Spine kit - What worked for me and what didn’t
Kit and its importance is a big issue in the build-up to this race. There are many variables – will you get rain, wind, snow or all of them at some point in the race? Will you wear pretty much the same stuff throughout or will you need to change kit several times a day?
Not having run the race previously I felt at times overwhelmed by the preparation and found the need to try to cover all bases and bring spares/alternatives for every eventuality. I also found that this is simply not practicably possible with a 20kg drop bag.
20kg is more than an adequate size and weight and I found, as the event neared just how much I would have to leave out, that I would otherwise have wanted to take.
That I was restricted however to a 20kg bag was however a big help when returning home and lugging that bag and my race sack across York station and every inch in between any further, then I might have finished the race but I might not have made it home!
On top I started off with a base layer/long sleeved top with my OMM Kamleika over that. It was damp but mild and that was more than adequate. When it got colder I used a Rab Baltoro soft shell jacket under the OMM jacket and in the Cheviots I wore a micro fleece under the Rab. It was about -10 to -15 but I never got cold until about 5miles from the end. I also carried a Helly Hansen lightweight down jacket which I put on briefly whilst at Hut 2. I also had in my kit bag a spare thinsulate alternative in case of damp/wet weather when a down jacket might not have been appropriate. I didn’t get wet and I only needed to change clothing very occasionally. The Kamleika jacket was fine. I had a more robust Mountain Equipment waterproof jacket in my spare kit should I need it, but I never did.
The Rab Baltoro jacket was an ebay bargain. It came from Finland for about £25 and was warm/dry thoughout.
On my neck I wore a buff and on my head a Sealskinz skull cap. With the hood of my Rab and OMM jackets that was more than enough and I never needed the windstopper balaclava in my rucksack. I often needed nothing on my head at all but could easily vary headwear depending on the warmth required between 0-3 layers this way.
On the bottom I wore compression shorts with winter weight lycra leggings over them. Right from the start I wore my Kimmlite trousers over the top. It was wet when we started and after that I never saw the need to take them off. Of all the kit I took the best bit of kit with me were these overtrousers. I hate walking in overtrousers but these were just brilliant. An ebay bargain many years ago Kimmlite are the ancestors of OMM Kamleika. I bought them off a guy who wanted the new OMM logo on his legs rather than the obsolescent Kimmlite one … his loss/it didn’t bother me. They kept my legs warm/dry/mud free and are light/stretchy (and as such fit quite tightly). More importantly they don’t rustle. They do now have a couple of barbed wire wounds but that’s all. I’d recommend them to anyone who hates overtrousers.
I also wore my sons long DofE gaiters. I’ve seen Dans comments about people wearing these outside their overtrousers and normally I’d agree. The main reason however why I was wearing them was to keep my lower leg as mud/ice free as possible rather than dry so when I took my boots off I was essentially clean. So I wore them over the top. I’d tucked my lycra bottoms into knee length Sealskinz and with the overtrousers over the top didn’t mind if water ran down my leg underneath my gaiters, confident that my leg would stay dry. I used an inov8 rubber O ring from my shorter debris gaiters to keep the gaiters down over my Hokas and 1 pair of the rubber rings lasted all the way to Middleton (150miles) unbroken. On swapping over to my Salomon boots the O ring lasted about 5 minutes, spare cut down laces lasting a little longer at about ½hr, so I gave up. As a result I had to put up with them riding up occasionally and some mud/snow getting underneath. I did have icing up/balling issues with them but so did most other people too. Overall they were pretty effective.
I had far too much spare clothing but on a wetter year I might have needed it.
In the lead up to this event one of my main worries was how my hands might cope. I suffer with Raynauds and know from experience that in winter conditions I struggle with dexterity. I often won’t get my hands out to check compass/map often enough to be sure of where I am, which is not good. I knew I needed to strike a balance between dexterity and warmth and as such had a lot of alternatives with me. I had lots of spare gloves and at least 3x mitt combos.
