Monday, 4 December 2017

Revised Spine Kit Advise . Part 1 Equipment.

                  There Is No Such Thing As The Best Equipment.

      You will get swamped with advise on what equipment to buy but much of that advise is based on limited past experience . Even recommendations  given by multiple Spine Vets seldom  give you the whole picture.

        The problem leads back to the uniqueness of the Spine Race itself.
        Conditions during the race are unpredictable one day in advance let alone several weeks or months when you buy the gear.
        The other unique factor is the length (number of days  ) of the race.  The fastest runners will not have the same equipment requirements as the tail enders.   A rough prediction of when you expect to arrive at the various CP's will dictate Kit choice .  The Predictions are based on assumptions of achievable pace but weather factors such as heavy snow can make predictions invalid.

        Choosing Kit should be about allowing for flexibility in how you may use that kit.

       What Kit  you plan   to carry was probably influenced  by applying the well documented :

                   Rules of Ultra running:

                   Rule 1 Carry as little  weight as possible.
                   Rule 2 Carry what the winners carry they know best.
                   Rule 3 More expensive kit is better.

       What you  finally end up carrying then get,s modified by how much you can afford to spend , your own experience as an Ultra Runner and  then   further influenced by the fear of the unknown.
        Novice Spine Racers choose to ignore advice that the race can best  be described as an  expedition.

  Lets face it it,s called 'The Spine Race ; not The Spine Expedition! 

   However the bottom line is that this race is in reality a 268 mile fast walk so all that gear designed by Ultra Celebs and shown on U Tube on the backs of said Celebs as they leap around a pristine mountain may not be what you actually need.

         I am willing to bet that you will all start with this list and assume this is what the Race Directors have produced to fill a tick box list. In reality the compulsory kit list is there as a list of the minimum requirements to finish the race in normal winter conditions without ending out taking a ride in a helicopter.

           In reality  It is used as guidance and a stick to prevent Racers being  Complete Idiots.
           Every year Forums are filled with questions that essentially ask "The kit list says kit item A, but can I get away with kit item B. The usual reason for asking the question is that kit B is not as heavy.    In some races this obsession with pack weight has led to Race Staff to weigh packs at the start line and at some CP,s ( The UTMB for an example).

 Most  Spine Blog Kit Lists you  may read  don,t explain why a particular piece of equipment worked. They also don,t emphasise how it worked for their personal race strategy and the conditions encountered on that particular year. By all means read every ones ideas on good Kit but use your brain and consider if the Kit is appropriate to your speed ,experience and even body type ( do you feel the cold when running at a steady pace and do you cool rapidly once you stop by choice or in distress?)

           Over the years  the race race directors have made changes to the rout and CP locations .
           Potential  sleep stops have changed . Added  locations and other potential  sheltered sleep opportunities   have been added. All these factors can influence your choice of equipment.

To simplify this : Elite runners ---Non stop to Haws CP2 or possibly CP3 (Pavel,s normal strategy).
                           Top 10 % runners--- Non stop to CP 1.5 then miss CP2 and sleep at CP3
                            Most runners Short sleep at CP1. and  bivi/tent at CP1.5. Knapp at CP2 then sleep at CP3
                            Bottom 30% Sleep at CP1 , bivi at CP1.5, Sleep at CP2 then worry about cutoff.
                            Tail enders reach CP1 after midnight Knackered. Sleep CP1,CP1.5,CP2 then either pick up the pace or get DNf,t
                             If you can,t make CP1 without camping out you probably wont make the cutoff,s

From a personal point of view (as a mid field runner)(and I say that because my experience gives me an advantage .)  I would not carry a tent for the early stages unless the forecast was bad .  I would  plan make CP1 ok for a short disturbed sleep  and will have a second sleep at Malham. If I do push on at CP2 then carrying a tent would allow me to sleep before CP3 . After that I will sleep et every CP.


       I seldom recommend specific pieces of kit unless I feel it is a    ' no  brainer '.  There are very few no brainers and even if there are then better kit may be available  next year.
      When you buy kit and try it out you should not be afraid to make modifications . Just small change such as stitching a pouch to a strap rather than trusting an unreliable buckle can be the difference between efficient navigation and a lost GPS.

          The Pack Weight Issue.

