Tuesday 31 October 2023

#084 The Ranger Ultras (Day Race) Compulsory Kit List - Dissected

Today I'm going to jump into the Corryvreckan and chat about kit lists in trail running.
More specifically, the compulsory kit list for Ranger Ultras' day races.

Designing kit lists is a minefield of opinions, often polarised, a thankless task and impossible to navigate without someone being upset. So, in this blog, I'll share the rationale behind the RU kit list, how it is designed to suit the RU ethos and why it needs to apply equally to everyone. Then we'll look in detail, item by item. 

Why even have a kit list?
Why indeed? Shouldn't an event just let everyone do what they like and participants take personal responsibility for their choices? 

That's all very laissez faire and it would indeed be much simpler for Race Organisers to take this line. But how this would stand up and be defensible in a court of law if something went wrong? Not a situation any event organiser wants to be in to find out.

Similarly, a 'recommended kit list' not enforceable in the race rules would have, for me, potentially concerning implications, no matter what caveats are in place. Especially where there is not a mechanism to prevent participants heading out in conditions for which they are obviously inappropriately equipped or dressed.

Ok, so why not fully specify each item by make and model?
Of course, I'm being flippant and not seriously suggesting such. Neither am I aware of any trail running event which has done so. However, I'm illustrating the implications of the completely opposite stance to participants doing whatever they like. Here, the act of being so proscriptive is taking away the element of personal choice and preference of kit which is best suited to the individual. By doing so, the responsibility for the outcome of using that equipment is shifted onto, if not further towards, the organiser. 

Informed Consent
So we return to the spectrum of the middle ground. 
Here are the factors which have gone into formulating the Ranger Ultras kit list.

  • RU trail races are proudly promoted as welcoming and accessible to trail running newbies as well as offering adventure and enjoyment to experienced runners alike. 
  • As such there is a broad span of ability and experience among participants.
  • The RU kit list is applied equally and therefore fairly to all participants.
  • It is very obvious that it would be completely impractical and unworkable to have different levels of kit list for participants of differing paces or abilities.
  • Being a faster runner is not a justification for not carrying kit.
  • RU races are generally held in the spring and autumn shoulder seasons, where a variety of weather conditions can present differently year on year.
  • The RU kit list is reasonable and proportional to carry in the potential weather conditions, such that the list can be published months in advance, allowing participants time to acquire and test their kit.
  • The RU kit list for one race is readily transferrable to another, so that there are not multiple variants. (With the exception of non-stop, expedition-style events where there are additional items)
  • The RU kit list is as least onerous as possible, given that obtaining kit and equipment can be costly and a barrier to participation.
  • In fulfilling the requirements of the kit list, there is an strong element of personal choice in terms of make and model of items.
  • There are additional explanatory notes beside the kit list to help participants.
  • Informed consent. Within the context of the race and actual forecasted weather conditions, participants are responsible for their level clothing protection selected on on the day. 
  • The RU kit list is appropriate, not just for when the participant is moving, but also to protect the participant in circumstances where movement is compromised or no longer possible.
  • Not intending to be injured, or the unlikeliness of such, is not a justification for not carrying kit. 
  • The RU kit list is developed and reviewed with the collective input of mountain professionals, mountain rescue personnel and experienced trail runners.
  • The RU kit list is described as the minimum standard to pass kit check. All the items are compulsory and be worn/carried by each individual participant. Participants may choose to add to the list if they wish.
  • Informed consent. The race brief and kit list are freely and easily available to participants prior to entry.
  • There remains an element of personal responsibility for each participant to ensure that their level of kit and clothing as a minimum meets the compulsory kit list, then is additionally supplemented according to their individual needs. 

The RU Compulsory Kit List - Item by item

1) Suitable backpack - large enough to fit all the kit list items, which is what you would reasonably and foreseeably carry on a shoulder-season full trail day. But it doesn't need to be a monster. 

