07 April 2020


My entire packing list for a 70+ mile self-supported adventure run
It all started 3 years ago, when I first attempted SCAR, short for Smokies Challenge Adventure Run, a 72 mile traverse of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entirely on the Appalachian Trail. It's a rite of passage of sorts or many Southeastern trail and ultra runners. It requires runners to be self sufficient for the entire route with one opportunity for crew support at about the half way point right before or right after crossing the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail, Clingman's Dome.

Runners taking on this challenge have to make sure to not only carry enough food for 72 miles and a way to sterilize their drinking water along the way, but they must also take along all of the gear necessary to handle any and all weather conditions the trail may throw at them at a given day. The closest I had come to logistical planning like this had been for the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France, a race that requires runners to carry a significant amount gear to be able to handle serious mountain weather. Having run that particular race twice, I can attest to the need for the all of the required gear.

When we finally tackled SCAR 3 years ago, we were hit by a freak snowstorm in May, forcing us to abandon halfway through the adventure and self extract for 10 miles down closed park roads with not a soul around. We were wearing every single piece of clothing we had started the adventure with just 12 hours earlier. After an initial rain storm, followed by freezing rain and hail that turned into thick snow, we learned very quickly what gear worked and what did not. In fact, most of our gear did not work.

Since that day, I have taken on a few more self-supported adventure runs and I have learned quite a bit in the process. When we finally decided to give SCAR another go earlier this year, I was excited and ready to get to planning. I still had my old spreadsheets detailing not only each pice of gear I used, but also the weight of each piece. As you will realize very quickly when planning a self-supported run, the weather conditions, access to resources during the run, the terrain and the length of the run all play a role in the gear necessary for such an adventure and the more gear you need the more important weight becomes. You'll need to weigh purpose vs. weight vs. cost and decide for yourself how to pick and choose. I will share some of my experiences of gear choices as well as nutrition considerations for various situations.

In January, I put out word among some of my running friends that I wanted to give SCAR another go in March of this year. This would give any interested runner enough time to train and plan accordingly. Before I knew it, we had 10 runners jump at the bid to give it a go. A friend of mine quickly reserved a large cabin for the last weekend in March and all we now had to do is to start training and plan gear and nutrition needs. Not to spoil the suspense, but we all know what happened in the world right around this time and just two days before we were supposed to start our adventure, the Smoky Mountain Nation Park closed all access to all trails and toads inside the park, including the Appalachian Trail. By that time, we had already lost half the runners due to various circumstances surrounding the pandemic. However, at that point all the training and preparation had already been completed. In fact, I had already loaded up my camper van ready to go.

In this part, I will share with you how I prepare for a self-supported run. While I obviously didn't take into consideration the constraints of a pandemic, I will add some thoughts about the implications of it in situations were runners still are able to venture out into remote places. For everyone else, take this time to plan out your next grand adventure and hopefully you'll find some helpful info in here.

These are the main factors when preparing for self-supported run:

This is not just the overall distance, but also the distance between points with access to water, nutrition and possibly gear. This may include naturally occurring resources (creeks, water spigots, lakes, etc.), supplies stashed at trail heads or trail intersections, supplies bought near trail access points (i.e. general stores, gas stations, etc.) or even crew. Knowing this will help you figure out how much supplies to carry for the entirety of the trail and for each section of the route. Note for a pandemic: Avoid any outside assistance and either stash supplies yourself or carry all of them, provided you are allowed to venture out at all.

Is the route predominantly roads or trails or a mixture of both? Is there a lot of vertical gain, is the terrain steep? Is it extremely technical or mostly flat or even surface? How about mud, sand, ice , snow? All important factors when selecting your gear.

Weather Conditions
This is not just important for your gear choices, but even more so for access to water. Self-supported runs often rely on the ability to purify water from natural sources along the way as it is impossible to carry enough water for 70+ miles, for example. Choose your season wisely. Will water sources be flowing? How about wildlife? Is it active during your targeted season. Obviously, gear is a major consideration for this as well. Will there be snow cover or even snow pack? Will there be a potential for torrential downpours. It's a good idea to find a weather app that provides weather conditions all along the route and at different elevations along the route. Temperatures can swing to the extreme even with just a 1000 feet of elevation change. Wind may be blowing on a ridge line, pushing temps a lot lower than forecasted. All these are factors to consider when planning your gear. Note for a pandemic: It would probably be wise to avoid any areas with a risk of severe weather, when the likelihood of a rescue may be more common than at other times, hence potentially putting an undue additional strain on an already strained health care system.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, familiarize yourself with the local wildlife and their behavior. When are they most active? Should these times be avoided? How about snakes, yellow jackets, mosquitos, back bears vs. grizzlies, mountain lions. These should not keep you from taking on an amazing adventure, but you should be aware. Maybe you'll need to carry bug spray, bear spray, a bear bell? Note for a pandemic: The note above still applies. Avoid areas with active wildlife, if a confrontation may require you to be rescued.

