|
Nice to Have:
|CheckList||Item||Weight (kg, lbs)|
|Air Mattress||Thermarest Prolite Self Inflating Mattress XS||0.54lbs (245g)|
|Camera||GoPro Hero5 Session||0.161lbs (73g)|
Sample Daily Food List:
|2300 – 2800 cals/day||Item||Weight (kg, lbs, cals)|
|Breakfast||Instant Noodles||0.198lbs (90g), 450cals|
|During Race||Tailwind Nutrition||0.428lbs (194g), 720cals|
|Recovery Drink||Vega Sport Recovery Drink||0.095lbs (43g), 150cals|
|Snacks||Optional: Vega Sport Protein Bar
Optional: ProBar Almond Crunch
Suggested Item : Stinger Waffles
0.132lbs (60g), 250cals
0.187lbs (85g), 370cals
0.066lbs (30g), 150cals
|Dinner||Expedition Foods High Calorie Freeze Dried Meals||0.418lbs (190g), 800cals|
1.20lbs (0.55kg) [2270cals]
1.52lbs (0.69g) [2890cals]
2.07lbs (Mandatory) + 0.33lbs (Mandatory MdS) + 1.92lbs (Compulsory) + 0.70lbs (Nice to Have) + 1.20lbs (Food) * 6
2.07lbs (Mandatory) + 0.33lbs (Mandatory MdS) + 1.92lbs (Compulsory) + 0.70lbs (Nice to Have) + 1.52lbs (Food) * 6
|Other Races (2270cals/day)||
2.07lbs (Mandatory) + 1.51lbs (Mandatory Other) + 1.92lbs (Compulsory) +0.70lbs (Nice to Have) + 1.20lbs (Food) * 6
|Other Races (2890cals/day)||
2.07lbs (Mandatory) + 1.51lbs (Mandatory Other) + 1.92lbs (Compulsory) + 0.70lbs (Nice to Have) + 1.52lbs (Food) * 6