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.

Marathon des Sables media roundup

Marathon des Sables media roundup

It isn’t surprising that someone running 6 marathons in 7 days across the Sahara desert would be newsworthy, but Callum’s excellent performance in the event garnered a whole lot of media coverage;

STV News // 13th April 2018

The Herald // 14th April 2018 // page 8

The Herald weeventure media coverage marathon des sables


The Daily Record // 14th April 2018 // page 17

Daily Record Weeventure Marathon des Sables media coverage


The Courier // 11th April 2018


The Courier weeventure media coverage marathon des sables


The Evening Telegraph // 13th April 2018

evening telegraph weeventure media coverage marathon des sables


Energy Voice // 11th April 2018

Energy Voice weeventure media coverage marathon des sables




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.

Return from Morocco // Initial reflections on the Marathon des Sables 2018

Return from Morocco // Initial reflections on the Marathon des Sables 2018

Thanks to everyone for all your support while I was away running the Marathon Des Sables. It was a great adventure and challenge. I was astounded to see so much interest and so many messages from people spanning my whole life from days in Germany to Harris Academy, St Andrews and now Oxford/London. The support was much appreciated and meant a lot when the printed notes were brought round to the tents in the evenings.

I met some great people while I was in Morocco both civilian, current and ex military (regular and reserves). In my tent alone we had backgrounds as varied as an ex-professional pianist turned entertainment lawyer, a Chinook pilot, two Royal Marine Reserves, an entrepreneur, structural engineer and wealth manager – What a mix!

The week had its ups and down and challenges, not only the fitness associated with the races themselves but also the general upkeep of you body to make sure you could get to the start line each morning. Most important was hydrating and refuelling after each race but also making sure you got enough rest and sleep in an environment that is often not very conducive to it!

I had a fantastic result for the week placing 58th overall. The race had its ups and downs with the hardest point for me being the last race day. I could feel that I had very little left in my legs as we set off across the dunes for the final marathon distance but despite eating everything I had to hand there was no powering up the legs again. It was a struggle for the last 25km into a powerful and persistent headwind that seemed determined to slow me to a walk. It was a relief to finish that day and know that the competition was over.

The two highest points of the week were day three, the Jebel day, and starting the long stage as one of the top 50 athletes. The Jebel day was incredible – running along the rock ridges with steep climbs and fast descents. The experience of starting the long stage among the top 50 was something special. I’d seen the documentaries of the MdS showing the top 50 “elite” athletes starting the long stage and it was amazing to me that I was there starting the long stage 3 hours behind the main pack ready to try and pass through the other runners on the way to the finish

The MdS was a great experience – a fantastic adventure. Very challenging at times but well worth the effort.



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

Marathon des Sables Marriage Proposal 2018

Marathon des Sables Marriage Proposal 2018

The Marathon des Sables is a life defining event for many and what better way to mark such a seminal moment than to combine it with a marriage proposal?

Well as we were waiting for our man Duffy to come in on the long day of the event, we spotted a fella kneeling down in front of the camera. What’s this? Unlike all the other people waving for the camera, he had the presence of mind to get someone to shine a torch on him. An in the grainy light of that headtorch we witnessed a Love Actually-esque proposal. He even got down on one knee. It’s more amazing that, after 86km, he managed to get up again without assistance.

So, Richard Carpenter (#684), we hope that Laura (is that right?) says yes and you can have a dual celebration tomorrow.

Marathon des sable marriage proposal 1Marathon des sable marriage proposal 1


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.

Unconquerable soul // Duffy smashes the long phase // Stage 4 // Marathon des Sables

Unconquerable soul // Duffy smashes the long phase // Stage 4 // Marathon des Sables

Our man Duffy has really continued his run of form in the Marathon des Sables with a strong performance in the long day.


Back in December, when on a training hike in the very un-Saharan like temperatures of the Cairngorms, we discussed possible strategies for the event and Duffy reckoned that conserving energy during the hottest part of the day, just ticking over the miles, would allow him to may hay while the sun stops shining. He seems to have taken these tactics to the desert, keeping an easy pace until Checkpoint 3, at which point he stuck the afterburners on and rose 40 places in the rankings. Between there and Checkpoint 7 he chipped away at the competition, rising to 73rd and once that last milestone was cleared he did just what I expected him to and pushed again, rising higher still to finish the day in 62nd place, which puts him in 35th overall, with one marathon left to go.

long day  marathon des sables


To finish in the elite group would be truly spectacular, especially for a runner who doesn’t train with a club, doesn’t generally compete in the athletics scene (but wins medals when he does) and whose shorts are of normal length. He’s also a bit too tall for the ideal runner’s build, standing at about 6’1″. Yet what he possesses, a trait both born and bred in him by his parents and honed through years of testing challenges, is a mental endurance far superior to the vast majority of people. In short, he will go, always a little further.


