By: Jeff Garmire

Fast and light—two words contributing to one another on the trails—are at the heart of fastpacking. There is no set weight, distance, or speed to be a fastpacker, only traveling faster and lighter. The new moniker sits right at the core of ultralight backpacking, focusing more on the ideals and values of the participant than a true measurable metric. 

It may be easier to explain what fastpacking is by diving more into what it isn’t and how I found this new exploration style. Fastpacking certainly isn’t how I grew up backpacking. I had never even heard the term until I was 20 years old on my first thru-hike. In 2011, I was out there backpacking the only way I knew how—with a 55-pound fully loaded external frame pack. A Nalgene bottle dangled off the back, and my tent, sleeping bag, and pad were strapped to the bottom. Seeing other hikers pass me as I struggled up the hills offered a whole new perspective on what I actually needed to be carrying on the trail. 

My Introduction to Fastpacking

As I was climbing San Jacinto in 2011 with a fellow thru-hiker named Brian, I accepted that there was a better way to do this thru-hiking thing. But, I continued carrying my fears, and it would take another 400 miles and my external frame pack breaking before I would relinquish ten pounds of spare clothing. 

At Kennedy Meadows, I had a broken pack, no money for a new one, and an over 35-pound base weight. The other hikers immediately shook down my gear until it was in the low twenties. Then, together with Lil Buddha who would go on to mentor and lead me into fastpacking, I sewed up an old tattered pack from the hiker box. Even with the poor suspension and undependable hipbelt, I could now keep up with anyone on the trail. Lighter does equal faster.

By shedding weight, I was automatically moving faster. Next, I moved to Denver and discovered how to tailor my gear to the adventure and become a real fastpacker. 

Why Fastpack?

Fastpacking isn’t about a sub-five-pound base weight but, rather, finding the perfect amount of food, water, and gear to carry on any given adventure. It doesn’t have to be about running every flat or downhill. It is about moving the most efficiently over the terrain. 

Fastpackers still swim in lakes, stop before nightfall, and even occasionally cook on the trail. Because they are fastpacking, there is more time to enjoy the most iconic spots and travel farther into the wilderness. It offers more flexibility and more efficiency. And that excess time can be used however you want. 

In 2015, I climbed all the 14ers in Colorado and simply became a fastpacker out of necessity. I had a daypack with enough straps on the side to carry a tent and a sleeping bag, yet it was small enough that I couldn’t overpack. Most of the peak bagging excursions were one to two nights long, and I didn’t need much. I carried exactly the clothing that the weather dictated and just enough food to get me through. The weight savings came from planning and experimenting. 

How Fastpacking Began

The origins of fastpacking can be traced back to the ultralight movement in the 1990s. Ray Jardine came out with gear that was much lighter than anything available at retailers. This paved the way for fastest known times (FKTs) and going farther faster. An entire backpacking gear list was now light enough to run with it. 

People like Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin created their own systems of carrying water bottles on the front of their packs for a more balanced weight distribution. Running packs incorporated the ideas, and soon, long days and weekend trips in the mountains could be 50 miles instead of ten. Naturally, if the weight was lighter, people would move faster. 

So, what is fastpacking? It is taking the traditional backpacking style, cutting down the weight to the most efficient and comfortable level, and experiencing the effects of increased speed, stamina, and flexibility. 

Fastpacking Is a Mindset

The venture into the fastpacking and FKT world changed my entire mindset on backpacking. Even for a short overnight, I could take 10 to 12 pounds of gear or food and still throw in camera supplies or a second dinner. Fastpacking is a style, not necessarily a defined speed. It is finding the perfect system to get the most out of your trip and see as much as possible with your precious hours on trail. 

Everyone would say that FKTs are the heart of fastpacking, but even while setting the record on the Long Trail, I ran very little. In fact, there is only one instance where I remember even trotting for an entire mile. Running simply wasn’t the best way to move through the rugged terrain. But I was still fastpacking—moving as light and efficiently through the terrain that was in front of me. 

Fastpacking is a style worthy of exploring for every hiker, backpacker, thru-hiker, and runner. Whether you are looking to go farther, faster, or travel more comfortably, the fastpacking mindset applies. 

Jeff “Legend” Garmire has completed the Calendar Year Triple Crown and Great Western Loop, finished the Nolans 14 in 59 hours, climbed all the Colorado 14ers, and broke the Arizona Trail self-supported FKT, Pinhoti Trail self-supported FKT, Long Trail unsupported FKT, John Muir Trail record, and Colorado Trail unsupported FKT, among others. Learn more about his adventures at:


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