The below has been prepared by the Rat Race Race Director, in conjunction with Darren Grigas, who was a test Pilot in Panama with us and ran the route in November 2018 and who has also prepared the training plan for the event.
Anything in BOLD is mandatory kit. There are numerous notes and recommendations to assist you with gear selection. Where a product is linked as a recommendation, it is just that: A recommendation and you are free to use the brands and products you see fit. What works for someone on fit, style or size may well not work for someone else, so please do not take our recommendations as a fait accompli. But please do remember, if the item is listed in BOLD, it is mandatory.
Intro from Darren…
This is an epic adventure of three parts – After turning away from the beautiful Pacific, you’ll spend two sunny days running along country roads, linking villages and towns as you steadily ascend up the side of a dormant volcano towards the aptly named town of Volcán. Then a short jaunt onto the most amazing lodges 2,000m above sea level where you’ll prepare yourself for the jungle. Of course by now you know, we mean the real actual jungle.
For phase 1, the ‘road run’ phase, you can travel light, with your day packs and you usual running gear. That’s the easy bit, the warm-up. But from here on, you have a very different adventure ahead of you as you enter the jungle for a self-sufficient hike. Don’t expect to do much running here, with u to about 15kg of kit on your back at times. Also don’t be surprised to be clocking a few 1-hour miles on the route. You’ll be living, eating, sleeping and dealing with all of your business in the jungle. It happens.
So, pay close attention to the kit lists below….and enjoy a quite unbelievable journey from one side of a country (and a continent!) to another.
Mandatory kit list
Commentary is included on recommended items and some best practice/ advice where relevant. There is a host of information out there about running in hot climates and also about trekking in the jungle; our list constitutes the gear we know you will need, coupled with selections we can recommend that have worked for us out in Panama. Do your homework and choose what you’re happiest with at all stages.
We have split the list into 3 stages and 1 section of ‘gear common to all stages’:
1.) Road Run
4.) Gear common to all stages
1) Road Run
- Cap/hat with neck protection: Protecting your head and neck from the sun is a must. There are several variations but something like either this from My Race Kit or this from Raidlight will do the trick. The removeable neck protection function is useful, although it does not need to be removeable. You’ll want all the shade you can get on this event and this starts with your head. A regular baseball cap or a side-brimmed sunhat will also suffice (you will ned the latter in the jungle anyway, so perhaps buddy up and simply have 1 hat).
- Sunglasses – We advise wrap-around sports sunglasses to give you maximum field of vision and maximum sun protection. These can vary massively in price, but anything with good UV protection will be fine as long as they’re comfortable on your hot sweaty face. Cat 3 protection minimum spec.
Darren: I steer away from spending too much on glasses on these trips as you have a good chance of getting them ruined at some point.
- Buff – Or neck gaiter, neckerchief or bandana
Darren: A buff keeps the sun off your neck and is especially cooler if under the shade of your hat, and you can wet it at water stops too, which is heavenly when you’re part-baked!
Darren: It’s going to be hot and humid, especially at the lower elevations near the coasts. Plus that sun is out all day from early on and it is fierce on the skin. Another from My Race Kit, specially made to cope with extra sweaty runners, Tingerlaat has a good reputation amongst racers. Also pack some sun blocking lip cream like this too
- T-shirt – Generally a loose-fitting lightweight t-shirt (not cotton) is advised. Short or long-sleeved are permitted but our strong advice is long-sleeved and with some element of UV protection built in if you can find it. Raidlight do a good range of such garments.
Darren: Even the right cheap and simple shirt from the local sports store can do the trick, but in contrast to this, during the recce of the Namib, I tried the DNAmic Ultimate Cooling top and bottoms which proved to be fantastic in extreme heat and I can definitely recommend these garments. Anything from Raidlight is usually good, lightweight and well-made and our firm recommendation is to go LONG-SLEEVED. Anything with SPF in the fabric will also stand you in good stead. It’s one less part of the body to worry about sun-damage from if you have garments with SPF built-in.
- Shorts – Whatever you’re most comfortable in to be honest. You can wear compression shorts/tights underneath for extra support if you choose.
- Tights – (Not mandatory). You can wear shorts if you prefer; but if you want to keep the sun off your legs and avoid heat rash, cooling tights are well worth packing, plus the compression also helps with recovery.
- Lightweight waterproof jacket – it can rain and whilst this can be very refreshing and you are never really dry anyway (due to humidity and sweat!), a lightweight waterproof is recommended just to keep you from getting soaked through.
- Socks and at least 1 spare set – Your final sock choice is up to you and can be quite personal. Our strong advice would be a double sock system with a toe sock and a good wicking lightweight running sock over the top.
Ininji liner socks are fantastic. Coupled with something lightweight and breathable and ‘friction-free’ such as the Hilly Monoskin anklet, or the Rat Race merino sock for outer layer – with excellent moisture wicking properties.
Darren: Toe Socks like Ininji, can prevent blistering between toes. These have been fantastic for me and I wouldn’t go to a desert without them now. If toe socks aren’t your thing, then Hilly are a great brand and will sort you out.
