Marathon des Sables - Post Event Kit Review

In my preamble I went through the kit I intended to take and the general intention to go for the lightest possible items.  This post reviews the kit, what worked well, what didn't and things I would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight.

642 - My number for the week.

I think the first takeaway lesson is that the kit should all be treated as single use only.  If there is something you want to take, for instance a rucksack that you want to use in future events then I would choose something different for the MDS.  The conditions are so severe that as you will see below, much of what I took got a severe beating in only a few days.

The final thing I would add was that it was a record breaking year for toughness - temperatures reaching up to 56c.  If the kit could (or couldn't!) survive those conditions then I think it acts as a good guide for future editions of the race.


Raidlight Short Sleeve Shirt - Short sleeve was definitely the way to go for me.  The heat was so intense that I couldn't even begin to think about wearing a long sleeve top, no matter how thin or wicking it might be.  Each morning I would put a fairly measured amount of sun cream on and strangely never even remotely got sun burn, nor am I aware of anyone else who had that issue.

Top - complete with sewn on Union Jack and Staffordshire emblem.  Top is probably salvageable but quite a few marks due to the rucksack rubbing the material.

Cycle Shorts - Was like cardboard by the end of the week due to lack of water available for washing and duly dumped at the end of the event.  No chafing issues and no preventative creams or potions were needed in my case.

Socks - I took two pairs, the first being an integrated double layer sock which I used the whole time.  My second pair I never really used except rarely in camp when I had some blisters that I popped that needed some air that were attracting flies.  Whilst with hindsight I could have done without the second pair, your feet are front and central in terms of taking care of so I would certainly take a second pair if there was a next time.

Raidlight Sand Gaiters - Worked a treat.  That said, I have a very thin calf and the elastic around my shin was starting to lose tautness; if the race had lasted much longer then I may have started to get some sand come through the top.  I also saw MyRaceKit and WAA gaiters that also seemed to do well.  A few people had gaiters that failed, one person who glued the velcro to their shoes came unstuck after just the first day when it fell off due to the heat and abrasiveness of the sand.  I also saw a few velcro failures that were either not done professionally or did not cover the whole shoe seamlessly.  Whilst expensive, I used Alex Shoe Repairs in London where I sent my trainers in the post to him.  They were bullet proof and didn't miss a beat all week.

Gaiters - pretty wrecked by the end of the week.  Still holding strong but doubt they would last another full ultra.

Trainers - ASICS GT-2000.  There seemed to be an even split between trail style shoes and trainers.  It comes down to personal choice and both will work.  As I was at the pacier end of the field trainers were my choice and I went with shoes that I've used for many years.  Like most people both the standard size and next half size up will work for me in normal life and I went for the latter.  By and large this worked and was really only on the final day could I have gone a further half size up on top of this.  This was not down to swelling as such, just simply that on the long day I had bashed my toes numerous times which eventually generated a few blisters so could have done with some extra room.  Otherwise my feet did not swell whatsoever.

ASICS GT-2000 v8

Tip 2 - Always take a fresh pair (albeit lightly broken in).  I've worn at least 25 pairs of ASICS GT-2000's so I know the shoes inside out.  During the fourth stage I managed to shear a small part of the rear sole off (the ASICS shoe is not a single layered sole, it comprises of several smaller moulded sections), leaving the softer undersole underneath.  This I suspect was due to the heat softening the bonding between the layers, but also more shuffling causing greater horizontal stress on the shoe as compared to more normal strides on the road.  This happened in the same place on both shoes, so shows it wasn't just chance.  It actually didn't really affect me in any way (other than giving me a fright!), but again shows its best not to put things to chance and go with a pair of shoes that are already well used.  I also saw an instance of someone using a very well used pair of shoes, which basically fell apart in all but name during the first stage and from that point on his race was effectively already over.

Part of the sole sheared off on one shoe and barely hanging on the other.  Damage was done on Day 4 (Long Stage).  Also note the thorn embedded into the bottom shoe, plus one or two others not seen easily in the pic.

Raidlight Baseball Cap - I had the sort which covers the neck.  I found it too flappy and annoying in the wind so took it off.  No sunburn issues whatsoever so it comes down to personal choice (but saw plenty of people with the neck cover).  Being white, it was duly wrecked by the end of the race so is only fit for the bin.

Cap - with neck guard removed.  Cap might be washable but would be surprised if it came out looking like new.

Sunglasses - I chose a cheap £10-15 pair off eBay.  Duly scratched by the end of the race.  Did its job but binned.


Passport and 200 Euro - Never used.  Stick it in a plastic bag to protect.

Water Card - Pretty straight forward.  Tells you how many litres available at each CP.  6 litres usually available on arrival at the Bivouac.  In the end some of the restrictions on water were relaxed this year due to the extreme temperatures out on course.

Spork - Ended up taking a heavier duty spork (instead of a disposable spoon which broke during packing) and glad I did. Worked well.

