Thinking of entering the Spine races? Maybe you already have? Handing over the high entry fee almost a year before the race seems like the expensive part done… that is until the kit list in the race documents appears that is, and suddenly the entry fee seems the least of your expense!
There’s no getting away from the long mandatory kit list for these races. I get asked about my it and so here I lay out my kit from the 2020 Spine Challenger. The first caveat is that the kit list regularly changes between races, so no promises are given that everything here will meet the requirements of future races, but everything I took passed kit the 2020 kit list.
The Balance of Choosing Your Kit
Despite writing this, my advice wouldn’t be to read this blog and copy my kit list. Why? What you carry is ultimately what you are relying on to keep you safe, maybe even alive, as you traverse remote high ground with everything the British winter can throw at you. So my second caveat is that however highly performing the kit you assemble, it does not substitute sound hills skills and common sense, the experience of being self-sufficient in any conditions, and navigation ability. Also think about how long you are planning to be out. I know I won’t be sleeping on the Challenger, I don’t plan to be out a second night, or to use the majority of the mandatory kit during the race, so this is reflected in me going for the lightest options in places. If I was going to be out for longer there would be a different kit list here. I also feel happy borrowing kit for the race that I have no intention of using; the GPS, sleeping bag, mat, Yaktrax…. This race is expensive enough just to enter and so if I can borrow items I don’t need to use then I will.
False Sense of Security
My third caveat would be that in my view, while kit list contains so many items that I don’t actually need, I conversely do carry much more clothes and gloves than are on the list. Don’t let the amount of kit you are taking give you a false sense of security. Experience on long winter training runs, and multiday races and recces, including the OMM, gave me the knowledge of what I need to stay warm and safe in these conditions. I have never used my ‘emergency’ tights and top in my Spine Kit, as for me I should be carrying enough on top of these, and these are just for emergencies. So make sure that you are carrying what you need, even if that is more than the mandatory list.
Full Spine Race
The kit lists are the same for both the Challenger and Full Spine Race. The only difference is that the 3000kcal must be carried from each checkpoint in the Full Spine, whereas the Challenger just has this from the start. I’m not sure my kit would look extremely different for the Full Spine Race, it would depend if I was planning to sleep at checkpoints with access to my kit in my drop bags or bivvy out, although just thinking about my headtorch battery plan for the full race gives me a headache! Food would probably change though to less sweet bars and bloks.
2020 Spine Challenger Kit List
This is what I carried. The numbers correlate to the Kit List number in the 2020 Race Pack. The weight is given in grams.
1 Backpack – 430g
In all three races, I have used a 20lt Montane Dragon Pack. I could probably have fitted my kit into a 15lt or less pack, but I like having space for putting kit in the bag on the second day, as I usually pick up layers for the night at Hebden and may not need them until later in the race.
2 -3. Map and Compass – 88.5g
Just a standard compass here, but I do know how to use it. The maps are the Harveys Pennine Way maps – in 3 sections when I bought them, but since have been reduced to 2. I have cut them into small parts from initial recces, and I keep them in order, in a small plastic bag for the race.
4. Knife and 25. Matches, Lighter or Firesteel – 34.5g
As items I had no intention of using these I chose very light Leatherman knife and tiny plastic lighter I bought from eBay.
5. GPS – 154.5g
I borrowed a Garmin eTrex 20 unit and have carried it but not used it on any race. You will be asked to switch it on and get a grid reference at Kit Check though so make sure you could use it if asked!
6. Whistle – comes on Montane packs.
7. Googles – 37.5g
Rules say they must be clear and googles, as opposed to sunglasses. I use the clear Bolle Cobra Safety Googles that cost less than £10. I have used these in training so know they work for me. They were mandatory for sections of 2020 race so make sure what you have trained in the googles you chose and you have them to hand in the race if strong winds are forecast.
