Desert Kit List: Clothing

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Clothing for Marathon Des Sables and similar races

Many people wonder what the best option for clothing is when running in a hot desert environment. The reality is that it is much a matter of personal preference, however we do believe that the following is important:

  • A well-constructed garment that has seams placed strategically in order to minimise chafing
  • A quality, light weight material that wicks away your sweat, breathes well and that is comfortable against the skin

Below you will find a few popular clothing choices for races such as the Marathon des Sables. Also see the Q&A for further information and check out our full range for further options. We recommend browsing the following brands to find your ideal clothing options for the Marathon Des Sables:

 

Common questions we get include:

Is it best to wear black or light colours such as white in the desert?

You may have seen Bedouins in the desert wearing long black robes and automatically assuming that black therefore may be a natural choice for the desert. In 1980, Scientists from Harvard and Tel Aviv University ran an experiment and wrote a study called Why Do Bedouins Wear Black Robes in Hot Deserts?, published in the journal Nature. They concluded that “The amount of heat gained by a Bedouin exposed to the hot desert is the same whether he wears a black or a white robe. The additional heat absorbed by the black robe was lost before it reached the skin.” They also noted that cooling under the loose robes wore by the Bedouins happen through convection, as hot air rises between the skin and the robe, or as the robe flows in the wind. If you dig into this subject you will probably find that it is a complicated matter and that the best choice may depend on the thickness of the garment worn, whether it is loose fitting or tight fitting, whether you are in the shade or in the sun, and what the wind conditions are. We have raced the MDS and similar races in white, black, blue, yellow, pink and green, in tight fitting and loose fitting clothes, and frankly we have not been able to notice a difference. It gets very hot regardless!

Should I have tight fitting or loose fitting clothes?

Further to the question above, white or light colours are probably a better choice if you opt for a tight fitting clothes. A loose fitting T-shirt can be comfortable in hot dry climate as it dries quickly and you get some airflow through. However, loose fitting clothes are not always ideal with a backpack as the fabric can gather up in places or ride up on your back due to the movement of the backpack. This is turn can be annoying and also cause rubbing. Therefore, a tight fitting shirt may be more practical to wear with a backpack. Whether a loose fitting shirt will be problematic is dependent on the shirt, the backpack and the wearer. No combination will work the same on two different people as it comes down to how well the backpack fits and the movement of the runner. We have tried both tight and loose fitting shirts and both work well. Go with what you feel more comfortable in.

When it comes to shorts many may prefer loose fitting for modesty reasons. Just consider that loose fitting shorts may cause some chafing between the thighs with movement. This can be prevented by using a good anti-chafing product such as Gurney Goo. Just bring a small tube or two and apply in the morning on risk areas.

Do I need long sleeves for sun protection?

The short answer is no, unless your skin is extremely sensitive to sun burn. A long sleeved shirt may be warmer though the Raidlight Desert Top offers an excellent, very thin alternative and with UPF25 protection built in to the fabric. A very flexible middle ground can be to use a T-shirt with separate arm sleeves. This wat you can use the arm sleeves for sun protection, and you can also use them to complement the T-shirt if you get cold during the night of the long stage or in camp at night. If you were thinking of bringing a long sleeved shirt as an extra warm layer, then a T-shirt plus arm sleeves will be a lighter solution. Check out the Outdoor Research Active Ice cooling arm sleeves with UPF25 or the X-Bionic Energy Accumulator Summerlight. Both are great options. If you are very worried about sun protection you can also consider Outdoor Research’s Chroma Sun Gloves. They work particularly well for walkers using poles as gloves protect the hands from getting blistered.

Should I have a shirt with sun protection factor?

