If you are a gear hog than you are going to love stage racing!
The equipment selected for stage racing is highly specialized, rugged and can be expensive. This is due to the unique requirements of stage racing. You should realize that form ALWAYS follows function when building up your kit. Weight and reliability are the two primary considerations with all your equipment. When selecting equipment be aware that weight is only one criterion to measure against. The lightest piece of gear is worthless if it cannot hold up to the rigors of the race. Quality, reliable equipment is a must.
Take care of your equipment. There is an old adage – two is one and one is none. Since you have only one of most everything except your shoes if you lose it or break it you are without. Oh, and one shoe is normally worthless too.
Have a place for everything and everything in its place. Don’t spread your possessions all over the world. Have a location in your pack for each piece of equipment and keep it there. Do not get things out unless you are using them. Windstorms come up and blow stuff away or you may just forget and leave something on the trail or in camp. Bring only what you will really need. Items that perform double duty are great. Do you absolutely have to have the IPod and solar charger? You can do without many things for a week. There is the trade off between the pleasure an item brings you and how much it weighs.
1. Pack: See the section on packs.
2. Water Containers: There are basically two options for carrying your water, water bottles or a bladder. Most stage racers prefer water bottles over a single bladder due to the ease of refilling. Some water bottles also have integral straws that allow drinking from them when mounted on the front of your pack straps. There are even now new models that are soft bottles combining the best of water bottles and bladders. Typically you should have two containers in the 500-750 ml range to ensure sufficient water between check points. Whatever you choose be sure you can easily and regularly drink in order to maintain proper levels of hydration.
3. Pad: See the discussion on Sleeping Systems.
4. Sleeping Bag: See the discussion on Sleeping Systems
5. Headlamp: This is a critical piece of gear. Do not scrimp here! At a minimum your choice should provide at least 80 lumens, be adjustable down to lower lighting levels and weigh less than 4 oz. AA and AAA battery powered models are common. Adjustable spot/flood is also a nice feature. It is highly advisable not to use a rechargeable headlamp. You may not be able to recharge it or require a solar charger. Be careful not to go overboard, extremely high lumen lights will not run as long and necessitate more power (batteries). Typical brands include Petzel, Black Diamond and others.
6. GPS watches: It is can be nice to be able to measure your pace, distances, etc. Some bring along GPS sport watches for these purposes. You need to be aware however that these events usually will outlast the battery capacity of many watches. If you cannot replace the batteries, than you may need a solar charger. Newer models with variable GPS update times are becoming more of a real option. Many forego the expense and hassles and just use a sport watch with a stop watch function.
7. Batteries: You will at least need batteries for your headlamp and potentially any other electronic equipment you will carry (camera, sport watch, etc.). Obviously it would be preferable to have all your equipment run on a single type of disposable battery (AA, AAA, 123). Having equipment that is operated on rechargeable batteries may not be the most optimal choice since you must either have a solar charger, know someone who is carrying one or assume you will be done with that equipment once it has lost its charge. For disposables it goes without saying that lithium batteries are the choice for this application since they have higher energy densities and weigh about a third less than their alkaline counterparts. Their increased cost is far outweighed by superior performance. Take batteries out during travel or prolong non-use and tape over one end of spare batteries with electrical tape to prevent accidental discharge in your pack. Be aware there may be airline restrictions on the transport of lithium batteries.
8. Signal Mirror: Usually a required piece of safety gear. Small is OK here but be sure you know how to use your mirror – practice a couple of times with someone far away. Metal mirrors are heavy and should be avoided. Plastic mirrors while light can scratch easily. If your mirror does not have a protective film, cover it with a layer of plastic wrap. Typical brands include Ultimate Survival (Micro Flash), SOL and Coghlans.
9. Survival Blanket: Another piece of safety gear. Usually quite light and intended for “single use”. Available at most sporting goods stores.
10. Whistle: These are usually built into your race backpack or headlamp.
11. Compass: Usually a required item. Be sure that it is of sufficient precision (usually 2 degrees). Models that are used for orienteering are the best since they are basic and light weight. Models with a magnifying glass or other options are excessive and weigh too much. Know how to use your compass!
12. Trekking Poles: This is a personal choice. Some people swear by them and would not do a stage race without them. Others never use poles and consider them excess weight. A rule of thumb would be if you plan on power walking most of the event or are injured, consider their use. If you do choose to use poles, practice with them and be extra considerate not to impale your fellow competitors when in close proximity to them. Black Diamond poles are quite prevalent, especially carbon fiber ones.
13. Gaiters: For desert racing these are a critical piece of equipment. The following equality is true.
Sand = sand in your shoes = blisters = suffering
Most gaiters are designed to totally cover your shoe uppers. Usually they are connected by means of Velcro which is attached to the shoe (see section on how to do this). Other models use straps that go under the shoe arch. For races with little sand, simple Lycra gaiters to prevent trail debris from getting into your shoes are sufficient. Suppliers of these specialized pieces of equipment include Raidlight, Sandbaggers, Dirty Girl and Solomon. Some make their own custom gaiters.