In the end it wasn’t a real issue, for which I was both surprised and grateful and I never had cold hands. I started off with a lightweight cotton glove under black Marigolds (to keep the water off). Overnight I used a Hothands sachet inside the glove and this worked well. I had the dexterity to use my GPS/compass/map and even when wet my hands were warm. The Marigolds lasted surprisingly well too. They kept most of the water out and all of the wind off. They did succumb to barbed wire rips eventually but not for several days. I used a thicker windstopper fleece glove once the marigolds died and they stayed warm even when wet with the help of the Hothands (I’d got a Costco bargain with these. I got a 40pair box for about £7.00 and used about a dozen pairs over the week so I now have enough left over for me and my daughter for the next 10years).
I only used mitts once, when up in the Cheviots. I used a basic fleece mitt under my old Belstaff motorcycle overmitts. These were great but I did wear the palm out on one of them pulling myself along the fenceline.
I’d tried to fit all my kit into a 25l OMM sack and though I did manage to fit it in, it was all so tightly packed I’d never have got anything out easily had I wanted it. A Vango DofE sack at 50l was far too big and too heavy even when empty so I bought a 32l Lowe Alpine Airfit sack from the Rabshop as a ‘second’. It had seemed ok when trying to get used to running with it in advance of the race but I only ever tried it over shortish distances. It was good at holding all the kit and access was easy but it was so bloody uncomfortable I was wishing I’d used the old but basic Karrimor 30l sack I’d used on the MdS years many years previously.
To be honest it may have been my fault and I may not have managed to sort out the fit properly, but if that was the case it was far too complicated a structure for me. As it was after only a day or so it felt like I was wearing a steel bar across my shoulder blades and I was permanently trying to relieve the pressure by lifting it up and/or off my shoulders.
I was also disappointed with the weight of my kit which at about 9kg without water was far too heavy and maybe that had a lot to do with the shoulder issues I had … maybe I should have persisted with the 25l sack since at least that would have restricted what I could fit in. I did have to strike a balance though between ultralight kit and useable kit. Where I met this issue I usually erred on the side of caution and took the practical over the light hence, I guess, the weight.
I also wore an OMM chestpouch. I was going to say map pouch but it is weirdly sized for maps. I couldn’t work out the sealing system either so added some more Velcro of my own to improve the seal. I folded up the Harveys map into it but rarely used it for navigating preferring the 1:25,000 OS A-Z map (which wouldn’t fit in) in a simple ziplock bag. Where the chestpouch was very useful though was in storing everything else but the kitchen sink I would need on a regular basis.
I know the importance of having useful stuff to hand. If it’s not to hand you don’t use it which in the case of food etc can be critical so in it I had food/spare batteries/compass/e-lite/gloves/headtorch(in the day)/phone/portable phone charger etc. I attached it via lightweight karabiners to my shoulder straps that were easier to operate with gloved hands than the usual clips and overall it vied for the ‘best piece of kit’ award.
This was another of the areas where I was unsure what to take and deliberated long and hard. I had seen some microstoves and knew they were much lighter than the Jetboil systems. I’d also had enough experience with them over the years to know that it wasn’t the sort of environment in which I wanted to be faffing round with meths and a Trangia. In the end I bought both a Jetboil and Primus ETA (both off ebay again) so see which I liked best. Both had issues. Neither were particularly light but I liked their self-contained nature. The Jetboil had a tendency when being carried to turn itself on (the wire on/off switch seemed to keep catching) and as such I had to carry it with the canister separately – not very convenient) whereas the Primus was slightly smaller but had a more fiddly connection between pan and stove. The connectors were plastic covered and these melted/distorted slightly in heat (Hmmmm - a stove getting hot, who would have thought it?). Still, both had effective ignitors and in the end I took the Primus since I could keep it connected and therefore crack it open much more speedily. In the event I didn’t use it more than a couple of times but when I did it was effective and quick at heating up my boil in the bag meals, which is what I wanted it for.
Not much science here. I used a combination of chocolate, 9 bars and chia bars in my chest pouch and I had extra supplies including several boil in the bag meals in the top pouch of my rucksack. Where possible I did stop for real food but I felt a little reluctant to go into a pub for a meal on my own. As it was I stocked up at Gargrave co-op, Horton café (chili for breakfast) and ate as much as I was allowed at CPs. The Wayfarer meals boil in the bag meals I took with me to use with the Primus were excellent. The beans and sausages I had at Dufton village hall were the best I can recall tasting and the chili at Greenhead/Chicken Tikka meals at Hut 1 not far behind.
