Classroom Culture: Mandatory Gear

This year’s Iditarod has come and gone, with lots of great stories, memories, and lessons.  One of the things that stood out to me after watching mushers come into checkpoints was how they carried and located their mandatory gear.   

At the musher meeting, each racer gets a bag full of items, including mandatory Trail Mail and Vet Book. Photo: K. Newmyer

What is mandatory gear?  Rule 16 of the 2024 Iditarod Race Rules states:  

Rule 16 — Mandatory Items: A musher must have with him/her the following items at all times, from the Restart until the teams finish in Nome. These mandatory items are not required during the ceremonial start:  

  • Proper cold weather sleeping bag weighing a minimum of 5 lbs. 
  • Ax, head to weigh a minimum of 1-3/4 lbs., handle to be at least 22” long. 
  • One operational pair of snowshoes with bindings, each snowshoe to be at least 252 square inches in size. 
  • Any promotional material provided by the Iditarod Trail Committee. 
  • Eight booties for each dog in the sled or in use. 
  • One operational cooker and pot capable of boiling at least three (3) gallons of water at one time.
  • Veterinarian notebook, to be presented to the veterinarian at each checkpoint. 
  • An adequate amount of fuel to bring three (3) gallons of water to a boil. 
  • Functional non-chafing harness for each dog in team and a functional neckline. 
  • An insulated dog coat for each dog in the team that can be used while running and or resting.

What I liked observing is that each musher had a different system for carrying and finding the mandatory gear when it was time for the gear to be checked.  For example, some mushers carried their dog booties in a pocket on the outside of their sled bag.  Some mushers laid their snowshoes flat and piled other gear on top, while others laid them along the side of the sled.   

Josi Thyr’s carefully packed sled at the official start in Willow, 2024. Photo: K. Newmyer

Some mandatory gear is carried in the sled throughout the race, such as Trail Mail and other small items. Other mandatory gear is actively being used during the race, such as the functional harnesses, leads, and dog coats.  Most, if not all of the mushers tie their vet books directly to the sled with a strong paracord.  Small inside pockets carry promotional materials for easy reach.   

When a musher is being checked for mandatory gear, the checker goes down the list and the musher locates each item within their sled.  It was fun to watch as each musher knew the arrangement of their sled inside and out.  They knew what each pocket held, and where to find certain items.  The arrangement of mandatory gear is something mushers practice during training runs with their dogs, and they could probably locate each item of mandatory gear with their eyes closed.  

Lara Kittelson produces items of mandatory gear at the finish line in Nome. Photo: K. Newmyer

In the classroom, teachers similarly have their own systems for managing gear.  You want to make sure you have a good system in place for yourself and for your students so that transition time is minimized. We try to make it as easy as possible, while creating a routine that students can remember—just like the Iditarod mandatory gear checklist.  In my class, students have bins near the door for their notebooks.  Since each student has a number, both students of that number, one from my morning class, one from my afternoon class, share the bin.  They are responsible for keeping their class notebooks in the bins. Each student has a pencil box and two folders they are responsible for.  Some items are kept around the classroom, such as sticky notes, pencils, colored pencils, dry erase markers, and highlighters.  Students can get those items for the lesson as needed. 

When I get ready to teach a lesson, I often lay my notebook and other items of mandatory gear on my desk under my projector, so that students can easily see the visual of what they need to bring to the lesson. I teach the concept very early in the year. By laying out my own items, I’m not only modeling for the students what they need, but I don’t have to use my voice.  I can set my timer and watch them grab their things.  Some students, just like mushers, have a very organized system for finding their items…and some don’t! I always have extras for students who need a pencil or a sheet of paper.  I don’t want them to go without during the lesson, and then we have a private conversation about how they can get a system going for themselves.  

We also have a Mandatory Gear job for the class. For example, that person is responsible for passing out sticky notes for a lesson where students will contribute thinking to an anchor chart.  They might also be responsible for making sure everyone has their Leadership Binder, or that the bins are not crammed with extraneous stuff (that happens a lot in my 5th grade room!). Many high school classrooms use shoe pockets for cell phones or other technology.   

By creating an environment where mandatory gear is understood, modeled, and practiced, you will save a lot of time–and your vocal cords—by placing the responsibility for the gear on the students.  With regular practice, your students will know where to store things and where to access their items for easy use, just like mushers when they are asked to present mandatory gear at a checkpoint. 

How do you manage mandatory gear in your classroom? Email me at