        This is a point where I tend to push against the tide of perceived  wisdom.
        On any conventional race especially a hilly race I agree that pack weight does make a difference.
        What is seldom mentioned is that the impact of surplus weight is far more serious on the fastest runners. ( for a slow plodder hoping just to finish its not that critical).
        In Spine Race terms everyone will wish their  pack was lighter on the first big climb 'Jacobs Ladder' the long set of steps up to the kinder plateau.    After a coupe of hours all thoughts of pack weight are forgotten.
        The Start to CP1 is when weight will have max impact .
         Having sat in multiple Spine CP's as competitor and staff  I can honestly say I have never heard anyone complaining about the weight of their pack.

         The speed gains from a light pack are minimal when compared with time lost by other factors such as minor nav errors and layering changes.  
          If you are intending to fight for a Podium place then by all means obsess about pack weight. 
          For virtually everyone else the weight of each individual piece of gear should not be a priority.

          Pack weights (without water probably vary between 4Kg for the race leaders up to about 8Kg for other runners .
                               Stronger heavier runners have larger spare clothing and so tend to have larger packs 
                               Smaller lighter runners have a slight disadvantage  as their packs tend to end up a greater percentage  of body weight due to compulsory equipment.
                               Pack weight is  less important than pack comfort and function. (A lopsided pack or one that pulls back on your shoulders and rubs will slow you much more than an extra Kg of weight.)

                               Don't fret over cutting weight but don't go crazy, a 10 + Kg pack will hurt.

                     Spine Equipment 

            THE DROP BAG
             I bet you are really disappointed by my starting with the most boring bit of equipment!
             What you may not appreciate is that all your spare gear will have race problems of it's own.
             Drop bags are stuffed roughly into the back of a fleet of vans and hauled magically up the course fighting snow ,ice and high mountain passes on the way.
             We try to take care of your bags but the CP's are not set up like airport baggage handling halls . There is often no where inside CP's  to store the drop bags . The logistics team will do their best but if it  rains your bags will spend some time outside in the rain covered in tarpaulins.
             Hauling bags in and out of vans in the dark possibly in rain or snow is hard work. Bags do suffer abuse . Any loose gear strapped on the outside may well get separated from your bag and cause total humour failure of logistics team members !

         1 Waterproof outside .
         2 Simple shutting system (Chunky zips and Straps)
         3 No loose straps .
         4 Removal of all old  past race numbers. (this confuses the logistic teams)
         5 Wide open access to whole pack without having to take everything out to find things.

      The contents of your drop bag should be well organised. Sub pack the contents in easily identified colour coded bags and plastic tubs .  
                 You will discover space at CP's is limited . ( CP1 is notorious for its lack of space . It is common to end up sitting in the corridor searching your bag while another competitor is climbing over you and your bag)

       Take time planning how you pack your drop bag . You need to know where everything is located in the bag before opening it up . Avoid taking things out while searching for a lost item buried somewhere in the pack. Gear will get lost in the mayhem.

      Put your name and race number on everything . It is not unusual for CP staff to discover unmarked boxes of fresh batteries left in a CP  . Without a name or number Staff have no chance of re-uniting racers with misplaced  vital Kit. Lost kit can  DNF you at random kit checks.


          It is always difficult keeping to the weight limit . It may be worth paying extra for a separate  Finish line bag. Both bags will be transported together up the course . You will only have access to the one active RACE DROP BAG during the actual race so be sure to mark which bag it is so you get the correct bag at the CP.
         Don’t forget that by the end of the race you will have a bag of week old ,wet stinking  gear that you need to keep separate from the dry contents of your drop bag. Mark this last  bag: TOXIC!



             If you can afford it then go for a super light synthetic extreme cold rated bag . (The min rating spec can change so check your race brief).    

             There is nothin to prevent you from carrying a Cold weather sleeping bag combined with a thermal liner to boost the min temp rating . This is often a cheeper but bulkier option .  Once the race is over you will still have equipment you may use again    

              The bag I use is a Marmot Hydrogen down bag, combined with a Thermolite Reactor Extreme liner which will boost the  bag rating to well below -10c.

               Synthetic Bags preform better when damp .
               Whatever bag you choose enclose  it in a proper Dry Bag . (The stuff bags supplied are never waterproof enough).


  Your choice of Tent /Bivvi bag  will depend on your race plan .

      Podium runners plan never to bivvy out on the trail (their bag is in practice only used  for sleeping in the CP's where it will probably be too warm)
      Podium runners will select a bag of minimum weight that meets the race insulation requirements  .             If you can afford this option that's fine .

    Runners not confident in reaching Haws without sleep.

         Options 1 get enough sleep at CP1 then non stop to Haws (Good plan in theory but if you are this fast you will arrive at CP1 early in the evening and have trouble sleeping . You may  have to give up trying  to sleep ,in which case you will have to sleep outside a CP before reaching Haws.

