Fastpacking is a new form of adventure: a blend of distance trail running, hiking, backpacking, and camping, fastpacking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, explore nature, and have some fun!
In this guide to fastpacking we’re going to cover:
- What Fastpacking Is All About
- How To Start Fastpacking
- Tips for a Successful Fastpacking Journey
- Our Recommended Fastpacking Gear List
Ready to go?
Let’s jump in!
What Is Fastpacking?
Fastpacking is covering long-distances on a trail by jogging, running or power hiking, with a light backpack on, usually over the course of more than one day.
More simply, fastpacking is “hiking the ups, jogging the flats and running the downs,” wrote fastpacker and writer Clint Cherepa.
It appeals to a slew of outdoor enthusiasts, including backpackers, hikers, trail runners, ultramarathoners, and adventurers. Fastpackers want to cover long distances on a trail in a short amount of time and camp out in the backcountry far from the buzz of modern life.
- Related article: Fastpacking Tips – 9 Tips I Learned The Hard Way
How To Start Fastpacking
1. Start Small
Going out on a multi-day, 100+ mile hike without any training is not the place to start.
Instead, try trail running short distances on local routes with a packed backpack to help your body get acquainted with moving fast with extra weight while building up your fitness. Doing practice runs over shorter distances like this can also help you determine what you like about your gear setup and what isn’t working, then you can tweak it before your long distance trip.
2. Bring a Buddy or Support Crew
When you decide you are ready for a longer haul, bringing along an experienced partner, or crew, is important. Not only will it be more enjoyable to share this awesome experience with someone else, it’s much safer to have a buddy who has done this before.
Related: 6 Benefits of Trail Running
3. Choose Your Level of Support – and Plan Ahead
There are three ways to approach a fastpacking trip: unsupported, self-supported, and supported.
Unsupported fastpacking means all the supplies you will need for the entirety of your trip are in your pack. This is considered the purest form of fastpacking.
A self-supported trip is when the fastpacker stashes food, clothes, or stove fuel along their route ahead of time so that they can resupply. Resupplies are generally stashed in towns along the route in post offices or shelters.
Finally, supported fastpacking means getting a little help from your friends. A supported fastpacker has a crew ready at strategic checkpoints along the route to provide their resupply and any other assistance that might be needed. Supported fastpacking is typically for those attempting to set a trail record.
4. Scale up gradually
You wouldn’t walk into a gym and try to squat the heaviest weight you can find. Instead, start with a shorter fastpack trip, maybe a one-nighter, and see if you enjoy it. If you do, scale up from there. Starting small also prevents burnout from a brand new sport.
What’s most daunting to rookie fastpackers is all the expensive gear it seems like you need. I’ll talk about gear later, but the best advice I can give is to start small with your gear setup and gradually acquire more stuff when money allows. Additionally, there are used options for all of the gear I will list below.
Don’t be put off by expensive gear, it doesn’t cost a lot to start fastpacking!
Related: What Is Skyrunning?
5 Tips For Fastpacking Success
1. Know Your Route
Know the landmarks, the terrain, nearest towns, gas stations, hospitals, water sources.
Consider your research the most important part of your preparation. The more information you have, the better you will feel about the trip and the more fun it will be.
2. Plan Your Route According to Your Stamina
Meaning, if your longest run is eight miles, plan to fastpack about 6-8 miles each day. It’s always better to end a day with extra fuel in the tank than bite off more than you can chew and be exhausted.
3. Check Weather Reports
It’s good to know what is typical of the weather in your location, but it’s also important to continue to check the weather up until the day of your trip, and if you can, on the trip too.
4. Be Mindful of Wildlife
Research what wildlife you might run into along your route and plan accordingly.
If you know there could be bears along your route, for example, you might need a bear bag to store your food in at camp. A bear bag is a kevlar sack that can be slung around a tree branch and hoisted to keep out of the reach of bears or other critters.
5. Know The Terrain
If your trip involves dramatic changes in altitude, understand the differences in weather at all of the altitudes you plan to encounter. Most of the time just a few hundred feet in elevation change can have a huge impact on weather conditions.
Bring a paper map and compass. Even if you have an GPS it could fail, or tumble off a cliff.