Another condundrum. You need to have a 2l water carrying facility and I knew that a bladder was not going to easily fit inside my rucksack. I’d also heard tales of bladders or at least the hose, freezing up entirely. I knew I needed something that would be quick and easy to fill or in the end I would look for the easy option and not bother. A bladder stored in my rucksack would be a pain to refill. I had rigged up a system so I could hang it round my neck and inside my jacket to keep it out of the elements but in the end I never used it that way.
Ultimately I opted to carry a bladder (empty) in the top of my rucksack for emergency use and rely on a 500ml bottle carried on my chest … but it was to be no ordinary 500ml bottle. What I did was rig a Sawyer filter inline into the drinking tube inside the wide screwcap orifice of the bottle, so it was effectively invisible and came away with the cap when unscrewed. This way I’d be able to fill up anywhere – and there was no shortage of water on this event, and drink through the filter. This simple device vies with my overtrousers for the ‘best piece of kit’ award. In practice I was able to fill up quickly with bogwater and drink it safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get stomach problems within a day or so. Ultimately and on the section before Hadrians wall I lost it in a tumble in the darkness when it fell out of my holder and I didn’t notice but by then it’d already been a godsend. I had probably wrecked its filtering ability over Cross Fell to be honest when it froze up (and you are supposed to discard the filter if it freezes) so it does prevent me from risking stomach issues on another occasion but I was most impressed (smug even) with my own compact/useful design … Perhaps I could market it.
I was originally intending to use my trusty Petzl Tikka XP. Its old but very good on batteries and is light and effective. In the lead up to this event however I found a bargain Petzl Tikka RXP. The reactive light is a bit of a gimmick but once the rechargeable pack had gone flat I swapped it for the AAA pack you can fit. You lose the reactive element when you fit this pack but I didn’t mourn its loss. The RXP used (lithium) batteries faster than the old XP but the spot beam and flood were very useful especially when on my own when searching for stiles etc along fence lines and where for example paths etc had disappeared in the snow and I had been walking on a bearing. The XP wouldn’t have given me this sort of beam and overall I was impressed by it. I know lots use the Myo XP/RXP but I don’t get on with the separate battery pack on the back of my head. I prefer the unit to be self-contained and was prepared to put up with using more batteries than the XP might otherwise have used. I also carried an emergency e-lite so I could change batteries in the dark/in case I damaged my headtorch. Small and very light it too was invaluable.
I carried a pair of Yaktrax with me throughout but never used them. I know they tend to quickly wear out so wanted to save them. In my kit bag I had a pair of much more aggressive spikes for worse weather or if I wore out/lost my Yaktrax. I’ve used Yaktrax before and I find them easier to get along with than proper spikes. I might have fallen over less if I’d have worn them I guess but my main slipping issues were in mud/slush rather than on ice. Later on in the Cheviots my issues on snow were related to breaking through the crust and sinking in rather than it being icy – I wish it had been icier! I nearly used them on Pen-y-Ghent but in the end didn’t need to. They weighed very little and tucked into a rucksack pocket I barely noticed them but it was a comfort knowing I had them with me.
Feet (incl socks)
The importance of having comfortable and healthy feet on this event cannot be overstated. It took me a long time (many years ago now) to get to know what works for me feetwise and I saw no real need to depart from my tried and tested routine here. Indeed to do so at the last minute could have jeopardised the whole thing. I do recall on the Thames Ring a few years ago that it was so hot at the start that I made a very last minute decision to ditch the Sealskinz. That proved nearly fatal since grit in my socks (that the Sealskinz would have prevented) caused hotspots on the balls of my fee that after a day or so deteriorated into blisters and nearly wrecked my race entirely. Even though the Sealskinz went back on at the 1st CP the damage of irritating my feet had already been done.
So … I vaselined my feet put on a pair of Injinji toe sock liners and a pair of knee length army issue Sealskinz over the top. Sorted … and for a long time too. The Sealskinz help prevent the Vaseline from evaporating and the Vaseline counteracts the dampness that you can get from wearing Sealskinz. The Injinji also counteract the harsh weave of the Sealskinz that can otherwise cause blisters in tender feet in their own right.
