Primal Quest gear, part I: Trekking

NOTE FOR READERS: This is the first in a three-part series of columns chronicling the Gear Junkie’s training, gear preparation and competition in Primal Quest, a 10-day adventure race held in Utah between June 25 and July 4, 2006.

Say a prayer for the Gear Junkie. By the time many of you read this, I will be off into the wild yonder of the Primal Quest adventure race, a 10-day, 500-mile multidisciplinary event taking place in late June this year in the Utah desert. As a member of a four-person squad called Team Bulleit, I’ll go nonstop, day and night, through mountains and canyons, desert plains and deep forests. A map and compass will be our only guide through a vast and unmarked wilderness course.


Trekking for an untold multitude of miles, in every conceivable type of terrain, is de rigueur in this type of event. To prepare for all the on-the-feet time I’ve been carefully gathering gear for months, testing backpacks, shoes and apparel as if my life depended on it.

For the race, I’ve decided to employ Montrail’s ( Continental Divide shoes. These stable hikers are fast enough on the feet for the Primal Quest, where most of the foot travel will be trekking, not running. The $105 shoes have a generous toe box to prevent crammed piggies (and thus blisters), plus they breathe well. They drain and dry reasonably fast should I need to tromp through a stream.

Team Bulleit’s official uniform will vary depending on course conditions. But of the apparel I know we’ll use the Cairn LS Crew, a basic breathable synthetic top from Arc’teryx ($40;, will serve as a good all-around base. For the hot desert sun, the $54 Eco-Mesh shirt and $69 Eco-Mesh pants, made by Rail Riders (, will provide sun protection as well as good ventilation via integrated strips of mesh under the arms and on the side of the legs.

Primal Quest is going to be hot and blazing this year, so for maximum sun protection our team will be wearing Sun Runner Caps made by Outdoor Research ( These neck-skirt-equipped ball caps, which cost $26, have mesh paneling for adequate airflow.

Eyewear on a race like Primal Quest is tricky, especially if you rely on prescription lenses like me. After testing a couple companies’ offerings, I went with the Frontline Rx from Smith Optics ( These sporty, solid glasses let you switch between lenses for daytime and dark. The frame and one set of lenses cost $265; the second pair of lenses are an additional $155.

On my wrists, for the entire race, I’ll be wearing products from Silva and Suunto to aid in navigation. The Suunto t6 watch ($399;, which has an altimeter, a barometer, a stopwatch and a thermometer, is an essential tool for this race. (I used the t6’s heart-rate monitor feature prodigiously during training.)

To keep me going the right way day and night, I’ll use Silva’s Wrist Sighting 424 ($25;, a basic compass mounted on a Velcro watchband.

My trekking poles, Leki’s Super Makalu Ergometric AS ($140;, are sturdy and light, weighing about 10 ounces a pole. They telescope down, too, for easy transport on the pack.

On my back, I’ll be switching between the Gregory Spectrum during shorter sections on the course and Macpac’s 35 Amp for longer hauls. The Spectrum ($119; is a 1,900-cubic-inch pack capable of hauling two day’s worth of supplies during the race. Its well-thought-out design includes quick-access pockets on the hip belt; lightweight and slick silicon-injected nylon fabric; and large mesh pockets on back for extra gear.

Macpac’s 35 Amp ($130; — a 2,200-cubic-inch pack made for races like Primal Quest — has intricacies that include: hip-belt pockets; shoulder holsters for water bottles; a removable sleeping pad that doubles as back support; a sternum strap buckle with a built-in whistle; a large rear mesh pocket; compression straps; and reflective piping for increased safety and visibility as I trek on down the Primal Quest trail.

Posted by Dean - 10/20/2006 01:09 PM

the pre race gear list was very compelling. I watched the race on TV and thought that foot care (shoes. socks, other accessories) was a major differentiating factor. Could the Gear Junkie give us a post race briefing about what worked and what did not. Not just gear, but tape, lubricants, etc.?

Posted by walt - 10/24/2006 02:08 PM

i have these shoes as well and love them! how did they hold up in the sand with all the mesh?

Posted by Regenold - 10/30/2006 11:42 PM

The Montrail’s were no good in sand. Mesh is too open. I had blisters on day one of the race. Had to switch shoes. Many athletes had similar problems.

Posted by Regenold - 10/30/2006 11:51 PM

Re Dean’s questions. . .

I use foot lube for running long distance, and when I know my feet will be wet. In the PQ, many people used lube (including me) and the fine grit from the desert then stuck better. Blisters grew right away. Bad, bad news.

Meshy shoes did not work at all for sand hiking. I switched to an eVent shoe on day three of the race. They worked well for the conditions. Gaiters were not a bad idea, either, as they kept the dirt and dust and sand out.

Tape, for me, was mainly used during the PQ to cover open wounds. Bad times out there. My feet were covered with duct tape and medical/athletic tape for most of the race. Big open sores on my heels. They didn’t heal for a month to six weeks after the race ended. My heels are still tender today, now four months later.

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