8. Head Torch – I took two head torches and spare battery at 345.5g
This is such an important piece of kit that any Spine anxiety dreams are always that I don’t have a headtorch. The issues to consider are having a torch that is bright enough for you to navigate the long nights, but you have enough batteries to last too. Kit List stipulates you must have one headtorch and then either spare battery or second. I took both. I carried a Petzl Nao+ and also a Petzl RXP and spare battery for that. I used the Nao+ and swapped it’s batteries at Hebden so it lasted all of the first night. I used the Petzl RXP as it got dark on the second day. I also swapped it’s battery at Horton Checkpoint to ensure that I didn’t need to worry about it for rest of race. My advice is practise with your headtorches, get to know what beam you need and how long it will last.
9.Waterproof Jacket – Recommend Montane Fleet Jacket about 291g
I have always used GOREtex Jackets for this race and worn from start. I don’t carry a spare waterproof jacket. I used the Rab Pacer Jacket (only available for men) in 2020 but I will swap to jacket with adjustable cuffs next time (previously I have used Montane Spine Jacket – now Fleet Jacket) as I could not adjust cuffs to keep the rain out of my gloves.
10.Waterproof Trousers – Rab Flashpoint Trousers 87.5g
These started in my bag in 2020 as the rain was not due to after Hebden, so I chose to take the lightest pair I had and put heavier ones in my drop bag at Hebden. This was a mistake by me, as the rain came in a lot earlier and these trousers don’t have zips and can’t be put on without taking shoes off. So I was in very wet tights coming into Hebden. I left these trousers at Hebden and put on Montane Minimus Pants which I wore to finish.
11. Hat – Montane Iridium Beanie 28g
I tend to start with headband/buff and carry this hat. I didn’t use it in 2020 as my spare layers had hoods.
12. Gloves – Montane GOREtex Vortex Gloves 58g, Montane Prism Mitts 55g, Haglofs GOREtex Overmitts 82g
The Kit List requires two pairs of gloves with one being waterproof. This is where I always carry more than the kit list. With temperatures fairly mild in 2020, I started with Vortex gloves at the side of the pack, as I could put them on and off as necessary. When the rain got heavy they became saturated and I swapped at M62 crossing to mitts and GOREtex overmitts. They were wet by Hebden (partly runoff from my jacket, and also as I needed to take them off to get food) and so I swapped to dry prism mitts, the same GOREtex over mitts, with new dry spare mitts in my bag.
13. Spare socks – Injini running socks 33.5g
The first year I did this race I naively went for the lightest socks I could – some silk liner type. I spent the last 50 miles regretting this as my blistered feet felt like running on hot coals! So now I swap socks at Hebden but also carry some light running socks in my pack that would be useful if needed.
14. Neck Gaiter – just a full buff that I wore from start, with spare round wrist too.
15. Spare Base Layer top – Rab Aeon 84.5g
For me, this is only for an emergency and is in the bottom of my pack with tights. I will carry two or more spare layers on top of this though.
16. Spare Baselayer Bottoms – Falke Thermal Leggings 94g
Must be full length. As before, these have always remained in my bag and for me are for an emergency only.
17. Spare Cold Weather Mid Layer – Rab Xenon 246.5g,
I wore a mid-layer fleece of the Rab Power Grid Pull On from the start and carried the synthetic Xenon jacket which I put on at M62 crossing. For me, the kit list doesn’t even cover the minimum of what I start with and I am happy carrying the extra weight of layers knowing it’s what I need to keep warm and safe. I put on another mid-layer fleece (Montane Allez Hoody) from drop bag at Hebden and put a second synthetic jacket (Montane Prismatic Jacket) in my bag, which I put on at Malham. Spare layers aren’t part of the kit I will go for bare minimum on, and seeing as the number of DNFs from runner just because they are wet and cold suggests it’s the right approach.
18. Appropriate Footwear – started in Scott Supertrac Ultra RC
For me, these shoes have the right cushioning, are robust, and the grip on wet flags. The Pennine Way has really mixed terrain and these suit that.
19. Ice Spikes – borrowed Yaktrax 138.5g
I usually take microspikes but the rules have changed and they would no longer pass the kit check – microspikes or Yaktrax coils are only ones acceptable, even if weather suggests you will not need them.