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.

Stage 3 // Marathon des Sables 2018  //  Duffy on the attack

Stage 3 // Marathon des Sables 2018 // Duffy on the attack

In Stage 3 Duffy went on the attack, boosted by confidence from previous days.

31,6 km for the third stage ??? #MDS #MDS2018 #marathondessables

A post shared by MARATHON DES SABLES (@marathondessables) on


It was a 31.6km stage which involved a couple of climbs mid course and then a hard drive to the finish. Duffy increased his pressure on the athletes, many of whom are probably pro or semi-pro (as opposed to a beardy geologist who goes jogging in his lunch break). He finished this stage in 28th place, bringing him up to 37th overall. For the statisticians amongst you, that places him in the top 3.5% of athletes.

Epic effort which means he’ll start the long day in the Elite Top 50, which means they start the double marathon 3hrs behind the main pack.

I may have been forced to pull out of the event, but let’s be fair, the only time I would have seen him on course would have been when he overtook me on this phase.  But, it means I am free to pester you all to type a quick message of support to him (bib 411).


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.

Duffy continues his run of form in Stage 2 // Marathon des Sables 2018

Duffy continues his run of form in Stage 2 // Marathon des Sables 2018

Stage 2 of the MdS 2018 is over for Duffy, though plenty of people are still slogging away in the desert. He came in 45th on this second stage which, at last checking, brought his overall placing up to 42nd.

Today’s stage: 39 kilometers ? Good luck everybody #MDS #MDS2018 #marathondessables

A post shared by MARATHON DES SABLES (@marathondessables) on


If we were worried that he had pushed too hard on Day 1, we needn’t have been. Another solid performance in Stage 2 has meant that he is well placed to churn out tomorrow’s stage and remain in the top 50 which will be classed as “Elite” and allow him to start the long stage 3hrs behind the main pack.

People get so obsessed about the prep for this event, and churning out huge mileages. that they break themselves. Duffy had a solid build up with two 50 mile races and a trail marathon but other than that he’s just been training on roads near the house, with a few runs around Hyde Park during lunch breaks. More important is 1.) his fortuitous genetics; and 2.) experience –  he knows how to push on with a physical challenge. He classed his prep coming into the event as less than ideal, having taken a few weeks off for a cold. It seems the longer pre-race rest period may have left him with more in the tank than he had hoped.

Remember you can track him here or write to him here


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.

Duffy finished Stage 1 in 44th place  //  Marathon des Sables 2018

Duffy finished Stage 1 in 44th place // Marathon des Sables 2018

The Marathon des Sables 2018 is underway and our man is doing us proud. Callum Duffy finished Stage 1 in 44th place (7th Brit). What a phenomenal effort!

That’s 18.83 miles in 2hrs 53min 21sec. That’s a fairly steady 9.21min/mile for him. He did say he wanted to use the first few days to get his bearings and try to move on places in the long phase. So this seems consistent with that.

On a training hike in the Cairngorms we discussed relative ambitions. Mine were to finish mid table at best, his were to finish in the top 100. Assuming he keeps injury free, I’ve every faith in his experience at long distance, load carrying expeditions to carry him through to a top 50 finish.

You can view results here:

Also you can write messages of support to him here (his bib number is 411):


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.

The terrible decision – pulling the plug on a decade old dream

The terrible decision – pulling the plug on a decade old dream

This won’t be a long post. I don’t want to labour the point. But I had to make the terrible decision to pull out of the MdS 2018. Hobbling through that inflatable arch and finishing the race with Duffy had been a constant visual in my head for the past two years since sending him a link to the registration of interest form. Experiencing the race had been something I had dreamed of since we discussed it in the school library in the 1990s.

I can’t begin to explain the impotent anger I have felt since I realised that I would be unlikely to be able to take part. It got to the stage where I almost hoped to get mugged so I could vent my fury on someone who deserved it. But a jail sentence would hardly have helped matters.

The only way I don’t descend into a spiral of depression at the moment is to assure myself that it is run every year and I can sign up again. Before that point, there is work to be done on a wonky right leg and general circumstances.

Some perspective also helps. As much as doing this is probably the personal priority in my life, it is still just the pinnacle of Maslow’s Pyramid. I am totally sorted for food, shelter, water, a lovely wife, the ability to earn a living, freedom from being bombed, etc etc that much of the world doesn’t have. If I didn’t have them, I’m pretty sure a middle class marathon in Morroco wouldn’t be much of a concern. To complain of not being able to do a large and punishing fun run would be first world problems indeed.