- Running shoes – Road or trail are OK but this is predominantly a road run on tarmac and good surfaces, plus a mountain jeep track for the final 10km. The important thing here is to have plenty of support and comfort and to ensure your sizing has enough space for some foot swelling in the heat and to accommodate a double sock system, if that is what you choose.
Darren: Hokas are growing more popular for long distances so would be well worth checking out. The bossman Jim swears by his pair. My jungle-pal Allie Bailey had zero problems with her trusty Altras and would strongly recommend these. Personally I’ve found both Brooks GTS and Saucony Exodus to work great for me over deserts and have been the envy of camp with little to no blistering or rubbing throughout.
Footwear size: Is bigger really better?
You’ll hear advice to go bigger on your shoe size in a hot running environment and some advice tells you to even go as much as two sizes up. We think that is too much. Your feet may well swell, but they won’t swell longer, so perhaps go half a size up, one at most, but the important thing is to choose a shoe with a wide fit and plenty of room in the toe box. Too much space could have adverse effects as your feet rattle and slide around inside and lead to blistering. So, 0.5 – 1 size only on the size increment is our advice. We strongly advise you to attend a physical running shoe shop and try on different brands and models, plus take the advice from guys who know about fit and gait. Do not buy blind from the internet on this one
- Poles – When used properly, poles are a huge benefit on long climbs. This route does proceed gradually upwards and it is punctuated on day 2 with some shirt, sharp hills. But it’s not ‘hilly.’ It is a steady incline from sea level to the continental divide, ascending all the time. It will be your own choice if you use poles for the road sections, but you must definitely take them into the jungle later. Hence it is mandatory kit for the event; not for the road run per se.
Darren: These from Black Diamond were great for me and it looks like Amazon love them too.
- Daypack – You only need a handy day pack as the crew will carry extra supplies while you are running, plus there are lots of little shops along the way. You’ll possibly find the best cold Coke or beer you’ve ever tasted along this route! 15 – 20l is recommended. Although it is up to you – you will need to fit the mandatory kit inside, plus 2l of water, food (min 400 kcal) and spare clothing. It’s entirely up to you.
Darren: Credit where due, Rat Race have developed a really good running vest here which competes well with the top brands. Personally, I’ve been really pleased with the Salomon 12 set (I also have the 5L) both of which have been amazing for several years.
These are the top end of the price range and cheaper packs are available, however, you usually get what you pay for when it comes to cheaper day packs, and I’m more than happy I got my money’s worth with these. So be smart about where and when to save money. There’s space for a bladder in the back as well as two 500ml soft bottles at the front on both the Salomon and the Rat Race one, plus so many pockets for all the things you never realised you’d need or want.
- Waterproof liner or drybag for daybag – Everything gets wet in the tropics. In the jungle it’s next-level moisture but even on the road run, a good waterproofing solution will keep your gear dry and functional.
- Water carrying system – We will ask that you have a MINIMUM carrying capacity of 2 litres on you at any one time. You may carry bladders, plastic ‘hard’ bottles or flex bottles. Soft flex bottles or something like this raidlight (with a straw for easy access and continual sipping) work well. A combo of both systems (flex flasks and bottles) will also work. Bladders are also fine. Anything combination is fine. Provided you can carry 2 litres.
Darren: I’d recommend going with the soft flexi-bottles that come with the Salomon set (or similar, such as the Rat Race ScRUNch, it’s great that they squish away as they empty, instead of large empty rigid bottles with the last of the liquid swishing around.
Some guidance on water issues in hot climates to aid your thinking on water carrying selections:
The current scientific thinking is to DRINK TO THIRST. We’ll have no shortage of water although there will be a personal allowance. You should therefore not concern yourself with running out. More-so think about how and when you are going to drink. Regularity is key here – set up a regime and sip to it. whether it’s three minutes, five or ten it doesn’t matter as long as it’s regular and you sip to thirst. This regularity will prevent slipping into heat injury and just as important it’ll avoid hyponatremia. This is such a simple thing to get right but regularly causes issues in hot, humid events. So keep it simple, drink to thirst within a regime and focus on the run without worrying about hydration.
- Head torch – waterproof to IPX7 standard, minimum 150 lumens + spare batteries or second headtorch
Daren: The Black Diamond 325 is neat and effective, offering red and green light too, which saves blinding your campmates when chatting at night. Don’t forget spare batteries!
- Portable charger – for that phone for selfies! But also for the charging of your GPS device – see below.
Darren: I’ve been using the Anker Powercore 20100 for a few years and it’s been flawless, offering almost 7 full phone charges for an iPhone and five for my Galaxy S8, and two USB ports so you can help out a mate at the same time!
