Atacama Crossing Blogs 2020
View All Posts 2020 From : Robert Ripley
13 February 2020 11:51 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana
Geeking out over Gear (Part I)
Or, Confessions of a tech weenie. I’m going to attribute the moniker tech weenie to my buddy Jay. I’m not sure if he coined the phrase, but he was the first to use it in my presence. A tech weenie is someone who spends more time researching the wicking quotient of their Patagonia capilene baselayer than they actually spend skiing in it. Or something like that. If you spend more time on the internet looking at gear then you spend using outdoor gear, chances are you’re a tech weenie.
For the uninitiated, the Atacama Crossing Ultramarathon is a week long mostly self supported race in the desert. The race organizers provide pink flags to follow, water to drink and tents to sleep in. Beyond that, you are on your own. Oh, yeah, they also provide a list. The list for Atacama Crossing Mandatory Equipment has 35 items and doesn’t even include a sleeping pad or a toothbrush. Those 35 items have to be stuffed in a pack (item #1) and carried on your back as you jog across the desert.
I’m not physicist or sports physiologist, but I think that the lighter your pack is, the easier it will be to jog across the desert. I’ve noticed that the guys and gals who win these races have light packs. As a member of the medical team, I have witnessed gear check in at 6 previous 4 Deserts Ultras. I have seen a pack that weighed over 20 kilograms (he didn’t win), and I have seen a pack weighing under 6 kilos (this was Sandy’s pack, I think she was packing some super secret Aussie highly caloric air for dinner. Sandy, by the way, won the Jordan race in 2014).
That's Sandy winning the Womens Jordan race in 2014. You can't see much of her because her husband Colin is hugging her. But she does have a really small pack!
(Non-gear related photo of Nancy and me in front of the Treasury at Petra at the finish line of the Jordan Race.)
I’m going to put this out here right now. I would like my pack to weigh 7 kilos or less. That is about 15.4 pounds. Roughly what my Guru Hyperlite racing bicycle (circa 2014) weighs. Or your average raccoon. (Not that I would recommend carrying a raccoon on your back, or even freeze drying one for race rations) And item #35 on the list is a weeks worth of food, minimum 14000 calories, which I’m sure will be the subject of multiple blog posts, but, suffice it to say, food will make up about half of the pack’s weight, and any weight saved on gear means capacity to carry more food. And, as they say, food is life. (Never more so than out in the desert)
Naturally this need for lightweight gear provides plenty of opportunity for web-surfing. And Geeking. And shopping. In the last decade, the outdoor gear marketplace has exploded with ultralightweight gear options. For instance, I have an Ultimate Direction Fast Pack 30, a great running pack that weighs only 652 grams (1.5 lbs—less if you take out the back support panel). But Raidlight makes a running pack (or vest as they like to call them now) that weighs only 260 grams. Begging the question, how much is it worth to you to take an ounce, or a pound, off your back?
Back when I was bicycle racing, I probably spent over $1000 to get a pound off my bike. The top of line Dura Ace Shimano groupset (gears, shifters, derailleurs, etc) weights 300 grams less than the excellent Shimano Ultegra groupset, but costs about $1150 more. ($3.83/gm or $115/oz) At the time, my cycling coach, Todd Herriott (Métier), said it would be a lot cheaper for me just to lose 5 pounds off the butt sitting on the bicycle. And he had a good point then, but, at the moment, I weigh 75 kilos and my bodyfat percentage is sitting in the single digits, so losing weight prior to going out in the desert may not be a great idea.
The Raidlight people have put their price on an ounce. Their top of the line Revolutiv 24 liter vest costs $250 and weighs 9.1 ounces and their next best Responsiv 24 liter vest weighs 10.2 ounces and costs $190. So $60 an ounce.
This has given me a lot to think about as I geek out over gear. The choices are many. Sadly, most of the climbing and backpacking gear in my garage is not going to make the pack, even if it was cutting edge 10 years ago. I would like to spend less than $1000 getting geared up for the race, hopefully getting some supercool backpacking gear that I can use in the future.
So. While I vacillate a bit more over whether a vest or a pack is in my future and what is the best ultralight sleeping bag out there, I have started to purchase items on the list. My first purchase: Items 6,7,8 & 10. (knife/multitool, whistle, mirror and compass)
$25 on Amazon! And I still have money and capacity for another 6.944 kilos.
Fortunately for me, Tony Brammer, legendary checkpoint 3 captain, will not be doing gear check in at Atacama 2020. He has been known to reject a racer’s pack because their whistle didn’t emit the requisite decibel level, or their mirror couldn’t signal the International Space Station.
(Just kidding Tony, we will miss you at Atacama, and we on the medical team appreciate the added safety that a thorough gear check provides!)
More geeking out to do here. And maybe even some training. Better get busy. I will keep you updated on what the pack looks like and what’s going into it.