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The Gear You Need to Race the Iditarod

Running a 1,000-mile sled dog race across Alaska is no small feat. Like any professional who performs at the highest level, dog mushers must be dedicated and focused in order to be competitive and successful. Raising, training, and racing sled dogs is more than a sport—it's a lifestyle.

As owner and operator of Wild and Free Mushing Kennel, I live with my dogs in Eureka, a remote Alaskan mining town that’s 150 miles from the nearest city. I’ve traveled through country that’s as rugged as it is beautiful, and I’ve encountered some of the harshest conditions on the planet—including gale-force winds, negative 50-degree temperatures, and freak blizzards.

Having the right equipment is essential to a musher’s success. Here’s a list of the most important gear we use to keep our dogs and ourselves happy, healthy, and safe along the trail.

Race-Mandated Gear

We're required to carry some gear with us at all times: a cold-weather sleeping bag; an axe; a pair of snowshoes; fuel; cooker and pot; and dog booties and harnesses. If I camp along the trail, I need a good sleeping bag, and I’ve found Feathered Friends makes a high-quality product.

I use the axe throughout the season to chop meat for the dogs' meals and collect firewood for camp. All mushers carry methanol and a specialized cooker large enough to heat at least three gallons of water. The hot water comes in handy when I need to heat my frozen, vacuum-sealed meals and make the dogs' food. Iditarod mushers are allowed to pick up methanol and water at each checkpoint.

I've rarely used snowshoes during a race, but when I need them to break trail, I’m happy to have them along.  

The Sled

The sleds used in the Iditarod need to be lightweight, strong, and durable. We use “runner plastic”—essentially ski wax designed for different temperatures and conditions—on the runners to help the sled glide quickly over the snow.

Every musher has a preferred sled design—some competitors even build their own rigs. Cody Strathe of DogPaddle Designs builds my sleds, which tend to be small and maneuverable.

Small sleds also prevent me from carrying gear I don’t need. All my equipment has to fit in the sled bag, a durable, custom-made pack that attaches to the sled. It stores everything I need. I use a Becker Sewing and Design bag, which I found can withstand a lot of wear and tear.

Dog Booties, Jackets, and Harnesses

I pack 3,000 dog booties to run the Iditarod. Made of lightweight cordura, this is easily the most important piece of dog gear I use. Over the course of 1,000 miles, my dogs will race over bare ground, ice, fresh snow, and open water—and booties are the best way to prevent injury.

Harnesses aim to capture as much energy from the dogs as possible while still keeping the animals comfortable. I use the traditional “x-back” style that crisscrosses across the dog’s back.

Finally, there are the dog jackets. I use outerwear from ManMat to help dogs conserve their energy when we’re travelling in extremely cold temperatures. The jackets also keep the pups warm and comfortable when we’re resting for the night. 



If this doesn’t sound like essential gear, then you’ve never tried staying awake and focused during a 1,000-mile dog race.  

Mushers get very little rest, and there are sections of the Iditarod trail that are extremely monotonous, so most of us carry a music player. You won’t find me out there without an iPod. I listen to music, podcasts, audio books, and even movies to help keep myself entertained.

And while I admit I’m not famous for my vocal talent, I do sing along to the songs. The dogs pick up on the energy you put out, and it helps keep their spirits up, too.


Every musher wears a wicking next-to-skin base layer. The outer layers come down to personal preference and conditions, and are made from merino, fleece, silk, down, or other synthetic fibers. We need to stay warm and dry, and when we do get soaked in sweat, we need quick-drying gear that will wick the moisture away from our bodies.

My go-to layers are Patagonia Capilene tops and bottoms, a one-piece full-body Polartec fleece suit by Carol Davis Sportswear, windstopper fleece shorts, a wool long-sleeve shirt, down vest, down jacket, and a Helly Hansen insulated softshell.


I wouldn’t survive these races without a good parka—a durable, wind-resistant, well-insulated shell. It’s so vital to the Iditarod that most mushers have these jackets custom-made to fit their exact specifications. I turn to Apocalypse Design to make my parkas—each of which have a fur ruff.      

Sometimes there’s no competing with nature, especially when it comes to warmth. When I need to stay warm in temperatures 50 degrees below zero, I use fur in my jacket from the animals that have evolved to survive these harsh conditions.

Every musher has a fur hat, fur mittens, and a fur parka ruff. You’ll see beaver fur—known for its warmth, softness, and wind- and frost resistance—in the hats, mittens, and parkas of most mushers. You might also spot pelts from muskrats, wolves, and wolverines.

The fur ruff around the hood is the most important piece of the parka because it helps protect and insulate my face. Mushers typically use beaver or wolverine fur to line the inside of the ruff—these materials shed frost—and wolf fur along the outer rim. 