- GPS device – We require that you have a GPS device that is capable if having a GPX file downloaded to it. This can be a watch (See below) or a handheld device. This is an important piece of equipment that will assist you with following the GPS-generated route line on the ground. If you are not familiar with such devices don’t worry – they are easy to use and just like a satnav for people (vs cars). You should practise with your device prior to arrival at the event but we will also assist you on arrival with these GPX files and ensure you know to download them to your device. The key is that is MUST have enough battery life to last a full 15 hr day and you must have the ability to re-charge it (portable charger, see above).
- GPS watch – (Not mandatory). Your GPS device CAN be a watch or it CAN be a handheld. So a watch per-se is not mandatory.
Darren: Imagine sharing a full pan-American coast to coast journey to Strava when you get home! For multi-stage ultras with some days up to 15 + hours long, there are only a few real contenders to keep recording and to also join up the days. The Garmin Fenix 5 is unquestionably one of the best on the market, the price tag is pretty beefy though, so you could look for an older 2nd hand model if you wanted to save a few bucks. I’ve been more than happy with my older Fenix 3HR since about 2014 and it’s not a great deal different to the latest model.
- Compass – This one is more for the jungle than the road, but we will ask that you carry it on the road also. Ideally you won’t need this or you might have a compass built into your watch, but an old-skool physical compass a must have ‘just in case’ your GPS device fails and you need to take a bearing. One like this will do the trick
- Mirror – Not for checking your make-up, but for reflecting the sun to flash for attention/help if you get into trouble. You can get these within expedition first aid kits or buy here
- Whistle – As long as it makes a loud toot, then you can pick one up very cheap. Some backpacks have them built in. That is fine. So it’s an integrated backpack whistle; or a stand-alone one.Pen knife or multitool – any type of leatherman is great. Or a swiss army knife.
- Gaffer tape or electrical tape for unexpected kit repairs.
Top Tip: to prevent you having to carry a full roll of duct tape, use a hotel key card or credit card-sized item and wrap the tape around it.
We will provide you with Pit Stop support along the route. We ask that you maintain some emergency rations on you at all times. As a minimum, 400kcal. This equates to 4 gels or similar energy bars products.
You may also want to take your own foodstuffs and/ or sports nutrition as you know what works best for you and you may have a system you are comfortable with, or simply want some of your own preferred scooby snacks. Given we are transporting an overnight bag for you, there is the facility for this to be carried for you camp-to-camp and you top up with what you need prior to each stage.
- You’ll need to keep your energy up for hours on end so whatever works best for you, snack bars with oats and seeds provide good carb energy, I can honestly say the Rat Race Pit Stop Bars are great, and pack a lot of energy into a few easy bites.
- Include electrolytes in the mix as you’ll lose a lot of salts through sweating, I personally like to add powders to one of my water bottles so I get a constant top-up to prevent hitting a wall, SIS powders are always very good.
- Stash your favourite salty/savoury items, peanuts, gels and some sweets for a nice sugary hit when you need it.
- Salt tablets or Sticks – To be clear, these are mandatory kit.
Darren: We lose a lot of essential salts through sweat and sweating is something we do a lot in the desert. As well as the powders, gels and snacks, it’s handy to have an extra dose of salts to avoid burning out and dehydrating. These salt capsules are a sure way to keep topped up and moving forwards.
Here’s some facts about where we are going:
- It’s going to be hot, humid, with lots of shade but still very hot.
- Your feet will get wet, and they’re likely to be wet all day, every day. You’ll be crossing rivers and streams so much that you won’t even flinch after the 58th So, look after those tootsies. And accept those feet are getting wet from early. On.
- The jungle and everything in it will try to scratch you, bite you, trip you up. There are lots of sticky-outy bits, sharp bits and razor-sharp bits too. So you need to keep your body covered and tread very carefully.
- Good steady going, poles for support and a robust approach to clothing and kit management will stand you in good shape for success here
Here’s the long jungle list. Please read carefully.
Please note: This is on top of/instead what you’ll use for the road sections. Where the items are the same, clearly you can use the same equipment and/ or clothing.
- Jungle boots – A hiking boot will do the job, but what you really need are drainage holes for the water to drain out of the boots. You also need to prevent debris getting in. So our strong advice is to select a jungle boot. There are plenty on the market. Please DO NOT attempt this with trail running shoes. We will not allow you to commence the stage in such footwear.
Darren: The Salomon Jungle Ultras were brilliant for me and Allie throughout the crossing, but you couldn’t get a more suitably named boot than the Altberg Panama Jungle Boot. Our cameraman and running legend James Appleton didn’t slip once across an entire country; that’s handy when carrying a lot of expensive kit. Be sure to get them with the Panama ‘non-clog’ Sole and not the Micro-sole which will have less grip. Bossman Jim used the Under Armour Desert RAT, which also acquitted itself well.
- Get Mosquito-proof – You must treat your clothing in advance with a spray on repellent, or buy clothing which is already impregnated like Craghoppers Nozilife, which is a range of great hiking gear with repellent permanently woven into the fabric. You must also treat your hammock with this to prevent access by critters at night, so whether you go for the pre-impregnated clothing purchases or the spray, you will need spray for the hammock amyway
- Insect repellent. You can use DEET or DEET-free. DEET does work. Just sayin’
- Fleece or synthetic jacket – this is just an extra mid-layer to keep snug if it cools in the evenings. At the higher elevations in the cloud forest, it does in fact cool a little at night. After hard, havy days being drenched to the bone, you will want a nice dry upper at night to relax in and recharge.
