Saunders MM 2012 Kit Review

Choosing what kit to take for a mountain marathon is never easy and choosing your kit when you’re running solo, as in the KLETS class of this years Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon only made that choice even harder. You cannot divvy up the cooking gear, food or tent with your running buddy, you’ve got to carry the lot. Weight and bulk become obsessive factors.

Running to the finish with a light pack on Day 2

The one slight advantage is that, being held in July, the weather should be more favourable and certainly less cold than other events that are held either earlier or later in the year, but up until the last minute the forecast for this years Saunders Mountain Marathon was looking anything but favourable. With 3 days to go, it was forecast to be wet and cool. Thankfully by the time we had reached Saunders minus 12 hours, the forecast had changed, Saturday would be warm and dry with the ‘risk of sunburn’ whilst Sunday would be a little cooler and the chance of some light showers or drizzle.

How do you plan for this? Simple, have two lots of kit ready to go. More and warmer clothing and a warmer sleeping bag if the forecast is cold, a heavier more protective and breathable shell if the forecast is wet, a lighter / simpler shell if the forecast is dry. Not everyone will have the budget to have such specific kit but most people will have a variety of warm and base layer type clothing. Obviously some of your kit will remain the same no matter what the forecast or location of your event, so just plan on having some flexibility.

Lots of kit to pack into a small pack

And weight? Normally an elite pack on a paired event should come in somewhere around 3.75 to 5 kilos. For a solo event, expect to carry a little more. For this years Saunders, my solo race pack came in around 5 kilos and I estimated that I could have ditched another 500 grams had I been a little more ruthless. It doesnt matter whether you are in racing in KLETS or Carrock, a lighter pack will mean you can move more efficiently and have more enjoyment, and if you do want to get a shift on, it’ll allow you to move faster.

Ronhill Trail Twin Short

These are currently my favourite running short. Light, comfortable and with a built in stretch Elastane inner short, they are supremely comfortable to wear and ideal in all but the warmest conditions, and excel in cooler climates. My only gripe is with their rear zip pocket, a feature lots of more urban and trail based products seem to have. I understand the reasons and on occasions do find the pocket handy for car keys but for serious mountain running, the zip pocket can be, quite literally, a pain in the arse and interferes with the comfort of both bum-bags or running packs.

Mountain Equipment LS Altus Powerdry Zip T

Long-sleeved top, tee-shirt, vest? Unless it is forecast to be absolutely scorching hot I opt for a long-sleeved base-layer. The Altus is reasonably light and great at wicking moisture. I find I can run in this in all but very warm conditions and if things warm up its not beyond the wit of man to roll the sleeves up and undo the front zip. The important thing is that it’s got a low collar, which I find essential for running when carrying a pack, in fact I couldn’t emphasise strongly enough to avoid running in a top without, since you stand far more chance of having some seriously painful or sore shoulders. The other key thing whether you go for a long or short sleeved top is to opt for one with a decent front zip.

Hilly Mono-Skin Fell Socks

I only wear one pair of socks for 2-day events and it’s a pair of Hilly’s everytime. Pretty hard wearing and comfortable both over soft or hard ground. There is just enough ankle protection. I just wish they were not so good at collecting the remnants of heather and bracken. A tougher, more dense ankle cuff on these socks would make them perfect, other than a decent colour – navy and dark red just isn’t cool in my book.

Inov-8 X-Talon 212

I used to wear Inov-8 mudclaws for serious mountain running, but now apart from the depths of winter use the much lighter X-Talon series. They offer a close fit, and just enough mid foot cushioning for flying across rocky scree without sacrificing the support needed for running 20 miles plus. I’ve also got a pair of the 190’s which I save exclusively for grassier fell racing, I think these have a better tongue and lacing system and I wish the 212’s would use the same but they are just too light and dont offer enough side and low mid-foot protection for running over rough, mountainous terrain. Don’t expect any of this series to last very long – even the 212’s will only survive 3-4 months if you’re doing anything close to serious mileage on serious terrain. My tip is to get a separate shoe for training and save these for racing.

Inov-8 Elite 20 Pack

I find this pack just about big enough either for mountain marathon racing in the Autumn as a pair or solo in the Summer. It’s got a single compartment, accessed via a vertical water resistant zip, side mesh pocket, two hip belt pockets and drawcord compression system. I’ve added a long pull cord to the mesh pocket so you can undo it when wearing the pack but otherwise use as supplied. Sooner or later the zip will burst when on a race and I’ll be stuffed but luckily that has yet to happen, but there is no denying its a potential major weak point on this pack – more modern race packs from Terra Nova etc have moved towards roll-type closures and although I’ve not used any of these yet, they strike me as far more versatile and reliable.

