Friday, September 21, 2012

UTMB Gear List and Selections

Let me start off by saying that I have never seen people wear so many layers of clothing in a running event. I thought Portlanders over-dressed, but UTMB'ers took it to a new level.  Racers were bundled up as if about to face severe arctic weather (and we might have, had we headed up over 6000 ft, which we didn't). It was almost laughable, and a wee bit confusing, as it made me question whether I had enough on and had packed enough extra gear for my crew.  I kept trying to remind myself that I've been running in winter weather for as long as I can remember, and would never consider wearing more than a single layer on bottom, even when it's really really cold or really wet. And I never wear more than 2 layers on top, and that usually becomes uncomfortably warm. But, as racers started to panic about weather conditions in the days prior and swarm the Chamonix stores for additional gear, I got sucked in and did the same. 

I found one of the more over-whelming aspects of UTMB preparation in the weeks leading up to it to be figuring out what to carry in terms of mandatory gear. I thought I'd done a good job at keeping things light, until I saw Topher's pack a few days prior to the race.  People put a lot of thought and effort into this, and Topher definitely won the award for research and creativity.

Following is a list of the required gear, and what I opted to go with:

  • Backpack (Not on the obligatory gear list, but obligatory because you have to carry everything on the gear list) 
    • I carried one of the TenRedPacks from UltraSpire. Technically they were green this year, but the name came from last year, when you could follow the ten red packs around UTMB. It's a prototype of the Omega. First, let me start off by saying I really liked this pack--the materials, the construction, the design--all great.  And, I liked it better than any other pack I tried out in prep for UTMB (including the S-Lab 5--stiff and bulky--too much fabric, Ultimate Direction Highline--stiff and heavy, Ultimate Direction Wasp--weird straps causing a weird fit, Camel Bak something or other--uncomfortable fit, Inov8 something or other with odd bladder--uncomfortable bulky straps that hit collarbone/neck), and worn over layers, it worked out very well. I have since worn the pack over a single layer, and I like it, except for the shoulder straps which are fairly widely placed. Better than other packs that cut into the collar bone, but still a touch wide, and tend to slip off the shoulder. Also, there are some issues with the front straps which loosen as you run; the wide shoulder strap issue would be lessened if those front straps would stay put. To prevent them from sliding, I duct taped them into place, and this seemed to work OK. I'll probably permanently sew them at some point, as the duct tape seems to fail on the second or third run. Overall, really like the pack, except for being slightly wide in the shoulders and therefore sliding around a bit, and the (fixable) front strap issue. It's not perfect (but, almost--and can/will be made perfect with a needle and thread), but is my go-to pack for long adventures.  
Checking out the course pre-race with the Ultraspire Omega pack.
On to what had to go inside of that pack...