All clothing offers some degree of UV protection, however, a fabric that has been treated to specifically protect from UV radiation will offer more protection. For example, a normal, untreated white T-shirt may offer UPF or around 7, whereas a treated T-shirt typically offers around UPF25 to 30. If you have a history of skin cancer or if this is a concern, you may want to consider a UV protection treated fabric. It is also possible to wash or spray in UV protection in a garment and there are several products on the market for this. The majority of people don’t opt for UV protection treated garments for a race like the MDS. We recommend that you use a quality sun cream such as Tingerlaat.

What spare clothes do I need for the evening?

During the evening the temperature drops. We recommend a light weight down jacket and you can also sleep in this in your sleeping bag. Down offers the best weight to warmth ratio which means that you can pack very light and still be warm. Most people then wear their running clothes in the evening. If you would like something to change into then a spare pair of light weight shorts and/or a light weight T-shirt could be options. Cold is really only a concern for the upper body and long cover for the legs is normally not needed. If, for ethical or budget reasons you don’t want to consider a down jacket, then a light weight base layer plus a wind jacket could be a good option to stay warm at night.

Should I wear underwear?

Whether you go commando or wear underwear is much a matter of personal preference. If you opt for underwear, make sure it is of good quality in order to avoid chafing. Boxershorts can cause chafing on the inside of the thighs and it is often better to go for briefs. X-Bionic offers a great range of underwear which minimises risk of chafing. It has been tried and tested in MDS by us. We recommend the briefs for men or the briefs or thongs for women (go one size up from your normal in the thongs as they run quite small). If you bring some soap leaves or a small piece of soap you can wash at the end of the day so if you bring two pairs and alternate, you can stay clean. X-Bionic garments have odour control and they fresh longer than other garments without this which is also worth considering, not just when it comes to underwear.

 

Suitable Running Tops

Model Weight* Loose Fitted Neck Type Comments
X-Bionic Fennec  T-Shirt Men’s 127g V Heat reflective Xitanit fibre and staying fresh longer thanks to Skin NODOR®. One of most popular choices for desert running.
X-Bionic Energizer Summerlight T-Shirt Men’s 120g Crew Elisabet’s choice for MDS 2015. Light weight, soft, moisture wicking and comfortable.
X-Bionic THE TRICK T-Shirt Men’s 120g Crew The technology is aimed to trick your body to sweat sooner for enhanced cooling.
X-Bionic Twyce Shirt 110g Crew X-Bionic takes cooling to the max with this highly technical and very comfortable shirt.
La Sportiva Advance T-shirt 125g Zip A light-weight, super soft T-shirt with Anti-odor Polygiene treatment and zip neck. We love this!
Compressport Trail Shirt Men’s 136g Zip Thin compression top without any unecessary seams. Silicone lined at the bottom to prevent it from riding up.
Compressport On/Off Base Layer 129g Crew Thin, very soft, short or long sleeved top. Small openings in the fabric for enhanced air circulation.
Raidlight Active T-Shirt Men’s 120g Zip Pocket, zip neck and a detachable drinking tube clip on the zip.
Raidlight Desert Top (Long Sleeved) Unisex 105g Zip The classic desert top is light weight and a great option if you want to be fully covered.
W X-Bionic Energizer Summerlight T-Shirt Women’s 100g Crew Elisabet’s choice for MDS 2015. Light weight, soft, moisture wicking and comfortable.
W X-Bionic THE TRICK T-Shirt Women’s 101g Crew The technology is aimed to trick your body to sweat sooner for enhanced cooling.
Compressport Trail Shirt Women’s 90g Crew Shorter arms and snug fit. A very stylish top!
W Raidlight Performer T-Shirt Women’s 105g Zip Silicone on the shoulders to keep the back pack in place plus a detachable drinking tube clip on the zip.
La Sportiva Forward T-Shirt Women’s 107g Zip Soft and super light and with La Sportiva’s stylish cut and anti-odour treatment you can’t go wrong!
W X-Bionic Twyce Shirt 90g Crew X-Bionic takes cooling to the max with this highly technical and very comfortable shirt.
Compressport Pro-Racing Arm Sleeve Unisex 38g N/A If you prefer to be fully covered but with added flexibility, then consider a pair of arm sleeves to complement a T-shirt.
Outdoor Research Active Ice Cooling Arm Sleeves 36g N/A
X-Bionic Summerlight Arm Sleeves Unisex 49g N/A

*Weight is size M and either manufacturers stated weight or a sample weighed by us. There may be small variations in weight between individual garments and weight may change due to manufacturer product updates.

