Choosing the right kit for any event can be very important but for self-sufficient,multi-day events in the desert, such as the Marathon des Sables (MdS) and Kalahari Augrabies, getting the right kit to suit your individual requirements is vital. Most of these events will have a mandatory kit list which you have to carry. In addition are the non-essential things which will make your experience more comfortable but which will add weight and bulk. At the start of the event you're likely to be carrying at least 0-12kg on your back, so don't add too much comfort! These events are supposed to be tough because of the cumulative effects of temperature, terrain and tiredness so don't try to make it any harder on yourself than you need to.
Your starting point is the list of race regulations and mandatory kit, which you should study carefully. In addition, you'll find plenty of opinion on various on-line blogs, etc. or you can read the Raidlight Ultramarathon Guide Book. Your mandatory list will include some medical and emergency items (mostly available from pharmacists but we stock anti-venom pumps, signal mirrors and whistles), food - typically a minimum of 2,000 kcal/day, but you may prefer a bit more than that - we stock Extreme Food dehydrated meals, which can cover most of your requirements, but you may want to include a few bars and treats for a bit of variety.
I also recommend electrolyte tablets in the heat. We stock High Five Zero and Nuun, A head torch (the Silverpoint Ranger WL125 is a good all-rounder, don't forget spare batteries), a sleeping bag (the OMM Mountain Raid is a good lightweight option). A silk liner is good for extra comfort without much extra weight. Choice of sleeping mats is very much a trade-off between comfort and weight/bulk - you need to decide how much you value a comfortable night's sleep! Thermarest is one of the more popular brands.) Ive done the MdS and Namib Desert Challenge, so I hope I'm in a position to give some sensible advice (if there is anything sensible about a desert stage race!)
Rucksack - Most people will need a minimum of a 25-30 litre capacity rucksack. For self-sufficient events, you wont get away with anything smaller. The 30L RaidlightRunner R Light was pretty much designed for the MdS, so is ideal. I would include the Equilibre R Front Pack. As well as giving you some easily-accessible extra capacity for nutrition on the move and emergency kit, this also helps to stabilise the backpack. The OMM Classic 25 or 32 are also worth considering. If you really want to carry the bare minimum, the Raidlight Olmo 20 is a good choice.
Shoes - People tend to think of desert races as being all on sand. Although there will be dune days, you'll probably find more rocky and stony paths, so a bit of cushioning to save your feet from bruising is recommended. Shoes like the Salomon Speedcross Pro and Inov8 Roclite 295 are popular choices. The Saucony Peregrine and Scott T2 Kinabalu are also good options. I'm looking forward to trying the new Inov8 Race Ultra290, which will be their most cushioned trail shoe. You'll probably want to go for a slightly bigger shoe size than normal because your feet will swell up more than usual. Desert gaiters such as the Raidlight ones we stock are recommended to keep the sand out. There's no shoe that will suit all conditions,so go for comfort and don't beat yourself up over shoe selection.
Socks - Finding what works for you is as important with your choice of socks as it is for shoes. Hilly Twinskin socks are a good choice or the thinner Lite Anklet can help prevent rubbing and blistering. I'm also a fan of the X-Sock Sky Run 2, which offers a bit more padding and support. They also contain some pure silver which acts as an anti-odour agent - perfect for multi-day use! You wont be carrying too much spare kit with you, but I do recommend taking a couple of pairs of spare socks. Unfortunately, some people are more prone to rubbing and blistering than others. I suggest getting the air to your feet and walking around barefoot when you get the opportunity. This encourages the skin to thicken and toughen naturally, while retaining flexibility. I hear of people treating their feet with surgical spirit and other products to get the skin hard. Unfortunately, this often makes the skin brittle, which can lead to cracking and other problems, so I don't recommend it.
Tops - Choose between a short-sleeved top (and wear more suncream!) or a thin long-sleeved top. You may want to take one of each, wearing both at night for a little extra warmth. The ultimate short-sleeved top is the X-Bionic Fennec. It has zoned compression and is highly wicking and actually reflects heat away. A simpler option is the Under Armour Sonic Comp Tee (either short-sleeved or long-sleeved). The Heat Gear fabric is a semi-compression fit and allows sweat to evaporate next to the skin to help cool you down. If you prefer a looser fit, you could consider the Ronhill Trail Top (again available in short- or long-sleeved). These have pockets, a half-zip for extra ventilation and backpack grippers on the shoulders. All these tops have decent SPF's and anti-odour properties to help keep you less smelly than some of your competitors! You may also want to consider a warmer top for evenings, if you've got enough room. It's surprising how cold it gets in the desert at night, so don't be surprised if you end up wearing every item of clothing you take with you.
Bottoms - It's personal preference on whether you wear shorts, 3/4 tights or full-length tights. 2-in-1 shorts (i.e. a baggy short with a semi-compression liner) are probably most popular with men. Another good option is the Ronhill Trail Twin Short, especially if you want extra pockets (If you're wearing shorts, you may want to consider calf guards to reduce fatigue. 2XU and Salomon S-Lab ones are very popular.). The girls tend to prefer 3/4 length tights (men are allowed these too!). The Ronhill Trail Contour Capri are popular. I think that full-length compression tights work well. People tend to think of tights as a warm layer but compression tights like the 2XU ones (men's or ladies) help support your muscles but allow evaporation next to your skin to help keep you cooler. Keep wearing them after the run for the recovery benefits too.
Other kit - You'll definitely want some headwear to keep the sun off. The Raidlight Sahara Cap is the most popular, but various buffs and beanies are alternatives (the Inov8 Wrag is multi-purpose as headwear, neckwear and face mask. Sunglasses are also important. I also took a pair of gloves for warmth at night. You'll want to get some air to your feet in the camp, so a lightweight pair of flip-flops is worth having. In case your feet are a bit of a mess, you may find sandals without a strap between your toes will be more comfortable! Walking poles seem to be becoming more popular but I'd only consider taking them if you've practised a fair bit with them beforehand.
The list of other "optional extras" is endless. A lot of people take more they they can comfortably carry and end up dumping some of it. I would definitely recommend a few dress rehearsals i.e. fully loading up your rucksack to make sure everything will physically get in (I guarantee that you will have to discard some "essentials" and it will still be a tight squeeze) and then running with it all on your back (including at least 1.5 litres of water, which you'll start each stage with). If you want any further advice on any aspect of this, do feel free to contact us in the shop (or by phone or e-mail). We're happy to share our experiences and opinions with you.