Obligatory material :
  • Mobile Phone with option enabling its use in the three countries (put in one’s repertoire the security numbers of the organisation, keep it switched on, do not hide one’s number and do not forget to set off with recharged batteries)
    • I purchased a cheap flip phone in France. My Windows phone is dying a slow death, and I feared wouldn't survive the journey (after a recent run, it didn't stop ringing, literally, for several days), besides being a bit heavy and having to pay international rates. 
  • Personal Cup or Tumbler 15cl minimum (water bottle not acceptable)
    • I cut off a juice box--picture a Capri Sun type of thing. Rolled up nicely, worked fine, and I used it for Coke throughout.
  • Stock of Water minimum 1 litre,
    • I carried a 1.5L bladder.
  • Two Torches in good working condition with replacement batteries,
    • Petzl MyoRXP for my main headlamp and a Fenix handheld for my secondary (E11--takes 1 AA battery). I carried one extra battery for the Fenix for the "replacement batteries" 
  • Survival Blanket 1.40m x 2m minimum,
    • Standard. Not much room to be creative here, although some folks will go that extra mile and cut it down to exact size. I didn't bother trying to save those extra thousandths of an ounce.
  • Whistle,
    • Standard small plastic emergency whistle. Not much room to be creative here. Some packs come with them.
  • Adhesive Elastic Band enable making a bandage or a strapping (mini 100cm x 6 cm),
    • Standard...I can not imagine a case, ever, where I would use a bandage mid-run or race, and I've fallen, bled, and broken things on a lot of runs. We were carrying 5000 layers. Surely in an emergency we could have used something out of our required clothing, like the bandana/buff, and made it to an aid station. This was one of those items that makes you ask, WTF? Granted, it weighs next to nothing, so carrying it wasn't really a burden.
  • Food Reserve,
    • I carried ClifShots and a ClifBar or two. Gels started to not go down so well at some point, so for the second half I relied on gummy Haribo Smurfs (not the first time I've relied on gummy things when my stomach is feeling a bit off--they're easier to suck on, thus preventing the gag reflex that swallowing a gel sometimes brings) and Coke at the aid stations. Having a crew meant I could not rely on aid station food, which was plentiful, but not standard fare by US standards.
  • Jacket with Hood and made with a waterproof (recommendation: minimum 10,000 Schmerber) and breathable (recommendation: RET lower than 13) membrane (Gore-Tex or similar) which will withstand the bad weather in the mountains.
    • I carried the MHW Quasar jacket. Great jacket, although I never put it on (I didn't need to--I was warm all night). 

  • Long Running Trousers or Leggings or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completely,
    • I opted for 3/4 length tights. I also had arm sleeves with me, so they could have covered the lower part of my legs, had they needed to. I had spare long tights in my crew bag. I would have been happy in shorts, too.
  • Additional warm midlayer top: One single midlayer long sleeve top for warmth (cotton excluded) with a minimum weight of 180g (Men, size M)
    OR a two piece clothing combination of a long sleeve baselayer/midlayer for warmth (cotton excluded) with a minimum weight of 110g (Men, size M) and a windproof jacket* with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) protection
    • I wore a short-sleeved half-zip (MHW Aliso S/S zip T) over a long-sleeved half-zip (Arcteryx--purchased in Chamonix when I realized I hadn't brought the "right" long-sleeved layer). I loved both of these, and loved that they were both 1/2 zips so I could control temperature a bit by unzipping one or both of them. The Aliso is a shirt I will wear a lot--it's a great medium-weight SS shirt, and the half-zip option is really nice. And it's a GREAT fit--not cut for a 5'2" woman with large hips, as much women's athletic apparel seems to be. I see this as being my go-to shirt for the rainy Portland fall that is about to hit.
    • I started in a MHW Geist jacket (a wind breaker), and also had a MHW Ghost Whisperer with me. I took the Geist off within about 10 minutes of the start, and only pulled it out again on the snowy part of the course on the climb up above Gorge de la Notre Dame.  Otherwise I ran in the L/S and S/S shirts all night, and never changed. I was warm all night.
  • Cap or Bandana
    • Carried a Buff. Never wore it.
  • Warm Hat
    • I carried a MHW Micro Dome hat. I wore a Turtle Fur tube, that I always wear. It allows my hair to stick out the back/top, which is kind of a must for me. I've worn it on every cold weather run the past decade. 
  • Warm and Waterproof Gloves
    • Waterproof gloves was one of the items I opted to switch out in Chamonix, purchasing the RaidLite over-mitts.  I really think that these are something I may use in the future for snowshoeing, cold-weather adventures, but did not put them on at any time during UTMB. Waterproof gloves, in general, are not something I would ever consider wearing, as I would imagine that they wouldn't be that effective once your hands are warm and sweaty inside of the gloves. The RaidLite mitts are thin enough that I could imagine wearing them as a single layer.  The other water-proof gloves out there resemble oven mitts, and I can't imagine using them for anything besides oven mitts. I wore MHW Power Stretch Gloves and switched those out for the MHW Heavyweight Wool Stretch Gloves at St. Gervais the second time because they'd gotten fairly wet up in the snow. My hands only got cold for a few minutes during the snowy portion, and otherwise, I didn't wear gloves most of the race.  Only for a couple of hours total out of 14.  A glove change was the only change I made all race.
  • Waterproof Over-trousers
    • I ended up carrying MHW Epic pants. This was one switch I made on race day, when I worried that I might need to actually wear them. In the end, I still didn't wear them. I had previously planned to carry O2 Rainwear pants (yellow papery things) bc they were significantly lighter than the MHW ones.  But, I couldn't imagine running in them. In the end, I couldn't imagine running in any of it, and didn't need to.
* The windproof jacket does not replace the mandatory waterproof jacket with hood

