News in Detail
January 13, 2015

What Kit and Equipment Do I Need for The Spine Race?

The mind-numbingly tough ‘Spine Race‘ – ‘Britain’s Most Brutal Race’ – is currently taking place on the Pennine Way.  That’s 268 miles of ice, snow, cold and savage winds.


It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s growing interest.  We asked Gary Dalton – Profeet team member and one of the 30 competitors to finish the race in 2014, for his advice on what kit you need for this ultimate challenge:




Kit Advice for The Spine Race 


As I sit writing this over 100 men and women are sitting around the country racking their brains to figure out if what they’ve packed will be enough to get them through the notoriously tough Spine Race.


This time last year I was taking part and if were not for the limitations of having a day job, I’d be there again, packing and rechecking my kit.


The kit alone won’t get you to the finish – to achieve that you need fitness and determination.  But it can make it easier if you’ve made the right choices. And it can end your race if you’ve made the wrong ones.


I’m pretty relaxed about preparing for races and don’t race a great deal.  As my trip to Transylvania showed last year, logistics aren’t my strong point.


But for the Spine in 2014 I left nothing to chance, least of all my kit. Here’s what I used and what helped me reach the finish in Kirk Yetholm.


I’ll use the compulsory kit list as a guide and mention the bits I think worked and didn’t work for me.
gary dalton spine race



There’s two real choices here, the vast majority of people go for the excellent Harveys maps, the display the Pennine Way as an easy to follow route in three separate sections.


However they use the unusual 1:40,000 which I found slightly difficult to use. It meant that while the route was highlighted nicely there wasn’t as much detail of the surrounding areas as I’d like and was used to so I used the A-Z booklets 1:25,000 scale which is the standard OS mapping system used in the UK and all held in a handy book form.
maps for spine race




There’s a huge discussion every year on the forums about the use of GPS systems and whether they should be allowed at all, the purists saying that map and compass were good enough for Wainwright why shouldn’t they be good enough for you.


Well, they’re on the compulsory list, so like them or not, you have to carry one – and to my mind that’s a good thing.


By all means stick it at the bottom of your pack, but it may literally be a lifesaver, as I believe it was mine coming down off the high ground in High Cup Nick in a snowstorm.


I went for the Garmin 62S. It’s far from cheap, but for me I wanted something that gave me more than just grid references, I wanted the reassurance that if things really went wrong and I was cross eyed with tiredness all I had to do was follow a squiggly line to safety.


Thankfully there was only that one occasion it was a lifesaver, but one is all your need.


I would suggest that whatever one you do go for make sure it has buttons that can be manipulated with gloves on, the last thing you want to be doing when you’re approaching hypothermia is to have to take your gloves off to try and use a touchscreen (not that the screen itself will register the contact from your frozen fingers of course!)


garmin gps




This is one of items I deliberated over the most. Approaching the race I knew that although a set of waterproofs was on the compulsory kit list there’s a huge range of what’s considered waterproof.


I bore in mind that I was likely to be spending five days plus on the trail in the worst that UK weather could throw at me and went for the now discontinued Montane Air.


I made the decision not to carry a separate windproof jacket to save myself weight so I knew the one I did use had to be both completely weather proof and breathable enough so I wouldn’t boil in the bag on the rare occasions it wasn’t raining or snowing.


The Air coped admirably. I particularly liked the huge map pocket easily accessible on the front high enough up on the jacket as it didn’t interfere with  the straps of my pack – a bonus when I was getting my map out every few minutes on the tougher navigational sections.


jacket for spine race


Waterproof Trousers


I used Inov8 trousers which unfortunately was something of a mistake.


They weren’t really up to the abuse of a week of being taken on and off repeatedly, they were also elasticated at the bottoms which made getting them off over shoes really tough.


I’d recommend something simple from Millets or Blacks. Try to get ones which have zipped or at least wide bottoms  so you can get them on and off quickly.


Tent or Bivvy?


The rules state you must carry either a tent and a survival bag or a bivvy. For me it was a no brainer and I was happy to sacrifice having a slightly weightier tent for the comfort and peace of mind it gave me against a bivvy which, for me, was more difficult to manage.


I used a second hand Terra Nova Laser comp 2


In my opinion the tent was the better choice as I could get out of the elements relatively quickly, change clothes if need be and even cook in there. The psychological benefits from having a tent on the race were also huge.


tent for the spine race


Sleeping Bags


There is a wide choice of bags, so the only real limit is your budget.


I went for the Rab Infinity 300 which had a comfort rating of -2 and an extreme rating of -18. For anyone who’d seen the previous year’s amount of snow on the Cheviots I think I went for a safer option than I needed to but with this being my first multi-stage event I wasn’t willing to skimp on safety.


sleeping bag for spine race




I chose a Jetboil Sol aluminium.  For those of us who weren’t born in the backwoods and need something idiot-proof that’ll light underwater this was the choice for me.


Easy, quick boiling, simple to look after and packed down into itself. Simply a brilliant bit of kit and something that’ll stay with me on adventures to come for years.


(Disclaimer: This won’t actually light underwater. That’d be silly)


cooker for spine race


Shoes and socks


Again hugely personal. There is no right choice, only what’s right for you.


Thankfully with the support and advice of Profeet I went with Salomon Speedcross combined with Sealskinz socks.


Lots of pros and cons with the Sealskinz but for the most part they worked well for me up to the third day when the pair I was using failed on a particularly boggy section.


Knowing they’d simply stay waterlogged for the 10-12 hours it would take me to get to the next CP and my drop bag I changed over into Drymax socks, having first dried and vaselined my feet to try and ensure the immersion didn’t give the start of trenchfoot.


On a race like the Spine Race foot care is incredibly important, whatever you do choose you need to be completely happy with it and almost as importantly you need to have plans to change your strategy if it doesn’t work. Luckily in the Speedcross I had chosen the perfect shoes for me.


So that’s what, for the most part, I used on the race. And I finished, so though things can always be improved I was quite happy with my choices.


salomon speedcross




The two things I haven’t mentioned so far were clothing and pack, both of which will be down to you and how you are as a runner.


For a pack I’d suggest 25L plus and if you can find one with pouches accessible from the front you’ll thank me during the race.


It wastes valuable time if you need to stop to take the pack off every time you need to take some food or drink on, check your compass etc etc.




As for clothing go for what works for you and keeps you warm. Just make sure you layer. You’ll go from well below freezing to dealing with gale force winds back to beautiful winter sunshine so with layers, you’ll need to able to adjust what you’re wearing appropriately with the minimum of fuss.


Personally I went from merino tops to Helly Hansen’s finest and they were all great, whatever works for you take more than you think you need.


Believe me by the end of the week you’ll be wearing more layers than you thought possible and will still want more.


Your immune system will be so compromised you’ll eat anything that stays still long enough, you won’t physically be able to consume the calories you need and it’ll do wonders for the prominence of your cheekbones.


So in short do this race, I guarantee it’ll change what you thought you were capable of.


gary dalton 3


For advice on the right footwear for the Spine Race, just give the Run Lab at Profeet a call and we can see how we can help you prepare.




Article by Iain Martin


Category: Running

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