Decisions Decisions

With little over 10 months to go I have started deliberating the plethora of kit options. Which bag? What size bag? Trainers? How many pairs of socks? What food? Energy bars? First aid? mp3 player? solar charger? water bottles? bottle holders? cap? buff? pain killers? Sleeping mat? Sleeping bag? Torch? Compass?…. pants?

I’ve spent the last few months deliberating one of the big decisions: the backpack. Key things for me to decide:

  1. What size pack?
  2. What brand?
  3. What front pack?
  4. What hydration system?

Here’s my thinking, in case it’s of any use to other folk. This is a hybrid of advice from what I’ve seen on forums, picked up chatting to previous competitors and calling a few stores (the team at likeys.com have been a great source of advice)

What size? There are three common sizes that seem to be used at the MDS. The elite guys who travel light seem to get away with 20L… I figure that’s not me and I can’t be bothered with the hassle of cramming my clothes and food in and out of a tiny pack each day. That leaves 25 vs. 32L. There isn’t a huge difference between the two, both would fit the gear. 32 slightly more comfortably, the 25 will stop me packing too many luxuries; the 32L and 25L packs I have tried feel the same on my back. The brand/style is more significant (see next). So, as a first timer and a bigger guy (with bigger clothers and few more calories of food) I’m leaning towards the 32L option. I’ve set myself a hard 10kg pac weight limit to avoid the temptation to over fill it with luxuries. It also guarantees that all my kit will be inside the bag, not strapped onto the outside and bouncing around. I hate stuff bouncing around when I run…  the last thing I need in the desert is a rattling pac. It’s also inefficent use of my energy- I need that for running.

What Brand? There are a number of big names in this area. The popular choices for the MdS are (in no particular order) 1)OMM 2)Raidlight 3)Aarn 4)Official MDS 5)Inov-8.

OMM – well respected pacs and very durable. Great pacs by all accounts. Very comfortable when I tried one on. Front pouches seem to get mixed reviews- they seem to bounce a lot. OMM packs can match up well with Raidlight front pacs. They also tend to be longer pacs that might suite taller folk.

Raidlight – appear to be the most common setup used for the MdS. Very light weight, designed specifically for multi day ultras. Some people have raised concerns over durability when using the pacs for heavy training and in events after des Sables. Shorter in length… looks more like a chunky day pac.

Aarn – I’ve struggled to find much on these. The limited info I have found suggest that they are very adjustable and comfortable… but can be a pain to get stuff in and out (?).

Official MDS – quite expensive compared to the OMM and Inov8. Good build quality. Great design ideas including flare holder, bottle holder built into shoulder strap, integrated sleeping matt. 25L capactiy. Lots of compression straps- squishes down to 4L… handy after several days of racing and food is used up.

Inov-8 – similar to the OMM packs. Long length. Lots of compression straps. Angled side pockets for easy access. Storage on waist belt. Integrates with the Inov8 Race Pac2 which sits flat on the chest- interesting! Good build quality – will survive the MDS and many events to come.

I’m leaning towards the Inov8 and OMM packs at the minute. Mainly due to the longer body length and excellent reviews on durability; I intend to use the pac for the next 10months in training and will continue to use it post-MdS. I have therefore ordered a Inov-8 Race pac 32 to try out. If I hate it, I can always try the OMM… there’s plenty of time to test options. 

Inov8 RacePac 32

Inov8 RacePac 32

Front Pac. Well with the choice of the Inov-8 Race Pac I figure I had to give their front pac a go, so ordered one of those too!  It’s unusual: it sits on the front of your chest and attaches to the shoulder straps of the pac. I like the idea that is sits snug against the body to reduce bounce- also means maps and snack are right there for the taking! The other option is the Raidlight front pac, which can attach to the OMM and Raidlight pacs using the waist band. This will be my second option to test (if I don’t get on with the Inov8 set-up)

Inov8 FrontPac 2 +  Raidlight Bottle Holders

Inov8 FrontPac 2 +        Raidlight Bottle Holders

Hydration. The big bit of advice that everyone give is “don’t use a bladder – it’s a hassle and waste of time”. So, I get the message, I’m not going to use a bladder… mainly because I don’t like drinking out of them – I much prefer bottles. Also, the advice is wise: stopping to refill a bladder is time consuming in the comfort of my kitchen, let alone the desert. There’s also a hygiene factor.

There are 4 main choices with bottle systems: 1) Raidlight OLMO 2) OMM i-agmmy 3)Inov-8’s offering and 4)something from Camel Bak. I’ve tried and tested the OMM option for the past month on my normal pack and hated it. It didn’t last a month- after a 16 mile run I’d had enough. It bounces, makes lots of noise and the bottle are only 500ml. Water rations at MdS are handed out in 1.5L bottles… so I figure that I need 2 x 750ml bottles. Also the caps on the OMM bottles are really hard – feels horrible on my teeth when I pull it open: it’s the small things that add up! The Raidlight bottle holders seem to get the best reviews, whilst the camel bak bottles seem to be highly regarded. I think I’ll order a Raidlight OLMO and see how we go. 

Decision (well, the first attempt). I think that the initial deliberation complete. I’m getting the following combination ordered up so that I can test it during June and July:

  • Invo-8 RacePac 32
  • Inov-8 Race Pac 2
  • Raidlight OLMO bottle holder + Raidlight 750ml Bottle 

The testing of this setup will culminate at the Montane Lakeland 50 at the end of July. Yup that’s a 50 mile Ultra Marathon. I don’t need the full volume/capacity of that combination, but I want to test it out in a tough race so I know if it works for me. It will be a very personal thing.

Wow…a 1,000 words all about a back pack! The MdS really does take over your life!

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