There are several packs out there (Osprey, OMM, Gregory, Go-Lite, Gossamer Gear, Terra Nova) that work well. Remember, apart from your running shoes, this is probably the most important piece of equipment that you’ll bring with you, so it should be very comfortable on your back! Ideally, you will want to try on the pack and make sure it fits properly.
Since everyone is built differently, you will have to find the one that works best for you, taking into consideration the amount of food, clothing, supplies, etc. that you will be trying to squeeze into the pack on the first day. (Don’t forget that the contents of your pack will decrease each day as you consume your food so, you will want to make sure that the pack has the ability to compress easily.)
Some of the packs mentioned above have a bladder (Camelback type) water system option. While this is nice to have, you should keep in mind that it is sometimes a challenge to remove and replace these bladders during the actual race. When your pack is loaded it can be a burden to re-pack a bladder full of water! We tend to prefer water bottles attached to the shoulder straps (or waist belts) on our packs. It’s usually easier to refill a bottle at the aid stations, and easier to monitor water levels, too. Again, this is comes down to personal preference, so experiment as much as possible before April.
The most important piece of equipment you will have for the race! You should find a pair of shoes that work well for your particular running style and provide a good, comfortable fit. (We try to avoid Gore-Tex shoes because your feet will most likely overheat and form blisters very quickly.) Some competitors like to use shoes that are two sizes larger than normal, but we tend to prefer going up one size (US or UK sizing) as long as you have enough room in the toe box. Your feet will most likely swell in the heat, but they will not grow in length! This is one area that is difficult to prepare for. It’s difficult to experiment with the shoes because you don’t know how your feet will respond to the long miles and incredible heat. So, go with what you think will work best.
Which type of running shoe should I wear?
Trail shoes or road shoes? The terrain is quite rocky and unstable in many spots, but trail shoes are not required. (The usual race winners, the Ahansal brothers, wear road shoes but they are used to running on that terrain.) So, we suggest that you wear what works best for you, but highly recommend some type of gaiter system.
Gaiters are a good investment as well. We suggest choosing a pair and testing them out on your training runs. If you choose to purchase a pair from a store, we suggest you use ones that come above the ankle and are tight-woven in order to keep out as much sand as possible. The better you care for your feet during the event, the happier you’ll be as the days go by. While there is sand to contest with on the “dune day,” you will not be running through deep sand all the time. The terrain will be mostly mixed … rocks, dried up riverbeds, salt flats and gravel. We do have a great seamstress in our town who can ‘customize’ some gaiters to your running shoes. The cost is around $75-$80 per pair, but everyone who used this system last year came away with only one or two blisters. We highly recommend this service … please ask Jay for more details.
A good, lightweight sleeping bag is an essential piece of equipment for the MDS. Temperatures will be well over 100F during the day, but they can drop to around 30F at night. In our experience, lows around 40F are the norm, however. Please keep in mind that temperature ratings on different sleeping bags vary from company to company, and from person to person. Lightweight (around 1lb) is best because you have to carry the bag in your pack while running, but you might sacrifice warmth for the weight. There are several great bags out there … Western Mountaineering, Marmot, Montbell, PHD, etc. Our favorite is the Western Mountaineering Highlite. With so many options, you should be fine with any bag that provides comfort to 30F.
Do we need Sand Goggles? Can we buy them there?
Goggles are not required for the event, but they do come in handy on those extra windy days when the sand is whipping around. You should be able to get by with a pair of ‘wrap-around’ sunglasses that have a snug fit. If you do wish to purchase goggles, they are usually for sale at the pre-race bivouac site. We like to use sunglasses made by Wiley-X as they have a foam gasket to keep out the sand. Additionally, Wiley-X offers a Light Adjusting lens option, which comes in handy if there is sandstorm at night.
Do we have access to computer/Internet out in the race?
Yes, at the end of each stage there is Internet access at the bivouac. The race organizers provide this service and every competitor is allowed to send one email each day.