20. Medical Kit – 17g and survival blanket 48.5g
Requirements are full-size foil/emergency blanket, Plasters/Dressing, an antihistamine Loratidine or Cetirizine Hydrochloride tablets x2, Immodium tablets x 4, Antiseptic spray or wipes, Personal Blister care kit, any regular medications. I also took some paracetamol tablets, which were to hand in my front pocket, and my blister kit included small tube GurneyGoo (10ml) and tape for feet in case needed to stop between checkpoint.
21. Sleeping bag – Rab Mythic Ultra 180 – 430g
This was always my heaviest piece of kit and I have borrowed bags in the last two years. In 2019 I borrowed a 600g bag from Damien Hall (unwashed from his Cape Wrath adventure and so really was an incentive not got stop and get in it!) This year I was able to get a sample of the new lightest bags from Rab. The weight and space saved was brilliant and well worth the effort to go as light as possible. Bags must have a comfort limit of 0 degrees or else a liner will be required.
22. Sleeping mat – Exped 362.5g
Ah, my closed-cell foam for a few quid off eBay was no longer allowed under new rules. Rules also state that the roll mat cannot be homemade and has to be longer than shoulders to knees and can’t have gaps/holes in it. I only found out a few days before the race that the requirements had changed, and so just took the lightest one in the loft – this is probably a piece I can save some weight on.
23. Shelter – Sol Survival Bag 112.5g
This used to be a bivvy bag, but a lighter Sol or similar survival bag is allowed now.
24. Cooking Stove – includes gas and pan – Alpkit Kraku Ultra Compact stove, Toast Titanium pan, Coleman 100 gas canister 222g
Requirements are one gas or liquid fuel stove, and one pan capable of boiling water and a minimum of 100grams/ml of fuel. I had no intention of using this, but the gas will be checked at kit check.
26. Spork – think I just used a free plastic fork, so just a few grams!
26. 2Lt water carrying capacity – 4x 500ml soft flasks 97.5g
I had three empty 500ml soft flasks in my bag, with one filled on front, with Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy in it. I also carry a plastic cup to collect water. This is a really personal choice – depending how much water you need, what you are prepared to drink, and also how well you know the route and where water will be, either to collect from streams or road crossings.
28. Food – 700-800g
Challenger rules are that you need 3000kcal from start. These calories cannot include drinks, so although I would use 4 sachets of Mountain Fuel Extreme Energy during the race this cannot count to the 3000kcal. For me, the food is a combination of Clif and Tribe bars, Clif bloks, nuts, banana loaf, sweets and the all-important (for me!) party rings. I restock my food at Hebden, and eat a meal that I take for myself in my drop bag while I am there. The important thing to remember there is only one checkpoint and so one access to drop bag, therefore you’ll need to be self-sufficient for 60 miles.
29. Mobile Phone – iPhone, with charger pack and cable – 374g
My old iPhone was unreliable in the cold, and I would take a spare little mobile as back up. However, I know from my training that my newer phone is more reliable and will last on aeroplane mode until late in the race, and have a power pack to charge it up.
Total pack weight (including pack, food and water, minus a jacket which I start wearing) – 4.912 kg
I think I have mentioned it along the way, but, outside of kit list, the main things I take are extra clothes including extra gloves, cup for water (and the odd hot drink that seem to pop up along the way from very kind Mountain Rescue Teams), cash, Mountain King Trail Blazer poles, painkillers, charger pack for phone, GPS watch (my Suunto 9 lasts for the full race even with navigation on) extra headtorch battery, gaiters worn from start, and, well, a GoPro – see my YouTube race vlogs to see me on the race.
Although not mentioned on kit list I will also mention my Runderwear briefs and crop top that allow me to do these races without any worry about any discomfort, even in wet conditions.
It’s Not About The Kit
I hope this kit list blog helps, rather than puts people off, it is such a fun race to do. But knowing when you can get away with the lightest kit requires judgement, and an objective assessment of your skills, fitness and experience. Mountain marathons, multiday bothy trips, and long winter runs in the hills test you on all of these, so while the kit list inevitably becomes a focal point (especially in social media Spine Groups) don’t let it become the main focus. The race isn’t asking who has the most expensive kit, its asking who can move along the Pennine Way in January in the most efficient way, and fitness and hill skills are the ultimate answer to that, with the gear only complementing.