          Option 2  Don't sleep at CP1 and try to make it to CP1.5 without sleep. The best option  is to hope there is space in the Bird Watching Hut just past CP1.5 this is a gamble(only room for 8 max).

       90% of runners won't make Haws without sleeping on the trail.
       If you are forced to sleep outside then you will need a sleeping system that will not just pass kit check but also  be warm and dry enough to allow good quality sleep .
       If you don't get quality sleep early in the race you will pay heavily later
       Expensive light sleeping bags are usually effective  but light weight Bivvi bags seldom ensure a comfy sleep.
       The reality of sleeping outside is serious  matter.  Light weight Bivvi bags are uncomfortable , cold , easy to rip and are less breathable . They may save your life but are useless to sleep in and get good quality sleep.
        If you want a really dependable sleep then pack a Tent  or a medium weight Gortex Bivvi Bag.
        Tents have been used many times during previous Spines.

            Tents have two disadvantages :weight and the time they take to erect.

            In severe weather sleeping in a Tent will always be the better option for good sleep than shivering in  a Bivvi Bag.
            Every year I have competed I have bought a tent to registration and made a last minute choice to carry it just before the start. (I have use a tent with good effect twice  and not regretted the weight )
         If you do take the Tent option you don't have to carry the Tent the whole way . (Carrying a tent between CP1 and CP2 will open your options . For the rest of the course carrying Just a Bivvi bag will do  . The Tent stays in the Drop Bag. )
          If you carry a tent you still need to carry an emergency Bivvi Bag. (such as the SOL foil bags )

            Sleeping Bag Liners.

           Carrying a non minimum rated bag and a thermal liner bag has several advantages.

            Some CP's can be overheated so sleeping in just a liner will give you a better sleep . 
            If the CP is just warm then a normal  bag without liner works .
            Packing a small bag and a separate liner can be easier to stow in your pack than a bulkier bag .
            The bag liner combination is usually about half the price of a 'premium bag'.
            Some CP's have plastic coated mattresses (the sheet bag is less sticky.)


             The bag/  liner ratings will be of no use at all without a well insulated sleeping mat. Use a standard Karrimat as a minimum. (not a super thin light version)
            Reading various blogs one point that comes up several times is that runners who got cold sleeping out on the trail put the problem down to inadequate sleeping mats rather than lack of bag warmth.
Thermarest  Neoair

            The mat I use is a  Thermarest neoair which is a foil lined ultralight blow up mat. This was hideously expensive but kept me toasty warm sleeping on snow at Malam Tarn and on the concrete floor of the mountain refuge hut on the Cheviots.(it is also very small to pack)
              If you think there is any possibility  of having to sleep out on the trail avoid the new ultralight Skeleton type mats (they will ground out especially on frozen ground)
              My tent (Terra nova laser ) and sleeping mat are part of my standard Mountain Marathon kit. I also have an Alpkit Hunka Gortex Bivi bag which I will carry on some legs rather than my Tent.

           Electrical  Powered Kit.

        With all electrical powered kit you need to make them as idiot proof as possible (The idiot will be mainly you but also the other sleep deprived zombies who populate the CP's)
        Any kit that relies in charging up during the race can fail. 
                                              1 There are never enough CP 240v sockets . 
                                               2Any charging device is at risk of being disconnected by another competitor!
                                                3 You may well just forget to recharge the device.
                                                4 You may well exit the CP without your device.
                                                5 A limited battery life phone can,t be kept on standby if the weather changes and Race Control needs to contact you over an extended period.

              You can get around points 1 and 2 by having a  portable phone  power pack in your drop bag.
               For Torches and GPS devices .
                Disposable 'Energizer Ultimate Lithium '  batteries give the longest battery life. (they are expensive but also lighter than Alkaline Batteries and work well down to -40c).
                If possible get a GPS and Head torch which uses the same sized batteries.

Every year the lost property box at the finish has several lost un labeled  Battery  Chargers

          Beware Part Discharged Batteries.

                During your training runs record how long your batteries last. Allow for the fact that in Spine bad weather your torch may be on full power for a long time.
               Most of us only change batteries when they go flat. You will be tempted to head out of a CP with the batteries you used on the last leg.
                 On some devices when a lithium battery goes flat  you get no warning! The device will just cut out. If this is your Head Torch it will happen at the worst possible time!
               In almost all circumstances it takes ages to change batteries when out on the trail. It,s a stop ,pack off  , gloves off, locate spares, open device,load batteries, shut device ,re-pack, pack on, gloves on  and back to the trail  By this time you will be cold /wet and left behind other runners. If it was your torch that went flat then you will have to get the reserve out to swap batteries.
                Changing GPS batteries often involves opening the back and exposing the internal electronic guts of the device to the elements!!!!