Required by the frontier police forces:

  • Identity Papers
    • Well, this became a bit obsolete once they changed the course to remain in France, but I did carry a photocopy of my passport. I didn't want to carry the entire thing bc it weighs a bit, and it's not something you want to get wet.

Very strongly recommended

  • Knife or scissors with which to cut the self-adhesive elasticised bandage
    • Um, nope. I can't imagine using a bandage mid-race or needing to cut one.  
  • walking poles for security on slippery ground in case of rain or snow
    • I used Black Diamond carbon Z-poles and can't imagine doing UTMB without them. I find them very helpful on the steep climbs, and were a life saver on some of the steep muddy descents that were kind of like skiing on mud.
  • a change of warm clothes indispensable in the case of cold weather, rain or injury
    • I had extra clothes with my crew, but never used any of it except switching out wet gloves for dry ones coming through St. Gervais the second time.
  • the sum of 20 euros minimum (in order to cover the unexpected....)
    • I did carry 20 euros but can only imagine needing this if I were doing the full course and having a really rough day (fondue stop at a refuge, etc.).

Advised (list not definitive):

Telescopic sticks, change of clothing, compass, knife, string, sun cream, Vaseline or anti-chaffing cream, needle and thread,...

All clothing must be the runner’s size and without alteration since leaving the factory.
You will carry this material in a pack which must be tagged at the race-bib distribution and is not exchangeable during the race.

If you decide to use poles, you must keep them throughout the whole of the race… It is forbidden to start without sticks and recover them up along the way.
No poles will be allowed in the spare’s bags.


My favorite gear item, besides my L/S and S/S shirts (the perfect combo for the weather--while it was raining much of the night, I either didn't get wet, or it didn't register), were my Black Diamond carbon Z-poles. I loved them for both the ups, and the downs, which were like mud slicks at times (the re-routing caused us to use some TDS trails which meant that there had already been 1500 people or so coming down/up them in the day prior in the pouring rain).

The good thing about having to go through this this year, is that next year I understand where to save weight, and what items worked well this year.  I really wouldn't change much.  I definitely wouldn't add anything. We had "epic" weather and yet I touched basically none of the mandatory gear I wasn't wearing. I likely would have used some of it had we gone up another 3000 feet, but feel like I had enough additional layers with me had I needed them. And everything I have seems to be light enough, in that I don't plan to waste time trying to save an ounce here or there. I'd rather spend that time out hiking up steep climbs in preparation than sitting in front of a computer screen researching UTMB gear options (I seemed to do a lot of that this year). 

The only thing I would change for next year would be on lights, in that I'd have an additional lightweight option to switch out during the day with crew, and then take back a heavier light late on Saturday. You have to carry 2 lights at all times, but there's no point in carrying a heavy headlamp with 3 or 4 batteries all through the daylight hours on Saturday if you a means of switching it out.
On to the race....


Olga said...

Thanks for the extensive explanations on the list. I don't think I'll ever go to UTMB, however, this could be useful for others. You're one hot gal!

Ellie Greenwood said...

Fuuny how we are all different, I ran the vast majority of CCC wearing MHW Quasar waterproof jacket and MHW waterproof oven-mitts, I was just the right temperature - but maybe I like to be warm :) Great post Amy~

amy said...