 

Suitable Shorts & Tights

There are many choices for for running leg wear. Tights might prevent sand from entering and causing chafing but loose fitting shorts can provide good ventilation. Ultimately it is about your preferences and what matters to you. We recommend short length for the desert but you can opt for 3/4 if you want more coverage. Or, combine with calf guards for that extra coverage and and enhanced recovery for your lower legs. Marathon des Sables MDS at myRacekit

Also see the underwear section. If you invest in a good pair of tights it would be a shame if you got chafing because you didn’t consider the suitability of your underwear for long days of running and sweating!!

Model Weight* Loose Fitted Length Comments
X-Bionic Fennec  Running Pants Men’s 110g Mid Thigh Heat reflective Xitanit fibre and staying fresh longer thanks to Skin NODOR®. Popular choice for the desert!
X-Bionic Marathon Pants Men’s 91g Mid Thigh Very soft and comfortable, so much so that you almost forget you’re wearing them!
X-Bionic THE TRICK Shorts Men’s 91g Mid Thigh Very soft and comfortable. As with all X-Bionic, risk of chafing is minimal with these shorts.
X-Bionic Twyce Shorts 110g Mid Thigh X-Bionic’s most technical shorts, complementing the Twyce Shirt. With zippered pocket.
Compressport Trail Shorts Men’s 114g Above Knee A full thigh compression short. No seams in the waist  and a small back pocket.
La Sportiva Gust Shorts 106g Upper Thigh Super light weight shorts with no inner briefs. Pick your favourite underwear or tights for the perfect combo!
La Sportiva Rapid Shorts 146g Mid Thigh A stylish stretchy short with inner tights and a rear zippered pocket for essential items. Non odour treated.
Raidlight Trail Raider Shorts Men’s 134g Short Light weight popular shorts with pockets and a thin inner brief.
Raidlight Performance Shorts Men’s 80g Above Knee Very light weight. Thin tights with shorts on top.
Raidlight Desert Trousers (Unisex) 95g Long If you prefer to be fully covered yet want something light and loose then these might be for you. A good option for camp at night.
W X-Bionic Marathon Pants Women’s 90g Mid Thigh Very soft and comfortable, so much so that you almost forget you’re wearing them! Elisabet wore these in MDS 2015.
W X-Bionic THE TRICK Shorts 91g Upper Thigh Very soft and comfortable, now also in pink thses shorts have been cery popular since their launch.
X-Bionic Twyce Running Shorts 110g Mid Thigh X-Bionic’s most technical shorts, complementing the Twyce Shirt. With zippered pocket.
Raidlight Skort 130g Upper Thigh The perfect combo of a short tight with handy pockets and a feminine skirt on top. Elisabet wore this in MDS 2016.
La Sportiva Andromeda Skirt 120g Upper Thigh A soft, stretchy skirt with liner brief and UPF30 sun protection. La Sportiva’s stylish design is a bonus.
La Sportiva Flurry Shorts 107g Upper Thigh Super light weight shorts with no inner briefs. Pick your favourite underwear or tights for the perfect combo!