     BOTTOM LINE Change batteries in CP,s Pubs or shelter so you are 100% certain of how long the device will function once you are back on the trail.

             Put part discharged batteries in a separate marked plastic bag and save them for post spine use.


  What we all need is a bullet proof ,waterproof ,light weight phone with a 200hr battery life.

             What we would also like is all the above in a smart phone.
          As far as I know this does not exist .
          The Samsung GT B2710 --water proof / shock poof builders  phone . No IT , no Apps just 7 day battery life is  a phone that will handle all the Spine abuse  .
           Many smart phones require a stronger signal than the Samsung to work.
          If you are really hooked to your smart phone then fine but I would advise on taking a backup.Pack your Smart phone in a waterproof case .
          No Smart phone will have a long reliable  enough battery life. 
          In an emergency situation a reliable waterproof Phone is a must.
          During the race Phone Signal can be lost  ( O2 reception  is particularly bad over the course)

          GPS Verses Smart Phone Apps.

           Race rules specify you need to carry a proper GPS and not just a Smart Phone + App.
           Navigating on smart phones is often easier then using a dedicated GPS for several reasons.
           The detailed maps are often cheeper.
           The screen size is larger
           The function is more intuitive 
           You are more familiar with your Phone
        There is no rule to stop you navigating with your phone but they also have disadvantages.
        Dedicated GPS units are built to survive Spine Abuse.
        Even with an armoured case they are more fragile.
        Battery life is far less especially at night .
        Night nav in white out situations requires almost continual screen activation this will rapidly drain your batteries . 
        GPS units do not rely on  delicate precise touch screen operation . Using a phone screen in freezing rain is near impossible even with dedicated gloves .

         GPS Setup.

                              Direction of movement UP
                              Screen activation 15 seconds is usually enough 
                              Screen brightness as low as possible.
                              Base map min OS 1:50000.
                              Rout line shown on screen in unique  bright colour.
                              Screen lock activated unless zooming required.
                              Fresh Batteries at every CP.
                              Name and race number on unit .
                              loop landyard attached to unit
                              Stow unit un dedicated easy access holster.



 Main points : Minimum 180 lumen. 
                                16+ Hr batterie life .
                                 Simple  and easy to use controls ( workable with gloves on.)

                           ---Take two main head torches

                            Carrying  a lightweight inferior emergency back up torch is false economy. Why risk your race? (in case of torch failure just swap and carry on wasting no time). A dim lightweight torch just won,t get you through a Spine Night.
                            Carry spare batteries .
                            A narrow beam, long range  high power hand torch can be a godsend for picking out gates and wall crossings at long range.
                            I have 3 head torches for the Spine . 3 identical LED LENSOR H7's  They are cheep £25 each so I can afford to carry a third in my drop bag .
                            The majority of runners have more powerful expensive head torches but I prefer the simplicity of the H7's and the price.
                             Test how Head Torch interacts with jacket hood and cap brims .(does the brim cast a shadow when trying to read your map?)
                             You need a dimmer function. If the tail runner in a group has the brightest beam then all the runners in front are stumbling along  in their own shadows.

      The Eyes

     You will need two types of eye protection.
       1 UV proof sun glasses to protect your eyes from Snow Blindness. (you never know it may be sunny!)
       2 Wrap around goggles to protect your eyes from Wind BlindnessThe goggles should ideally be clear to give you maximum night vision.   The reason why the goggles need to be wrap around is that wind blindness is most severe when the wind comes from the side of your face.

       Wind Blindness.
 As discovered by several competitors in 2015.  It is essentially caused by your eyes watering from wind blowing across their surface. If this goes on for a period of time you tear ducts begin  run short of fluid and the surface of the eye gets damaged. (The only real remedy is sleep with your eyes shut and the body repairing itself) . Eye drops have little effect.
      Very few runners have experienced wind blindness and many Spine Runners will ignore the early symptoms especially as it the loss of vision is difficult to detect in daylight. However  as soon as it gets dark the mild discomfort will transform itself into multiple light rings around your torch light and any other light source.

                This effect is rather like that of an oncoming cars headlights at night  if you have a really dirty wind screen on your car. You just can,t see anything, so GAME OVER!

