Marathon Des Sables 2018 Kit List – Clothing & Gear Review!

Marathon Des Sables 2018 Kit List – Clothing & Gear Review!

The gear you choose takes up a lot of time and may or may not make a huge difference in how you do during the Marathon Des Sables.  I’m going to go through my kit list, gear and clothing choices and let you know how I got on.

Kit List: Clothing:

I left the clothing choice until quite late in the day, as I could never really make my mind up. Everything said to take compression shirt and shorts but I’ve never really liked compression gear for running. In the end my priority was skin coverage and something that wasn’t too tight or too billowy.  I went for an Adidas response long sleeved t-shirt (Adidas Shirt) and shorts (Adidas Shorts), both made of climacool material that may or may not have kept me cooler (who knows!).  Both performed really well but the label placement on the inside from seam of the shirt doesn’t help when your wearing a rucksack waist belt.

To get the skin coverage I also wore some UnderArmour Heatgear ¾ leggings (Leggings).  This was really out of fear of sunburned legs (note my first post on the blog).  These were great and I didn’t get overheated in them. If was to do it again (I have no plans to) I would leave the leggings and just make sure to use some good sunscreen. It would be nice to have a bit more air circulation.

I went with a two sock approach the first were some injinji merino liner socks (Injinji Liner).  These were great and prevented my toes from rubbing together. On top of these I wore some Darn Tough Merino ankle socks (Darn Tough Low).

Finally on the clothing front I wore a pair of Altra Lone Peak trainers.  Altra make some great trail running shoes.  Altra shoes are all zero drop (same height at the heel and toe but have a good amount of cushioning in the sole.  I was deliberating between the Olympus or the Lone peak but the thinner sole (compared to the Olympus, but by no means thin) of the Lone Peak won out for the MDS (Altra Lone Peak 3.5).  The shoes proved to be really hard wearing with no wear on the sole, which is saying something considering I saw other people’s trainers falling apart with chunks missing out of the soles.  The Altras also have a big “foot shaped” toes box that gives loads of room for your toes to spread out.  I had some blisters on the outside edges of my toes during the race but I think part of this is down to the velcro and Raidlight Desert Gaiter  which changes the shoe shape slightly and seems to pull the trainer up more, putting more tension on the toes.

For the evenings I also had a Uniqlo down jacket (Uniqlo down jacket) that was super light and cheap.  It gave the perfect amount of insulation for the evenings and extra warmth at night.


Kit List: Gear

I had an Outdoor Research sun runner hat (Outdoor Research hat).  This was a really great piece of kit that I wore non-stop. I wore the full thing with the Foreign Legion style sun sheet the whole time except for the early part of the last day when it was overcast and not too bright.  I would recommend this to everyone.  The sheet is detachable so can be adapted to your needs.

I also wore a pair of Julbo Bivouac glasses with the photo-chromatic and polarised chameleon lenses.  These were solid and I had no problems with them.

Going for full sun protection I also went for a sun protection Peregrino Buff which also came in handy as a hat when the sandstorm came in and it got chilly at night.

I used my Suunto Ambit3 Peak and HR monitor for the whole race using an ultra setting I created by reducing the GPS accuracy to the ‘OK’ setting.  This gave ample battery life to run the GPS during the races and as a regular watch until I got home.  I was a bit worried about wearing the chest HR monitor under the rest of the straps i’d need for the rucksack and front pouch but it worked fine.

A lot of people went for the MdS rucksack that we got at the expo with varying results – most not great. I went for the Classic OMM 25 Litre pack which I bought before I knew we were getting a free one.  This turned out to work really well.  It’s a simple construction with a large main compartment, zip pocket on the lid and mesh pockets on the side, the back and the top.  I could also fit the Raidlight front pouch to this rucksack fairly easily whereas this wouldn’t have been an option for the MdS pack.

The Raidlight front pouch made a big difference for me and allowed me to have food and water readily available.  I didn’t use any extra water bottles and just took the plastic 1.5L ones were given and carried them in the Raidlight neoprene tube on the top of the front pouch.  This saved a lot of faffing about at the checkpoints, however if you were going for calories you need to mix into your water bottles then this wouldn’t be a good option for you.

Kit List: Camping Gear

Firstly the sleeping bag. I wanted to go light on this front but there are usually some scare stories about it getting cold.  The Nordisk Oscar +10 really well with the Rab silk sleeping bag liner.  I used the fold out half length matt that comes as the back stiffener in the OMM pack to sleep on – not the most comfortable but it did the job.

For cooking I used the MSR Titanium kettle with the Esbit titanium stove.  These worked really well and I liked the larger capacity of the MSR kettle (0.85L).  The best piece of kit for cooking was the titanium wind shield I got from Amazon (I’m not sure who actually makes them).  This was amazingly light and made a huge difference in the efficiency of the fuel tablets.  It rustles a fair bit but otherwise is excellent.

