Joe Grant and the Iditarod
The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a grueling 350-mile race across Alaska’s unforgiving wild expanse. This winter ultra-marathon is a superhuman challenge, and according to its organizers, a mistake could “cost you fingers and toes or even your life”.
We’re very happy that Arc’athlete Joe Grant avoided all such fates, finishing in joint-second place, after covering frozen rivers, forests, and mountains in a time of 6 days, 8 hours, and 47 minutes (on only thirteen hours of sleep in the process).
As you can imagine, a race of such extreme conditions requires serious gear considerations and planning ahead of time. What do you bring to ensure that you’re warm enough in sub-zero temperatures and don’t overheat at maximum output when the sun is out … while making sure it’s not too heavy pulling behind you on a sled for six consecutive days? We caught up with Joe post-race to get his thoughts on the Arc’teryx gear that joined him in Alaska.
Motus Crew LS: I use the short sleeve shirt year round as a baselayer as it wicks moisture and dries incredibly fast. I chose the long sleeve as my primary baselayer for a little extra warmth. The first three days of the race were warm by Alaskan standards (between 0-20 degrees Fahrenheit) so I was sweating a lot but rarely got chilled because the fabric doesn’t stay wet for long.
Phase AR Crew LS: This shirt has similar wicking properties to the Motus, but is warmer and closer fitting. It’s a nice, tighter second piece. I wore both of these shirts the entire race.
Stryka Hoody: This top has a more relaxed fit and stretches down low below my hips. The hoody has a warm, comfy feel,which is pleasant for sleeping in and wearing day in day out. The added balaclava hood was a huge plus that I used frequently when I’d drop down from the warmer forested areas on to colder, open swamps.
Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody: I’ve worn this jacket on most of my outings all winter long. It’s sturdier than a Squamish Hoody so it provides a bit more wind protection and insulation while remaining light and fitted for running. I used the multiple pockets a lot for food, sunglasses, and music player.
Rho AR Zip Neck: I brought this along mainly as a backup piece in case it got super cold, or as a warm, dry layer to sleep in. I find the Polartec fabric to be “instantly” warm, so even when I have pretty low body heat, it usually warms me right up.
Atom LT Hoody: A warm, light, insulated jacket that has proven itself as one my most comfortable and reliable pieces. I used the Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody the first three days, but then switched to the Atom as my outer layer, partly for the colder temperatures, but also because I was more depleted. In the early part of the race, I threw the Atom on at every stop to not get chilled while sorting through gear.
Fission SL Jacket: My Arc’ shield. This is an extremely warm jacket, coupled with the GORE-TEX Pro Shell protection, making it my go-to piece if the weather got really bad. It’s very light for the amount of warmth and protection it provides. The two mesh inner pockets were nice for drying gloves and socks when I had to bivy, and also held an extra twenty-ounce water bottle when I left checkpoints. I ended up wearing this jacket more than I expected, particularly on the last stretch of trail where temperatures dipped to -25F. I used the pit-zips to ventilate, so I never overheated.
Gamma MX Pant: Light, fleece insulation with stretchy, windproof fabric make these pants versatile for a range of temperatures – and they’re comfortable to run in. I wore these the entire race and they turned out to be a better choice for me than tights combined with shell pants. The more relaxed fit helped with air circulation on my legs and prevented the pants from holding too much moisture when I was sweating. I used all the pockets a lot for food, camera, and taking gloves on and off. I could possibly have opted for a lighter pant given the early, warmer temperatures, but these proved to be the most versatile option across the board.
Rho AR Bottom: Matching bottom to the Rho AR top, the Polartec fabric is super warm and they were a welcome luxury for the few times I used them to bivy. If the temperatures had been consistently below zero, these would have also been a nice standalone piece.
Atom LT Pant: Just as in the Atom LT Hoody, the synthetic insulation is both light and warm. I’d pull these on regularly over my Gamma MX pants to grab quick, fifteen-minute naps on the trail. I’d usually hike in them for an hour or so after a bivy to get warmed up. These are fantastic pants and I wouldn’t do the race without them.
Rho LTW Beanie: This beanie was the perfect choice for this race for several reasons. It’s very low profile so it hardly feels like I have anything on, but the wool blend makes it very warm for the weight. For me, its best feature is the stretch fabric which gives me ample room to tuck my hair away so it doesn’t freeze. I can also wear it over a balaclava if it gets really cold and pull it down over my eyes for naps. With the relaxed fit, I can wear it loose above my ears when running to not overheat or pull it down for extra warmth.
Rho AR Balaclava: I brought this along for sleeping and for full-weather protection combined with my goggles. I actually only used it once in the Farewell burn during a three-hour bivy. It wasn’t that cold out, but I was feeling vulnerable, so the extra comfort was welcome.
Venta SV Glove: My favorite, all-around glove with great dexterity. These gloves work great in a range of temperatures and allow me to work with gear, food, or my camera without taking them off.
Zenta AR Mitt: These are fear-nothing mitts. Similar to the Fission SL jacket, I didn’t expect to wear these that much, but did for the last portion of the race when it was both colder and I was moving slower. I’d also stuff Snickers bars in there to warm them up before eating.
Phase Liner Glove: Light liner gloves for a layer of protection when handling gear or food. I actually wore these a lot as a standalone piece for the first two days when I was running. All I needed was light protection to cut the wind and they were great in that respect. I also used them under the Venta SV gloves for a bit of added warmth at night, and under the Zenta AR mitts when it was really cold. I kept them on most of the race.
We couldn’t be more proud to work with Joe and our entire Arc’athlete team. The invaluable knowledge that we gain from them using and testing our gear in the field goes into making each new season’s collection even better. You can check out Joe’s entire gear list and race recap on his website, as well as great pre- and post-race coverage on the Talk Ultra podcast.