Endeavor Team Challenge – Gear and Food Preparation

This was post was largely written by Marshall Pierce.

About a month ago, Marshall and I competed the Endeavor Team Challenge (ETC). Saul posted a review of the event itself, but we thought it might be a good idea to post some information about what worked and what didn’t. The ETC organizers posted some gear recommendations, here’s how actually implemented them.

Preparation in general
I (Saul) am not sure why but this event seemed to take an inordinate amount of time for preparation and packing. It seems to me that a weekend backpacking trip takes way less to time to prepare for. Marshall said that it is the “unknown” quality of this event that made us prepare more than we needed. If you are considering an event like this, make sure to budget some shopping and preparation time. We spent at least 6 hours, if not more, creating packing lists and a nutrition plan. In addition, we took probably 2 hours the night before getting everything ready and making sure that we didn’t forget anything.

When you get to the event site, don’t look too hard at what others are using. We saw everything from day pack sized packs to week long packs at the starting line. Saul brought hiking poles to the start and at the last minute decided to leave them since no one else seems to be carrying them. When the trail started going up hill on to a real dirt trail, a couple of teams took poles out of their pack. We didn’t need them but they would have come in handy a couple of times. The point is, do your homework and then trust your system.

One final note on preparation, consider what your single points of failure are. For instance, take extra time sorting out foot care. Once you have blisters, that’s it. We spent a lot of time going over food in this post because it took a fair amount of time getting it ready. Out on the course, your fueling and hydration will help you keep going or stop you in your tracks, and after that it is hard to get back in the game.

Marshall used a Goruck GR2 retrofitted with a DIY sternum strap. This pack does not have a waist belt, which made it definitely in the minority among the packs at the event (there were only a couple of other packs without them). While Marshall didn’t particularly mind the lack of a waist belt, he’s also quite used to carrying 30+ lbs with just shoulder straps. If you aren’t used to keeping a healthy torso position under that sort of load, a pack with a waist belt might be a better choice. The GR2 (plus a Goruck brick bag strapped outside for holding miscellany) does have one major advantage over typical backpacking-style packs: internal organization. Unlike small stuff sacks all bouncing around in one big cavity, the GR2’s internal zippered pouches are always in the same place when you open the bag. Being able to quickly access your gear or food makes makes refueling on the trail much easier. The secure 4-buckle attachment for the brick bag also worked great, and the MOLLE webbing was a handy place to stash socks that needed drying. At 40L, the GR2 was full to capacity (with an item or two in the brick bag: initially some spare clothes, then the plastic tarp once it was damp). Saul used an Arc’Teryx Khamsin 38L. They aren’t made anymore, but basically, it is a big, and very light, sack. The Patagonia Ascensionist Pack 35L might be a good replacement. Saul has had it for years and it fits like a glove. However, he would have liked a few more zippered containers to help with organization. Adding a small pocket attached to the belt to carry food made things a little easier. We saw a bunch of the Osprey packs, it seemed like those were a good choice if you had to buy a new pack, but it all depends on fit.

Though we did practice with our packs, we still could have done a better job of packing things in strategic locations based on how and when we were going to need to use them. So, be sure to practice packing your packs as full as they will be on the event and then try extracting food, warm clothes, etc. As we alluded to earlier, it is easy to lose time at the aid stations and during breaks so it’s good to practice taking off your pack, refilling your water bladder and doing all those minor tasks as they just get harder as you get tired and/or cold. It’s also important to have your partner be familiar with your pack so that you can ask them for items out of it without having to take your pack off.

Sleeping bags
Marshall’s 15F Big Agnes Lost Ranger was, as usual, too warm. Saul used a down REI 0 degree bag because he sleeps cold and it is pretty light and packs up small. Neither of us brought sleeping pads. We got to sleep on fairly soft ground, but honestly it probably wouldn’t have mattered much at that point if the ground had been less favorable since we only slept from 4 to 6 AM.

There is a difference between what will eat during the event and what you eat during training. Your system can’t digest the same amount of calories that you can burn through during exercise. For instance, you can burn 400 and 800 calories an hour, depending on intensity, type of exercise, body weight, etc., but you can only digest 250 – 600 calories per hour, again, depending on a number of factors. The unfortunate thing is that the more intense your exercise, the less you can digest. This fact has to part of your training and event nutrition plan. Complicating things even further, other factors such as altitude, temperature, anxiety and duration of the event itself make it harder to eat as much as you should. A big part of your nutrition plan should take into account what you’ll *feel* like eating, not just blindly following a spreadsheet or your training nutrition. For instance, you can get through a four hour hike with a couple of quarts of water and an apple. That’s not going to work for a 30 hour event because you won’t be able to “fill” that deficit of calories and electrolytes as you continue through the event. The key to a longer event is to eat just enough so that you don’t make yourself vomit but also get enough calories.

