Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fatpacking

I have been working on choosing and packing gear for my seven-day stage race in Nepal next month. This trek will only be semi-supported. The Racing the Planet organization will provide tents, water, and hot water for cooking in camp, but everything else I want or need for seven days in a remote region of a foreign country I will have to carry, including seven days worth of food. The key issue in packing is the fact we will be covering a marathon-length distance or more each day, with a lot of climbing, so a typical large backpack with a frame isn't an appealing option. These Raidlight Runner R-Lite backpacks are popular with adventure racers because they're light — 7.1 ounces — but sufficiently strong. This pack holds 30 liters, which is about the size of a single large bicycle pannier.

How to live out of these packs for a whole week in a dynamic climate? It's been a fun puzzle to work on, and I'm not sure I've even come close to solving it. But today I gathered nearly all of the pieces of the solution I've come up with so far, shoved it in my pack (it's a fairly loose fit. Shouldn't be too complicated to repack when I'm shelled) and took it out for a run.

The crux of the problem has been food. Seven days requires a lot of food. Based of my memory of the first week of the Tour Divide, I'm fairly certain that my calorie intake will remain on the deficit side no matter what I bring, so I'm planning on about 2,500 calories a day. That number will put me in fat-burning mode, so I'd like a fair percentage to be carbs, which have half the calorie density of fat. I have extremely limited space for food, plus I have to make sure the food is something I will actually be able to force myself to consume. My solution is an assortment of dehydrated breakfasts and dinners, with bars for the daytime. The bars include Clif Builder Bars, Luna Bars, fruit bars, and granola bars. I'm supplementing the bag-food and bar diet with a plastic jar each of peanut butter and strawberry preserves. When I was riding the Tour Divide, one of my favorite foods was crunchy Nature Valley granola bars dipped in peanut butter. The strawberry preserves will serve the function of a sugar shot when I need it the most, in the most calorie-dense and portable form possible (like a big jar of energy gels, and so much cheaper.) Really, you can't get a more calorie-dense yet palatable package of carbs, fats, and proteins than good ol' PB&J.

As for the rest of the gear, I packed a 25-degree RAB down sleeping bag, Thermarest Ridge Rest, Patagonia micropuff, rain jacket and rain pants, mitten shells, gloves, hat, thin balaclava, buff, sleeves, base layer for running, base layer for camp, socks, underwear, flip-flops, headlamp, flashlight, space blanket, foot fix kit, med kit, multitool, compass, GPS, spare batteries, spork (the only utensil I'll need since I can eat out of the dehydrated food bags and make cups out of water bottles), coffee powder, toiletries, tablet towels, electrolyte tablets, vitamins, drugs, wet wipes, sunscreen and 100% DEET, camera, and probably a few other small items that I am forgetting. I also packed a thin Tyvek suit, pictured right, which was Beat's brilliant idea. These suits, which are designed for handling hazardous materials, basically serve as a full-body vapor barrier for warmth during down time in camp. They may also be useful for sleeping in the down bags if the weather is really cold or wet.

Add 18,000 calories and three liters of water, and the pack came in at 27.3 pounds. I took it out for a six-mile test run (more like a power-hike/jog) this evening. I spent the first five minutes making little adjustments. One thing I really like about the soft pack is the fact I can mold it into something somewhat comfortable by lining the back with my dehydrated food packets. The pack actually felt pretty good, at least for my 90-minute test run. I've never been an ultralight type of person so I'm somewhat used to carrying big loads — maybe not 30-pound loads, but regardless, the main issue I had with all the weight was increased fatigue on the climbs and knee strain on the descents. There are a lot of muscles around my knees that need strengthening, and my shoulders and back could probably use conditioning as well. It was a reminder that I will definitely need to continue training with weight until November, which seems decidedly unfun but necessary.

At least it will give me an excuse to run slowly for the next month. I do enjoy slow running.