   Bottom line : As soon as  your eyes start watering ,  don,t delay put your wrap around Goggles on!


  Again this is an item of kit seldom used by most ultra runners.
  Lets start with the why?----1    They keep mud ,crap and snow from sliding down between your sock and shoe. 
                                              2    They reduce the build up of ice and mud around your laces (making it easier to get your shoes on and off)
                                              3 they can help in improving the water seal around your lower leg for puddle jumping.

    All three functions will make you a more efficient runner.
    Gaiters don,t have to be that long it,s not as if you will be bashing through Gorse. Short Gaiters with a fairly shiny surface will be less prone to build up of mud and snow .
     If you choose a short gaiter then it still needs to strap over the bottom of your over trousers  

There is no point in buying light weight gear and then carting a Kg of crud around on your feet.  I have had good experiences with  Inovate Gaiter /socks but never tried them in a really muddy year. Many Gaiter socks have a thin elastic band that loops under the shoe and can easily break  ( so if used carry spare bands.)

      One major problem with some gaiters is Ice Balling under the instep strap. This phenomenon will not occur all the time in snow but  often in Spine Conditions the strap under your foot will attract a small seed of crushed frozen snow . With every step more snow will stick to the first until you end up tottering on balls of compacted ice. (This is the same effect as you may have used rolling snow to build a Snowman.)
    If possible try to find gaiters with a thin rubber  water repellent strap under the foot made of 'Hypalon ' or better still replace the strap with a multy strand wire.
  The Side zips on the gaiters need to be chunky with big tabs so you can get the damn things off when caked with Ice and mud. ( i doubt that Velcro fastening will cope with Spine conditions)  Note gaiters are handed so the zip is  usually on the outside. 
    When buying Gaiters take your Spine Shoes with you to check that the various clips and straps work together.   The metal clips that attach to your laces can abrade  through some high tec thin lace systems such as are used by Solomon Shoes.
   I have been looking for new gaiters  and it,s not easy . Dirty Girl Gaiters rely on a stick on Velcro fastening on your heel which I suspect won,t survive Spine conditions and you need a new heel tab for each pair of shoes. The Inov-8 DNR proofed gaiters have a thin elastic band heel strap which will break. The other inov-8 choice are not water shedding. Most of the Solomon types rely on velcro which is fine for deserts but not for 100hrs of mud! very few gaiters are waterproof apart from ones designed for walkers. 

     Traction Aids.

      Another piece of kit you may have never used.
Yaktrax Pro

       They will improve your grip on Ice and Frozen Snow and MUD.
       You may think that you could spend some time wearing these devices but in reality you will find they are useful for short periods. In most circumstances wearing them will slow you up so the most important thing when choosing a traction aid is how fast can you put them on and take them off.? If they are a real pain to use then you will delay using them and risk a fall.
       There are 3 main types :
                                             1 Dog walkers mini studded clip on pads ,They fall off( ask Richard Lendon) and wear out but are great for city use.
                                              2 Kathola Microspikes   Maximum grip on continuous sheet ice as they are effectively a mini Crampons. However they are of limited use if you have ice on every 20th slab (a much more common Spine Condition. Microspikes are heavy , a pain to put on and make walking at any speed almost impossible. They are also sharp enough to rip holes in your pack and leggings. In conclusion : great for Scandinavia  and glacier walking but not the Pennine Way If you intend to use Hoka shoes then the combined distance of your feet off the ground with long pronged Microspikes will be lethal. You will have a massively increased the chance of twisting an ankle .

                                                3 Yaktrax Pro  , light weight ,easy to put on and stow,will improve your speed on iffy ground. Cheaper than Microspikes and a joy to use.
                                                 They can be clipped to your pack when not in use without destroying your pack and still be instantly available for use.

             (get the Yaktrax pro not the walkers version)       

        Of all the kit choices you make I feel Yaktrax  Pro are a real no brainer!

          Before I go on I should remind you that traction aids work well on good old fashioned mud. We tend to think of them as ice walking aids. 2016 was a year when using traction aids on the low level steep mud fields on day two would have helped many runners stay upright!

              Knee Elastic Supports 

           Your knees will take a pounding like never before. Elite runners tend to be flexible which reduces Knee damage. However 268miles will reduce even the most flexible runner to a stiff gait, pounding the knee joint.
           You can reduce the strain by using elastic knee bandages but you must not wear them all the time as they constrict blood flow. Put a pair of cheep knee bandages in your drop bag . If you get knee  trouble slip them on your leg just above the ankle then slide them up over your knee for hard descents . Slide them back down to your ankle at the bottom of the hill ..  Just taking this action  will give you a mental boost as you will no longer be a helpless victim of the jarring slippery  slope. The bandage /support must be large enough to wear over all your layers.

