Here's a list of what I wish I would have brought to my first race.
1. Good Moutain Bike (the lighter the better) with a helmet.
2. Gloves (to be used on the bike and canoe portions and prevent blisters from repeated motion)
3. A Camelback backpack (so you can rehydrate while moving)
4. A pair of running shoes (with some ankle support) that you don't mind getting muddy.
5. Long socks to protect your legs.
6. Sunscreen and Insect repellent. Get a repellent with a higher DEET factor like "Backwoods Off"
7. Fuel. (Cliff Bars, Goos, etc). Try a few out before hand while training. Some Goos taste horrible and if you're already close to throwing up due to over exertion, these will put you over the top. Trust me on that.
8. Buy a map holder so that you can access your map quickly and don't have to fold it up in your pocket. Taking it out and putting it back in repeatedly increases the chances of you losing it.
9. A compass! Familiarize yourself with how to use your compass and how to read a topographic map BEFORE THE RACE. Here's a good link: http://www.learn-orienteering.org/old/lesson2.html Theres a lot of other good links on orienteering and map reading. Just Google it.
Have fun on your first race! Remember, its all about making good, informed decisions- Not necessarily how fast and in shape you are.
For backpacks we use the Golite Rush. Love it and I run in it daily with no signs of wear after a year of use and many washings.
Bikes - As someone said, the light the better but you can use anything you want and many of the sport teams run Walmart level bikes. You would want to upgrade from those if you decide the sport is for you. Check Craigslist, there are some great deals there. I ride a Motobecane Fantom Pro Ti from Bikesdirect.com. I love the Motobecanes and think they are the best bang for the buck in a hardtail bike. I also recently added a Thudbuster seat post to my bike and it's saving me some rear end soreness over long rides.
Bring a change of socks/shoes and plenty of food and water. Train with the food that you want to use during the race. I use Clif bars, my wife is gluten-free and uses Lara bars.
Compass - The Walmart level compasses are probably fine for a beginner, but I bought a higher level compass for its accuracy and responsiveness and like it a little better. The link recommended above is mandatory reading as to how to use the compass. You might also hit up some local orienteering events to get some practice.
I highly recommend avoiding any cotton clothing at all. Instead, choose wicking clothes and socks, and use Bodyglide on your feet if nothing else to help prevent blisters. You will most certainly get wet and dirty!
On the topic of bikes: I cannot speak to the Elite race courses, but the Sport courses are not very technical, at all. I've been riding a cyclocross bike w/ 45mm tires (Panaracer Fire Cross tires, to be specific) and have had no trouble. I would stay away from narrower tires, however, as there are occasional patches of deep/loose sand that would tough with them, but overall the 45's are quite adequate.
One of the best things you can do is come out to a Pangea race as a volunteer. You'll get to see other racers in action, find out what clothing and gear they have, and have ample opportunity to ask questions of the elite-level racers. It's a great way to "dip your toes in the water" before taking the leap into your first race.
Hope to see you at one soon!
Team Florida Xtreme
PANGEA ADVENTURE RACING
Pangea Adventure Racing is the #1 producer of adventure races in Florida. We’re not just about high quality races, we’re about adventure—like navigating historic coastal waterways to cycling through the mud to ziplining across the treetops in the moonlight. We offer an easy crossover for mountain bikers, cyclists, runners, hikers, triathletes, water sport enthusiasts and even gym-goers looking for a little outdoor adventure.
Special thanks to TravelCountry.com for their continued support. They stock all the popular adventure racing brands including The North Face and Vibram Fivefingers.