Strava Update

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Marathon Des Sables Kit - What Worked and What Didn't

To get to the start line of the Marathon Des Sables took a lot of preparation. Both in terms of training and the equipment  I used for the week. In the months leading up to the race I made so many decisions about equipment, then went back on those decisions then re visited them again with limited knowledge really about some of the equipment I eventually chose to take to the desert. It was effectively a leap of faith heading out to Morocco with the equipment and having now completed the MDS I now have a much better idea of the things I would take, the training I would do and the strategy I would adopt to give a good showing if I was to do it again.

So what worked and what didn't for me? Equipment choice for the MDS and indeed any race is a deeply personal thing, what works for some may not work for others and vice versa so these opinions are based on my own personal opinions and experiences :)

Me At The Finish Line :)
Marathon Des Sables Equipment List:

Raidlight Olmo 20L + 4L Front Pack (new version) -  So the rucksack choice of many competitors, I really felt that the Olmo was the one for me before the MDS. It had elements of Salomon design in it and seemed well thought out. Alas it was not to be! The waist strap was terrible giving no hip support if you needed to take the strain off the shoulders. I found the front pack to be cumbersome, on the first day I put the bottles in the holders on the front pack which meant I had a solid weight banging into me for the duration of the first 23 miles. I had to tie a bit of elastic around me to keep the pack from banging! Day 2 I opted for the bottles in the shoulder holders which meant that I couldnt tie the chest strap as it obscured the race number! I then employed aforementioned bit of elastic as a makeshift chest strap which I had to pull over my head in a convoluted manner, which as you can imagine was great fun on the long day when I didnt know my a55 from my elbow! To add insult to injury on the long day Marco Olmo passed me and even he (the man who the pack was designed for!) wasnt wearing it, choosing to opt for the official WAA MDS pack. If I was to go back (watch this space..) I would opt for the MDS backpack in a heart beat.. 

Raidlight Combi Duvet Sleeping Bag - In our tent we were pretty down on Raidlight stuff I must admit. But the combo duvet really did come up trumps for me. Paired with the silk liner below on the cooler nights it was plenty warm enough and was great without the liner for most nights. I love the zips that allow you to place the arms outside the bag as well as the functionality of being able to convert it into a puffa jacket - Awesome bit of kit that packs down well.

Eurohike Silk Liner- Great bit of kit that weighed next to nothing yet brought the temp rating of my sleeping bag up considerably. Essential in my opinion.

Mammut Inflatable Pillow - I am used to camping and that and the thing that always ensures a good nights sleep for me is a pillow. This pillow was great. It doesnt replace a real pillow (obviously!) but it was a good second. I was filling my rucksack with my clothes and using this and it was pretty comfy. One night I thought I was being smart by taking my food out and using only clothes, had a great nights sleep until the morning when I awoke to find a desert creature of some description had been eating my food! So squashed food it was for the rest of the week..

2 x Salomon Triangular Bottles 640ml - I have used these bottles all winter in training, they are triangular in shape and this stops them rocking about in holsters. Fitted well in the Olmo holster and were perfectly reliable. Only downside was that the water would get hot quickly. If I was to go again I would look at insulating them in some way. These were the lightest set of bottle I owned compared to Camelbak Podium and Raidlight bottles.

Montane Marathon Jacket - This is a great jacket that I had owned for a while before. Super light and is windproof and waterproof to a certain degree. I didnt need to use it so often whilst I was there but good to have in the bag. Packs down to almost nothing.

Inov 8 Mistlite Trousers - I bought these as a last minute purchase. I think they are 120g and great for wearing at night. I made the mistake of wearing them in the day and it was like wearing a bin bag! But very light and again packed down small.

Petzl Tikka 2 Head Torch - Was a little unsure about choice of head torch. Had this and an LED Lenser kindly given to me by a fellow MDS er Stuart. I went with the Petzl purely because I had used it in the winter a few times and it worked well. I used it alot in the evening and on the long stage and it was perfectly adequate. It wasnt the brightest out there, I recall seeing some guy at 3am in the morning on the long stage who looked like he had a car headlight strapped to his head, but it did the business.

Sundog Goggles - I didnt use these so not sure how good they were :)

Sandisk Sansa Clip MP3 Player - This was one of my luxury items. It cost me £20 from ebay and could be expanded with a Micro SD card. Weighs 20grams and so was a no brainer. The battery lasted well, got 12 hours out of it which was awesome.

