The Trans Japan Alps Race (Part 3)
Continued from Part 2
HOW TO PACK FOR AN 8-DAY MOUNTAIN RACE
Because TJAR is completely self-supported and covers a vast distance, including full traverses across three different mountain ranges, there is an extensive list of mandatory items that each racer is required to carry in order to ensure their own basic comfort and safety. In case you love gear as much as I do, let's start by taking a look at what items of kit the organizers of this brutal event feel are indespensible to safely get participants from one ocean to the other.
1. 2 Headlamps (or 1 Headlamp & 1 Handheld Light)*
*You must carry a working set of batteries & a spare set of batteries for each light.
2. 1 Smartphone (or Cellphone)*
*The network provider must be DoCoMo, you must carry a spare battery and/or power bank and cables to recharge the phone & you are required to ensure the phone is waterproofed.
3. GPS Tracking Device*
*These are handed out by the organizers at the starting area. In addition to the device itself, racers must carry a waterproof case and additional battery pack for the device.
4. Full Course Maps*
*Participants may use electronic/GPS devices for navigation, but are also required to carry paper maps for the entirety of the course, and must ensure that they are waterproofed.
6. Writing Utensil
7. Detailed Hiking Plan*
*You are required to both submit and carry a copy of a document listing your intended route and waypoints, dates of travel, name and emergency contact information, and see to it that the document is waterproofed.
8. Mountain Insurance Card*
*One of the entry requirements is submission of proof of enrollment in mountain insurance that covers search and rescue costs. You must carry the card with your name and policy number, and make sure that it is waterproofed.
9. Insurance Card*
*Like the mountain insurance card, this must also be on you and waterproofed.
10. Photo ID*
*Each racer must have some form of ID on their person, though this may be a copy. Again, must be waterproofed.
11. Race Bibs*
*3 race bibs (1 for your clothing, 1 for your backpack & 1 for your shelter) are given out at the starting area and must be visible when worn or used.
12. Warm Clothing*
*Details are not specified, but each individual must carry insulating layers and ensure that they are waterproofed.
*Fully waterproof and seam-sealed rain jacket & rain pants (no ponchos allowed) are required.
14. Hat & Gloves
*Since athletes may not sleep in mountain huts, each is required to carry a shelter for the entire race. Certain types (bivy bags, floorless shelters, tarps...) are not allowed to be used as the primary shelter.
16. Sleeping Bag (or Emergency Bivy / Emergency Blanket)*
*Each person must carry their choice of one of the above items as the main component of their sleeping kit. Oddly enough, sleeping mats are not specifically listed as a required item.
17. Bear Bell*
*The mountains in Japan are populated by Asiatic Black Bears. Though not overly large or aggressive, they are capable of attacking and inflicting serious damage on humans if startled. Bear bells are intended to give the animals fair warning so that they run away in advance of people heading their direction. They are also incredibly annoying.
18. More than 1L of Water*
*This means that each person must toe the starting line with at least 1L of water or other type of drink. It is also stipulated that you must have multiple containers to store that liquid, in order to avoid a leak or puncture rendering your one bottle or bladder useless. Racers can resupply with tap water, spring water, vending machines, convenience stores, mountain huts, etc... along the way.
19. Emergency Food*
*As mentioned above, their are numerous ways that participants can resupply water as well as food during the 8 days, but they are all mandated to carry a stock of "emergency food" in case something prevents a timely resupply. This could be anything from food bars to gels, bread, etc...
20. Proper Clothing*
*Though the race is held in mid-summer, temperatures at night or in poor weather can drop dangerously low. As such, you must AT LEAST be in possession of clothing that can completely cover your wrists and ankles. For example, it is possible to wear a T-shirt and shorts as your main race wear, and carry arm sleeves and long pants to satisfy this requirement.
21. Climbing Helmet*
*More than half of the Trans Japan Alps Race takes place in an alpine environment that carries some underlying risk, and passes through certain areas where the danger of rock falls and other hazards are particularly elevated. To ensure everyone's safety, each participant is made to carry a helmet that is either EN12492 or UIAA106 certified.
