As someone who spends half his life sleeping outdoors or running or cycling in the dark, few people are better qualified than Al to give tips on night-time challenges. Drawing on his experience of running overnight desert marathons and riding on more lonely dark roads than he can remember, Al picks out six must-have pieces of kit for night adventures.
1. Warm clothes
“Even in summer, it always gets way colder than you think if you’re staying out all night. Being cold is always a horrible feeling, but being cold and tired at the same time is absolutely demoralising. The hardest thing about night-time adventures - especially if you’re competing in an event - is keeping morale high because there are so many times you want to give up. My advice would be to take a layer more than you think you need. And a woolly hat - even in summer!”
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2. Good head torch
“Head torches vary so much in price that it’s often hard to know what to go for, and I usually end up with cheap ones. I’ve got an Alpkit head torch which isn’t expensive and has always been great, but if I do ever come across one of those fancy ones that cost something like £150 it makes my life so much easier. They’re really, really good. If you’re on your bike it feels like you’re cycling in day time.”
3. Lots of food
"Take food you know will make you happy - and I'm talking about real treats. Night-time adventures are fun because you often end up with hysterical delirium and crying with laughter, but sometimes you get so hungry that it turns into real crying. I once cycled through the night and got so hungry that I craved jam. I eventually found a 24-hour corner shop, bought a jar of jam and basically just downed it, laughing hysterically the whole time.
"The key thing is taking a good variety of foods. I often get sick of what I think I'll love eating for the whole trip, so I take a mix of sweet, savoury, spicy, and stodgy stuff. A great tip is to always eat your most delicious food first. Then next time you're hungry, eat the next most delicious thing. That way you’ll always be eating the most delicious food you have with you. It's great for morale!"
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"Night-time, plus music, plus roads is dangerous - but out running on the trails music can be great. You’ll usually have a really low point where you just want to be at home, and that's when some good inspiring tunes can give you mental escapism. I often have a couple of hours of real low time during the brutal darkness, where waiting for that first piece of light to come can be absolute hell. But I can usually get through that with jelly babies and music, and I forget all about it once the sun starts to creep back up."
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5. Glow sticks
"You can pick up snap glow sticks really cheap and they're great for overnighting. They're bright enough to maybe read a map but the most important job they do is allow you to be seen. When I ran through the night on the Marathon des Sables, at dusk everyone got one of these things fixed to their rucksacks and we looked like a trail of glow worms in the Sahara Desert. They're great for overnight running and walking challenges."
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6. Dry socks
"Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to some foot loving before darkness hits. Dry socks are wonderful, and so are foot tape and talc, because it means you aren't going into the night with wet and knackered feet. For me everything comes back to morale - that's the key thing for the night, more than speed and everything else. Keep yourself happy and you'll be able to keep going."