Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Gear and weight saving at Arrowhead

A couple of people asked how I got my gear weight down to 19 pounds this year and I thought I'd share some gear/weight saving ideas.

First of all, the 19 pounds included food and water but didn't include the weight of the sled itself, which I think is 3 pounds (standard orange Paris Expedition sled).

So, gear.  I don't own a gear scale, I've never been into gear weight, and I've never even known the weight of what I've taken on past Arrowheads.  I only weighed it this year because I was curious, not because I was going to change anything based on the number.  But I was pleasantly surprised to see it was lighter than expected!

What I took:

Required Gear:

Esbit stove:  3.13 oz
12x Esbit tablets:  6 oz [just edited this--forgot it was 12 tablets, not 6, that I took]
6 matches:  ?? but negligible!
pot:  2 oz
Sleeping bag: 56 oz.  Rated to -72F!
Sleeping pad (I cut up a sled-sized piece of the ultralight and super insulating Volara foam): approx 10 ounces but I don't have an exact weight on this stuff
Bivy bag:  This one caused minor contention with Don Clark (the gear checker), but I used the Heatsheets emergency bivy bag (3.5oz).  He had okayed it in past years but this year, although he okayed it again, he did tell me to get a more substantial one for next time.  A bivy bag is irrelevant to my setup, though, because I sleep in my sled, using the sled and my foam mat as the ground insulation and my sled cover as the bivy top if I were to need it.  With a sleeping bag rated to -72F, however, there aren't many times when I see myself using a cover as well.
Headtorch:  7.8 oz including batteries.  Black Diamond Icon. A bit heavy but I wanted a high-output light to help keep myself awake at night.
2 flashing LED lights and strips of reflective tape:  Not sure, probably total of 8 oz?
3000 calories:  stop using peanut butter, people, chopped dried coconut is lighter!!!  12 oz
Two insulated water containers:  Granite gear aquatherms, 8.6 oz total
Two one-liter Nalgene bottles:  according to google, that's 12.4 oz.  Maybe I can save some weight here next time.

Total required gear:  7.9 pounds

Food and Water:

My friend Carles, who has no less than FIVE foot finishes at Arrowhead, explained to me his excellent strategy for food and water and I copied him.  Basically, you don't need to take a ton of food and water between checkpoints; you can eat and drink a little on the trail and then rehydrate and eat at checkpoints.  Ever read studies on whether Drink X helps people rehydrate faster than water/Drink Y/etc?  Those studies usually measure rehydration over a 30 minute period--i.e., you can rehydrate pretty quickly.  And in this race, I don't think spending time at checkpoints is "lost" time, because a small rest can really pay off later in the race.  So, the maximum I had with me at any time was 1.75 liters of water (3.85 pounds) and about 3,000 calories (approx 2.2 pounds).  I don't bring a cooler for the food like a lot of people do--I just thaw a bit of food out in my mitten before I want to eat it--which saves a nice chunk of weight.  My goal was to eat 75 calories every half hour, not counting the first two hours of the race and the first 1.5 hours after Gateway and Mel George, so my food was divided up into a bunch of plastic bags, which probably added another 4 oz.  I used an extra Aquatherm as food storage (4.3 oz).

Total food and water:  6.5 pounds

Other Gear:

4x lithium AA batteries:  2 oz
Spare headtorch:  3.2 oz incl batteries
Compression dry sack for sleeping bag:  1.8 oz
Bag to hold stove, pot, etc:  approx 1 oz? (a little over half the weight of the sleeping bag stuffsack)
"Do Not Disturb" hotel door sign--essential bivy item!:  1 oz
Down pants:  12.5 oz.  Western Mountaineering Flight Pants.
Big down jacket:  22 oz.  Mountain Hardwear Nilas jacket.
Clothes that I don't have a weight for:  one pair of extra socks, warm weather face mask (ha!), warm weather mittens (ha!), spare hat, and spare liner gloves.  Never used any of them, sadly.  Together they feel like they weigh about the same as the down pants so I'll guess 12 oz.  Sorry for the inexactness, gear junkies.
Trekking poles, only used for about half an hour...  12 oz.  Black Diamond Z Poles.

Total other gear:  4.21 pounds

That gives me a total of 18.61 pounds [edited after I added in the other 6 esbit tablets].  The extra weight to get to 19 pounds would have been from the weight of the bag that I put all my stuff in (the nice ultralight fabric bag that our altitude tent came in!) plus the weight of my sled cover.  Also there would have been a few extra ounces from my "polegies" that I put on the Z poles after I weighed all the stuff.

Another edit:  I forgot a couple of other things I took.  Two ipod shuffles plus headphones, and one little tube of Body Glide.  Not sure how much those weigh but somewhere in the range of 5 oz total?


  1. Alicia, What is the brand name of your gloves and sleeping bag; I'd like to check them out. Thanks for your report. And, Congratulations, Miss Speedy!

    1. Gloves or mittens? My gloves are just some cheap kids' liner gloves that I got at Target (technical material, not cotton) because they are the only gloves that have short enough fingers. For mittens, I have the North Face Himalayan mitts. I only planned to wear these at night (I have a cheap pair of Gordini mitts that I wear down to about -15) but it was so cold and windy that I just wore the Himalayan mitts the whole race. And the sleeping bag is by PHD, in the UK. I think it's called the Hispar bag.

  2. Alicia the weight of your gear is impressive. I should have went with you when you left MelGeorges. I had way too much stuff in my sled and way too much food/water that was never used. Next year things will be different :)

    1. I think we would have had a ton of fun if we had gone back out together. Yeah, next time!

  3. Excellent write up Alicia. Your hard work, training, dedication, and past successes and near-successes really paid off. Thanks for sharing all you have learned along the way. That's one thing I love about this Arrowhead business, champs like you, Storkamp, and others freely share their wisdom with others in hopes that others can meet or even better your results. I suppose this type of thing truly is about the journey, and you are a great example for other aspiring Arrowheaders and veterans, men and women alike. Congratulations to you, and Divesh. I was so full of joy to see you both do so well. Thanks again for all of the great information here. Jason

  4. Jason, one of the things that inspired me from 2012 was how you completely nailed it. And that year was harder than this year, I think, or at least I would choose cold with hard snow over warm with soft snow every time. Thanks for taking care of me at the finish, I really appreciated it. See you next time...