Practical vs Sentimental

People are magpies – indiscriminately hoarding items that MAY be of use. And when we pack for races we tend to do the same, throwing in this and that ‘just in case’. I asked a number of adventure racers to confess the unusual items lurking in their backpacks and crates, whether practical or sentimental. 

To eat or to share

Tasty treats offer comfort to both the provider and the recipient, who may be the same person. Team Cyanosis workhorse, Clinton Mackintosh, has a thing for Sally Williams Nougat. “I pack at least four,” he says. “I usually use them for rewards. I set a goal and when we reach it I have a nougat.”

George ‘The Baron’ Forder, an experienced racer, guides ARinKZN ( and presents a number of events. His treats vary and if you’re in a bad way he’ll probably share with you. “My special comfort snacks are for myself or for anyone deserving – someone with a real need,” the Pietermaritzburg resident explains.

For others, treats are not just gastronomic delights – they’re a way to communicate with their teammates. Navigator Clinton Hardenberg is the brains behind Pretoria’s weekly Dark ‘n Dirty mountain bike rides. He uses his sweets to slow down the pace so that he has time to think. “I always carry a packet of jelly babies – they’re especially important for those really dark nights or conditions of thick mist. When I stop the team and say, ‘Let’s sit down and eat some jelly babies’ the team knows that I am actually saying that we are really lost and that I need time to find us on the map again.”

And after days of bars, gels, treats and sandwiches, reward your ivories. “I’ve got one of those small airline toothbrush and toothpaste kits in my pack,” says Garry Morrison. “A session of dental hygiene mid-way through a race always leaves me feeling great.”

‘Maybe I’ll use it sometime’ stuff

For Forder, water purification tablets and anti-inflammatory pills are a security blanket. They live in his first aid kit and although they’re rarely used, he likes to know they’re there. Cable ties and duct tape are common ‘accessories’ that find their way into backpacks. Hardenberg keeps duct tape wound around his hiking pole for emergency use. These situations could include ITB strapping, blister patching and the repair of a mountain bike tyre sidewall. “And,” he jokes, “it even deals with team members who are subject to verbal and other forms of diarrhoea.”

For years, the backpack of Team Cyanosis’ captain – and arguably the country’s top navigator – Nicholas Mulder, has been home to a child’s inflatable swimming ring (for floating his bike across water), Swiss Army knife, superglue and elastic bands. “It’s all weird stuff, but maybe I’ll use these things one day,” he laughs.

Pack a spare

A compass is a navigator’s steering wheel. G4 Challenge campaigner Richard Kolbe always brings a spare, which he gives to another team member to carry. “I’ve lost three compasses in adventure racing; once while crossing a river and twice when hiking in thorny bush areas where the compass string often gets caught on branches. Fortunately, in all cases, we had a spare.”

Gettin’ practical

A Leatherman-type plier tool is really useful,” says Hardenberg. “In one race I used it to tighten map board bolts, to loosen a trekking pole that wouldn’t extend and to cut a piece of wire from a fence to fix a rear derailleur flywheel that had come apart.”

Lauren Goulding, captain of Team Dewpoint, an all-girls team, is never seen without a BUFF. “If the weather is hot I soak my BUFF in rivers to cool down and in the cold they’re excellent for warmth and to protect your face from the wind.”

The use of a towrope, for foot and bike stages, helps to up a team’s overall speed. “Sometimes I get to tow; other times it’s my turn to be assisted,” says Team Cyanosis member and ropes specialist Ryno Griesel. “This is the awesome nature of this sport; it is about being the fastest possible team and being open enough to accept assistance when you go through a bad patch so that you can be carried through to recovery.”

Non-elastic strapping tape, like duct tape, finds an obvious home on twisted ankles and foot blisters. Its application also extends to preventing chaffing. Kolbe has used it under his arms, on his shoulders where the backpack straps rub and other prevalent chafe zones. “It works amazingly well; just a bit difficult getting off,” he says laughing.

Other practical essentials include toilet paper, gaiters, an extra pair of socks in a waterproof bag, needle to drain any blisters, light wind shell, sunblock and an anti-chafe formula for chafing (which can be used in obvious places, as well as your feet, to prevent blisters).

Less is more?

There’s a fine line between packing too many things you’ll never use and being MacGyver, prepared for all eventualities. But before your pack gets bogged down with excessive stuff and weight, weigh up your trinkets with careful consideration, especially if you have a good number that have never been used. Let go. That said, what is most important is that you are reassured (physically and mentally) that what you’re carrying will contribute to your comfort and safety.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in Go Multi Magazine, Nov/Dec 2009

1 Comment

  1. ahaa , I have to admit that in my AR box is a canoe repair kit, fibre glass , brush and all the adhesives .I dont think there has been an AR race with canoes on rapids for years . Im still waiting for one . or the iceberg thats going to hole our canoe ..Titanic style.

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