What Is Fastpacking? Everything to Know to Get Started.
Do you like to have your cake and eat it too? Is your cake usually dehydrated to save weight because you typically carry it into the wilderness to enjoy? If so, fastpacking might be for you.
Fastpacking is a lesser-known but growing trend in backcountry travel. It suits outdoor adventurers who like to cover miles fast and light to soak up as much of the wild as they can. To be clear, the “cake” in this metaphor is backcountry camping. The “eat it too” is trail running.
Confused? Same. But, don’t worry. Below, we’ll drop the metaphors and dive into a crash course on everything fastpacking. If you’re looking to go fast, light, and far, we’ll cover what to know about fastpacking, including:
- What fastpacking is
- Reasons to give fastpacking a try
- What to carry when fastpacking
- Tips for getting started with fastpacking
So, bust out your bundt pan, friends, and let’s get cooking! (Last cake metaphor, promise.)
What Is Fastpacking?
Fastpacking is the love child of trail running and ultralight backpacking. Fastpackers cover long distances on trail and carry only the essentials needed for a quick camp at the end of each day. So, think speed backpacking, or multi-day trail running—or ultramarathon camping.
You may have noticed an uptick in fastest known times (FKTs) for different trails over the past several years. Oftentimes, the adventure athletes setting these records are fastpacking. Carrying an ultralight load—often no greater than 15 pounds, and ideally less than 10 pounds—helps these individuals keep up their momentum without being weighed down by their gear.
Fastpacking will look a little different depending on the individual’s goals and the terrain. Some fastpackers might hike uphills, jog flat stretches, and run downhills. Some fastpackers may choose to go fairly far, while others choose to go really dang far. The experience can be tailored to meet the needs of the adventurer.
3 Reasons to Try Fastpacking
So, why would someone choose fastpacking as their travel mode? While it’s not for everyone, there are several reasons why fastpacking could be appealing to mountain athletes.
1. The Challenge of Fastpacking
Fastpacking pushes an individual out of their comfort zone, both physically and mentally. Outdoor adventurers looking for an extra challenge may be attracted to fastpacking as a means to test their abilities and see just how much they’re capable of.
2. Fastpacking to See and Do More
Fastpacking lets you get deeper into the backcountry faster. This is great for hikers wanting to see as much of a landscape as possible even if they have limited time. Because fastpackers are able to move far quickly, they have an opportunity to experience sections of wilderness away from the crowds, which other travelers may never see.
3. Exploring Minimalism and Self-Sufficiency Through Fastpacking
Fastpacking relies on an individual’s ability to carry only the essentials and be able to trust their skills. Fastpackers need to hone their navigation methods, dial in their nutrition, and be in tune with their body to prevent injury. It can be a great activity to try for people exploring a minimalist lifestyle. The exercise can also become part of a mindfulness practice through its repetition.
What Should You Carry When Fastpacking?
What you carry when fastpacking is critical. On the one hand, you need to carry enough to have access to safe water, proper nutrition, basic shelter, and emergency survival supplies while on trail. On the other hand, each item you add to your pack weighs you down, so selecting the right gear makes a big difference for your base weight.
To start, you’ll want to carry some of the basics for safety, such as:
Nutrition for Fastpacking
Next, you’ll obviously need food and water. Through practice, you can continue to perfect your nutrition requirements so you’re only carrying what you truly need to remain properly fueled. For water, you’ll want to know your refill opportunities along the trail and carry a lightweight water bottle and water filtration system.
Clothing for Fastpacking
Your clothing should include wool or synthetic clothes for running, as well as thermal and rain layers. But, remember, more stuff means more weight, so you won’t be packing extra outfits on a fastpacking trip. Embrace the stench and rinse off at water sources when you’re able.
Sleep System for Fastpacking
You’ll also need a lightweight sleep system. This will likely include a tarp shelter rather than a traditional tent. For example, fastpacking is a perfect use case for Gossamer Gear’s Solo Tarp or Twinn Tarp. Both can be set up with our lightweight LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles to save additional weight through their multi-use.
The Best Backpack for Fastpacking
Finally, you’ll need the perfect pack to hold your streamlined gear kit. A good fastpacking pack fits your body like a hydration vest but allows for more storage that is easy to access. Gossamer Gear’s Fast Kumo pack was designed with fastpacking in mind.
The Fast Kumo is a new spin on a Gossamer Gear classic. We re-designed the Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack with a vest-like fit and easy access storage to keep up with you at your fastest speeds. Whether you are new to trail running or a seasoned, record-setting fastpacker, this pack is built for the challenge. Some of its key features include:
- Detachable fast belt
- Layered shoulder strap pockets for easy access to bottles and nutrition
- Dual sternum straps for a more secure fit
- Zippered phone pocket on shoulder strap
- Hydration tube routing system
- Trash stash pocket
4 Tips for Getting Started With Fastpacking
Fastpacking is an extreme sport. If you’re new to backpacking or hiking, it’s not where you’re going to start. But, if the idea intrigues you, there are ways to get started with it and build yourself up toward taking your first fastpacking trip.
1. Increase Your Fitness Level
Fastpacking requires endurance. Your body will need to get used to the impact of striking the trail when running and navigating quickly around potential trail hazards.
If you think you might want to try fastpacking, begin by increasing your fitness level. Go for longer and longer runs over an extended period of time and make sure to do some cross-training. Taking the time to slowly build up your fitness level will help prevent injury while on trail.
2. Start With Trail Running
Running through your neighborhood is different from running on a mountainous trail. Hiking on a trail is also different from running on it.
Before you head out for a multi-day run through the mountains, try out a quick trail run for a day. Practicing trail running can give you a taste of what fastpacking could be like and will also let you feel what it’s like to run with a lightweight gear kit.
3. Partner Up With an Experienced Fastpacker
One of the best ways to learn anything is to seek mentorship from an expert. Have a friend who goes fastpacking? Ask them for tips or to take you on a short trip. This way, you’ll be able to learn through doing.
If you don’t personally know someone who fastpacks, consider joining some online hiking or trail running groups. Ask folks in these groups if they’ve tried it before and see who might be willing to lend a hand as you learn the skill.
4. Practice Lightening Your Load
The best time to zero in on what to take and what to leave at home for fastpacking is before you’re on a multi-day power run through the woods. As you’re getting started with fastpacking, do shorter trips to let yourself feel what different loads are like while trail running. Use this time to also learn what you might be able to cut from your pack to save weight.
As you practice, take notes. Remember what food you took and how that nutrition made you feel for that level of activity. Note which gear items you did or didn’t use while out there. Staying curious about these elements will help you perfect the ultimate fastpacking kit.
Try Fastpacking for Adventures That Go the Extra Mile
If you want to go backpacking, but you also want to go running, then fastpacking might be for you. That’s the easier way of summarizing this blog rather than getting into the whole cake vs. eating the cake scenario again.
Fastpacking relies on a light load, and Gossamer Gear is here to help. In addition to the launch of our Fast Kumo, we’ll also use this space to continue educating and inspiring our community on this unique activity.
Hungry for more backpacking gear and planning knowledge? Check out some of our other articles on the Light Feet blog:
- How To: Tips & Tricks for Alleviating Condensation in Your Tent
- How to Take Care of Your Gear Post-Hike (And Get Motivated to Do It)
- 8 Tips & Tricks for Solo Hiking Trips
- Hydration 101: Your Guide to Water While Hiking
- Cold Weather Layering for Hikers: The Ultimate How-To Guide