Meghan wore her waterproof pants and jacket the entire time, and seemed to be happy with it. She also carried a puffy. I would never dream of running in a puffy.

Yes, Olga. I'm a little furnace.

Jill Homer said...

As far as heat output goes, I think there's likely a significant difference between speedy runners burning the high octane at the front of the pack, and those generally working at lower intensities farther back. I resisted as long as I could, but I eventually slipped on my fleece jacket beneath my shell to cut the wind, so that's three layers on top. I never did put on the waterproof pants, although I was wearing a pair of windstopper pants, the same layer that got me through the Susitna 100 when it was 20 below. Also I prefer thin balaclavas to hats in windy conditions, and fleece mittens for cold and wet conditions, because all gloves eventually get wet and the mittens will at least preserve warmth. I was annoyed that the UTMB required "waterproof" gloves, as I don't think these work as well.

Anyway, I never felt cold, but I also wasn't sweating much out there. All of my gear was baggy and black so I probably looked like a plodding ninja.

Finally, I'm curious how you managed the handheld light with poles. Or did you just not really use it?

Great post. I'm looking forward to reading about the race itself. :-)

sea legs girl said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! We have two trips to the Alps planned this coming year and I will use this as my Bible for packing. Rasmus and I both need to get poles, so it is great to have a brand that comes so highly recommended.

Just one thing I would add- I always run with a buff wrapped around my wrist. They are so light and can wipe away anything that way. Just something I have found I love.

Now I have to look up what in the world a puffy is.

Beat said...

Puffy = insulation layer (usually lightweight), usually a synthetic or down sweather or light jacket. Patagonia Nano-puff is a typical example, but there are many.

Aggressively light clothing for these kinds of races works only as long as you can move well. There are reasons even strong runners may not be able to (injury or impassable course) - once you stop moving things look far differently. I never bring a puffy to run in it - I bring it to put on when I'm not running. I think the majority of people should really bring good warm layers. The number of people who got hypothermic during TDS shows that.

In PTL we had epic conditions - a day+ of cold rain, then snow melting on you (that's about the coldest I've been, it's miserable), then 15F, then snow-storms and even a stretch of postholing. I was damn glad I brought all my warm/waterproof stuff I did.

Weather in the alps can be very variable. In the TDG later on we went from 86F to 5F with winds between 20-50mph. You can absolutely not rely on the weather forecast. Seriously! There are many micro-climates, and volatility is very high.

As for waterproof gloves/mitts: it's true that they will soon be soaked from sweat, I have the same problem. But waterproofness will still prevent a lot of heat loss, and as soon as wind comes into play ...

To sum up, your advice may be good for very fast and strong runners, but I think for most of the field it's misleading. This is exactly the reason why for example the UTMB had to get rerouted (whereas the PTL got routed on parts of the original UTMB course ...).

amy said...

Hey Beat,
I did carry all of the mandatory gear. I just never wore it. Had I needed to (had to stop moving) I had waterproof jacket, pants, gloves, I could have put on, in addition to arm warmers, an additional long-sleeve, other gloves, hat, buff etc. I had more clothes than I could ever have imagined wearing, but I did carry it and was ready to wear it if I needed to. I just never needed to. And I run hot. But this was my take on my experience. Again, Meghan was very happy wearing waterproof layers the entire time. I would have been absolutely miserable, as I felt warm as it was. I would carry a puffy for PTL, but never for UTMB. They are very different events.

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I will be running UTMB this 2019 and i have one question regarding the waterproof jacket. Mine has tapered seams but is it only 3000 mm not 10,000 mm like they recommend, and it's fully waterproof. Did they check to see if yours was 10,000 or just that it has tapered seams? I shopped around for another one but none of them have the specs written on the label. How would they know you have the minimum recommended other than checking the seams? Thanks

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