            This small item of kit  could save your race.

         Running Poles.

                Poles are necessary to:     Safely cross moving and still water.                                                

                                                           Stay upright in snow.
                                                           Stay in control moving down slippery slopes.
                                                           Take the stress off your knee joints.
                                                           Improve Posture
                                                           Boost uphill performance.

         Not on the kit list but I feel they should be . You will get away without using them but only if we have no Ice or snow.
            You don,t have to use both poles ,one is often enough so you can hold your nav gear in the other hand.   You do however need to work out a fast and effective way of stowing your poles on your pack so you have both hands free to eat ,negotiate fence crossings and deal with nav gear.
           Get slick at stowing and un- stowing your poles and you can knock hours off your race time!
           Pole choice is not obvious. Super light Carbon poles are great for polling you along. During the Spine you will find that down hill fall protection is more about exerting sudden sideways forces on the poles . Light weight running  poles will cope with a small amount of sideways strain but you have a good chance of breaking them . You are better off with a heavier thicker walkers pole.

     Some of you will ignore my pole advice . You will either not take them or break your poles .

If it snows heavily on the Cheviots ,without poles  YOU WILL PROBABLY  DNF
          Second hand walkers poles are sometimes available at the Cafe at Horton for a £5 donation to mountain rescue .
           Poles allow you to move faster!

             Snow Shoes

As far as I know no one has used them in anger on the Spine . That,s not to say they are a bad idea. 
At some point we will get a big snow dump on most of the course . In snow over 30cm deep you will find your feet keep plunging through the surface crust and your pace will reduce to below 2Km/ph
           This has happened to me on two Spine Races 2016 and 2013. On both occasions Snow shoes would have doubled my pace (possibly cutting 4 hrs off my race time each year).
           I do  now carry Kahtoola RNR22 running snowshoes in my drop bag. The problem is getting detailed information about the trail ahead. The RNR22,s weigh about 1Kg not that much extra to carry on a leg of the race. The bigger problem is lashing them to your backpack  and upsetting the balance . In 2016 I was mislead by over optimistic reports  of snow conditions on the Cheviot's. and did not carry the shoes from Bellingham. (a mistake in hindsight.)
            Spare Laces.
            A snapped lace will put you out of the race! if you have no spare.
            Laces weigh nothing and can be used to repair other gear.
           Solomon Laces are prone to break under Spine Abuse . Other brands may have the same problem.  
            (the Solomon replacement laces are really difficult to fit even in a warm retail shop so take thin normal laces instead).

              This lace advice will be ignored by almost everyone . 
                   You will think: 
                                   "I have never broken a lace on an ultra . Why should I do so now , that extra 5gms will really slow me down!" 
                Use your head how many 268 mile  non stop  winter ultra,s have you run  .
                . 5g Verses  a DNF  ,  ------------------------------------  think about it  you Muppit!

            Cooking Gear
              You need to heat food and water fast this means Gas and more specifically a winter mix butane /isopropane cylinder.x Don,t even think about an ultralight solid fuel stove . By the time your water boils you will be shivering so much you won’t be able to pour it into the cup!
               I used  up 4 full cylinders on the 2013 spine but I ended up spending well over one hour melting snow  (Burner running flat out) cooking for 5 at the Refuge Hut.
 You may also need to use your stove to thaw out frozen solid wet shoes .
              Take two lighters (bright colours ) put one in your cook set and the other with your first aid kit.
               Cooking pan with lid : MSR titanium  pan.
               Separate large plastic cup with handle that can be clipped  to front of pack.( Can be used for scooping up water from streams.)
                Spork : again bright colour( not step on  camo colour)

                Harveys 1:40,000 are the easiest to use ,best laid out and waterproof but they lack fine fence detail
                  OS Pennine Way AZ Adventure books are 1:25000 scale in a two handy booklets.(. They are not waterproof so you need a map case)

      Remember to mark on all the CP locations complete with grid refs.

      Mark the whole trail in  pink highlighter pen. This will help your eyes to focus faster on the PW when under stress. ( Don’t use yellow as you can’t see it in LED or florescent  light!).
      If you don,t have a map pouch on your front pack you will need a map case. 

