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The choice of equipment and the variables in how you apply such kit is so wide that it is impossible to give definitive advice. However, this race is seriously extreme and it is seriously advised that no compromise should be considered on grounds of cost over quality. The amount of kit required will in all probability prohibit an athlete from actually carrying their equipment on their backs, so pulling a sled is really the only way to go (Panniers for bikes). Using a sled will significantly negate the extra weight of kit required for this race, but again I would recommend that your kit choice provides you with ample equipment to safely complete the race but not to the extent that you end up carrying too much. There are lines to be drawn between too little kit; too much kit and the right amount of kit. If you have any concerns with regards to this, please don’t hesitate to contact the organiser who will do his utmost to provide you with the best advice he can.
Starting from the bottom…..
Many who will compete in this type of environment are happy to use training shoes or trail shoes. Boots are fine if that’s what you will be happy in. Make sure there is ample room to allow for the extra socks you will undoubtedly require and for any swelling that might occur as a result of the pounding your feet will ultimately take. Make sure your footwear is well worn in, and make sure you are used to walking in them. All too often athletes in ultra suffer badly due to doing too much running as part of there training and not realising that walking will put different pressures on their feet and muscles.
A combination that I have found works for me is to wear silk liner socks next to the skin, then a thick quality pair of wool socks and then an outer waterproof sock such as sealskinz or Porelles. It is isn’t anticipated that the route will be particularly wet although there is one river crossing in the 120 mile race and two river crossings in the 350 mile race plus a long section on the ice road to Tuktoyaktuk. Further advice will be available from the organiser after December once the final reccie has taken place.
Powerstretch leggings work well if conditions aren’t too bad. If the temperature drops to silly levels(which is quite likely) such trousers can be supplemented with windproof over trousers possible with a thin layer of down. Failing that layering up with further thermals is the way to go.
As with all kit decisions this can be very much a personal choice. High wicking layers are a must. Retaining sweat/moisture close to the body is a recipe for disaster as you will get cold very very very quickly particularly when you stop. Don’t compromise on quality and make sure you have tested your base layers prior to the race in order to avoid chaffing etc.
This heading can cover a multitude of clothing choices. Generally I would regard a mid layer as supplementary to a base layer but perhaps not being as protective as a shell or insulation layers (see below). Quality polyester fleeces will provide significant warmth and if including either a full or half zip will allow athletes to moderate their temperature more effectively. For layering purposes I would recommend athletes carry a variation of mid layers in order that they are able to change and adapt to varying climatic conditions.
Whilst the environment in which the race will be cold with a lot of snow and ice evident, it is in fact very dry. Therefore waterproof shells such as “goretex” are not really appropriate. A good quality windproof is far more practical as it will offer significantly more breathabilty. Such windproofs might be made with “windstopper” material. Again the variations are endless and further advice if required can be sought from the organiser.
Three scenarios need to be covered. For a majority of the time thin liner gloves will suffice. When temperatures drop that bit windproof gloves will be necessary to give that bit more protection. Finally when it gets freaking cold, insulated down Mitts are strongly recommended which can be supplemented with either the liner gloves or Windproof gloves.
A quality down Jacket is a must. Whilst progressing on the trail it is unlikely you will be wearing this item of clothing, you will certainly need it the moment you stop. Your body temperature begins to plummet the second you stop particularly if you are tired and in need of food. In addition to wearing it when you stop, a down jacket will supplement your sleeping system is severe weather. Once again, don’t compromise on quality.
A flippin good quality sleeping bag is an absolute must. I will repeat that -
A thermal bed pad is also a must. Thermarest type pads work well in the cold and can be packed small for space saving purposes. Karrimat type bed pad are similarly very good and can be used to line a sled, so again not taking up too much room on the sled.
Bivy bag or Tent is also part of the compulsory gear. I would certainly err towards a bivy bag over a tent as it is far more manageable when time is of the essence. Don’t waste money on one of those bivy bags with poles as they become too fiddly, just go for a standard bag preferable with a good protective base so that it will be useable in years to come when you keep coming back to this race.
Camelbak or similar stored next to your back in a rucksack insulated with your down jacket has worked for me in all my Arctic races. Highly recommend this to all. In addition, I would recommend carrying at least 2 quality thermos flasks on the sled. Fill up at each checkpoint and all being well you won’t need to stop to make water on route.
Required for cooking and making water on route. Two main options.
Gas can be the quickest and easiest to operate but the downside is that the fuel can freeze in extreme conditions. Takes a bit of planning, but if you are well organised this is the option to choose for speed and efficiency – the organiser can provide further advice on this matter.
The other option are multi fuel stoves. These are generally pretty bomb proof and can (as the name suggests) utilise many fuel options. The only downside is that they are a bit more fiddly to prime, but once going are as sound as can be.
As stated at the start of this section, the prime means of carrying your kit (for runners) has got to be a sled. It is possible to buy state of the art sleds, but this is one area of your kit where I am not convinced that spending money is a wise thing to do. A perfectly good sled need only comprise a kiddies sled with poles attached to a runners waistband. The issue here is making the thing effective and too this end you need to consider the size of the sled relative to your kit and vitally you need a sled with a good surface area. Try not to pack your sled too high as this makes it top heavy. Again ask for advice from the organiser and he will give you numerous pointers to getting this vital bit of kit right and probably at cost of not much more than (say) £25. Snazzy professional sleds are more likely to cost in the region of £400 and might well be up to 5x heavier.
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