Sometimes you have to ruthless. And the Marathon des Sables is an occasion when cutting back your packing to the bare essentials is necessary. When you’re actually running the race, however, there are times when you wish you’d given yourself a bit of slack. So if you’re planning on heading out to the sands, this list of kit I didn’t take (and later regretted) is for you.
Even if you’re not a fan of lipsalve (it can be kinda greasy) and you never really suffer from dry, chapped lips, listen up – the extreme conditions of the Sahara desert do strange things to your pout (and I’m not talking Kylie Jenner strange). As I discovered on day three, without protection your lips visibly dry up, crack and at some point can actually bleed. Don’t skimp or forget like I did, pack some lipsalve.
2. Sleeping mat
Camp life is pretty basic and by this I mean your home for the evening is essentially a few sticks, some black cloth and string made into a ‘tent-like’ shape plus a battered piece of carpet. The team who pitch the ‘tents’ do not spend time ensuring the floor is rock-free – come on, they have 100 others to assemble. This can mean you end up sleeping on rocky ground covered by a thin layer of coarse carpet, which, as you can imagine, is pretty much taking roughing it to the extreme. A sleeping mat could make the experience way more pleasant. The best version I saw in our tent was similar to a yoga mat – it didn’t have to be inflated nor did it squeak at the slightest movement.
3. A GPS/piece of technology that does more than tell the time
An old skool Casio is all well and good for ensuring that you take your salt tablets on time but in those crucial moments, when say you are out in the desert at the dead of night with nothing but luminous glow sticks and a shed load of Cliff Shot Bloks to keep you going, it does not have the power to tell you how many more sand dunes you have to endure. Some way of measuring the distance can make a huge difference. Of course, there’s always an issue with battery life but I think that some of my tent mates with fancy GPS gadgets managed the entire week on one charge (the make Suunto was said to be pretty good) .
4. Spare knee-length compression socks
Don’t make my mistake and pack a pair of ankle socks as your spare pair, knee-length compression socks will save your feet a whole lot of bother. They weigh virtually nothing so there’s really no excuse. Your calves will also benefit from a fresh pair of socks that protect your lower legs from the sun.
5. A front pack
This is completely down to personal preference but I found myself engineering a way of strapping an extra bottle of water to my front. And no, it wasn’t particularly comfortable, I was just anxious about running out. Those who took front packs had extra spaces to fit a full 1.5 litre bottle of water. They could also easily access stuff like their phone to take pictures (mine was lurking at the bottom of my rucksack) and organise their snacks and painkillers. It’s not fun having to fumble around in the side pockets of your rucksack for your she-wee or painkillers. This may seem like a minor irritation but when you’re out in the desert you’ll be surprised by how the tiny things such as straps that flap can become incredibly frustrating.
6. Ear plugs (that fit)
Find a pair that work a month before you head out to the desert. Don’t get to Gatwick and then send the one you love on a mission to buy you a pair while you wait in the queue to check-in. They’re pretty much essential for an undisturbed night’s kip.