Last but definitely not least, why are you taking on this adventure? Are you trying to push your limits? Are you just wanting a different challenge? Are you trying to set an FKT ("Fastest Known Time" for a given route)? Once you know why you're doing this, you will be better equipped to make the appropriate gear and supply choices.

One very brief note on your training preparations. Be sure to train like you would for any other event or race. Replicate the terrain of the route as much as possible and train for the distance and the vertical change that you may encounter on your route. Most importantly, be sure to carry the pack you plan to utilize during your adventure run during your training and test out the actual gear as much as possible. It's no good to have the lightest and probably most expensive gear out there, if it is not practical, i.e. a rain jacket that wets out after just 30 minutes or a pack that chafes your shoulders raw after just 10 miles or even worse, brand new trail shoes that blister your feet just 5 miles into your run. With that out of the way, let's get to the actual gear and supply considerations.

Let's start with the easy stuff, your preferred running hat, top, shorts, socks and shoes of choice. Consider both comfort and utility as well as hot vs. cold and road vs. trail. Maybe gaiters are a good choice or maybe you like compression around your legs. All these are personal choices you'll need to make.

Next up, the pack. If you go far or long enough, you'll need something to carry all your gear and supplies. The size requirements are potentially driven by what pack you already own and/or by the gear you'll need to pack. Again, comfort is super important.

Next up are additional layers you may need to pack. Consider a wind breaker, rain shells, a mid layer (down or wool), maybe sleeves, gloves and a warm hat or buff. If an item can serve more than one purpose, even better. For example, if you know you'll need a rain jacket, ditch the wind breaker or if you like using multipurpose buffs, consider skipping the extra hat and use the buff for that as well. Make sure you pack the right clothes. You do not want to get caught in a rain or snow storm or rapidly dropping temps without the appropriate gear.

Next up, other gear essentials and considerations. If there is significant vertical gain, you may want to carry trekking poles. Maybe you'll need micro spikes for icy terrain? If you're moving into the night, you'll need a quality light along with spare batteries. A backup light is important, too, in case your main light source fails completely. Another hugely important thing to consider is navigation along with tracking. You'll want to consider something that can load a GPX file or similar to provide directional guidance to you, especially in remote areas. Backup batteries are important once more as is a backup paper map (and compass). Technology has come a long way, from wrist GPS watches with extremely long battery life to super small two way satellite communication devices that can be a literal life saver. Finally, you should always pack either an emergency blanket or even better, an emergency bivy as well as any necessary emergency medication. I always carry an emergency epinephrine injector as well as some anti-histamine pills to be ready for the negative effects of an insect sting allergy.
I laminated a list of water sources for SCAR to carry with me for easy access.
Finally, water and nutrition. If you can't stash water along the way or have access to crew, you either need to have the ability to carry all the water you need or you'll need to bring a water filter of some sort to purify your drinking water along the way, You can choose to carry a hydration bladder with an inline water filter, a filter bottle, a UV pen, a filter pump or purifying tablets. The options are nearly endless these ays. Next you'll need to decide the amount of calories you'll need to take in to be able to sustain proper energy levels throughout the adventure. Everyone is different, so make sure you calculate your hourly rate of caloric intake and be sure to add some extra. Be sure to bring any supplements you're used to taking, i.e. salt pills or similar and don't be afraid to pack some treats, be it candy or a sandwich or torilla. Something that can lift your spirits when you're bonking at give you that extra physical boost as well.

Now that you've decided on all the items you need, it may be a good idea to write them all down on a list of some sort, so you can be sure not to forget anything when the time comes to pack for your adventure. You may not want to be as specific as me in noting weight of each item, but you definitely want to avoid the risk of forgetting an essential item. Finally, you'll need to see if the pack you have can hold everything you need to bring and if it does, how does it feel on your back? Can you run with it? Now that you've sorted the logistics, you can focus once again on the fun part of running, the act of running itself.
Gear check list I created for my SCAR adventure.
For comments or specific gear or training questions, please feel free to hit me up directly via my blog www.ultrakrautrunning.com, via Instagram @UltraKraut or Facebook and Strava martin.schneekloth.

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