...breaking things down and finding magic in reduced things just feels good. It’s not about challenge or discovery, just realization. Constructing from minimalist standpoints seems as worthy a pursuit as any. Derek Hynd The following is a fairly complete overview of the gear and food I will be using on the Iditarod Trail Invitational this month. There are a few things I am still fine tuning or that may be missing so this post may be tweaked a little between now and the event. The race is 350 miles long and in my mind presents two major challenges: the multi-day nature of the event and the cold. There is no official required gear, but to participate racers must have completed at least one winter 100 mile race. Even with that small amount of experience, one understands that the demands of the trail are not trivial. Sticking to a minimal set-up is difficult since winter travel is always gear intensive. For me, going light is not just a matter of performance, but also has a direct correlation with my safety. The more gear I take with me, the slower I move and this reduction in speed increases the duration of exposure to the elements. That being said, in choosing my gear, I did not necessarily focus on the lightest options available. Rather, I chose pieces that I have experience with and that I know are reliable and effective. I've sought to put together an integrated and versatile system that requires little energy and thought for me to use. The challenge with what to bring is to strike a balance between the acceptable amount of risk I am willing to take and having sufficient options to effectively take care of myself if things were to not go my way.
While the process of refining my gear choices is compelling to me and also necessary to a certain degree, I am much more interested in the doing, in the experience of the race itself. Good gear should effectively fulfill its intended purpose, hence allowing me to focus on the task at hand without the distractions of its shortcomings. The pieces in the following list have met and continue to meet that demand. It is not to say that specific items cannot be improved upon, that there aren't better options or that I won't add or subtract a few items, but for now at least I am both satisfied and confident with my set-up.
Head Arc'teryx RHO LTW Beanie - Wool blend beanie very warm for the weight and can stretch over other layers. Arc'teryx RHO AR Balaclava - Great for sleeping or full weather protection combined with my goggles. Neck Gaiter - versatile piece useful for face protection when it's not super cold. Julbo Dust - the Zebra lenses adjust in varying light conditions so I can wear them most of the day. Julbo Orbiter - ideal for really cold weather or whiteout conditions. Black Diamond Icon Polar - Battery pack is detachable and can be worn inside my jacket. Black Diamond revolt - awesome rechargeable back up light that also takes regular AAAs.
Upper body Arc'teryx Motus Crew SS - my favorite shirt that works great in hot or cold conditions. Arc'teryx Phase AR Crew LS - warm and close fitting. Arc'teryx Stryka Hoody - versatile, comfy and warm. The added balaclava hood is a huge plus. Arc'teryx Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody - thicker than my windbreaker but still light, with convenient pockets for food and small gear. I've worn this jacket on most of my outings all winter long. Arc'teryx RHO AR Zip - super warm with Polartec fabric. Great to sleep in. Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody - warm, light, insulated jacket that has proven itself as one my most comfortable and reliable pieces. Arc'teryx Fission SL - my Arc' shield. The fear nothing jacket.
Lower body Arc'teryx Gamma MX Pant - light fleece insulation with stretchy, windproof fabric make these versatile for a range of temps and comfortable to run in, in this context. Arc'teryx Rho AR Bottom - same super warm Polartec fabric as the zip top and also great to sleep in. Arc'teryx Atom LT Pant - matches the Atom LT jacket. Synthetic insulation is both light and warm (warm when wet too).
Hands Arc'teryx Phase Liner Glove x2 - light liner gloves for a small layer of protection when handling gear or food. Arc'teryx Venta SV - my favorite, all around glove with great dexterity. Arc'teryx Zenta AR Mitt - fear nothing mitts. Arc'teryx Zenta LT Glove - warmer than the Venta and a nice back up pair. Black Diamond - Ultra Distance Trekking Poles - good with snowshoes or in mushy snow conditions. They can be completely stowed away in my duffle.
