Fastpacking - What is it and what do you need?

Blister Review, Gordon Gianniny in the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40, Hartman Rocks, Gunnison, Colorado

Blister Review, Gordon Gianniny in the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40, Hartman Rocks, Gunnison, Colorado

A quick google search will show that term “fastpacking” is far from being clearly defined, with people niggling over different aspects of what differentiates fastpacking from trail running on the one hand, and backpacking on the other (backpacking being the North American term for what we Aussies call bushwalking - “fastwalking” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though, so let’s stick with fastpacking!).

For ease of understanding and to make it as widely accessible as possible, I like to think of fastpacking as: multiday bushwalking, where you run a bit. Of course, for some people, "a bit" might be the whole way, for others it will be short sections here and there.

For the most part it doesn’t matter. Unless you’re trying to set an FKT (fastest known time) on a particular route, fastpacking isn’t really a competition sport. It’s a novel way to see the world.

People go fastpacking for any number of reasons - bushwalkers looking for a physical challenge, trail runners looking to explore a little further afield without relying on event aid stations. The great thing about fastpacking is how much ground you can cover once you’ve got the requisite fitness and gear. So that means all those hikes you’ve wanted to do but haven’t been able to get a week off work to undertake, you can knock over on the next (long) weekend.

The Great Ocean Walk for instance, is approximately 100km. Most guidebooks recommend taking between 5-8 days to complete it. But if you’re fastpacking, it’s not unreasonable to cover 50km a day…

The important thing to remember is that while fastpacking crosses over with trail running, which for most people revolves around competing at organised events, fastpacking does require a general understanding of "how to be in the bush", how to set up a tent, use a compass, read a map, purify water, etc.

If you’re new to bushwalking, it might be a good idea to get a few easy overnight hikes under your belt before you go on any solo fastpacking adventures.

The hardest part about fastpacking (as you’ve probably guessed by now) is that you have to carry a considerable amount of gear with you, while you run. So, it’s important to have the right gear! You need to get the weight down as much as practically possible.

Let’s go over some of the key pieces of kit you need to consider. Let’s also assume that since you’re “getting into” fastpacking, you’ll be starting out in fair weather - fastpacking in inclement weather is another kettle of fish.

Ultimate Direction Fastpacks

Pack

Ultimate Direction are (or at least claim to be, and I can’t find any evidence to the contrary) the founders of "hydration packs". Their trail running vests are used by some of the best trail runners in the world, including Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Anna Frost, and Kelly Wolf. It’s safe to say that Ultimate Direction know how to design equipment made to be run in. And they have a dedicated line of fastpacking packs, for both men and women.

Depending on how much gear you want to put in your pack (more on that below) you want at least 20L (women - the fastpackher) or 30L (men - the fastpack). The sweet spot is probably the 30-40L range.

Outdoor Research Helium Bivy

Shelter - Bivy/Tent

People tend to remember that weight is key, but sometimes forget that a decrease in weight often means a decrease in comfort. While cowboy camping might look great on Instagram, if you’ve never done it before, it might be worthwhile spending a night in your backyard to see if it’s for you, before heading into the bush.

If you’re not a fan of creepy crawlies, a bug bivy is a great option, it’ll also protect your sleeping mat and sleeping bag from the ground. Check the Outdoor Research Helium Bivy at 448g (or 400g if you leave the pole at home).

For those of you who can’t stand the idea of sleeping in a bivy, all is not lost. You can opt to take a tent. Again, if you’re primarily hoping to stop the creepy crawlies coming in, but you want some room to move, take your tent but leave the fly at home.

Mont Moondance I Tent

If you’re not too keen on having a fastpacking shelter and a bushwalking shelter, it is possible to have one shelter do it all. Check out the Mont Moondance I, it’s at the heavier end of the spectrum for a fastpacking shelter at 1.54kg but it’s a fully featured bushwalking tent.

With the added weight you might expect to run a little less on your trip than if you were using only a bivy, but that’s totally fine! You could take a Moondance I on your fastpacking adventures (maybe without the fly to save weight) and still use it to traverse the Western Arthurs in Tasmania, even if it pours with rain the whole time.

