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The Spine Race: kit list

by Editor
Tuesday 6th January 2015
Tags  Damian Hall   |   Spine Race   |   Montane Spine   |   The Spine

Just in time for Christmas and January sales – the equipment that got Damian Hall through the 2014 Spine Race and what he hopes will work for 2015

I think I finally understand why my wife has five pairs of identical-looking, black, healed-shoes. I in turn have five headtorches, which to the lay-person (ie her), all look exactly the same (they're so not).

I also have about seven pairs of Injinji toe socks, all marginally different. And I've lost count – though I don't think my wife has – of my burgeoning water bottle collection.

Each bit of kit does something subtly yet crucially different, which could mean – to my gear-crazed mind at least – the difference between having a very uncomfortable time on The Spine Race, a messy DNF, or worse.

The Spine Race is 268 miles along the Pennine Way, England's oldest and toughest National Trail. Held in January, previous years have seen thigh-high snow drifts, frozen water bottles and runners being cold in six layers. There's an extensive mandatory kit list, designed to keep us safe. It means Spine Race preparation is a gear tart's Valhalla...

In 2014 my drop bag was full to bursting, which made it a struggle to find things and gave a fatigued and frazzled mind too many decisions to make. Race record holder and 2014 race winner Pavel Paloncý (ar2.palonc.org) is an advocate of keeping things simple and this time I'm relying on fewer bits of gear, ones I know will perform well.

The Spine Race: kit list


A sleeping bag is the heaviest thing most Spiners will carry, but it could save you from hyperthermia, so it's not a place to cut corners. Race rules ask for Extreme rating –10 and the Terra Nova Laser 600 (www.terra-nova.co.uk) down bag is deliciously toasty with a –14 rating. But for the remarkable weight of just 630g. Equally, the Terra Nova Moonlite bivvy is the lightest (180g) I know of that’s both waterproof and breathable. Both excellent bits of kit.

I may sleep out on the first night and if the weather's unfriendly I'll grab Vaude's (www.vaude.com) superb Lizard GUL one-man tent, which weighs just 780g, seems impervious to winds and rain and is quick to erect and pack away. The uber-clever KLYMIT (www.klymit.com) Inertia X-LITE sleeping mat (173g) is probably the world’s lightest inflatable mat. I may also take a Rab Superlite bothy bag (240g) as a lighter option to the tent if the weather's friendly. It won't be though, will it?

The Spine Race: kit list


Small decisions have big consequences on The Spine and getting my foot care right was key to completing the race in 2014. I added a protective layer of the magical Camphor Spray (www.careplus.eu) to my pinkies before and during the race. I used three pairs of superb SealSkinz Thin Mid Length Socks (www.sealskinz.com), which kept my feet dry almost all of the time (the bogs got quite deep) and warm all the time. I had Injinji toe socks (www.injinji.com) underneath, which reduce friction and have excellent breathability and comfort. I didn't get any blisters.

I got my shoes half wrong however. I started in a pair that were too tight with two pairs of socks on and my feet were pretty angry about that by CP2 at Hawes, 108 miles in. In desperation I grabbed a pair of Pearl Izumi Em Trail N2 (www.pearlizumi.co.uk) I'd brought as an afterthought, the only pair I owned that were half a size too big (for expected foot swelling). They were really comfortable, broad, breathable, supported my supinator gait and they saved my bacon. I'll start the race in them this year.

Comfort is more important than grip to me. However, I don't want to put all eggs in one basket, so I'm also taking some Inov-8 Roclite 295 (www.inov-8.com), a size too big. They are designed for multi-day races, have good cushioning, are surprisingly light and have demonstrated Velcro-like grip on recent muddy runs.

My joints took a battering last time, so I'll use Superfeet's (www.superfeet.com) clever, comfy and stabilising inner soles.


The Berghaus Vapour Storm (www.berghaus.com) has holes in. Or rather, carefully angled vents, like fish gills, that release excess warmth before you sweat. I wore it constantly on The Spine, didn't overheat and it didn't let a drop of water in during some very unfriendly weather. Internal thumb loops help keep wrists covered and a strengthen peak allows good visibility in storms. I took a Berghaus Vapourlight Hyper Smock, the world’s lightest waterproof jacket at 107g, as back-up, though it wasn't needed.

RaidLight UltraLight Rain Pants (www.raidlight.com) may look like something Vanilla Ice wouldn’t wear, but they’re really light (just 150g), breathable and kept me dry during the worst weather.

