Four Day crash course in Fastpacking:

IMG_2526 (1)What I learnt from four days of lightweight backpacking or fastpacking:

  • I have over 20 years experience in carrying very heavy loads (mainly climbing gear) up very remote peaks. This is quite a different skill set to Ultra Light travel to which I am far less experienced.
  • The Osprey Talon 22 is perfectly adequate to carry all your kit for and adventure of this nature. It is a great pack if you plan to mainly walk. For more of a running approach a specific running pack will work better (Osprey Rev Series, Montane Dragon 20, Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L etc)
  • Navigation: My partner had printed out a map and drawn a GPS route from google earth on his Garmin Fenix. I used 1: 50 000 standard maps and carried a compass. They were heavier but the combination worked well in that we could confirm the identity far away peaks. I also carried a GPS with pre loaded waypoints. Pre loading GPS points of important junctions was hugely beneficial in making sure we stayed on track. The combination worked well. I never used the compass so with hindsight I could have left it behind.
  • Gear I carried and did not use: I would still carry it and not leave anything out.

Frist Aid Kit, fleece gloves, spare matches, Waterproof jacket, Windproof Shell (I am undecided on whether I would take this for this particular trip. Normally this is one of my essentials but with day time temps being up to 30°C most days I am not sure which probably means that I could have left it behind.)

  • Gear I carried and did not need:

Compass (see above),

Opinel knife. I could have substituted for a simple scalpel blade instead.

Extra stove and fuel. It only weights about 270g combined but every bit helps. We used a methalated spirits home made stove and carried about 250ml of fuel in a juice bottle. See the instructions of how to make it here. Before all you MSR and Jetboil lovers knock this try it!

  • Items that turned out to be essential: needle and thread. My partner’s bag tore as we were about to start. Without this repair possibility he would have had a very uncomfortable trip.
  • Items that I wish I had changed:

We carried 3L of water per day per person. This was perfect for the conditions. I had a 2,5L bladder and my partner had a selection of 500ml bottles. He could quite easily pace his drinking with this system whereas I was playing a bit of guess work. Essential to his system was having easy and on the go access to all bottles. Big mesh pockets on his bag made this work. I had a 500ml water bottle which I intended to use with 32Gi Recover shake or Nutriboost meal replacement first thing and last thing in the day. These two drinks worked really well at the end of the day to fill me up before we got to dinner. But having only one bottle meant that I was limited to having this last thing in the day when I knew we would not run out of water. I would probably choose a bottle system in future. It does not put all your vital water into one potentially vulnerable container and is easier to measure your consumption on the go. You would need a bag that can carry two bottles up front and two bottles, easily accessible on each side.

IMG_2517I bought a 9°C (Comfort Rating) Mountain Equipment Helium Solo Sleeping bag. Temperatures were not lower that 12-14°C any one night. I wore running tights, First Ascent DermaTec base layer as a top and Rab Polartec Alpha over that and a Reversible Polar Buff as headwear.

I should have tested this combination at a known temperature to know how cold I would be. Instead I made the classic mistake of trusting “tested numbers” not taking into account personal variance.

  • Specificity is key in training. My best training session was a 6h 24km walk with a heavy pack. I knew I was undertrained going into this venture but I only managed to do what I could without getting too fatigued. I will emphasise this more in future.
  • My emphasis needs to mainly be on capabilities rather than my gear. I need to work on being more comfortable enduring the cold (necessitating less gear). I was never uncomfortable as such but you can always be better. I need to put more emphasis on fitness. I need to improve my navigation and my competency with using a GPS. I believe my skills are above average but you can never be too good in this department. When you really need to navigate under pressure then experience counts!
  • Nutrition for every day: breakfast: cooked porridge of two handfuls of rolled oats with some cinnamon and seeds mixed in.

snacks: 2 bars (selection of Ziberto Energy Bars, 32Gi, Trek Bar) Trek Bar offers best kj value for weight.

1 stick droe wors (about 80g)

100g mixed nuts

80g dried fruit mix

1 scoop Nutriboost

1 serving 32Gi Recover

Lunch: left over serving of dinner

Dinner: 50g dehydrated food. Required about 1h of soaking and then bringing to boil.