2) Waterproof jacket - must have an attached hood. Beware of going too lightweight.
Note: Windproof and water resistant jackets are not waterproof and will fail kit check.
Note: Paramo and similar recognised quality mountain jackets are not taped seams, but will be acceptable. Users should be aware of the limitations of the Paramo system.
Tip: If in doubt about your jacket not being waterproof, look it up on the manufacturers website.
Tip: A good way to ensure your jacket is waterproof is that it has taped seams (noting that Paramo mountain jackets does not have taped seams).
Tip:  Beware of going too lightweight. In some years we have had very wet, windy and cold conditions where participants with ultralight clothing has become waterlogged. So you're not committing to being cold from the outset, choose a more robust mid-weight waterproof, or bring one as an alternative which is appropriate for the weather.

3) Waterproof trousers - possible to save money and weight here with a lighter pair. 

4) Insulating hat & gloves - are essential. Around 10% of heat loss is through the head and if your hands are cold, you loose dexterity. A back up / second warmer pair of gloves are recommended if the temperatures and wind chill feels Baltic, or you suffer from circulation issues. Many participants have found that sticky-thinny gloves are just not good enough for all day in the wet & cold. A buff does not count as a hat. Having your hat & gloves in a readily accessible pocket, or clipped in, means you're more likely to put them on when you actually need them.

5) Wicking base layer - to be worn. But if you know that you sweat freely, having a second in your pack is a sensible option if you start to become chilled or immobile.

6) Long sleeve mid-layer - i.e. your choice of insulation layer. Can be fleece, Primaloft etc. Either worn or in your pack. However, this is where personal choice and self-responsibility come in: If the weather on the day is cold enough to need to wear it at the start, would it be sensible to add an back up layer in your race pack?

7) Appropriate footwear for trail running - i.e. trainers or lightweight boot hybrids with a trail grip sole. Ranger Ultras courses follow paths & trails which are rights of way. In any one course there are combinations of soft trail, mud, grass, gravel, hard pack, bedrock, some tarmac, flat, rolling hills, technical ascents and descents. Hence, road shoes or trail shoes with no grip left are not acceptable.

8) Maps - in each event kit list the OS and Harvey's maps to cover the course are listed. 

  • You have a choice of the commonly available OS 1:25,000, OS 1:50,000, Harveys 1:25,000, Harveys 1:40,000 scale maps which are designed for navigation use.
  • These are to be carried as a hard copy. 
  • Some of these maps are available in waterproof versions. Some are also in booklet form.
  • If your map is not waterproof, you have a choice of using a map case, or other method of waterproofing such as laminating. But one way or the other, your map must be waterproofed.
  • You may also print out your map from an app. But is must be at a navigable scale and be of a navigable type listed above. Print outs must also be waterproofed.
  • Not acceptable, these will all fail kit check: Road atlas style maps. Google map prints. Aerial maps. Maps not printed at a navigable scale. Maps not showing navigable features. Side profile ascent diagrams. 
  • You may also have your map loaded onto an optional electronic device. But you must still carry a hard copy.
9) Navigation compass - a baseplate design. So a button compass will not pass kit check. If your compass is old, check whether the needle still points to north. If you're looking for a new all-round compass, with useful features, the Silva Expedition / Expedition 4 (civilian degrees version) is a good choice. A navigation compass must still be carried even if your primary navigation method is an electronic device.

10) Head torch & spare batteries - there's now a wide selection of commercially available battery powered & rechargeable head torches. The intent in the kit list options below is that you have a primary and a useable back up in the event of battery or charge depletion. So you can continue to safely navigate the course, or in extremis signal for help. Choose from...
  • Battery powered head torch with spare batteries carried.
  • Rechargeable head torch with a spare rechargeable battery
  • Rechargeable head torch with a separate power bank – the head torch must still be functional while charging.
  • Rechargeable head torch with a second back up head torch.
  • Tip: Even with the above options satisfied, in the event of all other contingencies failing, a Petzl e-lite is a cheap and very light weight emergency head torch.  
  • Note: A mobile phone torch does not count as a primary or back up and will fail kit check. As you may also need all the available charge on this in an emergency situation to call for help.
11) Whistle - needs to be nice and loud in the context of signaling for help. Some of the very cheap whistles are woefully quiet.