       Map Case 
This is required for AZ and OS non waterproof maps . You will be tempted to go for a cheep option but it,s worth paying extra for an ORTILEB map case . These map cases will take the abuse of stuffing in and out of pockets without leaving a white fold line . They are also more transparent than most which you won,t appreciate until it gets  dark when you find you get less annoying back reflection from the head torch.       The map case must have a string loop teacher.


                             Must be attached on loop of string and kept in handy pouch.
                              Wave compass around all metal parts of kit to see if needle is deflected by magnetic fields (Some gloves and poles have magnetised parts.)

       Back Pack  

        Firstly how big ?     Probably minimum size 25ltrs. (This is what the fastest runners will use) However their main plan is to run their way out of trouble. They will spend less time between checkpoints so will need a smaller selection of gear. If we get deep snow which will slow every ones pace to a crawl then a 25 ltr pack may not give enough space for reserve gear.
          A 25 ltr pack is a high risk choice for  very little  speed payback.

          If you can,t run a mountain 100mile ultra in under 24 hrs then you will need more volume and have to carry more weight.
           My pack is a Raidlight Run30ltr. combined with a 5ltr Raidlight front pack
  The majority of runners will have over 30 ltr capacity.
           Try to think of your pack as having several functions.
                    1 to store your emergency gear that you hope you will never use.
                    2 to store gear and food that you will need to access while stopping on the trail.
                    3 to store gear that you need to access while still moving without taking the pack off.
                    4 to hang gear from for instant access (gps, food,map water )
                    5 to keep your upper body warm.
Of all the functions ,good access while on the move is the feature you will value most. This is the feature that will improve your race pace.
                    Good on the move access is all about front storage ,hence the front pouch.

                    The bottom line is that reducing the time you spend stopped and faffing with your gear will be more relevant then time saved by having lighter gear.

                    Spend time asking yourself : Is my pack really comfy, does it hint at rubbing my shoulders or  back?  It may well worth customising your pack so it hangs better. The chest strap is one area that can be modified to help overall balance 
                   Some makes of backpack have multiple adjustment straps . These can work really well but take a long time to set up . This must be done well before the race . (Make sure no one grabs your pack by an adjustment strap and upsets the whole system)

              Loading Your Pack.
              Try to get the heaviest objects close in to your back (this will reduce pull back forces on your shoulder blades ).
              Overall pack balance can be vastly improved by using a front  pouch to counterbalance the loads in your main pack.

                Front Pouch.

Upside : Improves balance 
              Faster access to often used food/gear.
              Chest protection from elements.
              Extra flexible storage.

         In 2015 I used a Raidlight Evolution light front pouch. This proved ideal for several reasons
                1 Two side mesh pockets either side for water bottles.
                2 Three external front pouches The middle one holds the GPS and the side ones hold Shot Blocks and Mini Pepparimi's 
                3 Main pouch of about 3ltrs with zip fastening. This was used to hold food /compass .
                4 Top back elasticated horizontal large bottle tube. This I used to stow my Maps and folded running poles. (The side hung water bottles protrude enough to stop the poles slipping out sideways).
            This front pouch was slung very high almost under my chin. Small shock chords were  clipped to my waist belt to prevent bounce.
             The pouch hung over the top of my waterproof shell layer allowing me to pull down the shell zip for ventilation without rain blowing in .  My inner gloves could be stowed easily in the chest pockets of my mid layer again protected from the damp. My outer gortex Mits were stowed in the chest pocket of my shell layer.

         Downside  Of Front pouch
                                                    Can be slow to take off main pack. (this can be improved by upgrading buckles and permanently fixing one side .



           This is a  small bit of kit that is vital for hanging gloves / gps/yaktrax/hats/poles/and other small gear to the straps of your pack .

              Choose a large chunky Carabiner that is easy to use with gloved hands.     

            Other kit you may consider packing.

          Sewing kit. Electrical tape. Waterproof Marker pen.
           Small rectangle of Karrimat to park your ass on when re  sorting  kit sitting an a wet frozen rock!
          Small multy  tool .
          Hand warmer (either one shot chemical or a Zippo lighter fuel powered warmer which can be overfilled and made to run for 20 hrs ) There may be a way to use the Zippo warmer to keep your water bottles from freezing .