- Hat (lightweight with back flap if possible to keep the sun and bugs off) – the same hat you had on the road sections should be fine – or a nice Boonie hat will do nicely
- Long sleeve Shirt– Loose fitting. Our advice would be to take 2 in fact so you can change half way through the jungle phase. Your shirt will get filthy. It is fine to use the same one throughout, but our advice is two for comfort. There are plenty of options on the market, many with built-in SPF and permethrin, too. See the Nozilife range mentioned above
- Long Trousers– comfy and loose-fitting. Multiple pockets are useful for various snacks and other stashable items
- Socks (a dry pair to put on each day) – try and get longer socks you can roll over the top of your boots to keep the creepies out of your boots. Lightweight and breathable are good. There are plenty of options on the market. Bridgedale make some cracking socks for hot environments. There is also our very own Rat Race Merino socks – with superb moisture wicking, quick drying qualities. We would say that, but we are told it’s true!
- Thick or snake-proof gaiters– snakes will usually hide long before you could ever get close so you’re unlikely to encounter one, but just in case you startle a wriggler that’s busy sleeping and it goes for your lower limbs (as it is likely to be on the ground, camouflaged and you will tread on it), you’ll feel more confident and be more bite-proof with a pair of these. There are some very expensive options like these from Turtleskin or a little cheaper from Sea to Summit – something thick enough to withstand a puncture but light enough not to boil your calves and lower legs. Most mountain gaiters will suffice.
You could cut the feet off a pair of cheap wellies and wear the tops over your jungle boots. One of our Test Pilot group did this. It was simple genius and cost about $10 vs the way more expensive gaiters! The local guides tend to wear wellies to travel in the jungle anyway. We would not recommend this but the principle of having a fully-sealed system which keeps water out is clearly a massive bonus in this terrain.
- Underwear – spare, clean dry undies will be nice to change into at the end of each day, you’ll probably be waist deep in water at some point. We would recommend synthetic wicking underwear such as runderwear.
- Ultralight rain shell – True to its name, it is known to rain in the rainforest. A lot! A waterproof jacket is something you’re likely to already have, so a fancy hiking one or a simple pac-a-mac could do.
- A multi-use Poncho could cover both you and your pack – Feel unphased by the rains no matter how heavy they fall.
CAMP & NIGHT-TIME KIT
- Jungle Hammock – Hennessey are great, (you’ll definitely need the rain cover too). There will be a further lengthier section on hammocks uploaded in due course
- Hammock Hex Tarp – It’s been known to rain in the rainforest. There will be a further wider section uploaded on hammocks in due course
- Camp shorts or light trousers to ensure some dry clothes when you need them most
- Camp towel / sarong
- Sandals or crocs. You’ll want to get your wet boots and socks off in camp and let those feet dry out and breathe for a few hours. Or you could use these: Sealskins socks. They act just like sandals and you can walk around camp in them – not for day use though as they will fill with water and won’t drain.
Darren: I forgot to pack these luxuries and had to fashion some footbags from a groundsheet and duct tape; eat your heart our Bear Grylls!
- Paracord 4 to 6 segments, each 1.5 m long – always handy for jungle mishaps and to act as extra guy lines for your hammock and/ or tarp
- Sleep clothes (lightweight top and bottom (or pyjamas) & socks – or if you have space in your bag, get creative and blend in (Joke)! These garments are important. You do not want to sleep in your wet clothes as that will get old, fast. Likewise it does get a bit chilly at night in the higher elevations so this gear will allow you a comfy night’s sleep, when paired with a decent lightweight sleeping bag (See below)
- Sleeping bag (ultralight rated to 10°C).
Darren: Prices range greatly with sleeping bags, and there’s always a trade-off with warmth, price and weight. if you want something cheaper that should do the trick, then this 3-4 season mummy bag has a lot of great reviews and is a bargain price so you hopefully can’t go too far wrong. Further up the price bracket (but not close to the top) and no doubt superior quality is this Hyke & Byke bag. If you want top-end and unbelievably small and light, this could be for you. At night the temperatures stay fairly mild. As you’re in a hammock, it’s important to get a sleeping mat under your back to keep any chill off.
- Sleeping pad (ultralight, inflatable) – lay on this inside your hammock to keep the cold off your back – Alternatively you could get a hammock underquilt which does a similar job if it fits correctly.
Darren: Underquilt fit is important so make sure you use compatible gear. The a set-ups we used on our recce trip were great for the majority of us, whereas Allie’s underquilt slipped down, leaving her pretty cold a couple of nights.