14. Mess Kit: Simplicity here. One really only needs at most a cup and a Spork (spoon/fork combination). Large kettles, pans and the like only take up space and add weight. Cup capacity should be in the 400-500 ml range, of singled wall construction and made of aluminum or titanium. If you are on a budget, an empty soup can of appropriate size can also work. Elites usually dispense with a cup for weight reasons. Your Spork should be of aluminum or titanium (plastic ones break). Long handled versions are handy for eating out of food bags or water bottles converted into bowls (they weigh a few grams more however). If the race organizers do not provide hot water then invest in a solid fuel stove since it may be very inconvenient to scrounge for fuel wood at the end of a long day. Provisions will need to be made to obtain the appropriate solid fuel once you reach the race since airlines prohibit its transportation. A small do-it-yourself windscreen made out of a disposable aluminum pan should round out your mess kit as well as a tiny amount of aluminum foil to cover your cup during sandstorms. Again, elites will do without hot water and eat cold rations. Typical brands include cup: Snow Peak or MSR, spork: Sea to Summit, stove: Esbit
15. Knife: For many (especially guys) the choice of a knife is a very personal thing. Basically it is an extension of your personality into a functional form. However the choice of the proper blade for a stage race becomes constrained due to weight. No tactical tomahawks, Crocodile Dundee Bowies or Bear Grylls survival models.
One typically has two choices, the first being some sort of multi tool and the second is a skeleton framed knife. Blade lengths are typically 4-6 cm in length (some races dictate the minimum required). Weight should be somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0 oz (15 and 30 grams). Anything else is excess. At a minimum your knife should have a locking blade (lock back) for safety purposes. Do not go overboard with multi tools. The two biggest things you will use are the blade and perhaps a small pair of scissors, nothing much else. It is advisable to always have your knife handy. You can attach it to the front of your pack with a short piece of cord. Typical brands include Leatherman and Baladeo.
16. Repair Kit: A small kit with some repair items should be considered. While not required it could come in quite handy. Things that one may find useful include a small roll of duct tape, a heavy duty sewing needle and a small amount of thread, Super glue (for shoe Velcro repair), a couple of zip ties, tenacious repair tape, additional safety pins (large) and a short piece of cord or extra shoe string.
17. Blister Kit: This is an important piece of your equipment. Proper preparations before the race are important and cannot be discounted. However, what you take to the field with you in support of your stage racing endeavors is also critical. One needs to have sufficient supplies to get to the finish while not carrying extra weight (or relying on the event medical staff as long lines can be expected). The following is a list of items for your “Blister Kit” that you may find useful and yet not too onerous. Learn how to use them before you get to the field!
• 0.5 oz hand sanitizer (I prefer this since it can also be used for hand sanitizing as well as foot sanitizing before blister surgery. Empty out half of a one ounce bottle or bring 6-8 alcohol prep pads)
• 1 oz tube triple antibiotic (or bring 2-3 single use packets)
• 1 each small disposable nail file (if you like, cut in half or into thirds)
• 6 packets 2Toms blister shield powder or your favorite lube
• 4 each Band-aids
• 2 each 18 gauge x 1 inch hypodermic needle
• 6-8 each Tincture of benzoin swabs or ampules (be sure to double bag these in case one breaks!)
• 4 each tape adhesive remover packets
• 3 feet of 4″ Rocktape brand Kinesiology tape (for back taping to prevent pack chafing)
• 6 feet of 2″ Rocktape or Strength Tape Kinesiology tape (for heels, foot bottom, etc.)
• 3 feet of 1″ Rocktape or Strength Tape Kinesiology tape (for toe ends, note you can split 2″ in a pinch, just bring more)
This should be enough supplies to totally tape up at least two and most likely three times. You may want to down or up size various items based on your needs. The above numbers will most likely have some left over to help out your less informed tent mates – you will be an instant hero!
18. Plastic Bags: Aloksak/zip-lock bags are great to co-locate like items (blister kit, emergency gear, route book, etc.) and protect them from the elements. Have a selection of sizes. Also bring one medium size plastic bag to protect sleeping bag, clothing and other gear from rain since most race packs are not waterproof. A very lightweight dry bag is a more robust, but heavier solution. If there is no rain these can be used to keep larger volumes of gear protected from the sand.
19. Eye Wear: (Not sure where to really put this section since it could fit on several pages.) You will most likely need some sort of eye wear for your stage race. Sunglasses are usually the choice but sometimes goggles are also brought along if there is lots of wind and blowing sand or snow. If significant portions of the race are in the dark such as during the winter, clear non-fogging goggles are preferred. Prescription eye wear (glasses) are usually easier to deal with instead of contact lenses (which require saline, handling, etc.) If you decide to go with your contact lenses bring along a spare pair just in case one is lost or ripped. You may also want to have a pair of glasses just in case conditions make wearing contacts unbearable. Have a soft bag to store your eye wear in while not in use. These are light weight, prevent scratches and can double as protection for your camera/phone.
So now that you have most of your race equipment, here are some additional suggestions for knocking off some additional ounces/grams. Don’t go overboard here, you do not want to impact functionality of your kit.
• Cut down survival sheet slightly (note: some races require a minimum size)
• Remove your compass base and just take the capsule. Be sure you know how to use it in this condition
• Trim straps/remove unnecessary attach points, etc. from you pack
• Remove tags
• Cut off/down handles
• Cut down pad if used
• Don’t bring sleeping bag stuff sack
• Remove unnecessary route book pages if allowed
• Bring only the amount of anything you need. Repackage as necessary. This is especially true for dehydrated food.