When you embark on a race like Marathon Des Sables, packing light is a key success factor. Keeping your pack weight down and minimising unnecessary items is important in order to have a good race experience. Moreover it is and absolutely critical if you intend to race. Here are my three “rules” for packing light for Marathon des Sables.
1. Can you eat it?
Food is your fuel and what is going to get you around the race. At the same time food is heavy and that is definitely a consideration when packing light for MDS. Food however is preventing you from freezing at night (yes, if you are hungry you get cold), and it contributes to keeping your spirit high.
There is a minimum calorie requirement. This may be sufficient for some people but not the majority. In my opinion it is a false economy to save excessive weight on food. Of course, the weight of your food should be optimised, but if you have the choice of taking something you can eat, vs taking something you can’t eat and that you don’t really need, then go with the edible option. The really lovely thing about food is that every day, as you eat it, your pack gets a lot lighter!
2. Do you REALLY need it as part of your MDS kit?
Are you absolutely sure? Is it on the mandatory kit list? Can you not survive 7 days without it if you really think about it?
As we get hypnotised by the kit frenzy, searching for the lightest and most innovative gear, it is easy to lose perspective. This is perhaps the most dangerous enemy you will face as you attempt packing light for Marathon des Sables.
You get ecstatic because you find a super light pair of hotel slippers, the most minimal iPhone cover you have ever seen, a super cute travel sized deodorant, a solar charger which surely must be necessary to power your music player, phone, watch, kindle, and camera. Your first aid kit resembles a walking pharmacy. You know work will be crazy so maybe you can squeeze your iPad in just in case. Oh, and an extra bottle for water as you are going to the desert after all. Surely a clean pair of socks for every day is a must…
Assess everything carefully, because actually you don’t need a lot of stuff. Take the week as an opportunity to live a minimalist life and you will be surprised how easy it is and how little you need.
Just a few tips for things many people may be tempted to take but that I believe you don’t need:
- Slippers for camp: Take the insoles out of your running shoes for more room and use them for walking around. They will withstand the rocky camp much better.
- Phone: unless you feel it absolutely necessary to use it for photos, music or eBooks (though there are lighter options for this) you don’t need it. You won’t have coverage for much of the race, and you are not allowed to use it in bivouac. Plus, its not just the weight of the phone itself, but actually the weight of the charger you have to take to keep it alive. If your friends, family and employer really care about you they will understand that this is a week for YOU, in solitude, and away from everyday stress. Plus, if you MUST make a call, there is the facility in camp if you have cash.
- Various toiletries: everyone gets a bit grubby, its part of the experience. If you can’t function without your make-up case just be aware you have to drag it through 250kms of sand and 40+ degree C heat.
3. If you really need it, can you make it lighter?
Trimming things down is key when packing light for MDS. A prime example is repackaging your food as packaging is often heavy (mark all food with calories). Other things you can do:
- Get your compulsory kit as light as possible. A good option is the myRaceKit Compulsory Kit where this has already been done for you.
- Cut labels off your clothing, remove unnecessary strapping from your backpack, see if anything can serve a dual use. I used a buff as a camp top this year…
- Seek lighter options, for example if you really feel you need wet wipes, consider swapping them for a small piece of travel towel or expandable wipes.
- With a few soap leaves you can wash so limit spare socks and clothing.
- If you take gadgets, the fewer and smaller they are, the less charge capacity you need.
- If you want to go to extremes there is a lot you can do, like drill holes in your tooth brush handle!