Snacks & Meals
- Snacks: You should take enough snacks for regular eating over 4 days in the jungle. These can be the same types of things you used on the road run stages – energy bars, gels, sweets and candies, savoury snacks such as chips; plus protein-rich dried meat sources and the like (dried sausage etc)
- Meals: Three Expedition meals per day must be taken: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. That is 12 in total. Plus 1 days’s reserve/ spare. That is 15 in total. You can select ready-to-eat ‘wet meals’ or freeze-dried meals. Or a combination. We will have filtered water available in camp for you to boil and mix with freeze-dried meals. During the day, it is recommended you wat ready-to-eat supplies as boiling water whilst on the trail is possible, but will require you to filter and then get your stove out and boil. Rat Race have a 15% discount with expeditionmeals.com for thoe wishing to purchase good quality freeze-dried provisions.
Darren: Although heavier than freeze-dried ones, wet meals are at least ready to eat cold without faffing about with jungle cooking; handy if you want a quick cold Spag Bol and get the calories right in.. Both wet and dry will be nice hot yummy meals with the addition of boiling water and will taste amazing. It’s incredible what can be produced from a foil bag! On the recce trip we had the Wayfayrer meals which were good value and tasted great. Keep it varied on your menu so you can look forward to your favourite dish each time. You’ll need the energy!
- Backpack 50 – 70L – be sure you can fit everything in this before the event. Also remember this: Most items that get taken into the jungle get pretty beaten up – there are lots of things to catch fabrics on. Durability is therefore key. Please don’t buy something new and expect it to come back unscathed! It will have a ‘lived-in’ feel pretty quickly…!
- Personal stove for boiling water (if using freeze-dried meals). Alcohol fuel can be sourced in Panama (and we will have it on sale pre-event) but camping gas canisters cannot. Neither can white spirit. So please bring a stove THAT IS CAPABLE OF BURNING ALCOHOL. Some stove advice can be found here.
- Bottle for stove fuel.
- Backpack waterproof liner and or cover. Sized correctly for your backpack
- Waterproof phone case
- Carabinerto attach items to the outside of your bag. Also useful for hanging things inside/ outside you hammock
- Dry bags, small to medium. Tip top: Categorise your kit into coloured bags so it’s easy to find, identify and sort everything
- Ear plugs – the jungle orchestra comes alive at night. Light sleepers beware!
- Pen knife / Swiss Army knife or multitool
- Money in small bills
- Plastic or metal bowl and cup
- Toilet paper
- Spork or eating utensil
- Trekking poles – you’ve not climbed hills until you’ve climbed across Panama – you’ll want these! As mentioned above for the roads, these mid-range poles from Black Diamond were great, lightweight and easy to stash. We found that cheaper poles got a little mangled after a couple of falls, but it was less of a painful loss financially at least. Whichever you get, be sure to have them set up with the nice pointy tips on and not the leisurely walking stubs.
- Water bladder 2-3L (capacity Camelbak or Platypus, etc). Ideally you would pair this with a backpack that fits the bladder in and allows the hose to be accessible at all times whilst wearing the backpack
- Water filtration system – A personal system such as the sawyer or the lifestraw. This is absolutely essential. There is no shortage of water in the jungle but you must filter it every time to prevent contamination from viruses, parasites and other nasties.
Darren: This wonderful piece of kit introduced to me by Jim Mee, bossman at Rat Race and it was absolutely brilliant. DO GET ONE OF THESE! You can drink straight from the bottle, or top up your bladder repeatedly. There are a raft of fittings that allow you to pair the Sawyer to bottles, bladders, drink direct etc.
- Water mouthpiece cap– For bladders or bottles. You don’t want to be sipping wildlife out of your bottles.
- Water bottle (500 ml/ 750ml/ 1000ml – optional). – If you don’t just want your bladder and want a bottle too, you’ll be topping up from streams, so get a good water filter bottle such this from Lifestraw. This system provides maximum flexibility between max carrying capacity (bladder) and the bottle that provides the ability to fill up and drink on the go
- Whistle– the jungle is dense, and you can lose sight of others within a few meters.
- Zip-top bags– always handy to keep snacks or medication dry and accessible
3) Packraft stage
The good news here is that you really don’t need anything extra. Your jungle sandals will do for footwear. You can wear the same clothing you have worn in the jungle. Your buoyancy aid, paddle and packraft will be provided.
4) Gear common to all stages
The main issue here, is that your feet will be wet, pretty much all day, every day. Compeed blister plasters are brilliant and can be a great help to prevent blister in dry conditions. In the wet however, they can eventually slide off your feet, but don’t rule them out completely. They will do a job for a time. Clearly though, prevention is better than cure. The crucial thing here is getting your feet dried out each evening. That’s where the alcohol rub listed below in the medical section can be a cheap and effective game changer. It really is the single-most effective thing to dry out manky feet. This advice covers running on the roads and the footcare required in the jungle, too. Of course, the challenge will be different for each stage (and you may also need to consider blisters and hot-spots on your hands for the packraft stage) but the items listed here and the way in which you apply treatments are consistent across all stages.