Running with the Elite 20 whilst training in Scotland

Zips aside this is a great pack, it rides low onto the waist and as such is very comfortable to carry. There is just enough space in the hip pockets for race snacks, I would just prefer the mesh pockets to be a big bigger, giving the option at least to carry bulkier items (such as the odd banana) more easily.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Elite Tent:

A lightweight tent that can withstand wind and rain is essential for multi-day mountain marathons. Its also the heaviest thing you’ll be carrying (other than your food) so its vital to make the right choice. Luckily in the past five years there has been a surge in the number of sub-kilo tents available.

The Laser Photon Elite (now available as the Laser Photon 1), weighs around 750 grams (min 740g / max 790g) and is a great mountain marathon tent. In fact the Laser series has become so popular you’ll have a job to find your tent again, amongst all the others if you wander too far at the overnight camp.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Elite

It’s a two skin design, with an extremely light Silicone coated Nylon outer flysheet and Nylon inner tent, meaning that condensation isn’t really much of an issue and to make pitching simpler, the inner and fly are connected allowing the whole thing to pitch as one, you should have it up in just a matter of minutes. It sleeps one in comfort and is long enough for those just over 6ft in height, two will fit when required but you may have a fight over who sleeps adjacent to the door since the rear Apex of the tent is a little cramped.

Terra Nova supply the tent with an additional over pole sleeve, which is designed to minimise water entry along the tents main seam ( its a silicone flysheets so not taped ) but I’ve never bothered taking this, having had few problems with untaped flysheets. The pegs however are frankly quite pathetic, yes they may be light but trying to pitch a tent with the titanium equivalent of a toothpick in boggy upland Britain is sometimes asking too much. I carry four larger pegs to secure the main tent.

Mountain Equipment Xero 150 Sleeping Bag

The Xero 150 is an exceptionally light down filled sleeping bag and is ideal for warmer conditions or those who are simply built for suffering. It’s slightly shorter than Mountain Equipments other regular sized bags, as so many brands lightweight bags are, so it’s a little short for me but weight and bulk are everything and certainly during the summer months you can get away with it. At any other time of year I would take a warmer and / or longer bag and for later this year, I’ll probably be using the new Xero 200 which is due out in spring 2013. I pack this into an Exped Ultralight waterproof stuff-sack (see ‘other items of note’ below)

The Mountain Equipment Xero 150

I use this in conjunction with a 40 x 120cm strip of bubble wrap. This is easily the lightest mat system going, lighter than balloon beds, foam mats etc. It more than makes up for a lack of comfort by it weight and low cost. Pick your bubble wrap carefully, the variety with smaller bubbles is best since it packs down smaller, bigger bubbles equals more comfort and insulation.

Jetboil Sol Titanium Stove

This was the first time I’ve used this system on a mountain marathon. Previously I had used a Coleman F1 Lite Stove with an MSR Titan Pot but am now a complete convert. The Jetboil is easier to use, works better in a wider variety of weather conditions and is much, much more efficient in its use of fuel. And as the name would suggest it heats water in a fraction of the time. The whole system, excluding gas, weighs just 240g.

By the time you factor in not having to carry a lighter or matches (it has a built-in Piezo ignition system), using fuel more efficiently, it having an integrated pot, I think it’s actually the lighter system. It is certainly no heavier so there really is no decision to make. A friend of mine was using his home-made Carlsberg Can and Heinz Baked Bean Can (other tin cans are available) tablet stove, which is certainly light but just too fiddly for me!

The Jetboil Sol Titanium stove comes complete with a 0.8 litre titanium cup, which has an integrated flux ring on the bottom and an insulating ‘cozy’ / foam outer sleeve. You could leave this behind if you were keen and use your socks or gloves etc to hold the cup but I felt the few extra grams wasnt worth the hassle. Also included is the pot-stabiliser / tripod, bottom cover which doubles as a measuring cup and lid. I took the lid and left behind everything else.

I use a 100g (net weight) gas cylinder which is more than enough for a 2-day event. In fact, if I am keen, for future events I may look to pre-burn some of the fuel to save some weight.

Additional Clothing

As usual there is a raft of compulsory kit on the Saunders including full waterproof cover, full length leggings, additional warm top etc. Based on what had been a wetter initial forecast I carried a Mountain Equipment Firelite Active Shell jacket, it’s one of the few jackets that I’ve used that you can actually run in, in any kind of comfort when it raining, the downside is that it is slightly heavier (weighs around 250g) than the lightest 2.5 laminate coated jackets available now, these are a good option if you’re not planning on wearing your jacket too much since they are lighter but are less breathable and less comfortable (whatever it may say on paper) and usually have inferior hoods, less adjustment on the cuffs etc.

