Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) and its growing race series (CCC, TDS, OCC, and PTL) are held in the last week of August in the Savoy Alps, an extreme mountain environment. Since the first race in 2001, racers have experienced a wild range of weather: snow, cold rain and snow, fierce winds, relentless sun, and scorching heat.
Conditions vary year-to-year and throughout the course. Elevations are between 800 to 2550 meters above sea level (2700 to 8500 feet), and temperatures and precipitation amounts fluctuate accordingly. Typical finishing times are between 25 and 45 hours, so all racers spend at least one night on the course. And the immense topographic relief produces localized weather patterns.
UTMB gear list: Personal and obligatory gear
Relative to US races, UTMB participants are required to be more self-sufficient. Most importantly, this reduces the potential burden on aid stations and SAR teams in the event of inclement weather. It also levels the playing field, since crews become less critical.
Race organizers enforce this self-sufficiency with a comprehensive list of obligatory gear. These items are checked during bib pick-up and must be carried from start to finish.
Some obligatory items overlap with standard personal clothing and equipment. For example, I would wear a brimmed cap during the race, whether required or not. Others I would consider weather-dependent (e.g. rain gear), or I would plan to retrieve them from a crew or drop bag at a particular spot (e.g. headlamp). Finally, some items are solely for an emergency (e.g. space blanket).
In developing my gear list, I strived to be both properly prepared and compliant, but at minimal weight. With a favorable forecast, some additional weight can be shed while still satisfying requirements; with an unfriendly forecast, preparedness trumps weight — a few more ounces of gear can make the difference between 5th, 25th, or a DNF.
Personal clothing & items worn
These items are like a second-skin: they are worn from start to finish, and other items are layered over them. Exception: the water bottles and poles, which are simply in constant use. These items have been vetted extensively in training and previous races.
Element protection and night kit
If not in use, these items stay inside my pack. (Accordingly, my race pack has more volume than normal.) Even if conditions are favorable, many of these items would be necessary at night, when it gets dark and temperatures drop.
Emergency and ID
Finally, there are a few cover-my-a$$ items, plus required identification, since the course passes through three countries. If I need to dig into this kit, it’s a sign of desperation or poor decision-making, or both.
Your UTMB kit need not look like mine, but perhaps it will be a starting point. Here are few other items that I think are worth consideration:
Shirt & hat. If conditions are cool and wet, which unfortunately is the current forecast for the 2017 race (three days out), a thin lightweight long-sleeve like the Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew ($50) will provide more overall comfort than a singlet or short-sleeve. For temps below 55 or 60, I find that I also need a Buff Original to protect my ears.
Shoes. I plan to start with the Speedgoat, but my wife will have a pair of Salomon Sense Ultra in the event I wish to swap out. Read my review of these shoes, and my comparative analysis versus the Speedgoat.
Rain gear. The most high-performance ultralight rain jacket is The North Face HyperAir ($250), due to the permanently beading Gore-Tex fabric. Another decent option is the Outdoor Research Helium II ($160), for which there is a matching set of pants, although this has the traditional wet-out problem.
Have questions about my selections? Wish to mention viable alternatives, or seek feedback about them? Please leave a comment.
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