SPINE RACE KIT LIST
Outdoor Journalist and Two-Time MONTANE® Spine® Race Finisher
If your pack’s light, you’ll move faster, get to check points quicker, be less likely to pick up blisters and niggles. But if you’re looking to complete rather than compete, you’ll be out in the elements longer and need to think more about kit that’ll keep you safe and comfortable, than how much it weighs.
The intimidating nature of the Spine Race can push potential Spiners into a shopping spree to rival Harry Redknapp in a transfer window. But if your waterproof and pack worked well at similarly timed events in the calendar, then it’s unlikely you need an expensive upgrade. In the end, it isn’t your kit that’ll get you to Kirk Yetholm, it’s your mind.
That said, the right gear will likely make your experience more comfortable, but it’s vital that you’re familiar with it. People have DNFed because they couldn’t work their GPS unit. Get new items early and train with them. Mountain Marathons are great prep (more so than ultra-distance races), because of the weather, terrain, need for navigation, and are a good test of kit. Plus being lost in the dark in foul weather is great mental training for the Spine.
For details of your events equipment requirements, please visit the respective events page.
The condition of your feet will make a huge difference to the level of enjoyment and likelihood of finishing the Spine Race. Treat your pinkies like royalty. For shoes, prioritise comfort. What’s the most comfortable shoe you know you can run and hike a long way in? Grip is a secondary concern, because no shoe will be faultless on all surfaces the Pennine Way flings at you (poles can help with staying upright – more anon). It may be prudent to have a spare pair of shoes in your drop bag, half or a full size larger anyway, for potential swelling feet – which isn’t inevitable, but the longer you’re on your feet the more likely it is to happen.
With socks, again comfort is the main concern. But also protection. Worry less about potential cold and more about the wet and bogy ground the Pennines are notorious for. Some people go for waterproof socks, though bear in mind they can be thicker and mean larger shoes. Others simply wear thick wool socks – wool retains warmth when wet. It’s better to wear gaiters with SealSkinz socks as the waterproof membrane can be punctured by grit. Even if not used during the race, compression socks can be a great help with recovery directly afterwards.
Lots or successful Spiners pre-treat their feet with lubricants and creams such as Camphor Spray, Vaseline or GurneyGoo. Experiment to find the best combination.
The Big Three:
The three heaviest items in a Spine Racer’s pack are likely to be sleeping bag, sleeping mat and shelter. Faster runners sleep (occasionally) at the main check points, so they carry sleeping kit they’re not intending to use outdoors. It needs to be dependable, because things might not go to plan. But aiming to get these three items down to 1kg or below (sleeping bag approx 600g or below; bivvy 200g or below; mat 200g or below) makes the Spiner more mobile.
Though lighter for their warmth, down sleeping bags aren’t much use when wet, so double dry-bag them. If you think you may sleep out, then a sub 200g bivvy bag and sleeping mat may not be comfortable enough to get that vital shuteye. Do overnight training runs and try sleeping on a frosted floor to see how your kit performs.
A waterproof needs to be a sturdy, winter jacket, not a 100g superlightweight layer. Heavy rain is very likely, often coupled with strong wind. Waterproof trousers with leg zips are heavier, but you may well end up wearing them for half the race anyway (sometimes for wind protection) and good ventilation means you won’t need to be constantly taking them off and on again.
For warm layers, synthetic materials such as PrimaLoft, are better choices than down as they tend to retain more heat when wet (a wet down jacket has lead to a DNF and hyperthermia). With upper body layers, look for thumb loops (the gap between glove and jacket is a point of vulnerability to the elements) and good neck cover. Also consider whether the zips on your kit can be used easily when wearing mittens?
Most people go for a pack capacity of 20-35L. Comfort is important, as ever, as is the ability to access kit and food without removing the pack, as when tired you may be less likely to stop and get that extra layer out. Double dry-bag key kit (electronics, down items, et al).
When selecting a headtorch, brightness is a key factor, of course. But the very brightest options tend to have rechargeable packs and you might not want to hang around at a check point waiting to recharge it (or carry a heavy replacement). If your torch takes AA or AAA batteries it’s much easier to buy, borrow or beg replacements. Just something to consider. They’re more expensive and not rechargeable, but Lithium batteries are significantly lighter, last longer and are less likely to fail in the cold.
Racing snakes are very unlikely to stop for a brew (or in a cafe for that matter), so are likely to carry the lightest possible cooking equipment (the Alpkit Kraku is just 45g and £24). Jetboils are popular with mid-packers, but are seriously heavy. Is it really worth the weight? Instead of stopping for an unsatisfactory brew, you could be at the check point 15 minutes sooner, getting a much better one, plus a hot meal, from a lovely smiley volunteer.
Hydration bladder hoses and even water bottles have occasionally frozen, so an insulation sleeve for bladders can be wise. Though sometimes simply wearing the hose to your right (the wind’s more likely to be coming from the south-west, usually to your left), or blowing back down the hose after use, so there’s minimal water in it to freeze, can be effective.
The ascents here are nothing like the Alps, but poles can still be useful, to A), test out the depth of bogs, and B), help maintain an upright posture that stresses your muscles less when fatigued.
A combination of mid-weight fleece gloves (make sure they’re touchscreen compatible for taking selfies) and either a waterproof overmitt or warmer one (such as Buffalo) is an effective combination.
Goggles may seem extreme, but DNFs have been caused by (temporarily) damaged eyes from snow and wind.
Also, you can never have too many buffs.
Don’t try to get to Hardraw or Kirk Yetholm on gels alone. You need real food and lots of it. However, what you’ll wolf down on day one will probably disgust you by day four, so variety is key. More than the healthiest possible food, simply getting calories in is the important thing by the end, so as well as those Amazonian goji berries pack some chocolate (other treats are available). Bagels are very calorie dense, much more so than standard bread. Malt loaf seems to last well too (and will taste delicious on day four smothered in butter). Recovery/protein shakes are worth considering for check points. Suss out local shops and cafes on the route in advance (though don’t pin your hopes on them. It’s a cruel blow if they’re closed). Always carry some sugar for emergencies. Consider liquid calories too.
It’s tempting to ram your drop bag with spare kit, but don’t add time-wasting faff and stress to check point transitions by making things hard to find. Spare gloves, poles and shoes are wise and at least one change of clothes, plus food. But try not to give your tired mind too many decisions to make. Include a bin bag for all your filthy kit, a good system for knowing which batteries are old and new, a check list for personal admin (change batteries, maps, et al). And don’t forget a spare pair of big boy/girl pants. You may need them.