Mont Zero UL Sleeping Bag


Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags aren’t necessarily heavy, but they can take up a lot of space in your pack. Luckily, the Mont Zero range of bags are warm and pack down to about the size of a Nalgene bottle. Depending on how warm you like to be, consider either the Zero UL (comfort rating +7 degrees, 294g) or the Zero SL (comfort rating +2 degrees, 451g).

Remember that after a day (or more) of running/walking you will likely be a little (or a lot) worn out. Couple that with the fact that you’ll probably be consuming a fair amount of water at the end of the day to get your hydration levels up to scratch for the next day, your body might run a little colder than you’re used to overnight.

Don’t forget that you should always use a sleeping bag liner whenever you use a sleeping bag. Ideally, you want to keep your body oils and such off your sleeping bag, so put them on the inside of a liner that you can easily put in the wash rather than the insight of your bag. Mont Silk Inner Sheets (124g) are a great option.

Sleeping Mats and Pillows

Sleeping Mat & Pillow

Comfort is key. Considering we’re talking about fair weather fastpacking, we don’t have to worry too much about the r-rating of your mat. Worry about the weight, size, and comfort - a shoddy night’s sleep is a recipe for a bad time. Consider the Thermarest NeoAir UberLite (170g), Thermarest NeoAir XLite (340g), or the Exped Synmat 3R M (365g).

Depending on the gear you bring and how you like to sleep, you might be able to double another piece of equipment as pillow - your jumper, instance. But if you want a dedicated pillow (again, take what you need to get a good night’s sleep, it’s important!), check out the Exped Air Pillow L (85g).

Camping Stove, Spork, Camping Coffee Filter, Camping Mug


Food/Cooking

Depending on who you ask, what to eat while fastpacking is a contentious topic. Do you take some form of cooking equipment and put a warm meal and coffee in your belly, or do you save weight and opt for cold food, leaving the cooking equipment at home? It’s really up to you.

If you decide that the weight of cooking equipment is worth the boost of happiness that comes with ending the day with a warm meal and starting the next with a hot cup of coffee or tea (and I’ll be right there with you) the best option is using the Jetboil Flash Stove (400g, excluding fuel) to boil water.

Boil the water and pour it directly into a Back Country Cuisine bag, for instance, to make a warm tasty meal for dinner. Eat it straight from the bag with a Keith Titanium Long Spork (20g). Use an MSR Mugmate Coffee/Tea Filter (28g) and a Sea to Summit X-Mug (60g) for coffee.

 

Hydration

There are two (maybe three…) things to consider with water when fastpacking. Firstly, how are you going to carry your water? The best option is probably to use a bladder - bladders can usually carry anything between 1.5-3L. Source, Platypus, and Camelbak all make great bladders.

The trip you’re undertaking will determine how much water you need to carry - you need to consider how hot is it, how far is it between fill up points, and so forth (remember distance isn’t everything, it takes considerably longer to cover 10km of steep hills than it does to cover 10km on the flat).

Working out how much water you need comes with experience. At first, it’s probably safer to have a little more than you need. But overtime you’ll get better at knowing how much to take and recognising re-fill spots, so you don’t end up carrying more weight than you need.

It’s important to treat any water you source from streams and lakes. While water might look clean, you never know what’s in it. And in the case of streams and rivers, you never know what might be happening further upstream (dead animals, for example). Try SimPure, Steripen or Katadyn water treatment solutions.

It might be a good idea to add some electrolytes to your water like Skratch Labs hydration mix, since you lose a lot of sodium when you sweat, which you’ll be doing a lot of as your run.

Footwear, La Sportiva, Salomon

Footwear

For the most part, trail running shoes are the way to go. Trail shoes designed as "ultra-distance" shoes are typically good options because they are designed to comfortable, protective, and have grip appropriate for variable conditions. Consider the La Sportiva Akasha Mens/Womens, the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Mens/Womens, the Salomon Sense Ride Mens/Womens, or the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3 V2.

If you want a bit more protection or stability underfoot than a trail running shoe can offer, you might consider the Salomon XA Pro (comes in a waterproof mens/womens and non-waterproof mens/womens option).

Clothing


Clothing

Of course, you’re going to wear whatever it is you like to run and hike in for the most part. But there are some things you should always bring with you from a safety perspective.

It’s a good idea to have a set of thermals with you, in case you roll (or break) an ankle for example and you need to bunker down until help arrives. Or even just in case the temperature drops a little more than expected overnight. The lightest options are the Mont Power Dry Silk Weight thermals (mens/womens pants and mens/womens tops).