22. Red Flashing Light*
*This may not be the same as either of the lights required as item 1. This flashing light is to be used for the occasions in which racers must pass through traffic tunnels with little to no shoulder, in order to make themselves visible to traffic.
23. First Aid Kit*
*The contents are not specified, but everyone is to carry items that could be used to deal with the types of accidents or medical issues that may come up during the course of the race.
24. Cooking Set*
*A full set of items needed to boil water is required. This must include a gas burner(no solid fuel or alcohol stoves), a gas canister, a pot that can hold more than 300cc of water, and other items as necessary (a lighter, etc...). You must have more than 50g of gas remaining in your canister at the start, and your setup must be able to bring 300cc of water to a boil within 3 minutes (assuming 20-degree Celsius temperatures and windless conditions).
25. Trekking Poles*
*Poles are actually not required, but assumed. And since they are assumed, the items that are required are the protective caps to cover your pole tips. It is not required for these to be applied when you are using the poles, only for when they are stored.
ASSEMBLING MY TJAR KIT
I have spent a lot of time in the mountains over the last 15+ years, and had assembled quite the collection of backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, clothing and every other item of outdoor gear imaginable during that time. Unfortunately, I came from a traditional hiking/backpacking background, and not a fastpacking one. For the majority of my walks through wilderness areas I moved slowly, covering relatively little distance and elevation per day, and therefore could get away with sturdy items that may be slightly (or significantly) cheaper, heavier and bulkier.
On my first multi-day summer trek through the Japanese Alps, my 65L North Face backpack (weighing more than 3kg just on its own) was stuffed to the brim with a 3-person tent, a Coleman-esque 0-degree Celsius rated synthetic sleeping bag, a fresh pair of socks for each day, multiple changes of clothes, a hulking water filter, and tons of other things that still make my shoulders shudder when recalling the weight of that monstrosity. It was easily 30kg... and approaching half my body weight. But the worst offenders were my feet - encased in thick wool socks and further shackled by absurdly heavy full-leather Italian boots. I felt like a sinner paying penance through a pilgrimage of pain, as each hopelessly hot, friction-filled foot strike delivered a shot of suffering to my wounded soles. As my(un)holy journey concluded and my heart and feet were stripped bare, I swore to learn from my mistakes and embrace the teachings of ultralight. As soon as I made that decision, I almost felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders... :)
It was a long and expensive road to slowly rebuild my outdoor inventory to respectably light and fast levels relative to the paces and distances that were now normal for me, and just as I thought I had it all figured out... the Trans Japan Alps Race came across my radar and I realize I knew NOTHING about either packing light or moving fast. In order to even finish the 8-day race a single minute before the deadline, racers must travel an average of 51.8km with +/-3,375m of per day. That's substantially more than a marathon, with nearly as much elevation as summiting AND descending Mt. Fuji from the ocean... EACH DAY.
So it makes sense that most participants aim for a race-ready pack weight of no more than 5kg, including the required "emergency food" but excluding the mandatory 1L of water. Of course, that includes all of the other 25 items listed above. Yet again, I had to prostrate myself to the gear gods and earnestly seek their counsel as I once more attempted to reinvent my approach to packing. In this case, the wisdom-dispensing messenger of the gear gods appeared to me in the form of the official 2018 Trans Japan Race Report (available for purchase online). I ordered it on the advice of a friend - and its detailed gear lists, complete with comments from each of the athletes, has guided me along the straight and narrow path towards fastpacking enlightenment. I modeled a lot of my current kit on items used during the 2018 race, but also trusted my own past experience and recent trial runs with some gear to arrive at where I am now.
In the Trans Japan Alps Race (Part 4), coming soon, I will post photos, weights, modifications and other details for each item of my TJAR race kit as it currently stands. Even if your sights are not set on Trans Japan, I think it may be super interesting and even eye-opening to see someone else's approach on the subject, whether it is similar or drastically different to your own. And if you were curious about what those guys are using, well - now you'll know.
TO BE CONTINUED...