Swiss Army Knife Mini - Essential bit of kit. Got so may uses over the week; cutting tape, opening packs, cutting bottles up to cook and wash stuff in, cutting straps back, the list goes on. Really good scissors and blade, awesome!

Suunto Ambit GPS Watch - This was a great bit of kit - GPS on 1 min intervals and it lasted me the whole week. Perfect for the desert as there werent too many turns and twists which meant the one min interval worked well. I tend to rely on GPS and as pleased this lasted the distance. Its a great watch, giving lots of information apart from the usual Pace, distance etc it gives the temperature, ascent, descent and doubles as a compass.

On The Last Day.. When The Wheels Fell Off!

Kodak Playsport Video Camera - Another luxury item, but I really wanted to document my time out there in the desert. This worked so well, took amazing quality footage for the price and size and the battery lasted the whole week with sparing use. I am so glad I took this and used it to film video logs every day, banter from the tent and other bits and pieces. The results of which can be found here:

Nuun Tablets (Electrolytes) - I had to mention these.. I took a couple of these a day along with the salt tablets so kept dehydration mostly at bay. However I dont think I will ever be able to stomach these again. The mixture of one of these with lukewarm water turns my stomach even now! :)

Tyvek Suit - I think if I go out again I will just take one of these. I had one before technical checks and decided to opt for the montane jacket and inov8 pants. The tyvek suit is awesome though, keeps you warm but alos seems breathable. I was lucky enough to borrow one off one of my tent mates Guy during the rest day and wore it when it was boiling hot and it worked well. Very light weight as well.

Esbit Titanium Stove - Cooking on the stove was one of the things I hadnt practiced before I came out to the desert. These stoves were awesome to be fair. Hard to light if it was windy (but our resident fire expert Guy took care of making sure the fire was always in the right place - cheers Guy!!) but did the job and boiled the water. We all would cook up at the same time so found that in actuality we could have probably got away with one or 2 stoves between us all. We started to run low on tablets towards the end even though we had alot between us, but I think alot of people were getting rid of things like that by the end of the week to reduce weight so prob wouldnt have been too much of a problem.

Varga Titanium Mug - Bit of a bargain buy this. I got it from the US Ebay for about £15 cheaper than the UK price. No way I was going to pay £35 for a mug! It was a great bit of kit. I got the 400ml version which boiled enough water to cook a meal which was mostly all I needed it for. I put stuff in it when in the rucksack and it was so light I barely knew it was there. At some point in the week I tried to use it as a foam roller which made it warp into a slightly oval shape..

Salomon Exo Wings Twin Skin Shorts - I love Salomon stuff full stop, and these shorts were great. I wore these all week and they didnt rub, chafe or give any gip at all. I like the support that they give and I washed them when I got back and they are as good as new.. 

X-Bionic Fennec Cycle Shirt - Alot of hype surrounding these shirts and they are expensive. However the fennec was the shirt of choice for alot of UK desert runners this season.. In my opionion the shirt worked well. I didnt feel the heat really until the temp started to get a bit silly and hit 54 deg C on day 4.. Highly recommended. I got the fennec cycle shirt  as it was on offer on Start Fitness at the time for £60 which was a big saving on the rrp. The cycle shirt is essentially the same with a little zip at the front and pockets on the back.

Salomon XA+ Desert Hat - Another Salomon item that did the job well. I had used the hat a bit previously and the side curtainy bit attaches via velcro. It kept me well protected from the sun and kept the back of my neck protected. 

Balega Running Socks - These were a bit of a late addition to my kit list at the recommendation of my running guru friend Craig. I tried them a few times before and they worked well out there in the desert. I didnt get any real blisters except a few hotspots which I addressed as I went. I was really lucky with my lack of blisters as the horror pictures you see on the internet of peoples feet during the MDS do actually happen. I saw alot of people hobbling around particularly towards the end of the week and how they lined up to complete the days running I dont know! Alot of courage  and a good mix of Ibuprofen I imagine!

Hilly Mono Skin Running Socks - When I did get blisters/hotspots they occurred when I wore these socks. These worked well in training but seemed to make my feet sweat profusely out there and then rub after a while. 

Compressport Calf Guards - I wore these on every day and they worked well. I know that the jury is out on calf guards and the science but they work for me! I didnt have any calf issues at all over the whole week, in fact I was surprised to report no major niggles/strains/aches or DOMS the whole week! I came armed with Ibuprofen and Paracetamol but only had to use a dose of each the whole week. 