The first thing to get your head around in an event longer than 12 hours is the sheer volume of food you’ll consume. You think there is no way you could eat that much food but, in fact, you probably will. Eating such a huge volume of food, as well as having such a high proportion of calorie intake be in the form of what we called plastic food (e.g. gels, bars, etc.), especially of you are eating clean, is going to have, let’s say, “surprising” consequences on your digestion. Let’s just say it was a good thing we were back in camp with porta-potties every few hours. Speaking of plastic food, the organizers provided MREs if you didn’t wish to use your own food. We felt that the MREs would be better utilized by stashing them for later safekeeping in our disaster survival kits. The metabolic and digestive consequences of eating MREs for an event like this are unlikely to be positive especially if you didn’t train with them.

We had a mixture of real and plastic food and a few treats like chocolate covered almonds and a small can of Coke. We planned out our nutritional breakdown with a spreadsheet to track macronutrient amounts (fat, protein, carbs) as well as overall calories. We aimed to carry 8,000 calories of food originally, but we ended up carrying a little more than that, and we ate nearly everything except the trail mix.

The plastic food we carried were a mix of Honey Stinger protein bars (around 200 calories with 10g of protein), Hammer energy bars (also around 200 calories, but with more carbs and less protein), Honey Stinger, GU, Hammer and Clif gels (some with caffeine), and Clif Shot Bloks (the margarita flavor with 3 x sodium). We both liked Shot Bloks, but they’re not very caloric and don’t have much sodium either. Nonetheless, they do get you to drink water to wash them down, and they’re a nice change of pace from the other plastic food. Gels are a more personal choice because the constancy and texture varies. Marshall likes Honey Stinger and Hammer gels, but not Clif or Gu, while Saul is less picky.

For actual food, we brought roasted sweet potatoes packed into plastic wide-mouth bottles, some tri-tip from the previous night dinner, deli meat and cheese and jerky. Marshall had no problem with the sweet potatoes, but Saul found them a little dry. It’s hard to think straight when you’re tired and hungry, so “add some water” is only an obvious fix from an armchair perspective. The meat and jerky were both consumed completely. We also brought a typical “mix of nuts and dried fruit” trail mix that we never ended up touching. Given that nuts offer most of their calories from fat, they’re quite calorie dense, but not very useful when you’re already calorie-depleted. They just weren’t ever appetizing, even when we were sick of eating our other food. However, chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joe’s were a big hit. We had a few chocolate covered espresso beans as well.

Whatever food you decide to use, make sure to test it out first. We also found that laying out our caloric intake on a spreadsheet to be quite helpful, even if only as a tool to think about the incredible volume of food required and a check list to make sure that we didn’t forget anything. Also, you may wish to phase in the food you’ll be eating during the event over the previous several days so that your digestion isn’t stunned by a drastic switch.

One more consideration, when you are outdoors it is always good to pack a few more bars and gels than you think you need just in case your partner loses food or another person on the trail needs something to get them home.

Overall, it would have been helpful to have more salt in our food itself. All of the various food types were pretty hard to stomach by the end, whether they were sweet or savory, but we kept eating because we knew we needed the calories. It’s hard to say for sure, but salty snacks seemed pretty attractive (if unattainable) at the time, so more salt on the meat, etc. probably would have been a plus. Which leads us to…

Salt Pills
Saul mentioned this in a previous post about the ETC, but it is so important that we need to repeat it. Everyone has different hydration and electrolyte needs (age, weight, and athletic maturity are the first differentiators that come to mind). Even though we two are fairly different in terms of how much water we need, we were both surprised at how effective salt pills were at improving our overall health and attitude. Despite the name, salt pills aren’t just salt; they usually offer a mix of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and other such supplements (though sodium and potassium are typically in much larger amounts than the rest). We were supplementing our water with typical dissolvable electrolyte tablets (we used Hammer Fizz, but there are others, e.g. Camelbak Elixir, Nuun, etc.) as well as Hammer HEED, but that still wasn’t enough electrolyte intake to compensate for losses. Over the course of the event, we learned to take a salt pill (http://www.saltstick.com/) at the first sign of nausea, loss of appetite, headache, dizziness, or any other such vague malaise. We both responded very quickly to them, usually seeing effects in just a couple of minutes. Given that the human body is really effective at disposing of excess salt, so there’s not much need to worry about overdosing. If you are feeling bad, just a salt pill and see if it helps. You’ll know in a couple of minutes if it’s working or not.