Ate all my snacks on day 1 but after that I felt I was less and less hungry. Is this fat burning setting in? My body becoming more efficient? I could have certainly have done without one serving of either Nutriboost or Recover and possibly left another of the above behind also.

  • The Big Three need the most attention for weight savings: Shelter, Sleeping Bag/Matt, Pack.

We had the z-packs duplex which was brilliant. The reason we decided on a closed tent rather than tarp only is that all the literature warns of creepy crawlies in the form of scorpions and spiders. Not being a friend of either this was a good compromise to make sure we limited exposure. We both used Thermarest Neoair mattresses which were awesome in that they are compact.

  • I carried a Petzl Myo which ended up being overkill BUT if we had to have travelled at night then this would have been a deal breaker. Glad I brought it.
  • My partner in crime was way more experienced than me. I have learnt a great deal and hope to explore more. The choice of partner is key in ventures like this. We worked well and for this I am very pleased and thankful.

PUFfer Preparation 301

I have had an interesting email conversation with a fellow trail runner on gear and how to best use it stretching over the last few weeks. This conversation and my presentation at SSISA prompted me to put expand on ideas here. My comments are aimed specifically at PUFfer runners but are universally applicable. Let me know your thoughts.

Basic Action Suit:

The extreme alpinist Mark Twight coined the term Action Suit for alpinism. It is equally applicable here with some adaptations. I encourage you to observe other sports closely and see what you can learn. (on Giro a few weeks ago the boys all got to the top of a snowy Col only to be handed a newspaper and surgical gloves….)

DSC00371I prefer to be on the cold side of things. Heat is your enemy. (the more you sweat into your clothing, the more you will get cold when you stop) This is something that you can train. A few years ago I went to climb Mt Rainier with a colleague. We walked up the lower snow slopes to get to the camp. I wore a base layer and a wind breaker and a Buff® on my head. I was super vigilant to keep cool. My colleague however wore a base layer and an insulated waterproof breathable jacket. He was sweating buckets and when we stopped to eat some snacks he was instantly cold. I just layered over the top of my kit and was comfortable.

PUFfer runners on the bus

PUFfer runners on the bus

When you get off the bus in Cape Point you want to be cold and even shivering. Anything more and you will overheat within a few minutes of running exertion.

For  legwear it is either shorts or tights – really your call. Tights can help with chafing and will dry quicker as they are closer to your skin. Shorts tend to have more pockets to put stuff and rubbish.

Stevie doing in race kit

Stevie doing in race kit

On my body I wear a light polyester t shirt. A short zip really helps to regulate heat.

I do most of my temperature regulation by wearing a Buff® at the start in a beanie. I will remove this and replace with a cap. A running cap is awesome in that it keeps the sun (and rain) out of your face. I need all the head coverage and it works well to scoop water from a stream later to cool you down. M like’s her running visors but then she has loads of hair.



Comfort layers: Warmth, Water, Wind


Staying warm is relies on many things. One of them is insulation from the elements. That is actually quite simple. You need to trap air next to your body. This trapped air acts as insulation and is heated by your body. The more effectively that air is trapped the better that garment will work.

This comes down to two factors: Fit and fabric.

You want a snug fit so that you can effectively trap air next to your skin.

The fabric of the garment also plays a huge role here. You have three choices. I am not going to go into each in detail. You can read all the marketing gumf on each manufacturers web site. The basics are:

Polyester great at moving moisture.

Polypro (great cold weather base layer),

Wool (great natural fibre) Merino Wool has the ability to hold a bit more moisture so that it does not feel damp so it feels drier. It also does not feel like a plastic bag next to your skin and does not stink! We distribute Icebreaker in South Africa so I am a fan.

Some races have a fleece layer as part of the required kit list. Personally I prefer carrying two base layers. The outer with a short zip to regulate warmth. These are more effective at trapping heat and as a result will keep me warmer. The First Ascent Derma Tec is super warm. In fact I can only wear it when I am stationary (evenings when camping) I have never exercised in it but I am pretty confident that it will stand up to anything you throw at it in SA.

We have seen a few triathletes migrate up to the trail scene and with them compression gear in the form of spandex and lycra. These items work fantastically well but are no good in offering warmth. Spandex just does not have the same insulation properties as polyester, polypro or wool. You have been warned!