I didn’t think I could bear to hear anything about the MdS this week, as finishing it would undoubtedly be one of the happiest days of my life. But actually, supporting Duffy is a good substitute. So I will throw myself into that and in the future, when I do make it to the desert, it will be all the sweeter.



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.

Christmassy Cairngorms – a training hike at Minus 14C

Christmassy Cairngorms – a training hike at Minus 14C

Two things coincided recently in Scotland; 1.) Duffy was flying up for a meeting on the Monday morning; and 2.) a massive dump of snow in the Cairngorms was followed by clear weather. These two combined made for ideal reasons to head up North and get some quality (hard) miles of tabbing under our belt, carrying weight.

Distance: About 15miles (the Garmin died about 2 miles from the end)
Kit Carried: About 15kg.  Full winter kit, including crampons, ice axe, and a couple of kg of camera stabiliser.
Weather: Clear skies, deep snow, minus 14C.

As is the perpetual situation of any parent, asking your partner in crime to shoulder the full burden of an eleven month old baby and a potty training three year old is not something done lightly, or without huge sensations of guilt. So in order to actually use this occasion to reduce my time away from family, I decided to take some kit along to film stock for my new freelance website. The extra, unwieldy weight was probably the only price to pay with a benefit arriving in the form of more rest breaks. But permission granted, we set out.

The roads North to the Cairngorms were suspect, and Duffy’s rental Astra objected a few times but we got there ok. The weather was promising to offer up spectacular conditions and we weren’t disappointed to say the least.

cairngorms winter training

OK, so let’s start by saying that Duffy had already clocked 16 miles the day before doing Beinn a’Ghlo, and was brutally hungover following a late night catch up with his brother in law. That gave some hope of a level playing field, but hope that was soon to be dashed. The man eats up miles in the same way I have been eating up mince pies.

Getting out of the car was the first challenge of the day. Two other people reported the temp being -14C, which is a  bit cheeky. So you’re presented with the age old dilemma of  “do we start with warm kit on, and strip off, or just be brave”. We were cowards. There was no way in hell the buffalo was coming off until I was sweating profusely.

It must be said, the conditions in the Cairngorms were stunning. There is something utterly invigorating about crunching through the frozen forests from the Linn of Dee car park before opening out into wider vistas of sparkling hills on the way to Glen Lui. There was not a sole to be seen and it was totally silent, beyond the occasionally bird chirp and the gentle rustling of the river.

cairngorms snow river

Anyway, this was a training exercise and the aim had been to climb Devil’s Peak (a somewhat sanitised translation from the Gaelic to save Queen Vic’s blushes – though she was apparently a total randy mare so I doubt she’d have been shocked) from Linn of Dee in the 7 hours of daylight available to us. This required us to be in the Cairngorms at about half eight. Road conditions made this timeframe impossible, so we altered plans to just see how far we would get and enjoy the walk while we went.

The initial walk to Derry Lodge was simple, as that track was well used and shallow. Beyond that it started to get deeper, but still fairly simple until we started getting towards Luibeg Burn. The snow still wasn’t too deep, with a simple path of trodden snow weaving through the laden branches. After the burn however, Lordy, the pain started. Climbing from Luibeg Bridge around to the Lairig Ghru was exhausting, with each step seeing us drop to knee or nether regions in snow. The effort required to haul the leg out, sinking in with the other, then lurching forward, will surely be as good a preparation for the energy sapping sand dunes as any amount of powdered silica could be.

The weight we were carrying was certainly heavier than we’ll have to haul on the MdS. My old Craghopper’s rucksack has seen better days and wasn’t doing my back any favours so one take away is that the pack used in the desert will want to be packed with priority given to weight distribution. Hopefully the front pack can be used to counterbalance the backpack.

Having hauled ourselves to the highest point of the shoulder of Carn a’Mhaim, we stopped, dropped packs and took in the views of Devils Point as the sun dropped behind the hills.and what little warmth there was went with it. If things could have got more silent, I don’t know how. But then we realised we had a rapid tab out to undertake and it was on the way to darkness. Darkness in itself is not a problem, as we have headtorches, spare batteries, etc. But we wanted to get shifting before the next ice age descended on the car.

devils point in winter cairngorms

Without the time taken to film or take in the views, our pace dramatically increased on the way out. Duffy was habitually getting about 100-200m ahead of me every few miles, but that’s fine, given our event ambitions. What is reassuring is that after a hard few hours or total energy draining hiking, carrying perhaps 50-100% more than we will in the Sahara, we were able to maintain somewhere around the 4mph pace without too much issue. The other take away was that biltong is great food for the trail but causes serious lactic acid built up in the jaws when it is largely frozen.

A quality Cairngorms mountain day, in every definition of the term, and one which instils a bit of confidence in advance of the months of training ahead.



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.