Stage Race Packing: Essentials, Extras and Extraneous
I recently headed to Trans-Sylvania Epic to do some reporting, and some serious training of my own while athletes were on course. Of course, I both overpacked and underpacked, but I’m getting better! Thanks to short trips and a long 5 months on the road, I’m starting to come up with a list of what I truly need. But this one is a little more targeted. If you’re heading to any kind of stage race/camping trip, check out my list of what I realized—as a racer/participant/spectator—I really needed to make it through the week happily. [Note: this is by NO means a comprehensive packing list, it’s more the “hmm” items that you might not think of.]
Our situation at Trans-Sylvania Epic, about 30 minutes from State College, Pennsylvania, was a bit unique. The race is centered around a Boy Scout camp, and we had a “rural cabin” setup. What we ended up doing was leaving our stuff in the cabin to keep it dry/secure and take advantage of the table so we could sit to work and charge phones, but we slept out in a tent. Breakfast and dinner were served in a mess hall, but no lunch. There were communal showers, and rural outhouses scattered around the campground, but real flush toilets in the mess hall and shower area. (There are also fancier cabins with kitchens/bathrooms, if you’re not much of a camper but still want the TSE experience!)
- Can opener and eating utensils: Sure, there’s food there. But you never know when you’ll need that bonus can of beans that you brought with you, or need a midnight snack. Having your own eating utensils is a huge advantage when you’re starving post-stage and just want to eat that damn can of soup.
- Flipflops and drainable shower container: You’re walking where a bunch of other sweaty athletes, some with athlete’s foot, others with other gross “stuff” are walking. You want flip flops when you shower. Trust me. And a drainable shower container for your shampoo, loofah, whatever, is a good way to keep bacteria at bay—stuff gets soggy in a shower bag, so you want somewhere it can dry out every day.
- Pre-wet Wipes: for your bike and your body! I love Cat’s Tongue wipes for getting grease off my bike/self, but I also make sure I have some baby wipes for quick post-stage cleanups when I can’t get to the shower right away.
- Sunscreen: Obvious, but don’t forget it, especially if you’re in a fairly remote location. At TSEpic, we’re out in the woods and it would be a bit of a drive to get anywhere, so we tried to not leave camp unless necessary.
- Surge protector: Between a thunderstorm that knocked out power and sparked outlets to just having one outlet for 10 people, it was awesome having a surge protector so we could power everything at once. If you’re really roughing it, stay tuned, since I’m also looking into some of those portable solar generators for more rustic trips.
- Books! Stage races can mean a lot of free time, and if you’re used to surfing the web or watching TV, you may find yourself at a disadvantage at night. I loved having my Kindle Fire, since it lit up so as it got dark I could still read, and I use my public library’s digital lending obsessively. Definitely ask your local library about digital lending if you’re like me and travel a ton! It makes packing light easier, and saves a lot of money on overdue charges…
- Sheet: even if it’s cold enough to be in your sleeping bag, having a sheet in there will make it feel a lot more like home. And if it’s ultra-hot, it’s nice to have something, even if you’re just sticking it on top of your nylon sleeping bag to avoid sticking to it.
- Toilet paper: Do I really need to say more?
- Pashmina scarf: I love having one of these for chilly nights, but also to double as a skirt or wraparound top if I really need it. It’s cozier than a sweatshirt but doesn’t add a ton of bulk to your race bag.
- Passport: TSE is fairly close to the Canadian border, so if we decided to take a field trip, I was glad I had it. It also comes in handy if—god forbid—your wallet gets stolen. I had a passport and some spare cash stashed somewhere ultra-safe, just in case something happened to my wallet. (Voice of experience speaking here…)
- Rain boots: Even if there’s no rain in the forecast, it might happen. Regardless though, if you’re in a grassy area, it’s usually pretty dew-y out in the morning, and if you don’t have rain boots, your sandals/feet/sneakers/riding shoes are going to be soaked before you even make it to breakfast.
- Detergent: Even if you don’t think you’ll be doing your own laundry, you never know what may happen, and being able to wash your clothes on the fly is always a good thing. Even getting a couple of travel-size packs before you leave and stashing them in your first aid or shower kit is a good move, if you’re trying to keep gear light.
- Rice cooker/electric kettle/camp stove: Just something to warm up food/water. On chilly nights, it’s pretty awesome to settle into the tent with a cup of tea. Don’t forget the mug/bowl though!
- Snacks (other than ride food): There are only so many bars you can eat. A break from them post-race is sort of amazing, and I was so happy to tortilla chips and avocados before dinner some days. Real food makes a big difference in how your stomach feels.
- Fold-out chair/hammock: You race hard, you have a whole afternoon ahead of you before the dinner bell. Odds are you want to relax, and it’s a lot easier to do in a camp chair or portable hammock. I recommend the hammock for three reasons. A) It’s awesome. Obviously. B) Nylon hammocks are pretty inexpensive. C) In a pinch, it can double as an emergency blanket. I kept mine in my truck (you know, for hammock emergencies), and last year while truck camping for the Mont Sainte Anne World Cup, temperatures dropped like crazy overnight and I’m fairly certain I would have been hypothermic by morning if I hadn’t been wrapped up in that.
- While it’s awesome to pack light, I also realized that it’s never a bad idea to have extra: gloves, socks, helmet, tires, glasses, toothbrush (you can be someone’s hero, or it’s there if you lose yours!), underwear, cycling shorts/jerseys… Basically, if you know you’re using it every day, don’t skimp on how much you bring.
- That book you’ve been meaning to read for the past 5 years: You’re going to be exhausted. If you haven’t been psyched enough to read it yet, this will not be the week.
- That new recovery drink formula you haven’t tried yet. You don’t want to be running for the outhouse at 2 a.m.
- Any clothing that you think you might one day wear. This is probably not that day. (Are you sensing a theme here?)