Marathon des Sables kit – The compulsory items

I’m already starting to think about my kit for the MDS. It might seem a bit early but I know that one of the key things I’ll need to do to prepare for such an unfamiliar type of event is give myself plenty of time to train with every single bit of clothing, equipment and nutrition so that I can get used to it and iron out any problems with plenty of time to spare.

With a self-supported race like this, weight is obviously a massive issue. The mandatory weight is at least 6.5kg and no more than 15kg, not including water, and I am sure that in future posts I will think more about where within that range I want to fall, and the trade-offs that will involve, but for now let’s just look at the mandatory items I have to take with me, and their likely weights:
Mandatory equipment:

• Backpack MDS or equivalent – I have an idea for this but, bearing in mind what it needs to carry, this won’t be super lightweight. approx 1kg

• Sleeping bag – probably going for the OMM mountain raid 1.6, which weighs 450g

• Head torch with spare batteries – I’ve gone for the Petzl Tikka+, which has decent brightness in a lightweight package and gives me red light, which means I can use it at work as well. 84g

• 10 safety pins – Negligable weight

• Compass, with 1° or 2° precision – about 50g

• Lighter – a bic lighter is about 22g

• A whistle – The bag I’m likely to use, like a lot of higher-end running packs, incorporates a whistle in the chest clip so I can probably get away without a seperate one for now.

• Knife with metal blade – the smallest Swiss Army knife ought to be fine for this, and is just 21g

• Topical disinfectant – Iodine or similar. 30ml should be just over 30g

• Anti-venom pump – the one I have comes in a box with the suction caps and various other accessories, weighing 108g. If I remove the instructions, razor blade, plasters etc, it’s just 85g. If I put it in a plastic bag with just the necessary attachments, should go as low as 32g

• A signalling mirror – haven’t found one yet tbh

• One aluminium survival sheet – 45g though maybe I can find a lighter one somewhere? 

• One tube of sun cream – maybe 300g depending on how much I take

• 200 euros or equivalent in foreign currency.

So, it’s looking to be just over 1kg for the kit (half that is the sleeping bag, of course) and another 1kg for the bag itself. Not horrendous, but already chiseling into the weight I want to carry. The next big question will be how much will my food weigh. And that will be another blog post… 

One thought on “Marathon des Sables kit – The compulsory items

  1. > A signalling mirror – haven’t found one yet tbh

    I didn’t see any report on this, so I thought I’d make a suggestion, since I’m a fanatic about signal mirrors.

    For the Marathon Des Sables, you clearly want something light, but effective. For effectiveness, you want a mirror that is quite reflective and flat, and that has a retroreflective aimer (as all US military issue signal mirrors do) that lets you aim the beam precisely, because the main beam of a signal mirror is only 0.5 deg wide at range – see this photo to give you an idea:

    The retroreflective aimer produces a bright round fuzzy “fireball” (a virtual image of the sun) when you look through the aimer in the direction of the reflected column of light from the mirror, which is visible even when you are reflecting light at the sky (useful for signaling a helicopter). Note that the “fireball” will be about 1.5 deg wide – 3x as wide as your beam, so take care to pass the very center of the “fireball” across the target.

    I’d recommend the 2″x3″ SOL Rescue Flash signal mirror from Adventure Medical Kits, it weighs 21.5 grams and has a very clean beam, and has a retroreflective aimer, which means you can actually hit something reliably at range with the very narrow (0.5 deg wide) beam of light from the mirror once you get the hang of using the aimer. Here’s a video my wife made of me signalling here at 11.1 mile range with one: They go for $7-9 plus shipping on Ebay, or you can buy one at many stores.

    Since it is plastic it scratches easily, so it comes with protective cling film on front and back, which I wouldn’t remove until you really need it. I would practice with a similar mirror – I’d buy two, and use one to get comfortable with the aimer (If you really don’t want to buy two, take the cling film off carefully until you are well practiced with it, then carefully reapply). The designer of the mirror has an online tutorial here: , and even more detailed direction on finding the “fireball” produced by the aimer (which will be visible even when signalling the sky) is here:

    If 28 grams is a dealbreaker for you, AMK makes a “mini” version of this mirror that is half-size ( 1.5″x2.0″) and 10.5 gms in it’s very thin plastic pouch, per my postal scale. It still has an aimer and an excellent beam, but is a bit less than half as bright (half the envelope, but the aimer, lanyard hole, and rounded corners cut into that). This one is a bit harder to find (it seems to have been created for this kit: but I was able to buy it separate, and it looks like it is for sale here: If you do go for that, it is CRITICAL that you practice beforehand, since, unlike the regular size, there are no instructions on the back.

    To see how much better the beam from this mirror is than some of the competition, see the beam patterns of the AMK vs. the BCB mirror in the photo at right, here:

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