The Spine Race: kit list


The PrimaLoft OMM Rotor Smock (www.theomm.com) is incredibly warm and light (260g) and continues to work when wet (whereas down doesn't). Even in gales in the Dales and on Cross Fell this (and two lightweight layers and a shell) kept me toasty. It's a fight between the Rotor Smock and the Vapour Storm for the title of my Best Piece of Spine Kit.

My default first midlayer was the Berghaus Smoulder Hoodie, a clever combination of breatheability and lightweight insulation, with excellent cover for neck and chin. Plus it's stylish enough to wear to the pub. It'll need changing at some point, so I'll also take a RAB Power Stretch Pull-On (www.rab.uk.com), which is lovely and warm (Polartec) and could work equally well as a baselayer. Crucially both items have thumb loops, to help cover vulnerable wrist area, and zips to regulate heat.

I'll also take the Berghaus Vapourlight HyperTherm Reversible Jacket, a brilliant piece of lightweight (167g) insulation which worked superbly for me on the South Wales Traverse. It's reversible for different warmth and weather-resistant options. Some equipment will be weather forecast-dependent and be decided upon the day before, but I'm sure I'll also take RAB Strata Vest, which I'm really enjoying at the moment. It's designed for activity in cold weather and will keep my core warm (using Polartec Alpha) and let my sweaty armpits breathe. Another good option is the versatile RAB Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine Jacket, which has been perfect on cycle commutes lately. It's very breathable, weather resistant and will work both as an alternative to my shell and as a dependable midlayer.

My trump card, for when I'm moving like a zombie later in the race or if conditions become biblical, is a Buffalo Active Lite Shirt (www.buffalosystems.co.uk). Buffalo shirts, the original softshells, work as several layers in one: offering effective baselayer wicking, great midlayer warmth and outer layer weather resistance. They are based on how the Inuit keep warm and have a large cult following.


In January 2014 I started the race in a Berghaus Long-Sleeve Zip-Neck Technical T-Shirt because it’s excellent at wicking. Later, when I was a bit more, er, shuffly, the X-Bionic Effektor Running Powershirt (www.x-bionic.co.uk) supported my posture and made me feel strong, while ventilating well (crucial when wearing a pack), with compression and warmth too.

My legs started in OMM Flash Tights 1.0, which are a really comfy, stretch material, with excellent venting, quick drying and tight round the ankles to keep mud out. Later, the sci-fi-feeling, X-Bionic Running Pants RT 2.1 (www.x-bionic.co.uk) did the same job for my legs as they were doing for my upper body – trying to keep me upright and making me feel strong. If it's really cold, I'll wear SmartWool PhD Run Wind Tights (www.smartwool.com). Merino wool keeps them are lovely and warm on the inside, while nylon rebuffs gusts on the outside.

Underneath SmartWool NTS Light 195 Boxer Briefs are warm but breathable and kept my other essential kit chaf-free.


You can't take too many pairs of gloves. As I got more and more wonky, I started dropping them everywhere. In January I'll wear the warm and quick-drying RAB PrimaLoft Gloves as liners. Take some Berghaus Touch Screen Polatec Gloves for a bit more warmth, a couple of waterproof SealSkinz options, including the excellent Performance Activity Gloves. And some Buffalo mittens (mittens are warmer than finger gloves) I've yet to try but hear great things about. So probably five pairs in all.

For headcover, the fleece OMM Beanie stayed on my bonce pretty much the whole race last time. For back-up and biblical conditions, I also have a waterproof SealSkinz hat. I'll also take a SealSkinz waterproof case for my smartphone.

I rarely go anywhere without a Buff (www.buffwear.co.uk) and I'll take 5-6 on the Spine, including a merino wool one, a balaclava and extra-warm options. I ruddy love Buffs.


With 15-16 hours per day in the dark, a powerful, dependable headtorch is crucial. I also want the simplicity of AAs batteries (the same as my GPS) rather than fussy battery packs that need recharging. I love my excellent Petzl MYO RXP (www.petzl.com), which does all this, with up to 205 lumens and a claimed reach of 90m.

However, Spine Mountain & Medic Team member Stuart Westfield (www.rangerexped.co.uk), has warned there'll be minimal moonlight in January 2015. Just after I heard that, the clever people at Petzl announced they're releasing a new MYO, which is even brighter (370 lumens in boost mode – and 105m reach). Jurassic Park!

The MYO – both new and old – can alternate between a spotlight and wide-angle, which I've found really useful, and is good at warning of dwindling batteries. I don't know that it's magic, but on first test I ran a 5K PB.
I'll also take a diddly (just 27g) little Petzl e+LITE, which is superb for emergency light failures or changing batteries in a dark place.

