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Highland Trail Race – A Gear Review

As you may have read on websites elsewhere, this year was the inaugural Highland Trail Race – a 440 mile ITT in a style similar to that of the great US races such as Tour Divide and Colorado Trail Race. No entry fee, no prize and definitely no support. You’re on your own (albeit with a bunch of like-minded lunatics). After a couple of late night nights watching the Trackleader’s race tracking page, I finally saw Ian (my other half) come home in just over three and half days, to finish in second place behind Aidan Harding (also Wildcat Gear equipped).

Ian provided a detailed and occasionally gruesome account of the race over on his own blog. To wrap it all up properly though, there needs to be a review of the kit he took, which you can find here, where Ian takes over the commentary:

Sleeping Kit

PHD Minim Ultra 900 Sleeping bag: 363g
PHD Minim Ultra 900 vest: 140g
Black Rock Gear down hat: 24g
Thermarest Neoair Short mat: 262g

This is a system I’ve used a lot in recent years. It’s surprising versatile across a wide range of temperatures with the use of the vest to boost the rating of the sleeping bag. I would be at the limits of comfort at anything less than about 4 degrees, though I had other spare layers if it was very cold. This system also relies on an insulated mat to some extent to avoid heat loss to the ground. I used the mat on the first two nights, but didn’t bother for the brief rest outside Camban bothy, mainly due to tiredness and speed.

Shelter

Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tarp: 98g
Ruta Locura carbon pole: 80g
Ruta Locura Wasatch bivvy: 105g
Titanium pegs: 59g

Whilst most racers took a waterproof bivvy bag, I elected to take a lighter “water resistant” bivvy and the added protection from wind and rain of a tarp. There was little weight penalty in this system over a light weight goretex bivvy, but it requires a more careful choice of spot and time to set it up properly. It’s a system I’ve used many times on other bivvy trips, and my familiarity with it made it an obvious choice for the race. However, the committing nature of the race and very compressed periods of “rest” meant I never used the tarp. Partly this was due to the presence of bothies, but also the lack of inclination to want to bother setting it up. The only occasion where I would have used my tarp was at the end of Day 2, which being in a sleep deprived, cold, wet state would have been difficult and my mind was still reeling from the difficulties of the first part of Fisherfield. The Wasatch bivvy did get some use on Day 2 as a sleeping bag cover for the leaky roof of the emergency shelter, and also briefly outside Camban bothy so I didn’t get my sleeping bag dirty.

Clothes

Gore Bike Wear Alp-X 2.0 Jacket: 302g
Gore Bike Wear Alp-X 2.0 Shorts: 160g
Howies Slipstream LS jersey: 287g
Icebreaker Merino base layer: 203g
Glacier gloves: 122g
1 pair spare socks: 41g

In the run up to the race, I’d spent a lot of time thinking about clothing combinations. Flexibility, pack size and range of use were all considered and tested in different conditions and temperatures. In the end, the weather never really threatened as much as I imagined the Scottish Highlands could, but the choices I made were all good and I wouldn’t change anything next time except perhaps for the shoes. The winter boots soon filled with water at the first river crossing by Meannanach and never properly dried out. The subsequent hike-a-bike sections took their toll on my damp feet. I would take normal shoes rather than winter boots next time, which would have the prospect of drying out more easily.

Luggage

Naturally, all my gear was packed into Wildcat Gear bags. Up front, the Mountain Lion took hold of a 8 litre dry bag containing my sleeping kit and spare clothes, except for my sleeping mat. The ability to quickly remove the dry bag from the harness was extremely handy on several occasions, and reinserting it the following morning was a 10 second task. At the rear, I had the Tiger, which held a 4 litre dry bag containing my Shelter gear and sleeping mat. A few other items went in there too for padding (socks, toiletries etc). Again, the convenience of being able to remove the dry bag in seconds was important, but for the whole of the rest of the race, the Tiger held onto the dry bag so securely and with little movement that I mostly forgot it was there. From time to time the straps would have other things tucked beneath them that I wanted to retrieve quickly, like my waterproof.

The rest of my kit, comprisng of tools, first aid kit, spare batteries, back-up maps and food went into my frame bag. Beth made me a frame bag with a single cut-out for the water bottle and slight outward taper to give me more storage capacity at the front of the bag. Items or objects that I needed during the day were easily accessible, and a proportion of the food I ate could be consumed while riding.

Bike

Singular Pegasus. Rockshox Reba 29er. Jones H-Bar. 32:19 gearing. No question, the Highland Trail Race is a long way. With  simple food resupply being infrequent, opportunities to get a bike repaired or obtain a spare of some sort were virtually nil. So to take a bike with need of minimal maintenance was significant.

highland trail race setup

Highland Trail Race Setup

I’ve been riding singlespeed for about 3 years now, and see almost no reason to be riding gears (three of the first four riders home for the Highland Trail Race were on singlespeeds). Quieter, lighter, more reliable, fewer parts to fail, parts are inherently more durable, lighter weight, cheaper and so on. The bike got me through the event without any issues – all I had to do was lube the chain – but the miles had taken their toll on certain components. Chain stretched by 0.75%, brake pads on their limit, freehub bearings nearly gone (and replaced in preparation for the race) was about the extent of it. The quality of the ride alway shone through, regardless of where I was or what state I was in, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the same bike again.

Highland Trail Race Stats

Day 1:

Distance – 188.2 km
Ascent – 3,348 m
Duration – 16 hours 09 mins (excludes sleep time)
Moving – 13 hours 35 mins
Sleep – 4 hours

Day 2:

Distance – 194.3 km
Ascent – 2,787 m
Duration – 19 hours 9 mins (excludes sleep time)
Moving – 15 hours 49 mins
Sleep – 4 hours

Day 3/4:

Distance – 327.3 km
Ascent – 5,918 m
Duration – 40 hours 27 mins (includes 1.5 hours of sleep time)
Moving – 32 hours 27 mins
Sleep – 1 hour 30 mins

Fisherfield

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  1. New section for races, plus a site guide | Trails and Tours - November 22, 2013

    […] of universal interest here. Here is an example by Ian – the 2013 Highland Trail Race and the gear he used. One more piece of site news: We have a new guide on getting the most out of Trails and […]

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