Waterproof breathable:

Last week I was in a new running shop and I was told that customers want cheaper waterproofs. I was shown a jacket with no hood, not seam sealed and about a quarter of the price of anything else. You get what you pay for!

Personally my waterproof BREATHABLE jacket forms part of my emergency kit. I have never run in one. But when the chips are down and you are moving slow or not moving at all you want one and you want it now!

OK so what constitutes a waterproof BREATHABLE?

A decent jacket should be waterproof (obviously) but also allow moisture to pass through the membrane from the inside out. A plastic bag is fantastically waterproof but does not breathe! You can look at the claimed numbers by manufacturers all over the net. If a jacket breathes well enough it should not need pit vents.

One thing you want to be carefull of is when you put the jacket on you are pretty committed. If you later overheat (or produce too much moisture on the inside of your jacket) and you take it off then you will cool down massively. So when you are putting your waterproof breathable on you are making a big commitment.


One of my best garments is my windproof. Each company makes one and they all work on the same principle.

I prefer something super light made from Pertex or similar. The fit is not as crucial as on a bike where you want a super snug fit.

Remember to treat it with Nikwax or similar in order to keep its DWR. In fact this layer will keep you comfortable in most conditions. This is due to the high breathability and the windproof fabric.

Emergency Gear:

I keep my emergency kit separate to my running gear. It contains:

Waterproof breathable jacket and base layer as a minimum;

Myprodol (I am in no way advocating using pain killers during a race. But when you have an accident you have two choices: either wait for a rescue, which will take hours or you can get yourself out of the worst of it),

latex gloves (I don’t plan to operate on anybody but to protect my fingers from the cold wind),

blister plasters,

space blanket (anybody who has finished Ironman and si wrapped in a space blanket will know how well it works),

whistle (Is more audible and distinctive than a shout and takes less effort to make a sound)

Nutrition and Hydration:

I like to keep Nutrition and Hydration as separate as possible.

What happens when you are low on nutrition but feeling bloated from drinking too much?

What happens when you want liquid but not nutrition?

Separating the two gives you more options.

Currently I am using 32Gi products as they suit my objectives and general nutrition right now. See my previous post here. Variety works for me. I don’t use gels early on as it blocks my stomach later. I would like to experiment with a concentrated mix of 32Gi going forward to see how that works. I regularly read what Allen Lim has to say. I find that eating solids definitely helps in keeping my stomach happy. It does clog up my throat a bit for hard running efforts though.

I put pure water into my hydration bladder or bottles.

I have both planned out before hand and my second knows exactly what to give me when. I have two bum bags that I swap at every check point and they have right hydration and nutrition pre packed.

In order to carry the above hydration and nutrition you have a couple of options:

Me wearing a bum bag only while other runners have their torso covered with back packs

Me wearing a bum bag only while other runners have their torso covered with back packs

Racing vests are very popular at the moment. They carry a lot of kit and are least restrictive on your running style but I do feel that they are pretty hot and prevent shedding heat.

If I can then I use a bum bag. This does put more weight on your hips and thus influences your centre of gravity more noticeably. But the advantage of staying cooler is huge. It is also super easy to refill bottles compared to a hydration bladder. Downside you can’t carry as much kit.

Please understand I am not claiming any of this to be the right or only way. It is working for me, right now. Let me know your thoughts.

Now go and enjoy the race!

Gear Choices for the Skyrun 2009:

Essential Gear used:

Merino Wool Buff: Rapidly becoming my favourite cold weather headwear option. I only ended up wearing this when the pace slowed down or when we stopped at Breslins. Will def be in the pack for emergencies.

Julbo Instinct Zebra: I have used these for a really long time and they do not scratch or break. The most hardcore sunnies I have ever owned.

Montrail Running Cap: I love this cap however it did not provide adequate cover (especially for the back of my neck). I will look at other options for this summer and for events which go on into the mid day sun.

CAPESTORM Running T and A3 shorts: These are faithful companions. We had to wear a race bib over the top of this with our race no’s and sponsors logo on them. This made it quite hot. At the Otter I decided to not wear my normal T shirt underneath in order to keep as cool as possible. Due to being exposed to more UV for the whole day I erred on the side of caution here.

Mountain Hardwear Fluid 18: Sample Pack about to be launched in early 2010. It is a bit heavier than other packs but I find it super comfortable due to the frame sheet in it. Has plenty of compartments and pockets to store all the essentials.