We have not laid out a mandatory ‘kit’ other than to say, you need a mandatory blister and foot care kit. Decisions such as whether you want to tape toes and ‘hot spots’ to prevent blisters in advance; or whether you treat blisters if/when they occur is personal and entirely up to you. Each school of thought has its merit. We have laid out some guidance and advice below, which we hope you find useful. Again, this is all from personal experience of this particular environment.
General footcare advice – taping
Food taping. For those wanting to do this, it’s worth knowing how to tape up well; and to have the right kit for it. Our recommendation is Rory Coleman’s method here. For this, you will need:
- Hapla Band
- Pen knife with scissors
- Benzoin Tincture – this hardens the skin so helps prevent and dry out blisters
- Plus, some iodine wipes and sterile blades/needles if you want to lance your blisters. (You might get these in your first aid kit, although you can also use the tiny scissors on a swiss army knife after a quick wipe with some alcohol.)
Darren: If you have known problem areas, I’d strongly recommend preventative measures and covering them before you start. Compeed blister plasters are brilliant, and whilst you can find similar from other brands like Scholl and (in the UK) Boots’ own (or other drugstores), I find that these lead the way in my experience. Of course, these may work better on the road run than in the jungle, where even the hardy compeeds have a finite lifespan, as they do eventually slide off wet feet.
General footcare advice – other products
- Silicon lube – For the ultimate anti-blister regimen, some people lubricate feet with this in the morning prior to putting on their socks. This product is silicon based so won’t wear off.
- Rubbing alcohol – Take this to dry feet and blisters out at the end of the day. It is better than popping the blisters, which can lead to infection. There is no better way to dry feet that using rubbing alcohol.
- Another tape recommendation, to tape problem toes and to tape over blisters to keep them sterile and prevent infection. Top tip: Put a plaster on underneath.
The ‘foot bag’
Prepare yourself a ‘foot bag’ with everything you need in it and keep it separate to other items and to your general med kit. Items to consider including, include…
- Compeeds or other blister plaster pads
- General plasters – various sizes
- KT (Kinesiology) Tape – for taping feet and for taping other joints
- Hypafix tape – ideal for covering blisters. Hypoallergenic and wheras KT tape won’t hold feet when wet, hypafix tape will
- Rubbing alcohol (70% alcohol)
- Sterile needle or scalpel blade
You will require a medical kit. We will make some mandatory stipulations a little closer to the time, but here are some items to consider:
- Sudocrem – to prevent or treat chaffing in the most inconvenient areas and promote healing of cuts and scrapes
- Vaseline or other anti-chafe product, like bodyglide
- Blister pack as detailed above – SEPARATE from med kit
- Personal First Aid kit to include adhesive dressing, steristrips and triangular bandage as a minimum. Find a decent small personal med kit and squeeze in some of the other things on this list to keep it all together in one bag
- Antiseptic cream and/ or wipes
- Hand sanitiser – Personal hygiene is of paramount importance when you’ve gone remote. A simple bug can bring everyone down, do keep the handy, handy!
- Alcohol rub for your feet from a bottle or as wipes, this can be a life saver and really sort your feet out at the end of each day. As mentioned in blister care, above
- Insect repellents for skin and spray for clothing is mandatory and are mentioned above already in the jungle section. We would recommend heavy-duty DEET products for maximum repellency. It’s nasty stuff but it works.
- Immunisations. More info to follow on recommended jabs for Panama and other supporting info on Malaria and other tropical diseases.
- Personal medication as required – make sure you have it all on you. You will be asked to disclose medical history to our medics nearer the time so they understand any requirements you have in this respect
Other mandatory kit
- Toothpaste & brush – all those gels and sugary snacks will leave your teeth feeling grim
- Personal toiletries inc wet wipes and sanitary towels if applicable
- Holdall or duffel for us to transport your gear between locations (separate from your jungle rucksack)
- Casual clothing for transit and overnights
- Towel – travel micro towel Is ideal
- Small drybag/s – for electronics. The constantly wet conditions and humidity of the tropics can compromise the effectiveness of your equipment. Ke§ep ‘em dry!
Other recommended kit and optional items (non mandatory)
- Phone/Camera – You’ll be repeatedly amazed by the views and wildlife, so it’s likely your phone won’t stay in your pocket for long
- General trekking or travel trousers
- Robust outdoor footwear are recommended just given the type of destination (your running footwear are fine if you do not wish to bring another pair of shoes)
- Reading material
- International plug adaptor
- Rubber bands (a handful)
- Sewing / Repair kit (needle and thread)
- Tupperware container
- Water purifying tablets
- Waterproof wallet
- Zip ties – great for many makeshift fixes
- Lip balm
Optional Medical Items
- Clotrimazole antifungal drops
- Barrier cream like Lanolin – ideal for assisting healing in hard-to-reach places under constant contact (like chafing down-below!)
- Eye and Ear drops (antibiotics)
- New Skin liquid plasters
- Sleeping pills – if these work for you and if you are used to taking them; you’ll need your sleep.
