How To Pack Light For MDS

When you embark on a race like Marathon Des Sables, keeping your pack weight down and minimising unnecessary items is very important in order to have a good race experience.

Here are Elisabet’s three “rules” for how to assess every item that goes into your pack in order to minimise waste.


Food is your fuel and what is going to get you around the race and keeping your spirit high. There is a minimum calorie requirement which may be sufficient for some people but not the majority. In our opinion, it is a false economy to save excessive weight on food. Of course, the weight of your food should be optimised (see last weeks post for some top tips), but if you have the choice of taking something you can eat vs taking something you can’t that you don’t really need, then go with the edible option. The really lovely thing about food is that every day, as you eat it, your pack gets a lot lighter!


Are you absolutely sure? Is it on the mandatory kit list? Can you not survive 7 days without it if you really think about it?

As we get hypnotised by the kit frenzy, searching for the lightest and most innovative gear, it is easy to lose perspective. You get ecstatic because you find the most minimal iPhone cover you have ever seen, a super cute travel sized deodorant, a solar charger which surely must be necessary to power your music player, phone, watch, kindle, and camera. Your first aid kit resembles a walking pharmacy and you know work will be crazy so maybe you can squeeze your iPad in just in case. The list goes on.

Assess everything carefully because you really don’t need a lot of stuff. Take a week as an opportunity to live a minimalist life and you will be surprised how little you need.

Here are just a few tips for things many people may be tempted to take but that we believe you don’t need:

  • Slippers for camp: Take the insoles out of your running shoes for more room and use them for walking around. They will withstand the rocky camp much better.
  • Phone: unless you feel it absolutely necessary to use it for photos, music or eBooks (though there are lighter options for this) you don’t need it. You won’t have coverage for much of the race, and you are not allowed to use it in bivouac. Plus, if you MUST make a call, there is the facility in camp if you have cash.
  • Various toiletries: everyone gets a bit grubby, it’s part of the experience. If you can’t function without your make-up case just be aware you have to drag it through 250kms of sand and 40+ degree C heat.


Trim things down. A prime example is repackaging your food as we mentioned last week. Other things you can do are:

  • Get your compulsory kit as light as possible. A good option is the myRaceKit Compulsory Kit where this has already been done for you.
  • Cut labels off your clothing, remove unnecessary strapping from your backpack, see if anything can serve a dual use.
  • Seek lighter options, for example, if you really feel you need wet wipes, consider swapping them for a small piece of travel towel.
  • If you take gadgets, the fewer and smaller they are, the less charge capacity you need. Something like the Goal Zero Flip 10 or 20 should be more than enough and are reliable options.
  • If you want to go to extremes there is a lot you can do, like drill holes in your toothbrush handle!


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