In general for food I would recommend the expedition foods 250km desert race nutrition pack.  This takes the fuss out of preparing the food. I added a few more snacks and some extra recovery powder but that was about it.  I would probably add more shot bloc type stuff to this as a ran out of energy for the last day and could have done with more ready carbs rather than carrying pretty much useless macadamia nuts (thought the Kcal to gram ratio is great they don’t help you out in the middle of a race as you need ready sugars and not fat).

I decanted all the Exped. foods rations into zip-lock bags to save some extra weight – I’m not sure how much difference this made but it worked well and didn’t cause any problems.

As well as the gear I used during the race it’s worth mentioning the bags I used to get me and my kit list to the start line.  I’ve used kit bags from Montrose Rope and Sail Company for many years working offshore.  These are great, hardwearing and inexpensive kit bags that rival your North Face duffels.

montrose rope and sail company duffel bagmontrose rope and sail company duffel bag

All in all my clothing and gear worked well.  I had a sun-burn phobia which kept me covered up, in the future I wouldn’t go so far with the coverage and allow myself to come back with a bit of a tan.  Other than that I don’t think I would change very much.  The biggest winners  in the kit list were the Outdoor Research hat, Raidlight front pouch, Uniqlo down jacket and the titanium wind shield.

marathon des sables weeventure




Callum is an engineering geologist with a love of the great outdoors and physical challenges in extreme environments.

Winter Driving: A winter car kit to keep you safe

Winter Driving: A winter car kit to keep you safe

If you’re driving to the hills in winter, as we did recently, or even just cutting about your local area over any distance, you’ll want a winter car kit in order to be prepared for the conditions on the road.

winter car kit

The first, most important and most useful thing to equip yourself with is proper knowledge. Knowledge of how to drive in icy and wintry conditions will go a long way to preventing you needing to use the car kit in the first place. There are courses to help you learn these skills but even a short session in a skid pan will give you a good idea of how to control the car in a slide. Alternatively, when wintry weather comes, find yourself a large, empty superstore car park and test out braking and cornering in a safe but real environment. Don’t try and set the donut record though, you’ll probably get arrested.

You’ll also want to make sure that your car is ready for winter, with anti-freeze and screenwash topped up, etc.

So, having learned the skills, you then want a backup. That’s where your winter car kit comes in.

A basic winter car kit, and there are many available to buy, will include de-icer, screenwash, a scraper, etc but the list below is what we would pack in the boot for the winter in the UK. Also, though not mentioned below, if you’ve got the funds to splash out on a set of winter tyres, which start to improve performance as the temp drops below 8c, then that’s advisable. In Scandinavian countries, it’s a legal requirement.

Wooden handled shovel

I’ve seen a few of the kits which suggest using an entrenching tool because they are compact. But I would always go for a wooden handle because wood is a much better insulator than metal. If the temp is dropping below zero you definitely don’t want anything to drain heat from your fingers quicker than absolutely necessary. The colder your fingers get, the less useful they will be.

Hi-vis clothing

You’ll want to be seen. A minimum inclusion in your winter car kit would be a simple high-vis vest. A better option would be a fleece lined hi-vis jacket.

Headtorch (and spare batteries)

You’ll be using your hands, or keeping them in your pockets. A headtorch makes things easier. Also, batteries drain quicker in cold weather so have spares.

Gas Stove (and/or a Kelly Kettle)

A warm drink not only raises your core temperature, but it raises morale. In really cold conditions, gas stoves become less useful as the pressure in the canister drops and it’ll take you a year to warm water over a meagre flame. In this case a Kelly Kettle, plus some sticks for fuel, will allow you to boil water regardless of the temp. Plus you can pop the cork in and use it as a hot water bottle.

Thermal Mug & Hot Chocolate

No point in boiling water for it to go cold immediately so a thermal mug is great. Also, as much as tea and coffee are lovely, I find that Hot Chocolate with milk powder mixed in i.e. Highlights, is the best because it only requires hot water for a comforting brew.

Cat Litter

When stuck in a snowdrift for hours, nature may call. But that secondary benefit aside, I always pack a bag of gritty cat litter in the boot because on icy, hard packed snow, pouring a small path of this in front of the drive wheels will probably get you on the move. I have tested this for real a few times and it has worked a treat. It’s cheap, the bag is easy to pour from and store. Nice one.

Folding Saw/Leatherman tool

If you are out in the country and you get stuck in snow or ice, and the job is too big a task for one bag of kitty litter, you may find yourself wishing for some matts to get you free. Well, a trick I adopted from an experienced Land Rover driver in Uganda is simple – branches. Most of the time in Scotland you are not far from evergreen trees. a good armful of these branches will see you out of the mire. Sure, you could rip the branches from the trees like some sort of angry gorilla, but it’s far easier to simple saw a few off. I like a plastic handled Gerber saw but a Leatherman could do the job too.