What about Suitcases?
I see that we can take a small bag with us to the bivouac area that the race officials will be responsible for and bring to the finish line. What about a bigger suitcase? Can we leave that at the hotel in Ouarzazate?
While it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be able to leave a suitcase at the pre-race hotel, we haven’t had any problems in the past. If you are uncomfortable leaving a suitcase behind in Ouarzazate, the organizers do transport your extra bag from the bivouac to the hotel, and we have never had a problem with luggage being lost. We suggest that you have a good lock for your bag(s) regardless of where you leave them.
What city do we fly into/out of in Morocco?
We rendezvous in Ouarzazate (OZZ) Morocco before the race and then travel by bus to the first bivouac (campsite). After the race we are transported, by bus, back to Ouarzazate and assigned a hotel room, which is shared with another competitor. (If you wish to share with a certain person, you can provide us with a name on your registration documents.)
Do I need an entry visa to enter Morocco?
Residents of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK do not need to obtain a visa to enter Morocco. To find out if the passport you hold requires an entry visa, please CLICK HERE. There is no departure tax in Morocco.
What currency is used in Morocco?
The official currency of Morocco is the Dirham, but the Euro is widely accepted. Traveler’s Checks can be difficult to cash once in Morocco, but ATMs/Bankcard machines can be found in larger cities (like Ouarzazate).
Do I need to carry my passport with me during the event?
Yes, you need to carry your passport with you during the race (in case you need to depart due to an emergency).
Do I need to bring food to the pre-race bivouac?
No, meals are provided during our stay at the pre-race bivouac (Friday dinner, Saturday breakfast, lunch and dinner). However, you might not like the selections provided so it is a good idea to have some extra snacks with you out there.
Is boiling water provided at the campsites?
No, boiling water is not provided after the race starts, although it usually is quite warm. You will be given a minimum of 9 liters of water per day… and if you wish to heat it you will need to bring a stove.
What type of stove should I bring?
We don’t use a cook stove, so you are on your own here. (We put our dehydrated meals in the sun and cook them that way.) Please keep in mind that most fuels are not allowed on aircraft, either in checked or carry on luggage. Fuel tablets can be purchased from the darbaroud.com website and picked up during race check-in once in Morocco.
Can I recharge batteries at the campsites?
NO! Again, you must be self sufficient for the week… and it most likely would not be a pretty sight if 900 people wanted to charge batteries after each stage.
Do I need to know how to read a compass?
You should have a basic understanding of how to read a compass. However, about 95% of the course is typically well marked… and numerous footprints (and people) heading in the same direction are usually good signs that you’re on course. Here is a good link if you want to brush up on your compass knowledge: www.learn-orienteering.org/old/lesson1.html.
Is it better to carry water bottles or a hydration bladder (Camelback) for the race?
We prefer to carry water bottles for many reasons… here are a few: bottles are easier to fill at the checkpoints, bottles are easier to clean, easier to access and easier to mix drinks in. Additionally, you can run with a sports drink in one bottle and plain water in another (as it’s usually better to drink water if your stomach becomes upset) and it’s easier to monitor the fluid levels in the bottles. Plus, you usually do not have to remove your pack to access the water bottles.
What should I do if I wear contact lenses?
We suggest that you wear prescription sunglasses (like the Wiley-X mentioned above) and bring along your regular eyeglasses. Why… ? Because you will most likely encounter a sand storm every day in the Sahara and the amount of sand that gets into your eyes (and everywhere else) is incredible! That, and the dry air, make it problematic for keeping the contacts moist and clean. However, with that being said, some folks do bring a pair of disposable contacts for each day and use ‘wrap-around’™ sunglasses or sand goggles to keep the sand out of their eyes. A problem with that is, if the sand is blowing night, you also need to have a set of clear lenses for the glasses/goggles. (This information is from past participants who usually wear contacts.)