The Spine Race: kit list


Mountain marathon purists may screw up their faces in disgust, but if it's pitch black, pissing it down and you're a little, er, topographically embarrassed, the fastest way to get back on track is a GPS. The Garmin Oregon 600 (www.garmin.com) has an absurd amount of features but was my first GPS unit and I found it easy to use. The touchscreen makes zooming in and out quicker than most units, even with gloves on. With the official Spine gpx files downloaded it beeps at key junctions.

I will also wear my Garmin fenix watch with the Pennine Way gpx files on for backup. And of course, the three excellent, waterproof Harvey Maps (www.harveymaps.co.uk), which I'l be using primarily, along with a Silva compass.


The OMM Classic 25L is designed for mountain marathons and weight sits at the bottom of your back rather than swinging about. Numerous external pockets and mesh make it easy to access items such as food, hat and gloves on the go. To ensure key items remained dry I use dependable Exped (www.exped.com) drybags.


I hadn't planned on doing any cooking, so weight is paramount and I was cockahoop to discover the bargain-priced Alpkit Kraku stove, weighing just 45g, coupled with a titanium MytiMug. I like them so much I may just have a brew or two anyway.


They're not mandatory kit, but to me they're vital. To check bog depth and save yourself a brown bath. To try and maintain good posture after 200 miles and thirdly for ascending. Made from aluminium, the very nifty Black Diamond Distance FL trekking poles (www.blackdiamondequipment.com) are really light but sturdy and fold away quickly and cleverly into three pieces.


I've been lucky to get advice from ultra runner and registered dietitian and sports nutritionist Renee McGregor (www.eatwellfeelfab.co.uk), whose book Training Food comes out in the spring.

Amongst other things, she advised Chia Charge flapjacks, recovery shakes and begals (which have many more calories per weight than bread). I'll be trying to eat as much “real food” as possible.

Last time Clif Bars (www.clifbar.co.uk) worked really well for me, so I'll be taking a stash of them, but crucially every flavour they have as over six days I got bored of the same tastes. My current favourite is macadamia and white chocolate. Yumo. I'll also use their effective Shot Bloks and gels for when things all get a bit wonky – their double-shot espresso will come in very handy at 3am.

The new 33Shakes (www.33shake.com) are made from 100 per cent natural ingredients – superfoods aplenty – and will be a big help for my recovery at the end of each leg (pun not intended). As will the superb Natural Hero (www.naturalhero.co.uk) cream, applied liberally to sore muscles.

Montane Spine Race - Britain's most brutal race

Racing tips

  1. Above all else, look after your feet. Get them seen to at every check point. Change socks at every check point. Air your pinkies. If possible, elevate them when you sleep.
  2. The first two days (and nights) are crucial and most DNFs happen in Hawes (CP2, after 108 miles) – survive them in fairly good shape and you should be okay.
  3. Eat lots of food. Eat more than that. Keep eating. Eat as much real food as you can (take advantage of cafes where possible). Nom, nom, nom...
  4. Use lithium batteries. They work better in the cold, last longer and are lighter (but more expensive).
  5. Have a spare pair of shoes in your drop bag that are at least half a size bigger
  6. Bring lots of gloves. I used four pairs last time. They seem to go missing a lot when you get tired.
  7. Don't obsess over the weight of pack. 4Kg and you're probably cheating, 10kg and you'll struggle to finish – anywhere in between is okay, as long as the stuff in there will keep you warm, dry and nourished.
  8. Get a weather forecast. If you know a gale may be blowing when you'll be atop Cross Fell (officially the coldest place in England), or a storm is due in at a certain time, you could leave later or earlier.
  9. Don't trust the weather forecast. Last year sun was predicted for day one. Within half an hour it was snowing on us. Plan for the worst.
  10. And if you don't know the course, ahem, you could buy my book, the official Pennine Way guide (HERE), to learn where navigation is tricky, facilities en route and where the worst bogs are.


Damian Hall is an outdoor journalist, runner and author of the official Pennine Way guide. For more information, visit www.damianhall.info, or follow his mostly nonsensical ramblings on Twitter at @damo_hall.

Summit Fever Media (www.summitfevermedia.com) will be making a film of the 2015 Spine Race. They are sponsored by Ribblesdale Land Rover, Montane, Castleberg Outdoors, Petzl and PNY.

The Montane Spine starts on January 10, 2015. For more information or to follow the race, visit thespinerace.com


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