50ml Hand Sanitiser - Only took as it became a late Covid requirement.  Glad I did and used it reasonably often.  Whilst I was 'delicate' I certainly was not as bad as many others in camp and the sanitiser will have no doubt helped a bit (or put it this way it would have not done any harm).

Toilet paper - I took 5 x travel tissues.  It was nowhere enough for this edition of the race due to the stomach bug that ravaged camp albeit I was not really affected.  I ended up using the face masks where needed (including donating spares to other people) and they worked well!

13 x Face Masks - Still not clear why we needed so many and lots of people binned them early on.  Glad I didn't - see Toilet Paper above!

Raidlight Revolutiv 24l - I was very nervous about the rucksack as its extremely light (221g) and when things are light it is often at the expense of comfort and durability.  In fairness it did the job and only on the last day when I was a bit more vigorous trying to get a water bottle out of the sleeve did I tear the stitching.  I did get various shoulder sores and rubbing on my back, but in fairness I had not trained with it, so not entirely unexpected.  Overall, no complaints.  I did have the front pack attachment, but decided not to wear it and to be honest I never missed it.  Whilst the Revolutiv is not blessed with accessible pockets, what it did have sufficed and where it didn't I improvised (e.g. drinks powders at the bottom of the sleeve underneath the water bottles).

Water Bottles - I am very unusual in that I just take standard 750ml sports bottles, rather than those with a long straw attachment that can be drank from in situ.  It involves a lot of carrying the bottle in my hands, but I'm used to that and that is fine with me.  At times I was so desperate for a drink I often sucked so hard that the 'nipple' came off, but thankfully each time it happened they clipped back on.  I did have a few instances where with my sweaty hands I struggled to unscrew the top at checkpoints, but in the scheme of things was little more than an annoyance.  By the end of the week the bottles were fairly well abraded and lost their shape a bit (the Fly 750 are extremely light weight so not very durable).  I binned them in the hotel after the race.  I would strongly recommend 750ml bottles as this means you can empty a 1.5 litre water bottle straight into them.  Even then, 2 x 750ml was not enough between checkpoints, so I often carried an additional 1.5 litre bottle (sometimes even a second one).

Sleeping Bag OMM 1.0 - Some people took £650 sleeping bags whilst another tent mate took a £15 version from Amazon.  Mine was about £90, weighing 350 grams.  All worked just as well as each other.  We had a very warm year, so although I'd guess my sleeping bag was a +10c (maybe a +12c) I was never really cold even when not wearing a top.  Had it got colder I would have just worn further layers of clothing.

Head Torch - Simple Black Diamond head torch with about 200 lumens max setting.  This felt about right to me for the long stage.  It gives just enough light to see where you are going and also a broad outline of what is ahead.  Much more is just a waste.  Used 3 x AAA batteries.  Never needed my spares.  Took lithium batteries for extra power, but also are about 25% lighter than alkaline.

Safety Pins x 10 - 8 used for the race number.  Remaining two I assume are spares, but useful to pop blisters!

Compass - Never used.  Even at my end of the field where by and large I was by myself the majority of the time, the course was well marked (even at night with glowsticks) and when less so it was generally obvious where to go.  The only exception is where there are extensive sections of large dunes.  Even then, you just follow the path trodden ahead of you.  Never once felt the need to use the compass but still worthwhile to know how to take a bearing.  I never heard of an instance where someone got lost.

Lighter - Never used.  Very windy and some people really struggled to get the cooking blocks going.  I would suggest a windproof lighter rather than the standard 'Bic' style.

Whistle - Never used.

Knife - Used each day to cut the 1.5 litre water bottles into an eating container for the evening meal.

Topical Disinfectant - Never used.  Saw plenty of people with a range of options from sprays, bottle with pipette or in my case wipes.  Each to their own.

Venom Pump - Never used and just for show.

Signalling Mirror / Survival Sheet - Never used.

Sun Cream / Lip Balm - Factor 50.  No sun burn and never heard of anyone who got burned either.  No matter how hard you try almost everyones lips got badly chapped.  I took about 50-60ml, which when used sparingly was pretty much bang on the right amount.

Ibuprofen - Never used.  Glad I took and although ibuprofen should not really be used (they are technically banned in the rules), they are useful to take just in case.

Foot Tape - I took some basic but very sticky elastoplast strip tape.  Its what I used at home and worked as expected.  With hindsight I under estimated the number of sores on my should and back (possibly due to the dryness and sand?) and some rock tape or similar would have worked wonders.  Now knowing what I do, I would have probably taped my shoulders in advance, rather than treating reactively as the race wore on.

Leggings / Long Sleeve Warm Top - Leggings were never used (other than in charity stage as by this point my clothes stank).  Warm top was rarely used but would take again.  There was the odd occasion where my down jacket was cool enough to wear, mostly early morning.  However, we had such a warm year that I can see why it important to take in a normal year, especially if taking a very light sleeping bag.