5) Hammock guidance
In the jungle we use hammocks all the time. There are many advantages to the hammock and the sleeping position, when set up well, can be extremely comfortable. Like any kit though, it is important to set it up well. And at 2700m altitude, whilst you are in the tropics, the nights can get cold, so insulation is also an important consideration here that you may not have considered until now.
In respect of the latter, a combination of Topquilt and Underquilt can provide a very snug sleep, but it is quite the investment and ultimately, a good sleeping pad like a Therm-a-rest self inflatable pad underneath you; and a light sleeping bag on top, will also do the job and give plenty of insulation. Closed cell foam pads are also Ok, but they are bulkier to carry than the self-inflatable ones.
Tarps are important. This is the sheet which goes over a hammock and keeps the rain off. Down in the lowland jungles you can get away with a minimal diamond-shape tarp because there is hardly any wind; but up in the mountains it can get fairly windy and drive the rain can come in sideways, which could potentially get the hammock wet. So tarp selection is important and for this event, a decent and substantial tarp is important.
You will therefore need a good tarp and this means you will also need a ridgeline, which is the simple cord that goes between trees over the hammock upon which you can hang your tarp, making it appear like a pitched roof.
The ridgeline forms part of what is called the ‘suspension system,’ which are the various cords, straps and other rigging items which ‘suspend’ the hammock and its component parts from the tress that it bridges between. Whilst you can freestyle your own suspension systems and get all technical and fandangly, it is recommended to go with the ‘standard’ suspension system offered with a hammock when you purchase it; as this invariably will be fit for purpose and suitable for your needs on this event.
One of the most ubiquitous camping hammocks out there is the Hennessy Hammock, www.hennessyhammock.com, which comes in a variety of models, sizes and weight ratings. In the jungle they’re great, but the stock tarp is minimal. If buying a Hennessey, we would advise an upgrade to a ‘Hex’ tarp, or double up with two of the stock tarps.
Asymmetric vs Symmetric hammocks
Don’t worry about it.
You will need one. Some hammocks have them built in. Some go over the hammock. Either is fine, provided that a full bug net is used. You don’t want any critters disturbing your sleep.
Models of hammock
In terms of specific models, lets start by talking Hennessey. These are the ‘go-to’ brand for many folk and they are a workhorse of the jungle hammock market.
- For small people (say 1.65m and under 90 Kg) the Hennessy Hyperlite Asym Zip is a good choice.
- For bigger people the Hennessy Explorer Ultralite Zip is superb!
You can’t really tell the difference by looking at the pictures on the website, but if you read the specs, then you’ll know what the differences are, especially when it comes to weight of the hammock, the weight capacity and the length of the hammock.
One ‘hack’ for Hennessey gear would be to also get yourself a pair of load-bearing carabiners. The lightest you can get, the better of course. These are not mandatory, but would ease the need of tying the inconvenient Hennessy knot. If you want to shave some grams, then forget the carabiners and get acquainted with some useful knots instead!
There are of course plenty of other brands that make hammocks. In the UK for example, you can check out UK Hammocks, which are at the leading edge of the cottage hammock industry.
There is also Dutchware, which is a kickstarter-funded online business that knock out some incredible products in all manner of colours and with some proprietary features. Check out their Chameleon and ‘build’ your perfect hammock.
Ridge Outdoor is another hammock brand, which is cheaper; and the suspension is fool-proof. The price may indicate that these models are not going to last forever, but the reviews we have seen point to the fact that they should be able to last at least a few long expeditions.
Aside from a hammock, which will give you comfort above the wet ground; the tarp, which is going to protect you from the rain; and the sleeping bag or quilt which is going to give you warmth, you’ll need to protect your back from the cold. The air that circulates around the hammock is going to steal your body warmth by convection. A sleeping bag alone doesn’t work all that well because the insulation needs a bit of loft in order to work, and the weight of your body compresses the loft in a sleeping bag. So as wirh a bed, you need something beneath you to trap that air and keep you from the cold.
The best way to go about this is with an underquilt. This is usually a hammock-model-specific piece of equipment – (i.e. it is provided for a specificed model, as it fits to that model). So those of you who may be borrowing hammocks from other people, perhaps will not want to invest in something so specific.
But if you think you might want to go down this route, here’s a example of an underquilt which you can actually convert into a sleeping bag for ground sleeping.
Another brand that can be recommended is Arrowhead Equipment, which is a cottage manufacturer. Their underquilts are synthetic (most others are made out of goose down which doesn’t agree with damp environments), and these guys also make partial underquilts, which cover most of the body, from the shoulders down to the calves, which saves some weight, compared to the full-length ones.
We actually have an exclusive 15% discount code on all of Arrowhead’s products for Rat Racers. For those keep to save some pennies, the recommended ‘go-to’ Arrowhead Underquilt is called the Jarbridge. It’s the one our chief guide uses in the cooler regions of Panama and was used by team members and our head guide on last year’s recce. So it is highly recommended.