Our Fastpacking Gear Guide: Here’s What You Will Need
When considering what to bring for a fastpacking trip or really any long-distance hike, keep in mind that you want to be light, so each item should be carefully analyzed for its utility out on the trail.
So, while a smoothie would be a great post-hike treat, you probably shouldn’t bring that blender.
With that said you will need the essentials: a pack, extra clothes, a sleep system, a cooking system, water and first aid.
I’ll explain each of these categories more in-depth and provide some links to where you can purchase this gear online. Of course, there will always be dozens of other things you can bring, lighting for instance if you plan to hike in the dark, or trekking poles for more stability when running downhills or on uneven ground.
Your Fastpack – The Pack For Your Fastpacking Adventure
The most important thing for a fastpack trip?
A good pack is light, deep, and comfortable. I recommend a vest style pack, which redistributes the weight of your pack off of your lower back and prevents your pack from bouncing too much while running, jogging or power hiking, which could lead to painful chafing, “pack rub.”
You also want to get a pack which has enough capacity for whatever you’re planning – the will change depending on whether you’re going supported, unsupported, or self-supported. A 25 litre pack is a good volume to head for if you want room for a change of clothes, a couple of meals, and lightweight camping gear.
Lightweight, waterproof clothes are handy because you want to be light and dry. For your base layer, you generally want garments that wick moisture to prevent sweat from accumulating. Polyesters and spandex are your best bet. Keep in mind that your base layer is your last line of defense against the cold or the wet. You can never go wrong with an extra pair of socks.
Hydration: Water Storage and Purification
Water is essential for life, and especially essential for fastpackers. But, it’s impossible to pack all the water you will need for your long-distance, possible multi-day hike. That’s why it’s incredibly important to source your water along your route.
That means identify on a map where you know you will be able to find fresh water: rivers, streams or lakes, and pack a small, light water bottle with a removable water filter, or some water filters are attached to the cap of the water bottle.
The Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Water Filter and Bottle is a Collapsible 1.0L hydrapak soft bottle flask which you can roll up and stash in your pocket or pack, and contains a 0.1 micron water filter removes harmful organisms like bacteria 99.9999% and protozoa like Giardia & Cryptosporidium 99.9%, surpassing EPA standards – in other words, suitable for filtering and cleaning water from streams and rivers.
A bivvy is the shelter of choice for most fastpackers. A bivvy is a shelter that looks like a narrow bag just large enough for you and your sleeping bag. They aren’t as spacious as most tents (much less headspace,) but they are significantly lighter and can be set up and broken down faster because there are less parts. All good things when you wake up on the trail and want to get moving!
Alternatively, if the weather conditions allow it, you could skip the bivvy and sleep in your bag under the stars. Your conditions will determine what degree of thickness your sleeping bag will need to be. If the temperature will be close to freezing, make sure you have at least a zero-degree bag. If it’s warm enough, a lighter bag can be used.
Stove or Cooking System
If you want a hot meal after a long day on the trail, you’ll need a cooking system. Which means a burner, a small pot and fuel. That sounds like a lot, but luckily there has been a great deal of innovation in engineering these parts to make them smaller and lighter. If you want to be light and you are willing to spend a little cash on cooking gear, your cost in weight will only be about 10 ounces for the entire cooking system.
No-Stove Alternative: Cold Soaking
Let’s say you are willing to sacrifice warm meals to make your pack even lighter, or you would rather just eat a meal that is already prepared by the time you get to camp rather than set up a stove. Well, you can do something called cold-soaking your food. Cold soaking is a technique that uses cold water and a sealed container to “cook” your food. Ramen noodles is one of the most popular cold-soaked dishes. To cook, simply add water to a packet of dry noodles and seal in any plastic or glass container and it’s ready to eat in about thirty minutes!
First Aid Kit
It’s the morning of day three on the trail and your blisters have blisters. You would rather go barefoot than put your trail shoes back on. This is why a first aid kit with basic blister care supplies is integral to the essentials list. That means bandaids, safety needles, and petroleum jelly. Ibuprofen, salt tabs, sunscreen and lip balm are also a good idea. A first aid pouch is also a good place to store a paper map and compass, which you’ll need in case your electronic navigation loses service (maybe the whole point of your fastpack,) or fails.
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