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Packing for an Adventure Race

By Ian Adamson

Packing for an adventure race can be a delight if you happen to be a gear lover. Or it can be a complete pain in the butt trying to condense the boatloads of required equipment and extra stuff you need for any given race.

Either way, packing is a necessary part of racing, allowing you to get your gear from your garage to the start line. This may entail throwing your bike, food and a few clothes in your car for a local weekend race, or it may demand packing piles of high-tech gear and apparel for a week-long event halfway around the world.

Regardless of the competition, you need to be organized, and unless you have a photographic memory, this means making a list. Often this task is easy, because races provide a mandatory gear list, and many race organizers also include "recommended" equipment. If not, you need to append your own list to include a few extra items that are not mandatory (such as food) but necessary for you to successfully compete in a race.

If I am flying to a race, I take hard-sided, water-resistant boxes -- one for my bike and other large items and one for everything else. In general, I will take a carry-on bag with a few essentials (extra shoes, sunglasses, socks and gloves) in case the rest of my luggage goes astray, which is not uncommon with multiple flight connections. The following items go in my bike box: bike, paddles, PFD, helmet(s), shoes, bike bottles, bike tools and backpack(s); the rest goes in a 48-gallon Rubbermaid Action Packer.

I highly recommend boxes with wheels, otherwise you will spend a lot of effort trying to find airport trolleys or paying porters. When you select a box, try to find one with decent carry handles, wheels and a lockable lid. These things can all be retrofitted with a visit to the hardware store; you just need to make sure those accessories are sturdy to accommodate the abuse from the airline baggage gorillas. I like to fit two or three internal dividers in my box, so that I can separate gear for each sport. Something as simple as some stiff cardboard cut to fit and secured with duct tape works well; or you can get really fancy and tailor permanent plywood partitions.

Inevitably you will pack your gear boxes three or four times before a big race. You initially pack to travel to the race, unpack for the gear check, pack again to get back to your accommodations, unpack and re-pack again when you are given the course notes, and pack once more when you realize you left something out or put something in that you don't need.

However you pack, you absolutely need to know where everything is, or you will spend an inordinate amount of time digging around in a mess of dirty socks, rotting food and tangled climbing gear. I use laminated equipment lists taped to the inside of the lid of my box so that I know immediately where everything should be when I get to a transition.

Of course, "should" is the operative word, since often the fog of sleep deprivation and fatigue inevitably has me mixing my gear, my words and my M&Ms with beef jerky mid-way through a race. But starting a race with a super-organized box at least gives me a fighting chance.

Senior contributing editor Ian Adamson has won eco-challenge three times. When he's not training, he can often be found unpacking and re-packing his garage full of gear.

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