Sealskinz are bit like Hokas and Marmite – people love or hate them … but I love them. You do have to wear liners with them and it’s true they don’t last as long as they used to but I alternated between 2 pairs of knee length Sealskinz throughout and if they’d only lasted the race that would have been more than good enough for me. As it was I might have got wet feet on one occasion (when I went into a bog over knee deep) but it was hard to tell. Other than that I had dry feet, only changing liners and reapplying Vaseline at major CP’s. In any event they kept my feet warm and just as importantly clean and also kept the Vaseline where it was meant to be.
I do think that people need to persist with Sealskinz if they want to do runs like this. If I had not already come to expect so much of them I would possibly put them up for the greatest piece of kit I took with me but I do expect them to perform and they didn’t let me down. The extra length of these particular Sealsinz was extremely useful too and only the deepest bogs risked water coming in over the top. Your feet often feel wet in Sealskinz when walking in water when in fact they are not and even if they do leak they still keep your feet warm and clean/grit/mud free, which in itself helps minimise blisters. I was amazed at how much silt had accumulated on the top of my Sealskinz whenever I took my shoe off but none of it ever got any nearer to my feet than that. I got small blisters on my little toes (which I always do) but no others. I did get some pain/soreness on the outside of my feet caused by my boots being a bit too small to accommodate the swelling but otherwise my feet ended up being perfect. Two weeks after the event I still have a numb L big toe though.
Using a GPS system was something I had to learn about in the lead up to this event. A GPS is compulsory (mainly so you can supply organisers with accurate grid references in an emergency) but I haven’t had much need to use one previously. I guess, being old school … or just plain old, I’ve never really seen the need to use one before since I’m comfortable with a map/compass.
So, I had to learn about them pretty much from scratch. Again ebay came to my help and I bought a second hand Garmin 62s and also a Garmin etrex 30. The 62s had OSM mapping but the draw of the etrex was that it was both cheap and came with a 1:50,000 OS map card.
The etrex 30 was small and light and I guess in normal circumstances would be ideal for runners since it could be easily slipped into a pocket.
In the end however I used the 62s which was rugged and its buttons easier to use with gloved hands than the joystick of the etrex 30. It survived several drops and was quick to clip on/off my chest strap. It found satellites quickly and on lithium batteries I would get about 30hrs out of 2 AA batteries, which I considered excellent. My only prior exposure to a GPS was with a Satmap10 which has a great screen but I would get only 2-3hrs out of 3x AA batteries. As a result the Satmap didn’t last long before getting resold. I was mightily impressed therefore with the 62s. When using it I swapped mapcards over and used it with the OS 1:50,000 card which was more than good enough.
My phone is a small cheap PAYG Nokia and that’s all I’ve ever needed. It has a brilliant battery life and I carried a small Duracell portable charger with me and a larger portable charger in my drop bag (with which could recharge the smaller charger) my daughter bought me a plastic bag/cover for my phone and when in it I could just about operate the keys for reading/making text messages, without taking it out.
My watch was a Suunto Ambit 2 R. the R has a lower battery life than the std Ambit 2, but it’s still pretty good when in Ultra mode. Had I needed to use the navigation on it (I had Pennine Way GPX files stored on it for emergencies) then the battery would quickly have been used up but the navigation on it is very basic anyway and in no way comparable to a standard GPS. As it was I was able to recharge the watch from my portable charger on the go and without losing data … most of the time. On a couple of occasions whilst in my chestpouch charging it, it did stop but that might have been due to inadvertently pressing buttons whilst it was in there. To be honest I lost interest in using it for distances/GPS quite quickly and only ever used it as a real time watch anyway. Pace was effectively irrelevant – ‘just keep going’ being the main/only priority and I didn’t need a watch for that.
I took both the Harveys map and the A-Z maps with me. I bought both partly because I love maps and looking at them. I know people rave about the Harveys maps and it is useful that they are water resistant but having been brought up on OS maps I now find it hard to get used to the Harveys map. The A-Z map is in two small and useful booklets (though they won’t easily fit in the OMM chestpouch map bit) and it’s also in the very useful OS 1:25,000 format. I found it much more user friendly and though I had a big industrial mapcase for it if necessary, a smaller/lighter A4 ziplock bag proved more than adequate to keep it dry. When not in use I was able to fold the map booklet shut and tuck it in the slot behind my chestpouch. Sorted.