Feet Drymax Hiking HD socks- Geoff Roes pretty much wore a single pair of these for the entire race last year. Nuff' said. Drymax Snowboarding HD socks x2 - I find them to be a bit warmer version than the above with added light compression. Inov-8 Roclite 286 GTX - light, comfy, warm boot. Runs like a normal running shoe with the added advantage of the hightop for snow. I've used these on Kiener's and for more of my snow running. Black Diamond Apex Gaiters - Full gaiters for snow and added warmth. Down booties - REI - for sleeping or emergencies. Neos Trekker Overboots -for overflow. A bit excessive and I'm leaning towards not taking these but overflow is bad this year and they do add extra warmth when snowshoeing or double up as an emergency shoe with the down booties if the others are wet. Kahtoola Microspikes - great on hardpack snow or icy conditions. Might not bring them though as the terrain isn't very hilly and I'm pretty covered for traction with the snowshoes. Northern Lites Elite snowshoes - I've had these for 5 years and they've never failed. Light, simple and great for running. I tape the first and second strap shut to have less to fiddle with taking them on and off. The tape also helps lessen the abrasion of the straps on my shoes.
Bivy I will bring some options with me to AK and decide the day before the race based on the week forecast trends. Mountain Hardwear - Phantom 0 degree bag - warm, high loft bag. Or Handmade nepali bag - I'm unsure of the rating of this bag but it's warmer than the Phantom and has worked well for me sleeping above 16,000ft and many winter camping trips. It's about a pound heavier though. Or Mountain Hardwear Ghost -40 bag - if the weather is forecasted to be in this range consistently through out the week then I will opt for this bag. Thermarest Z-lite Sol - Foam pads are hassle free and provide good enough insulation. Bulk isn't an issue with the sled. Black Diamond Spotlight bivy sack - I like the fabric and spaciousness of this sack. I will only use the sack - no poles. I'll only bring it if using one of the lighter bags.
Miscellaneous -70oz Camelbak bladder (worn in Ultimate Direction AK vest under layers) - very light, breathable vest that allows great heat transfer from my body to the bladder to prevent freezing. I can also store food up front. -20oz bottles x2 (can be worn in vest front pockets under my jacket) -Thermos 16oz - nice to carry a warm meal or some coffee from the check points or when I boil snow. It's a worthy luxury. -Cash, Credit Card, and Driver's License for buying food at checkpoints and return flight from McGrath -Trail notes, maps and compass -Jetboil - with 2x3oz canisters that can fit in AK vest to keep warm. Used properly the Jetboil has never failed me. -Lighter, wp matches, esbit cubes and micro stove (as back up) - can be used with Jetboil pot in case it's too cold for the white gas canisters. -Body glide -Toothpaste/brush -Tissue paper -Sunscreen -Ibuprofen, tums, Scaps -Chemical hand, foot warmers -Reflective tape -Duck Tape -Crazy glue -Climbing tape -Music player -Camera (TBD) -Knife - Accessory cord, extra buckles -Batteries (AA, AAA) -Suunto Core watch
Sled Modified Paris Expedition sled with back cut off . A single piece of tubular webbing is threaded through the sled eyelets, 5ft PVC poles and harness belt. I tie two overhand knots in the webbing at the top of the PVC poles, then thread two mini carabiners through the knots that I clip to the gear loops of the harness belt. This simple system helps keep the whole unit tight and provides some light shock absorption. Additionally, a piece of 6mm cord is threaded around the sled body through the eyelets to use as a fixation point for the duffle and snowshoes. The duffle is 100 liters in capacity so I don't need to use any compression sacks for gear or clothing (other than my sleeping bag).
Food (in calories) Start -VI gels x1500 -Cheese x2000 -Crushed chips x700 -Cheese puffs x600 -Recoverite x340 -Cliff Bars x2000 -Justin's nut butter and sun cups x1100 -Candy (gummy bears, licorish) x1000 -Sardines x300 -Freeze dried meals x600 -Via coffee -Coco expresso beans x600 Total food calories: 10640