Raidlight (Red) Sand Gaiters - These worked well and kept sand out for the whole week. The gaiters are probably the most important bit of kit as they keep the sand out and therefore feet hopefully blister free. I did scuff them on rocks on the first day and had to gaffa tape them up but they did the business.

Raidlight Buff - Indispensable bit of kit this.. I think there are 12 different ways you can use a buff, I think I used mine as a beanie, a night cap, a sand mask, an eye mask at night a neck cooler and a snot rag! Awesome!

Tifosi Ventoux Sunglasses - bit of a gamble on these, I was advised to get reactor sunglasses as it gets windy at night and the lenses are good to protect the eyes from sand etc. These sunnies were amazing. Great in the day, perhaps not quite clear enough for night time use but they protected my eyes in the day and were virtually bomb proof! I gave them a run under the tap when I got home and a clean and they look as good as new after a week of abuse..

Saucony Mirage Trainers - Road shoes with a medial support in. Very light and a great trainer for me on the road and track previously. I sent them away to have velcro sowed on to them and they served me well. I bought them a size up but I dont feel I suffered from swollen feet excessively during the week.

Food: This was a much discussed issue on the MDS Page. We had a minimum calorific value requirement of 2000 calories per day and I spent alot of time deciding what to take. I decided to opt for the Ma Baker Flapjack Bars for breakfast which weighed in at 90g for just under 400 calories. I opted for the Expedition Foods Dehydrated meals for evening meal which tasted ok to be fair. I had a variety of flavours which all tasted like real food! I opted for Hammer Perpetuem Solids and Hammer Gels for my in race nutrition. The Solids were great for the first few days but after that I found them hard to digest and swallow as they are quite chalky. I find Perpetuem is a great source of energy normally in my day to day endurance training and racing just didnt work out so well in the desert. Hammer gels were good, these are my gel of choice usually and gave me a kick when needed. I opted for nuts and wine gums for treats and a Pepperami. These all worked well and I felt I had enough calories, well up until the night that I had the "visitor" in the tent anyway!! Luckily some of the guys in the tent were getting rid of food to cut down weight which meant I could replace the food that had been touched! Otherwise it could have been a hungry remaining Marathon Des Sables for me!



  1. Hi Paul,

    I'm a national newspaper journalist in England who is part of a group putting together a new 'extreme' outdoor sports and travel website. The site is also an environmental and social and enterprising in design.

    As I'm putting together articles and sourcing videos and photos at the moment, I was wondering whether there was any chance of you submitting some copy for us on running? I can obviously credit you and send you a link to the site when it's up?

    Maybe you would like to submit things on a regular basis further down the line?

    We believe we will have a lot of people visiting the site when it is ready and have people contributing from all over the world so our reach should be quite large.

    Any help you can give us would be great. If you would like to be involved please get in touch at

    Many thanks for reading

    Gemma Wise

  2. Just a quick note to say how helpful I'm finding this article as I start prepping for next years MdS! Thanks so much.


  3. Hey James,
    Youre more than welcome, happy to help!
    How are you getting on with your training and prep?
    Any help you need feel free to ask :-)

  4. Hi Paul, I've just entered the Atacama Crossing and trying to get my head around the kit list. Some really good tips on here (esp the stove). I'm wondering whether the Montane marathon jacket ticks the waterproof jacket box, as I've got one and hoping I can pass it off rather than buying another one. Think it's water-resistant but not sure how strict they are.

  5. Hi Cat
    Apologies for late reply, only just seen this. I think the Montane marathon jacket is a good one to have if it is unlikely to rain much, it is very light and very small so perfect for going into a rucksack. I think if the Attacama is likely to have rain you would probably welcome something a bit more substantial though..
    Worth checking it out and seeing historically what the weather does. Sounds an amazing challenge, good luck with it!

  6. Pet Food is just some thing awesome stuff to see here, i really love it.

  7. Excellent list for preperation for MDS. I want to run this race in 2019 or 2020 (so still far away ;-))

  8. Thank you for this! I'm running this next April and the bag is the item I'm wrestling with the most, especially with living in the midwest and not having these types of items at my disposal super easily. All I've heard since I wanted to do this was how "superior" Raidlight bags are - you're now the 4th account I've read today that states otherwise, and I'm really thankful for your info.