Last updated: 17-Feb-19
I know that is a big claim in the title there and I am immediately going to caveat it with the provisos that every runner and every race are different, but what I am aiming to do is give a comprehensive list of what you might need on a mountain stage race.
I am basing it on what I used for the Everest Trail Race which is a 160km, six day trail race round Everest with 15,000m of climbing. Food and water were supplied by the organisers, who also provided tents and sleeping mats, so you need to factor that in.
The biggest challenge was weight to warmth – it was sub zero at night. There are links to fuller reviews of the products and also alternatives from other runners on the race.
The allowed pack weight range was from 3.5kg to 7kg and mine weighed 5.9kg so on the heavy side (I went for warmth).
Mountain Stage Ultra Kit List
I will start off with what I wore. The terrain wasn’t particularly technical and I opted for Brooks Cascadia 13s I found them comfortable and reliable but you might want something with more aggressive lugs if you are a racing snake.
Altras were a big favourite by many of the runners including the winner, Jordi Gamito. Bryan McClure had a nightmare moment on the bus when he realised he had left his Altra Superior 3.5s in the hotel and would have to run the first stage in a pair of knock-offs one size too small that he bought in Jiri. I have never seen a man so happy to be reunited with his shoes!
Paul Bowker, who podiumed in the M55+ category used Hoka ONE ONE Mafete Speed 2s. Another Hoka fan was Ian Caldwell who went with the Torrents. Anthony Dunkels loved his Salomon Speedcross (wide), “I didn’t slip once and not a single blister!” Tim Gardener who came a fantastic 7th and was highest-placed Brit overall also wore Salomons.
For my watch, I thought about my Suunto but went with my Garmin Fenix 5s because I have found it to be a bit more accurate in areas where mapping is a bit sketchy. The battery lasted on all but my longest day out (12 ½ hours). There were definitely discrepancies between the information on it and what was in the road book which I had to take note of, but it was close enough to keep me on point.
The weather was mainly sunny and hot during the day and cold at night. I don’t want to get busy with sunburn so I had a long-sleeved Rohan top, Adidas capri leggings, and Compressport calf sleeves although there are many good alternatives. I chose the Brooks Juno sports bra.
I am slightly obsessed by socks and thought long and hard about these twin skins but in the end I couldn’t get past my trusty inov-8s. Sadly, they stank so badly by the end of the race I had to leave them behind at the end or risk permanent exile from my bedroom, shared with Lou Staples.
Photo: Ian Corless
Of course, I proudly wore my RunUltra cap and my Scottish buff.
Poles are absolutely 100% necessary for a mountain race and I was completely happy with my choice of Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles. They are light but really sturdy.
The other mandatory piece of kit was waterproofs and the OMM Kamleika was a good choice. I went for it because it was light and breathable. It did rain, drizzle rather than downpour, during the race and I was kept dry. I used Mountain Equipment waterproof trousers and they were a good extra layer in the mess tent.
Budget and comfort led me to re-use my Marathon des Sables WAA ultra bag and although it is definitely on the knackered side, it didn’t let me down. No chafing or annoyance, and I got everything inside including my sleeping bag. I used the front pocket for my jacket. The one negative is that it has quite a few straps so you can’t just whack it on and off, it takes a bit of time. There were lots of Raidlight bags in evidence.
What to Pack for a Mountain Stage Ultra
Moving on to what was in the bag. The biggest piece of kit was my sleeping bag and I went for the Hispar 500 from PH Designs. I did not want to be cold and I wasn’t.
I also had PH Designs’ down trousers (you can see how deeply I feel about these on the video!) to wear round camp along with the excellent Rab Microlight Summit Jacket which has become a real favourite.
Rab dominated the group in terms of down jackets although fair play to Lou Staples, who came fourth in the women’s race and who stuck with her Patagonia – excellent value.
Photo: Ian Corless
Becks Ferry, who came third in the women’s race and who had a brilliantly light bag at just 3.5kg, the minimum, used the PH Designs sleep system which combines bag/trousers/jacket. This saved a lot of weight and she said she was warm enough, so definitely worth investigating.
I took the Rab Hot Socks When your feet are warm, the rest of you follows. For gloves I took Ice Breakers and used them both on the run and in camp I loved the grip. I also took a Rohan cap and merino buff and put them on when the air chilled.
I am a massive merino fan, and for sleeping in I wanted warmth so went with the Icebreaker thermals which have become a bit of a favourite item for me. They are so comfortable and warm and they didn’t smell too bad, even after a week.
Apart from that, I had the mandatory compass, first aid kit, emergency blanket, small knife, mirror and whistle in my bag. In addition I took a toothbrush and paste, neurofen (chemical stretching as I like to call them!), co-codamol and paracetamol, sunblock stick and tiny bottle of sun cream for my face, a cube of soap and half a sports towel which weighed 15g. I also took my iphone and a battery pack (charger) to charge up my watch.
My luxury was my fleece-covered, inflatable pillow.
I took one pair of Injinjis in case I needed to tape my toes as they help keep them in place. I didn’t need them.
I wanted to be warm and make sure that I could recover well overnight ready for the next day as I am a slow person and on this race my aim was just to finish and not DNF. My kit was excellent for that and I really did feel fresh as a daisy every day.
If you are on a long, cold race I would definitely keep the layers. If I did ETR again, I would lose some of the night time layers to save on weight and would seriously look at PHD’s sleep system. To quote Ian Caldwell, who was one of the UK runners who did very well in the race: “There’s this theory that your goals affect the weight that your pack should be. I disagree. Whatever your goal, you should have the lightest pack possible. If the fastest person can get away with a 3.5kg pack, so can the slowest.”
For Alice’s ETR Race Report, click here.
To learn how she trained for this race, read this fascinating perspective from both coach and runner here.