Cyalumes (posh glowsticks)

Awfy useful things for providing 12hrs of light without running any batteries down, or for sticking on the back of your car as a warning light.

Thin Gloves

If you’re fiddling with shovels and saws, thin gloves will allow you the dexterity required, while still protecting you. Pop a pair of mitts over the top when you aren’t doing anything and this will keep your wee fingers toasty and free from frostbite.

Warm Clothes

Fairly self-explanatory, but keep a set in your winter car kit. One that you aren’t tempted to take items from. That way you’ve always got warm kit to stick on. Hat, fleece, thick socks if the mood takes you, that sort of thing.

Sleeping Bag/Survival blanket

If it’s going to be a long night, then a decent amount of insulation will mean you don’t have to be uncomfortable when out on the road. Fold down the rear seats on most cars and you’ll be able to sleep flat and fully extended with you legs going into the boot. But even if you have to make the best of your seat, a sleeping bag or at the minimum, a foil blanket, will keep you that bit warmer. Have one for every passenger.

Scraper (and possibly de-icer)

When ice coats your windows, you’ll need to clear them to see, obviously. I prefer to use a scraper as the glass ice clear and clean afterwards. De-icer seems to leave a streaky sludge on the windows. Actually, let’s be honest, I usually use a Starbucks loyalty card as a scraper but proper, insulated ones are available.

Hopefully that provides some help to you and we wish you bon voyage on whatever winter adventure you’re undertaking.


Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.

Shin splints & shiny new shoes – Dad Bod Diaries #2

Shin splints & shiny new shoes – Dad Bod Diaries #2

Shin splints – they are the devil. A ridiculous level of discomfort for what they are but it doesn’t bear thinking about to try and train consistently through them for the next 8 months, let alone run the 150 miles through the desert at the end.

Wooaaaooo my shins are on fiiireee

So what are they? Well the NHS website (always go to a reliable source) is actually fairly vague, but states that shin splints is swelling of the tissue surrounding the shin bone. They list the likely causes of shin splints too

  • a sudden change in your activity level – such as starting a new exercise plan or suddenly increasing the distance or pace you run

Yep, whoops, typically me. I was doing ok at 2 miles so though “och, let’s just go up to 10”. My poor wee legs having my 16 stone frame crashing through them for 10 miles might have come as a shock.

  • running on hard or uneven surfaces

Yep, it’s mostly tarmac where I live.

  • wearing poorly fitting or worn-out trainers that don’t cushion and support your feet properly

I did not realise that trainers needed replacing. My Sauconys have done me proud for at least 7 years.

  • being overweight

I’ve only once managed to sneak into my recommended BMI range, and that was after 3 months living in Africa living off one meal of rice and beans per day (student debt induced diet). I’m a bit doughy at the moment, sure, but genetic inherited from a shot put chucking, caber tossing grandfather means that I am never likely to be a waif.

  • having flat feet or feet that roll inwards (known as over-pronation)

Well there you go, I thought I supinated (opposite of over-pronation) because I don’t feel much pressure through my big toe and the outside of my shoes wear out faster, but according to the gurus at Run and Become, I have a neutral, if slightly over-pronating gait. Which explains the splints I suppose.

  • having tight calf muscles, weak ankles, or a tight Achilles tendon (the band of tissue connecting the heel to the calf muscle)

Finally, one box I don’t tick. Though, my Achilles could do with a stretch now you come to mention it.

Off to get my gait analysed

In light of the above, I decided I need to try and get the mechanics of my running checked, and buy some decent shoes. A ban on Mrs Unis samosas for the foreseeable will hopefully deal with the weight thing (they are God’s own snack of choice – true story). I heard about fancy computer tech, etc and the physio round the corner from me looks to offer a good service, but I’m stereotypically Scottish when it comes to parting with cash. Run and Become is a famous running shop in Edinburgh and they claim to do a more holistic (full mechanical spectrum) analysis just by watching you run. They explain it better here..

So off I went, did lots of running up and down in the road and came out 20min later with a pair of Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3. I tried on Sauconys again. They were beautifully light and comfortable but we had concerns about how they would fare in tougher conditions. The adviser also pointed out that stitching on velcro for gaiters would weaken the overall fabric as the stitching would be tougher than the shoe upper. . I tried Brooks as well, but felt like my big toe was about to pop straight through the top. I liked the Hokas for the cushioning and the solidity. They feel like they could kick a rock or two and live to tell the tale.

Anyway, I got the old bat phone out and filmed a quick vid as I went along, which you can watch below. We’ll try and get more content on YouTube but in the meantime, sign up to our email updates to get all the latest blogs and chat..



Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.