Last week my friend Tom and I headed out for a 4 day long fastpacking adventure.
Neither of us had ever done one before, and we did absolutely no research into how it should be done.
It was lots of fun.
So what is to follow is a series of 9 lessons learned first-hand.
What is fastpacking?
Good question. It is quite a niche.
Typically you run through nature and camp, but that’s not to say it can’t be done through towns and in hotels.
Ready to get stuck into this fastpacking survival guide?Buckle up.
1. Bring only the essentials
I may have taken this one a little too literally.
Here’s a look at everything I took with me for 4 days of fastpacking.
I would divide the essentials into 5 categories:
- First Aid + Tools
Go through that list and think of the absolute basics of what you need.
Packing for a fastpacking adventure will be a balancing act between comfort and how much weight you’ll be carrying.
I recommend keeping it as light as possible by taking lightweight gear and by not taking anything you have doubts about bringing.
I was mulling over bringing a thermal top just in case, even though the nights don’t really drop below 20°C (or 68°F). I ended up not taking it, and it was a good decision.
Your fastpacking adventure might be a bit uncomfortable, but as is life- embrace it!
2. Prepare for the weather
This should go without saying!
But read on and you’ll see how we messed up when it came to preparing for rain.
Think suncream, sun hats, and breathable clothes in the heat, and thermal layers, waterproofs, and a sheltered sleeping arrangement for a cold adventure.
3. Decide on a food plan
If you’re heading out into the wilderness, this will play a much bigger role in your fastpack than it did in mine.
Dehydrated food and a lightweight camping stove are good options if you’re not going to pass any supermarkets or restaurants en route.
However, if like us, your fastpack is populated by little towns and villages, relying on picking stuff up as you go is a great way to save on weight.
We carried some emergency protein bars in the off chance that we didn’t come across a town one day, but we just ended up snacking on them.
4. Expect slip ups
We started our fastpacking adventure full of pep and excitement for the days ahead.
However, within the first half a mile, and the second we veered off the asphalt, I dramatically tripped on a 3cm high rock and cut my knee up.
And it was only two seconds after that that Tom decided to pick a prickly pear cactus fruit and got his (and then my) hands covered in spines.
An excellent start!
It’s a good idea to bring a few counter slip-up tools:
- A penknife (you’ll use this more than you would think)
- Some antiseptic spray/wipes (we ended up making a pharmacy stop for this)
- Some anti-chafe stuff (also bought at a pharmacy)
5. Bring the right sleeping kit
I’m not sure I should be giving advice on this one, as we quite literally slept in a bush in the rain on the first night, but having a sleeping strategy when fastpacking is pretty fundamental.
Enjoy a cursed picture of me in my mud hotel:
I will admit, we did actually check the weather forecast, what we didn’t do is do anything about the fact that it predicted rain and thunderstorms every single night.
Kind of like when it’s hot at sea level so you don’t take warm clothes to hike up a big mountain.
It hadn’t rained in weeks, so we naively thought that would be the way life would continue for us.
For our sleeping kit, we opted for inflatable roll mats (10/10 couldn’t recommend more), a bed sheet between us, and our hydration vests doubled up as pillows.
Temperature-wise, it was okay. A bit cold, but not too bad.
Rain-wise, not so good.
A better camping arrangement would require this kit list:
- A lightweight bivvy. This is kind of like a tent, kind of like a waterproof coffin, and its a hit amongst outdoor enthusiasts.
- A lightweight sleeping bag (down is a good lightweight and warm material).
- A lightweight sleeping mat. Sleeping without one is both horribly uncomfortable and freezing.
If camping isn’t your thing, and hotels are an option, go for that!
6. Find a place to sleep
There are many different ways to do fastpacking.
A popular choice for fast packers is wild camping or staying in campsites.
However, staying in a hostel, mountain hut, or hotel are also valid options. Not only do you not have to carry a sleeping set-up, but it can also be quite a lot more comfortable.
Just remember to check local wild camping rules if that’s what you decide to go for.
What we did for shelter
Our idea was to sleep in beautiful places along the coastline; isolated beaches and gorgeous natural parks.
But with zero route planning, we ended up running until sunset hoping to find somewhere picturesque and then settling for wherever we ended up.
On our first day fastpacking, we spend the whole day marvelling at stunning deserted beaches, so we kind of assumed we would find one as night approached. However, we did not.
What we did find was a nice flat piece of ground in some shrubbery and made do.
It was all going well until I woke up at midnight to raindrops. I nudged Tom awake, and with simply no other option, we put on our rain jackets and fell back asleep.
It rained (luckily not too heavily) for another two hours.
Quite bleak at the time, but hilarious to look back on.
As night two approached, we willed the weather forecast to change. It was predicting eight hours of thunderstorms and heavy rain.
We waited until the last minute, but as the dark clouds rolled in and the day turned to night, we booked a last-minute hotel.
We had zero regrets as out of the ten hours we slept, eight of them were spent waking up at regular intervals to the crashes of lightning and bouts of torrential rain.
All avoided for the reasonable price of 20 euros each.
Night three, we didn’t want to sleep in another hotel.
Although we didn’t doubt our previous night’s decision, we at least wanted the majority of our nights to be spent outdoors- adventure style.
Rain was predicted once more but we just blindly hoped for the best.
And we got lucky!
As the sun began to set, we ended up stumbling across an abandoned campsite, in the middle of a natural park, right on the beach. Showers and toilets to boot.
There was a whole covered area with a sea view, so we were saved from another night in the rain.
7. Find a way to wash yourself
I guess this is non-essential in the sense that it’s not dangerous to be dirty…
But after running around all day, getting clean is a massive mood booster, and you’ll be doing those you run past a favour.
This ended up being pretty easy for us as we were running along a coastline well stocked with beach showers. So we made the most of them.
If you’re not lucky enough to have the luxury of free public showers dotted along your route, get invigorated by a dip in an ice-cold lake, river, or nature’s shower- a waterfall.
If all of that’s not an option, how about a quick wash over a sink in a public bathroom? Needs must.
8. Find a way to wash your clothes
If you’re running for more than a couple of days you may think you have two options, save on clothes weight and smell, or take more clothes and be weighed down.
Or you can wash your clothes and get the best of both worlds!
If you are fastpacking somewhere hot like we were, you not only have a greater need to wash your clothes, but you’ll have the advantage of your clothes being able to dry quickly out in the sun.
There’s always the option of washing them in a sink and tying them to the outside of your bag to flap around in the wind as you run.
You can also take a quick break at a roadside laundromat.
Or, if you’re brave enough and you come across one, a nudist beach with a shower is the perfect place to wash literally everything, and it’s a little more scenic than a laundromat or public toilet.
9. Enjoy the journey
There’s that cheesy quote that goes something along the lines of “It’s not the destination it’s the journey”. Cheesy as it is, it holds true for fastpacking.
Whilst on the train to our starting point, Tom suggested we try and run from our starting point all the way to France. This would mean covering just over a marathon a day for four days, making a direct beeline for the border.
However, not even halfway through our first run, we ditched that plan. The route was windier than we had thought, and we had already veered off the path too many times to count.
But this was not a bad thing at all. We got lost in the most beautiful places.
It was also way hillier than we had anticipated, and hotter. A marathon a day was just not realistic.
We ended up finishing our fastpack at an insignificant beach town, but the journey to get there was significant.
Interested in more multi-day adventure content?
Check out this article on stage races.