My compass was a standard Silva of a type I’ve used since I was born. It points North – which is the only thing a compass needs to do and I know how to take a bearing with it. Whilst I would have my GPS in my L hand showing me the map I would invariably have my compass in my R hand at the same time. If the map showed my general route of travel as NE I would set my compass to NE and follow that as a vague bearing to avoid becoming disorientated.
Sleeping bags are expensive and one of the draws with this race is that I thought I had a lot of the necessary kit already. I have owned a Mountain Equipment Snowline bag since I was about 18 and I originally thought that would do. When new it was supposed to have a -10 comfort rating. I guess this has declined a bit over the years but it was still a warm/useful (if old) bag and though I kept looking at smaller/lighter bags to reduce pack size and weight I kept coming back to … why bother? In the end I stuck with me old mate and saved myself a fair bit at the expense of half filling my bag from the word go. It was more than adequate and I wasn’t too bothered about keeping it clean. When using it I would get into a bin liner (boots and all) and then into my bag. Since my feet were never wet this was quite comfortable.
As for a mat I was very tempted to use my trusty cut down karrimat too. This however is only ¾ length and whilst fine in an emergency I could see the remaining ¼ leaching out all heat if I needed to use it on the hill. I also thought I might want a bit more comfort at CP’s. I looked (ebay again) long and hard for a cheaper lightweight Thermarest but never found one cheap enough (too tight I guess) and in the end compromised with a slightly heavier and larger Vango copy. It was fine and comfortable but if I did it again I might risk the Karrimat next time or shell out for a lighter and smaller Thermarest. The main advantage of the mat I did take over the Karrimat though was that it fitted in my rucksack whereas the Karrimat would have had to be strapped to the outside and I saw a couple of these that had presumably been similarly mounted floating over the hillsides. I carried one that I found for several miles until I was able to hand it in to the Mountain Rescue just after the M62 crossing.
I had 2 of these. I had my heavy duty orange plastic bivvy sack which I use as emergency kit on the likes of the 4 Inns and a Snugpak bivvy (you guessed it – ebay). I carried the plastic bivvy till Hebden Bridge and then swapped it for the Snugpak. I never needed to use it in the end since I was able to link all of my stops with CPs, unofficial or otherwise but I would have been confident using it in the weather we had if I needed to. It’s likely to be back on ebay again shortly with some of my other kit since I can’t see me getting much more use out of it in the future.
I’ve left this till last since I was majorly disappointed with the performance of my shoes. I’ve used Hokas for years now on road, trail and fell from 5k to 145miles and I’m their biggest fan. After I seriously wrecked my back in 2013 the cushioning protected my spine from additional hammer and allowed me to run again. My knees are better for them too. I know there are many detractors and I know they are a marmite shoe but to be honest I don’t care what other people think – why should I? They work for me and that’s an end of it.
Well, nearly anyway. Hokas have always had a rubbish grip off-road in the wet. I had my old Mafates retreaded with proper studs and they are now great but were probably a bit small for this race and the sock combo I wanted to wear. More recently Hoka have been using vibram soles on the Rapa Nui 2S and the Speedgoat. I have used the 2S over Kinder many times and they have been a lot better. As a result I decided to buy a pair a size bigger than normal to accommodate my feet swelling and to wear an extra pair of socks over the top over the Injinji/Sealskinz that could easily be discarded once I started to feel my feet swell.
Things started off fine and I never fell at all over Kinder or Bleaklow. But then it started to rain and from Black Hill onwards I had real trouble staying on my feet. The Hokas were comfortable and worked well with my gaiters but I just could not stay upright in them. On wet grass, mud and especially slush they were appalling. How I managed to avoid an injury from falling I do not know but by Middleton I’d had enough of them and swapped them for a pair of Goretex Salomon walking boots since I’d suspected that in the latter stages I’d be doing plenty of walking. Though grip was by no means perfect the Salomons worked better than the Hokas over the terrain, though as indicated elsewhere, they ate up gaiter straps. They were however narrower than my Hokas and I did suffer in the latter stages with some discomfort to the outside of my foot , probably swelling related , though nothing major. By the end my feet were pretty much blister free but it did take the best part of a week for the swelling to go down and two and a half weeks on I still have a numb L big toe – the R one is now pretty much back to normal.