*Weight is size M and a sample weighed by us, there may be small variations in weight between individual garments Marathon des Sables MDS at myRacekit

 

Suitable Underwear

To wear or not to wear underwear that is the question! Only you can decide but we think it’s a good idea for two reasons: firstly (and especially for the men) it reduces the risk for chafing significantly and secondly it is much more hygienic. At least if you change or wash at some point during the race. If you want underwear then we cannot recommend X-Bionic highly enough. The fabric is soft and moisture wicking and made primarily from Skin NODOR® they stay fresh for longer. No unecessary seams. Marathon des Sables MDS at myRacekit

Model Weight* Comments
X-Bionic Energizer Summerlight Brief 34g Staying fresh longer thanks to Skin NODOR®. Very soft and no unexessary seams. Highly recommended!
W X-Bionic Energizer Summerlight Brief Women’s 26g Staying fresh longer thanks to Skin NODOR®. Very soft and no unexessary seams. Highly recommended!
W X-Bionic 24/7 Sphere String Women’s 18g Staying fresh longer thanks to Skin NODOR®. Very soft and no unexessary seams. Highly recommended!
W X-Bionic Energizer Sports Bra 80g Limited seams and very soft to the skin this is a good choice mainly for those with smaller bust. If you have a larger bust you may find the support is not quite enough for running, however, for walking it is fine!

*Weight is size M and a sample weighed by us or manufacturers information, there may be small variations in weight between individual garments Marathon des Sables MDS at myRacekit

 

Clothes for Camp

How much clothes you bring to stay warm at night is a choice entirely based on your required level of comfort and your race ambitions. We recommend where possible to keep weight down and focus only on what you really need, however, if your aim is just to finish and you want that extra comfort then we have some light weight options available (freezing all the time is not so much fun though you can always snuggle up in your sleeping bag). A wind proof is good under any circumstances as it will also serve as a protective layer in the event of a sand storm or for the colder hours of running during the night of the long stage. Marathon des Sables MDS at myRacekit

Temperature can vary from year to year and from day to day during the week. If you are unsure how much clothes you will need, then pack a couple of options and use the first night in camp before the race to make a call. What you don’t need can go in your main luggage that you hand in the following day. Food also helps keeping you warm, therefore with a combination of minimum kit and minimum calories you can expect to feel a bit cold. Note that if you are taking part in a 4Deserts event or Grand to Grand, there will be mandatory requirements on warm clothing, be sure to check their kit list. If your race requires a waterproof jacket then browse our range of waterproof jackets for men here and for women here.

Model Weight* Race Mid Pack Cross the Line Comments
Raidlight Ultralight Jacket 100g Packs down small. Very nice fabric and good ventilation.
Raidlight Ultralight Jacket Women 100g Packs down small. Very nice fabric and good ventilation.
Raidlight Desert Top Unisex 105g For camp and/or running, with added benefit of SPF25.
Raidlight Desert Trousers Unisex 95g Very light and comfy. A loose trouser that can be used for running as well if you prefer to be covered.
La Sportiva Oxygen Windbreaker 96g Stylish hooded wind jacket that packs into its pocket. Waist belt included for carrying.
La Sportiva Ether Windjacket 89g Stylish hooded wind jacket that packs into its pocket. Waist belt included for carrying.
Yeti Companyon Down Jackets (M/W) > 140g If you want the lightest and the warmest per gram there is nothing better.
Yeti Companyon Down Gilets (M/W) > 99g If you want the lightest and the warmest per gram there is nothing better.
Raidlight Down Jackets and Gilets (M/W) > 205g Great value for money alternative if you are happy to not carry the lightest.
Haglofs L.I.M Mid Jacket 170g Light weight, versatile stretchy fleece with full zip. Perfect for winter training as well as keeping you warm in the desert.
Haglofs L.I.M Mid Jacket Women 155g Light weight, versatile stretchy fleece with full zip. Perfect for winter training as well as keeping you warm in the desert.
Montane Featherlite 7 Jacket 48g Super light wind jacket for the minimalist.
Montane Alez Micro Hoodie (M/W) 180g/168g Light weight, versatile stretchy fleece with hood and short zip. Perfect for winter training as well as keeping you warm in the desert.

*Weight is size M and a sample weighed by us, there may be small variations in weight between individual garments Marathon des Sables MDS at myRacekit

 

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