Marshall and Saul both wore basic wicking T-shirts (REI Tech T for Marshall, Lululemon for Saul). They did the job. Again make sure that you test these in training. Marshall used REI Venturi pants. He tried basically every outdoorsy pair of pants he could find, and the Venturi were the only ones that weren’t restrictive around the thighs. As it turned out, they were great for other reasons as well: They dry fast, they have deep pockets that held onto stuff securely, they have little zippered bonus pockets (great for holding wrappers and other trash), and they’re fairly breathable. Kuhl convertible pants came close, but they were too tight around the thighs. Marmot pants were OK, but too warm for summer hiking and somewhat restrictive. When pants got too hot, Marshall used some miscellaneous pair of Nike shorts. While they had pockets, they weren’t as deep as the Venturi’s, so they tended to eject things inconveniently often. Saul used a pair of Prana man-pris, capris for men, made of synthetic material.

Marshall used a Patagonia R1 pullover and Torrentshell shell, both of which worked well when needed. It never rained, but the shell was good to have during the middle of the night when it’s easy to lose body heat. Saul used a combination of a North Face zip up hoody and a Patagonia Nano Puff, as well as a Torrentshell pull-over.

Marshall, blessed/cursed with big thighs, is a big believer in compression shorts to prevent inner-thigh chafing. He’s worn them in other events and they performed well here, too. If keeping mud and sand out is a priority, he prefers the tighter compression of Skins. If not, like in this event, the lighter compression and more breathable fabric of Nike “Pro Combat” (who names these things?) is more comfortable.

Marshall brought Mechanix gloves and used them on the obstacle course. Saul brought similar gloves and used them on the obstacle course as well. We didn’t use them at any other time, though we did use gloves at other events when they were provided (e.g. at the traverse).
One light-weight addition that would have been nice is a pair of disposable charcoal hand warmers.

Marshall used DryMax Lite Trail Runner socks. He’s used those on other events before, and the socks performed well on this one too. Saul used wool socks which, though fuzzier than the fairly dense DryMax, didn’t dry as well. We both used two pairs of socks, swapping every few hours to let the most recently used pair dry out. In hindsight, three pairs would have been a better option. Water/sweat, dust and dirt contribute to blisters and uncomfortable hot spots so while we didn’t get any blisters (Saul got some hot spots and covered them with duct tape) and it would have been smart to thoroughly rinse out the socks when possible (at river crossings, etc.) and switch them more often. Having an additional pair of socks would have allowed more time for each pair to dry (though Marshall’s DryMax were completely dry every time he changed into them). We didn’t use gaiters, but that may be advisable simply to keep socks and shoes from getting thoroughly caked with dust.

Marshall wore inov-8 TrailRoc 255 trail runners, which did a fantastic job. They dried quickly the one time they got wet, never slipped on any of the many miles of hiking through rock fields, and were comfortable throughout. They did require some tightening now and then to prevent slipping forwards when going downhill, but that’s to be expected. Their light weight and flexibility was much appreciated when doing the non-hiking events. Their flexible shank system worked well protecting against the non-stop underfoot stone assault, with not a hint of foot soreness or bruising even after all 50 miles. As a fairly low trail runner shoe, they offer effectively no ankle support whatsoever, so if you’re prone to twisting ankles, you may wish to get something a little higher. Saul used the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 Trail-Running Shoes. He has had over five pairs of Salomon shoes and they fit his foot perfectly.

For an event this long, take the time necessary to get your sock and shoe system completely dialed in. Nothing will ruin your day faster than bad blisters.

Hats and headwear
Marshall used a Buff, which is basically a tube of stretchy synthetic fabric about 18″ long. He wore it scrunched up like a little scarf just around his neck, and it was surprisingly effective both in hot and cold weather. In cold weather, it was pleasantly warm, and it can be pulled up into a balaclava-like shape for more warmth. In hot weather, it was light enough to do a good job wicking sweat without being stifling (and of course also protected the sunburn-prone back of the neck area).

Body Glide is amazing. Chances are you’ll get chafing in both obvious (under shoulder and waist pack straps, between thighs) as well as non-obvious (side of ribs where shoulder straps go by, under waist band, between butt-cheeks) places. Get the kind that comes in a tube, not the stick kind, so that it doesn’t become, let’s say, single-use after application in a “personal” area. Fortunately, it’s effective after chafing has already started (it doesn’t sting or burn), but of course it’s best if you apply preemptively and avoid the problem altogether.

First aid
Fortunately, we didn’t need anything more than blister management out of our first aid kit. Marshall got by without blisters at all (though he did put Vaseline on a couple of hot spots), while Saul had more problems but no blisters. We had a fairly complete first aid kit that is more appropriate for an unsupported hike rather than an event. I would probably just bring a blister kit and some duct tape next time. You are never far from an aid station which are stationed by ski patrollers and other emergency personnel.

Clean up/Post-event
Rinse your gear before putting it in the washing machine.

We hope you find this useful for longer hikes, as well as, events like the ETC.