The Mountain Equipment Firelite in winter training. Photo courtesy of Stuart Holmes

For waterproof legwear i used Montane Atomic Pants which I have owned for years, there are lighter pants now available from numerous manufacturers. Other events occasionally allow you to take windproof rather than waterproof pants, had this been allowed I would have carried these instead to save weight.

I also carried a long-sleeved merino base layer for additional warmth which was backed up by my Mountain Equipment Compressor Vest. This combination of wool top and Primaloft vest would have been perfect for a cooler time of year but was overkill on this race and I only used the vest, but could have lived without either piece of kit quite easily.

Mountain running buddy Keith keeping warm with a Compressor Vest in Ailefroide, French Alps

The one other item of clothing I carried which was not compulsory was an additional windproof top. For the 60 grams extra this added it was worth it, it was a great compliment to wear over my base layer in the evening and had conditions on the hill been cooler giving me more layering options than simply relying on my waterproof shell.


Restoring energy levels is critical in any endurance event and a mountain marathon complicates matters further by you having to carry everything you eat. I have very few natural reserves (!) so look to get at least 2500 calories out of my overnight food.

Alot of energy requires alot of fuel

My overnight food consisted of one full size pack of soup (500 calories and a great source of rehydration), one small pack of tuna (140 calories but a good a source of Protein and has the advantage of being ‘real food’ that also doesnt require heating) , one main meal (dehydrated but with a healthy 850 calories) and pudding (again dehydrated but again packing in 500 plus calories) plus 100 grams of peanuts, I think I overdid the peanuts since they were a mission to eat, but they certainly pack in the calories (590) albeit at the expense of quite a high fat content.

For drinks I chose Hot Chocolate ( carried 3 sachets), having a higher calorie count than tea (120 calories per sachet). My one item of luxury was a Tunnocks Caramel wafer. For breakfast I had ready brek, I premix this with dried milk and sugar so that all I need do is heat some hot water and then also had one coffee, my theory being that some caffeine will spurt me into life in the morning.

I’ve yet to find a perfect food system for when running. I’ve tried using various cereal and energy bars, energy gels and mixed fruit but was tiring of cereal bars which I find difficult to eat when on the move. So for the Saunders I switched my system completely and instead chose to rely on a mix of Jelly Babies, Salted Peanuts and Chocolate Buttons. This worked pretty well, it was much easier to eat handfuls of this type of food when running and I know from fell running that jelly babies have the potential to be the food of the running gods, being light and calorie rich. I will be sticking with this system for my next endurance events.

I did not carry a lot of water when running since its too heavy (easily the cheapest method of reducing the weight of your pack), but I did carry a small 500ml bottle which gave me the flexibility to carry small amounts of water on periods of the race rather than relying totally on streams and lakes. Given that day One turned out to be warm and sunny and knowing that routes around Gable and Pillar have few water sources this was a good decision. Any water I drank was mixed with Elete, this is a concentrated electrolyte liquid that is entirely natural, containing no sugar or calories. I was trialling this instead of using Nunn tablets, definitely easier to use and carry with the advantage of not causing your water to fizz but not quite so tasty, in fact its more like drinking sea water!

Other Items of note

I carried my sleeping bag and spare clothing in an Exped Ultralight waterproof stuffsack. Combining all this kit together into one bag saved weight and guaranteed it would stay dry. The stuffsack also doubled as a water carrier in camp. Everything else that needed to stay fairly dry was carried in a range of zip-lock freezer bags.

For navigation I used both a Silva 1 Jet compass as well a Silva 6 Jet Spectra thumb compass. Both these compasses have the advantage of using a special dampening system that uses both magnets and liquid to ensure a very fast settling and stable needle, even when running. They’re not cheap but absolutely brilliant for navigating at speed and on rough terrain.

The Silva 6 Jet Spectra Compass

Why carry two compasses? A few years I managed to trip whilst holding a compass and promptly smashed it to pieces. I also like the reassurance of having a standard base plate type compass in the Jet 1 that allows me to take very accurate bearings should something go horribly wrong as well as having a big magnifying glass and detachable romer scale. In reality you should never need this level of accuracy and I am a definite convert to thumb compasses, they allow you to take and follow much faster bearings along the broad direction of travel but it it’s nice to know you’ve got both and there is little weight penalty.


About Richard Talbot

An accomplished fell-runner as well as being a keen climber and mountaineer. Since 2005 he has worked for the UK based manufacturer Mountain Equipment and is currently Director of Product. He has worked in the outdoor industry for over 15 years.
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