MdS Footwear: Trainers for des Sables

The BIG decisions in life:

  • What trainers do I wear?
  • What socks do I wear?

I have spent a lot of time reading forums, blogs, Facebook groups and those strange things called books, trying to figure out what to wear. I’ve also had a good number of chats with real humans- they have been pretty helpful too. What I have below is a summary of what I have discovered so far:

  • Gaiters are a must.
    • I’m going for the silk ones from SandBaggers. There is also good option from Racekit that finishes much lower on the calf, but I only discovered these after ordering the Sandbagger gaiters. Anyway – ordered and received my sandbaggers – very happy.
  • Two layers of socks work well for minimising blisters. The option to remove a layer will also help accommodate any extra swelling that occurs
    • On anything longer than a 20 miler, I get a pinch point between my second and third toe unless using toe socks. It’s not a hotspot/blister; my toes seem to “overlap” after 20 miles a squash the skin on the edge of my second toe. Nice! No such issue with toe socks. For the MdS I’ll be using the thin Injinji base layer socks with a normal “thick” running sock on top for extra blister protection. Likeys have well priced Injinjis,
  • Laces- in sticking to the normal lace up option. Some people mention those elastic ones to get an even pressure across the foot. I have tried them but find that a muddy trail can sometimes pull my trainers off. Might happen in sand? Not sure! Not risking it!
  • Trainers- how long have you got? So far, I have figured the following
    • Asics- love the road shoes. My knees and ankles don’t enjoy 20+miles in their trail shoes.
    • Brooks- cascadia 8 are on the short list
    • Scott – T2 Kinabalu are on the short list
    • Inov8 – need to try them out and figure which of their models is best. Probably the Roclite or Trailroc. Hear stories of them being narrow – I have wide(ish) feet
    • Salomon – Too narrow in the toe box for me
    • Mizuno – 1 bad experience in road shoes and won’t go back
    • Adidas – too tight

So, by my reckoning, it’s down to Scott T2, Brooks Cascadia or Inov8. Or as a back-up plan my Ascis GT-1000 road shoes. I haven’t really narrowed it down that much! Last weekend, with only 5 months to go, I realised I need to start making a few decisions – I jumped in at the deep end ordered a pair of Brooks and have been testing them out this week.

Brooks Cascadia 8

Brooks Cascadias get their first outing

Initial thoughts: I usually run in a Size 11, so have gone with the same in the Brooks. In all honesty I could get away with a 10.5 in the Brooks. But importantly, my feet don’t slip around and they feel like slippers, so no issue there.  In fact, many people recommend going up 0.5-1.5 sizes to allow some room for the inevitable swelling in the desert heat.

In summary they’re comfy, pretty well protected around the toe box, have a sturdy sole/foot plate for the rocky sections and they’re almost as well cushioned as my Asics road shoes.If I get on well with these over the next month or two, these exact shoes will be coming to the desert!

Anyway, lets see how the next 2 months of winter trail running go! Probably not the most accurate conditions to test them in…. but it should give me a good view on fit/hot spots after some high mileage.

Not a particularly exciting post… but hopefully useful to at least one person.


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 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!