Mountain Hardwear Epic Jacket: Lightweight (413g) and no frills. I wore this once on top of the Bridal path when dark. I thought that it would not be breathable enough to deal with fast walking but it worked perfectly.

Helly Hansen Base layer. There is no other base layer which wicks as well as this. It is also surprisingly cool in hot weather. A favourite. (If conditions were cooler I would take a second base layer. This is ligther, warmer and more versatile than a thin fleece. Conditions were very warm so I decided not to take this.)

Sunscrean and UV lipbalm: Absolute must. I got burnt despite reapplying frequently.

Bodyglide Sun Formula: anti chafe for feet, thighs, underarms. Works great. I only got blisters on my feet where I did not apply before the event.

Garmin Fortrex 401: Only user replaceable battery operated running unit. On long events like this you will need it most when it is dark, you are tired and you have been running for 15+ hours. No other unit would work here. (The battery life on all these units is rather optimistic especially if you are using the navigation functionality.)

Black Diamond Headlamp: Buy the best you can afford. The brighter the beam the more time you save in tricky situations.


Gardening Gloves: A tip from fellow runners. I found mine to be super sweaty so I ended up taking them off continuously between fence crossings. I would definitely take these again. Possibly consider cycling gloves. Either way you want to cover your hands against the nasty rusty barbs.

Gear not used but essential:

First Aid Kit:

• 4 Myprodol (My thoughts are that you can pop a couple of those and either suck it up and walk out of there, or you need a copper anyway.)

• Loo paper (loose and in a zip lock bag)

• A pair of Surgical Gloves. Just in case of real blood.

• Space blanket

• Selection of Plasters

• Whistle

• Super glue. In case you really get cut badly. That is the theory anyway. Not sure if I would be brave enough to glue my leg together. It only weighs about 2 g.

Compass: Would def pack a med sized compass if conditions were threatening. I have a GPS with built in compass so this would just be a backup.

GPS with last year’s route programme in or at very least coordinates for check points. In future this will help to choose a reasonable route. And yes there are improvements to be made on the route I took. There will be improvements in the future…

For Transition:

Spare socks: The only time I really got my socks (and shoes) completely wet was a few hundred meters before Balloch. I did not want to change shoes here but changing socks only was good enough to keep my feet relatively comfortable. Having said this I did get some blisters on my heels (the wet definitely contributed to this). I also did not wear the ideal socks for the second half.

CAPESTORM Motion tights: some warmth for the legs. Not used.

Black garbage bin bag : Just in case we need to sit down in bad conditions. This in combination with my waterproof and space blanket will give more shelter from wind and worse. Weighs nothing. Also helps waterproof warm layers in case of inclement weather.

As a result I did not get a chance to test and become familiar with my Garmin. I am playing with it now and will work it out for myself before next year’s event. I am psyched to use this great gadget going forward.

Nutrition and Hydration:

Pre Race Nutrition: Peanut Butter Sarmie. I had to force this down way early in the morning. It just sat in my stomach for a few hours.

Race Nutrition and Hydration: First 4 hours I used some Hammer Perpetuem. I could only stomach the taste for that long. In fact even that was a push. Then came the Mule Bars. I carried much more than I needed here (12 hours worth on both legs- I would do the same in future). Altitude definitely played a part in suppressing appetite. I planned on 1 every hour (split into two halves every 30 min). I love the variety of tastes and hence do not get bored and actually look forward to the next bite.

Cashew nuts mixed with jelly babies and speckled eggs. Really great trail mix. Salty and sweet together just cleans the palate. I snacked on a ziplock of this coming down towards Balloch as my appetite returned with the lower altitude.

Camelbak 3l bladder: I filled this to 2,5L at each refill and dropped two Zym Lime tabs into it. I also carried 600ml water/Zym Catapult mixture in a water bottle. I still feel this really kicks. As a result I sipped the Catapult while drinking from my bladder in order not to get too much of a spike and drop afterward. I had a spare bottle once I had finished my Perpetuem just in case filling up at streams was going to be an issue. In future I would seriously consider carrying a straw if conditions were looking dry. 2L bladder size is the minimum volume that I would go with here. I ended up drinking about 10l of this mixture throughout the event. This was about right.