It’s also a good idea to have a rain jacket, especially if you’re going somewhere at altitude where the weather can be unpredictable. Check out the Outdoor Research Helium Diamond Rain Jacket Mens (179g) or Womens (159g).

A light jacket is also a good idea, especially as temperatures drop in the evenings. The Mont Zero UL Down Jacket is a great option at Mens (234g) and Womens (210g). But remember, down jackets won’t keep you warm once they get wet, so if even light rain is on the cards, be careful.

Synthetic jackets are heavier but handle moisture much better than down. You might consider the Arcteryx Nuclei FL (325g), the Rab Xenon Hoody Mens (326g) and Womens (285g), or the Outdoor Research Ascendant Insulated Hoody Mens (369g) and Womens (310g).

General Safety Equipment

General (Safety) Equipment

Don’t forget a headtorch. Consider Petzl’s Actik Core (88g) – it gives you enough lumens that you can use it to run in the dark, and it can take both a rechargeable battery and 3x regular AAA batteries so you can easily carry spares.

Finally, the little things that are important but easily forgotten: Helinox Deuce of Spades Trowel (17g), toilet paper, baby wipes (optional), Lifeventure Trek Towel Pocket (40g, optional), Repel New Era Insect Repellent (100ml, optional), Coughlans Emergency Space Blanket (42g), First Aid Kit (consider including: bandage, blister tape, band aids, antiseptic, wound pads, scissors, tweezers, ibuprofen, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, safety whistle - approximately 200g), Silva Field Compass (28g), a map, and a lightweight multitool (Leatherman Free T2, 93.6g, optional).

 

Time to Count the Grams…

So, if we take the lightest options available from the list above (assuming we’re going to have a hot meal at the end of the day), we get a base weight of 3577g (base weight is the total weight of your kit excluding consumables: food, water, fuel, etc.).

Product

Product Weight

Cumulative Weight

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40L

715g

715g

Outdoor Research Helium Bivy

448g

1163g

Mont Zero UL Sleeping Bag

294g

1457g

Mont Silk Inner Sheet

124g

1581g

Thermarest NeoAir UberLite

170g

1751g

Exped Air Pillow L

85g

1836g

Jetboil Flash Stove

400g

2236g

Keith Titanium Long Spork

20g

2256g

MSR Mugmate Coffee/Tea Filter

28g

2284g

Sea to Summit X-Mug

60g

2344

Source Widepac 2L Bladder

170g

2514g

Mont Power Dry Silk Weight Thermal Pants

135g (Mens M)

2649g

Mont Power Dry Silk Weight Thermal Top

140g (Mens M)

2789g

Outdoor Research Helium Diamond Rain Jacket

179g (Mens)

2968g

Mont Zero UL Down Jacket

234g (Mens)

3202g

Petzl Actik Core Headtorch

88g

3290g

Helinox Deuce of Spades Trowel

17g

3307g

Coughlans Emergency Space Blanket 

42g

3349g

First Aid Kit

~200g

3549g

Silva Field Compass

28g

3577g

 

Final Thoughts

3.6kg isn’t a bad base rate, considering the weight of my trail running vest, when packed with the mandatory gear equipment for a 100km event, which doesn’t include sleeping or cooking gear, is about 2.4kg. Of course, adding food (a 1x double serve Back Country Meal is about 175g) and water will increase the weight you have to carry.

There are many ways the above weight could be significantly reduced - doing away with the bivy, pillow, stove, mug, java drip, for instance, saves 993g, bringing the base rate down to 2584g. Another option would be that instead of the bivy, use a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Poncho (230g), which means you can then get rid of the rain jacket (giving you a weight of 3347g). Although, don’t forget to take some guy chords (Mont Guy Ropes/Cords are 12g each) and stakes (Coghlans Ultralight Tent Stakes are 14g each) if you go down the tarp route!

Having said that, for most people, especially if you don’t have a background in ultra-light hiking, diving headfirst into the lightest possible options is not only likely to be unpleasant (again, it’s not a bad idea to try it in the backyard first), but it also makes things considerably more dangerous.

When you’re starting out, it’s always better to take a little more and then gradually work out ways in which you might lighten the load to make the running aspect of fastpacking easier and more enjoyable.