MARK ALL YOUR KIT ESPECIALLY IF IT WILL BE OUT OF YOUR SIGHT IN A CHECKPOINT!    The marking must be distinctive and easy for others to see to prevent the checkpoint Zombies wandering off with the wrong KIT!
       Someone even ran off with the wrong shoes at CP1 in 2014! (running poles regularly go missing)

           Water Bottles /bladders.
These will freeze up if we have the same conditions as 2012/ 2013. It may be worth trying to make a bottle pouch under your coat but I suspect it will be very uncomfortable.
Water bottles freeze up from the outside . First the bight valve freezes then a layer of ice forms on the inside of the plastic. At this point you will try to take the cap off and drink the slush before it all freezes. If you have a screw top you will  find it impossible to unscrew leaving you with water you can’t get at!  Pop top bottle lids are easier to open when half frozen (It,s worth experimenting with your bottles in a freezer)
Bladders my be better (I have never used them ) You will  have to keep the drinking tube insulated and tucked  in your pack rather than draped over your shoulder especially the bight valve .

     In 2014,2015 2017 and most of the 2016 Spine race  water freezing was not an issue . It is seldom commented on in the  recent race blogs . Don,t get caught out in 2018
     Dehydration is accelerated in sub zero conditions as you loose water faster through breathing in freezing dry conditions. On some parts of the course particularly the Cheviots there will be no flowing water if conditions go below 0C. A frozen  500 g water bottle and a 20 mile high energy trudge will take a heavy toll on your body.

         Waterproof Stuff Sacks.
Take several preferably colour coded. It is usually easier to load your pack with several smaller stuff sacks than one large .You need to be able to identify which bag the item you need is in from the outside.
     Stuff sacks can also be used to wear on your feet when going outside in a blizzard to take a leak.
     Worked for me in 2013 especially as my shoes were solid blocks of ice .

           Training With Your Kit
           I suspect that most of you consider training with kit as  running with a fully loaded pack.
           You should know how to use your kit as you would have to use it on the spine.
           How you pack your rucksack is vital . Take a tip from Garry Morrison and be organised enough to know exactly where in your pack every bit of kit is stowed.

            As an example try this indoor exercise:   Imagine: Its Dark ,Cold ,Wet and you are so tired that you will have to emergency  Bivi out.
              Start by standing on the living room carpet fully kitted out with shoes and all wet weather gear on .
              The carpet simulates saturated grass.
              First step get out your bivi bag without  letting any of your dry kit touch the carpet!
              Dividing your kit into smaller waterproof stuff sacks will help.
              Next step get your sleeping mat into or under the  Bivi bag (Is it dry or was it strapped to the outside of your bag in the rain?
              Sleeping bag out then fast into bivi on top of mat.
              Next probably shoes off ,over trousers socks and possibly legging if you are wearing full length tights. (What are you sitting on? not the carpet I hope.)
              Lower body shimmy into sleeping bag.
              Waterproof jacket   off and reverse deeper into bivi bag .
              Get out cooking gear ( Have you thought of a way to keep the burner dry?)
              Stow loose  gear keeping wet shoes /waterproof wet socks separate  from dry gear.
              All sorted?  how did it really go
              Repeat the above exercise outside in the rain.

    Nb This was a Procedure  that myself and Dave Lee had to go through in real life  on the track up to Tan Hill during the 2014 Spine.  It was pouring with rain and we knew we had to get some sleep if we were to carry on safely.

              Thats just one example of  gear training. You need to sit and think  hard  and try out  all your systems such as pole stowage while holding navigation gear, how easy is it to get at all your food, the order you may need to take gear from your pack while on the move. Accessibility of emergency first aid kit.  and any thing else you can think of .

              Just having the  Race Kit is not enough you need know how to use it in Spine  conditions

          Kit Pitfalls.
           Don,t  choose your kit because some Mag has rated it 10/10. None of the gear was tested in Spine Conditions.  Did the tester run in torrential rain and 60mph winds for each garment.
The testing won,t take into account the vital things such as cuff seals and ease of adjusting gear with numb fingers. You have read the Blogs now apply what you have learnt to each piece of gear.
          Non of your gear will be any good if it is sitting in the shelter of a wall while you run on up the trail without it.  Get in the habit of always clipping loose gear to your pack. (failing that mark it so it is easily identified and described if handed in by a following runner)
          Top of the lost gear list is Gloves. This is such a large problem on the Spine you should consider on putting a reserve pair in your drop bag. 
           The Glove DNF rate is twice that of the runners!
           Next is running poles then  GPS units. Sitting on a rock or in a CP.

          KIT FAILURE

Most common is user error (leaving things behind)
                           Broken laces
                           Broken Running Poles
                           Flat Batteries and lost charger.
                           Tears in backpack and lost buckles
                           Broken head torch




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