Here it is. For cold sleepers this UQ can be used in combination with a ‘sit pad,’ (a small closed foam piece of basic padding) which they can slide under their lower legs and feet to insulate them. The combination of partial UQ / sit pad saves a lot of weight compared to a full-length UQ, and the pad can be used during the day to sit on wet or filthy places. Warm sleepers can do without the pad.
The discount code is RatRacePanama, with no spaces. This code is good for any of the Arrowhead Equipment products, and they make great gear. Their tarps are awesome too. Their hammocks are great, but unfortunately they don’t make them with a fully integrated bugnet. They only have a partial bugnet that you can install or detach, but we don’t recommend that, because it only protects the head down to the chest area leaving the rest of the body exposed. The logic behind it is that your top quilt or sleeping bag is going to protect you from mosquito bites down by your belly and legs; and that’s true. The thing about the tropical jungle is that we have other types of flying creatures besides mosquitoes, so you don’t want something landing in your hammock and working its way under your insulation, or getting trapped in the fabrics until the next night.
Anyway, the delate on partial or full UQ is down to personal choice and whether you run hot or cold as a sleeper. You may not know. No worries. But if you do know, for example we could suggest something like the Outdoor Vitals model, which is a full-length UQ, to cold sleepers and you may use this at all camps in the event. Whereas if you ‘sleep warm’ you may only end up using the full-length underquilt at the higher camps earlier in the jungle phase. Then when we descend to lower elevations for the final 2 nights, it may be too warm for you. You may therefore want something like the Arrowhead partial underquilt, as that will be fine on warmth and you will appreciate carrying less weight.
There is another perfectly reasonable way to go about the insulation issue, which is with a sleeping pad. For the temperatures that we’re likely to find on this trip (down to around 10°C) any pad will work. However, some of them are bulkier than others and will have trouble fitting inside your rucksack, or certainly cannibalising a lot of space in the bag. In drier places and drier conditions, people get away with strapping the pad onto the outside of the pack, but in the jungle you don’t want to do that because a) it will get wet and dirty, and b) it might get ripped or punctured by the jungle vegetation. So a sleeping pad does need to be stored inside your backpack. Which means its packed-down size is a key consideration.
Most of the closed-cell foam pads on the market are bulky and hard to pack into a small roll that can fit in your rucksack. So lets dismiss those here. That leaves us really with self-inflating pads. We recommend pads similar to the Thermarest Prolite. The brand doesn’t really matter. What we like about this pad is that it’s not bulky but also it doesn’t slip too easily under you when it’s in your hammock. That, too, is important. All of these marginal gains are setting you up for a very comfy night, vs compromises on comfort. Trust us, after 4 nights of this, you will not thank us or yourselves for any compromises on comfort!
There are other pads out there that are ultralight, like the Neo Air, but unfortunately they’re also very slippery when deployed underneath you in sleeping position. If you choose this type of pad, when opened inside a hammock, you’re going to be wrestling with it all night.
If you want to go cheap and light, this is a model to consider.
It’s an ultralight pad. Our chief jungle guide has one of these, but does not use it very often because he prefers the underquilt, but he is confident that the pad does the job. He cuts his in half, to position the two halves in the hammock to form a “T” shape, so that the horizontal part covers the back and shoulders. Sure, there’s some wrestling there, but the pad is cheap, and the two halves can be rolled, then folded to fit inside small areas inside the rucksack
If you’re a cold sleeper, you might also want to consider a strip of foam for each of your shoulders and arms, because the pad is only going to cover your back, not the sides. The foam will help insulate in these key touch points.
Bottom line on insulation…
In our opinion the pad is Ok, but the underquilt is much better. If you can manage to get one of these; and if you think will have a use for it in the future, go with that. Otherwise, the pad will get you through the nights fine on this trip.
Also, let’s keep in mind that the lower we go in elevation, the less insulation and more ventilation we’re going to need. As we progress on the jungle trekking phase, that will happen. We will start high and will end up low. By the time we reach the river, we will be low enough that it is far warmer at night than when we set out 4 days before.
Double vs single layered hammocks
‘Double-layered’ hammocks help you secure the pad better between the layers, but they are heavier and bulkier (see specs on their respective websites). The double-layer is effectively a ‘pocket’ into which you can stuff your sleeping mat or underquilt. Double-layered hammocks can also handle heavier people.
Single-layered hammocks are more lightweight, you can use them with a pad, but you have to wrestle with it a bit every time you get into the hammock. Eventually you might want to move on from a pad to an underquilt. But single layered are fine. It’s personal choice, convenience and budget at this level.
Tarps will need guylines on all 4 corners, and not just the sides. You want to be able to tie the tarp directly to the trees and not to the hammock suspension system.
Please make sure to bring extra segments of lanyard or paracord. I would say 1.5 metres per segment should be plenty and a minimum of 4 segments – pre-cut and with the ends sealed. It’s easier to make the segments and burn the ends (to avoid fraying or unravelling) at home than to bring a whole spool of it and cut in the jungle. These lines help you to guy out tarps, tweak suspension and just generally allow you some contingency when considering your hammock set-up.