Gloves and Mittens

So how do I keep my hands warm in frigid temperatures? A combination of beaver fur, wool, and hand warmers. For traveling on the trail, there is nothing that compares to the warmth and wind-protection of beaver mitts. Inside of the mittens, mushers usually wear a pair of thick wool or fleece gloves.

When I’m taking care of the dogs—bootying, massaging, snacking, feeding—I need more dexterity, and for those tasks I wear tight-fitting liner gloves, or half-gloves that only cover the palm of my hand. I use hand warmers all the time. 


In addition to taking care of 64 paws, I have to make sure my feet stay as warm and dry as possible. I'll usually wear a lightweight merino wool liner under thick alpaca socks from Pure Country Alpacas

Some mushers also pack extra boot liners. There are different boot options, but mainly mushers are looking for efficiency—we need a boot that’s as light as possible while still being warm, durable, and wind- and water-resistant. A thick sole or insole helps insulate our feet from the cold ground. I’ll wear an aftermarket boot liner inside a pair of Lobbens—a tall felt boot from Norway—which in turn fit inside a pair of Neos overshoes.

Ski Poles

Toward the end of a race when the teams are moving slower, a musher can help his team by kicking behind the sled or poling. Most mushers carry a sturdy, lightweight ski pole for this purpose.

During the 2014 Yukon Quest, I also discovered that the poles come in handy for fending off moose, although I don’t recommend anyone try that at home.


I love sharing my races with my fans and friends, so I always carry a GoPro to capture the incredible moments along the way. Enough said.

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Running Gear to Get You in Shape for Spring

If winter’s thaw isn’t here yet, it’s certainly right around the bend. So what better way to anticipate the arrival of spring than with running's latest, most intriguing gear? We scoured the aisles of The Running Event—the annual Texas trade show dedicated to unveiling the sport’s newest stuff—and compiled our wish list. We think these picks will match your wants and needs as you run into the warmer months. 

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Danner Light Beckel Boot

When two companies that both make iconic products pair up, the result is usually pretty good. 

Portland-based Beckel Canvas Products—which has been making canvas-wall tents and bags since 1964—and footwear manufacturer Danner recently announced their collaboration on the Danner Light Beckel boot. Based on Danner’s classic Danner Light, each boot is handcrafted with premium full-grain leather and Beckel’s durable, water-resistant duck canvas quarter panels. 

This boot is lighter than the traditional Danner Light, and it features a grippy Vibram Gumlite sole and a highly breathable Dri-Lex liner that won’t trap sweat. The EE last is stable and supportive, and ideal for hikers with wide feet.

The boot is available in four styles—three for men and one for women. While the women’s boots won’t be available until May, you can buy the men’s products now. The shoes are all made in Portland, Oregon.   


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Apparel with an Integrated Fitness Plan

Most outdoor apparel comes with few written instructions—usually nothing more than an attached tag. But a new line from Mountain Athletics by The North Face goes beyond the clothes, offering an extensive web training program with video guides and a mobile app. Plus, you can tap into the training even if you haven’t purchased any of the gear.  

The training materials are designed to make sure you get the most out of the new Kilowatt collection, which includes a jacket, shoes, shorts, and shirts. The $50 Ampere Hoodie features a new, layered ventilation system, while many of the products use FlashDry technology with its microporous additive to remove moisture. The $120 Ultra Kilowatt shoes are designed for rugged mountain trails and weigh about half a pound.   

The web training is designed to get you in shape for a host of activities, including skiing, climbing, and running. You might start out with a few quick push-ups, then work up to a short run. The Train Smarter videos—essentially demonstrations with fitness tips—follow a real athlete pushing to meet goals. And this summer, you’ll be able to use an iPhone app to record results and track your fitness. 

Most of the training material comes from a partnership with the Wyoming-based Mountain Athlete gym that serves as a home base for TNF athletes. There’s even a Mountain Athletics outdoor tour with hands-on demos set to roll through eight cities including Denver and San Francisco. 

Integrating a training plan with an apparel line is a good step forward—it means you'll be buying more than just a trendy jacket and shorts. There’s also an element of accountability because you can print out the guides and record your progress. The complete package is shaping up to be a pretty great training ally, and we’re excited to put it to the test.

The entire clothing line, web series, and several videos are available now. 

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The Endangered-Gear List

Do you remember the last time you pitched a canvas tent, lit a gas lantern, or strapped on a beavertail snowshoe? Neither do I. Outdoor gear has changed a lot in the past 30 years—we now have tents made with aircraft-grade aluminum poles, high-tech LED headlamps, and carbon snowshoes. And all these items in our gear shed are poised to keep evolving over the next three decades.

Take smartphones, which are rendering basic point-and-shoots obsolete, and new synthetic insulation materials, which are competing with traditional down. Products that were once prevalent are going extinct, getting replaced by newer and (we hope) better designs.

Here’s our list of seven endangered species of gear. We predict they might disappear from shelves in the next few decades. But fear not: some pretty great innovations are starting to fill any voids.

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