12) Emergency bivvy bag - This can either be one of the cheaper brightly coloured plastic survival bags, or a reusable bivvy bag. Foil blankets will fail kit check as they have been proven to be inadequate at retaining heat in a exposed, outdoor environment. Tip: a bit more expensive, but small and light are single use Sol bivvy bags. Just make sure you keep it dry, as the material degrades, becoming fragile, if stored in damp conditions.

13) Fluid container - your choice of bottles or bladder

14) Emergency hill food - your choice of type

15) Personal first aid kit - with contents for typical outdoor uses: Cuts, abrasions, blisters. Don't forget any personal medication and personal items. Glasses & contact lens wearers, should carry a back up if long sight or map reading is compromised without them. 

16) Mobile phone - fully charged. With race HQ emergency number, given at registration, loaded into contacts.

Optional Items

Electronic navigation devices - we're not at all sniffy or elitist when it comes to electronic devices. We regularly use them ourselves and acknowledge that for many participants they will be the primary navigation method. Which is absolutely fine. But, despite manufacturers guarantees, electronic kit does fail. Hence, we will continue to have paper map and compass as part of the kit list.
Also, electronic kit is far more expensive than the traditional map & compass. Price of kit is a financial barrier to trail running, so we do not make GPS devices compulsory on our day races. 

Unbreakable mug - we're doing all we can to eliminate plastic waste on our events. This is still a work in progress. But one aspect were actively promoting is participants bring their own unbreakable mug for on-course refreshments such as soup and other hot drinks.

Walking poles - these are fine to use. Please be careful and aware of other runners and members of the public, in front and behind, especially at the start or in proximity to others on the course.

What can I do to make sure I pass kit check?

In designing the RU Compulsory Kit list, our primary motivation is your safety and well-being. As well as that of your fellow participants and the on-course safety team. The decision of the Safety Team Kit Checkers is final, but we're not being pedantic, devilish or trying to spoil your day. Treating the kit list in the spirit it is intended, rather than something to be angry about and try to beat, will make everyone's experience on race day smooth and stress-free. So we can all crack on with enjoying our trail running.

  • Review the kit list well in advance of race day
  • If concerned about an item passing kit check, first look it up on the manufacturers website.
  • No sharing of any item in the kit list, you must personally have each item 
  • Gather the kit items in one place
  • Check that each item complies, eg rain jacket with hood
  • Check that items work, eg headtorch is not kaput
  • Allow time to buy and test replacement item(s)
  • Ensure your map meets the kit list standard
  • Ensure your headtorch & back up meets kit list standard
  • Ensure you bring a survival bag
  • Trail shoes not road shoes
  • Double check you have all items before leaving home
  • Arrive at kit check with items ready to show in a box or large shopping bag. This definitely helps, as the checkers can clearly see all the items are present and speeds up the process. 
Help us to help you
Most participants accept the list without needing to question it's integrity. Questions checking compliance are of course perfectly fine. But each race edition, there is an inevitability of email requests for individual special exemptions for not carrying items on the compulsory kit list. This diverts a huge amount of time away from essential build-up activities.

The rationale behind the list only works if it applies without fear or favour and equally to all. participants. I'm sure you'd rather the team were able to fully focus on preparations which benefit everyone and make the best trail race experience we can provide.

In conclusion
So, hopefully by now, we've illustrated the considerations and complexities of the thought and attention to detail that goes into making a trail race kit list. Other race organisers will have their own take on this process, which will be suited to their preferences. But we're happy that the result for Ranger Ultras is reasonable and proportionate for our events.

Happy trails
The RUSTies
(Ranger Ultras Safety Team)

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