Battery / Watch Charger - Worked great at home.  In the desert at the end of Day 1, it charged my watch by about 7% before not working.  I assumed the innards melted in the heat and that was that.  Binned.  In the end I used a tent mates cheap solar USB charger he bought off Amazon which worked a treat.  Strangely it seemed to work best either early morning or sunset.  I suspect in the heat of the day it was too hot to transfer power to the watch effectively. 

Ear Plugs - Snoring (and puking at night) was noticeable.  For the sake of a gram was an absolute must.

Buff - Never used but would take again.  We never really suffered from a proper sandstorm.  In such an eventuality it would have come into its own.

Cooking Equipment - Started with one pack of Esbit blocks.  If only cooking in the evening (maybe including an evening drink) one pack for the week is more than enough.  Two packs, if including cooked breakfast.  In my case I binned it all after the first stage.  It was so hot out there there was no need to heat my food, it was somewhere between luke warm and warm when eating as long as it was rehydrated from mid-afternoon onwards.

Pillow - An Exped Air UL. Worth its weight in gold.  Far better to raise your head off the rocky ground.

Face Wipes - Took some dry compressed wipes that are activated with water.  It was a late addition and glad I took.  I had just one for the end of each day and felt nice to wipe the crud / dirt / salt from my face.  Dirt was so ingrained by the end of the week, you could scratch your face or arm and result in a lump of it under your fingernail!

Sleeping Mat - The original plan was not to take one.  Pre equipment check I took a blow up one, but once my suitcase was handed in the night before starting the race proper I was on the floor.  It was horrendous and ended up with not only a terrible night of sleep but also bruised sides.  As it turned out that camp was probably the best we had all week.  I was therefore glad of salvaging someone else's sleeping mat that was being disposed of.  I found an even better version later on in the week as people dropped out of the race.  Whilst I was at the racy end of the MDS I 100% recommend taking a mat.  It was the different between a tolerable race and a horrid one.


I always knew that I had taken too much food (i.e. 22,000 calories), but I viewed this as a necessary evil to make the minimum weight of 6.5kg.  This is the one area where with the benefit of hindsight I wished I had make some very different choices.  In the end, I was too focussed on calories per gram at the virtual expense of everything else.  Yes, weight is important, but so is taste, so if you are unable to eat what you are taking then what is the point?

My problem was that my food was too samey.  Whilst at home salted corn, chili peanuts, BBQ peanuts, Pork Scratchings, banana chips, desiccated pineapple, macadamias etc. all sound different, they were all fundamentally 'dry', mostly savoury mixes and all started to taste the same quite soon.  Whilst I'm not a fan of protein shakes and sports Jelly Beans etc. as I think a lot of it is just very clever marketing, I really wished I had some sweet stuff e.g. peanut butter, M&M's (which don't melt due to the shell), chewy bars, or even some Biltong or Peperami (I've never eaten the latter but looked on at those who did rather jealously).

The other thing I noticed was the more flavoursome foods worked better.  The Chili Con Carne and Chicken Tikka worked really well, the Cottage Pie was just about tolerable and I hated the Beef Stroganoff.  The last two were very bland in the desert and I had to have several attempts to get 80% of the latter into me.  Finally, my breakfast just didn't work whatsoever.  The thing is I love granola, I eat tonnes of it at home, lots of complex carbs that keep you full for longer.  But this was also the issue in the desert; my stomach was getting increasingly sensitive and just couldn't handle complex foodstuffs.  It needed quick release energy that was easy to breakdown.  All the granola did was further upset an already sensitive stomach.  I was rather jealous of a tentmates Coco Pops with dried milk, something I would never dream of eating at home but it would have done the job.

The table below provides a rough outline of what I took with what I highlighted in red being binned.  Of the 22,000 calories, roughly 8,000 was binned and just goes to show that even with the calorie deficit over the week, its true your body really refocuses on hydration and survival.  At no stage was I ever hungry.  Even on the off chance you don't take enough with you, there was so much surplus food floating around, you would have easily been able to have taken no food with you and you would still have been fine as long as you are not too fussy.

A final change I would have made was to have taken more in the way of energy drinks and electrolytes.  I always knew I would need a mix of water and drink mixes, but other than the marathon stage and long stage I didn't take enough.  Some of my thinking at the time was that I would take mixes for 750ml at each CP (i.e. one sports bottle with the other being water).  As it was so hot I needed much more - remember how I said my body refocussed on hydration rather than hunger - it would have been a good way to get those extra calories into me either during the stage or thereafter.


I always knew I was very aggressive with my kit choices so knew there would probably be some areas where my choice was probably not the right one.  On the whole what I did more or less worked and there was never a point where what I took put me into any danger or compromised my race.  The only area where I would make wholesale changes was my food.  I could have reduced the overall calories, taken some additional 'nicer' and greater variety of items with the same overall starting weight.  It wouldn't have changed the outcome, but would have resulted in a more enjoyable race.


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