Fast, light, and psyched: Fastpacking vs Backpacking

Fast, light, and psyched: Fastpacking vs Backpacking

Beth Lopez |

Fast, light, and psyched: Fastpacking as a swift alternative to backpacking

We’ve all heard of backpacking. But in recent years, the term “fastpacking” has been thrown around more and more. It sounds … speedy. And it is. But it’s more comfortable than backpacking while running. (Just thinking of that gives us blisters on our brains.) There’s a great method to the madness—fastpacking simply means you’re carrying the absolute minimum necessary amount of gear weight on your back, which allows you to move swiftly. For some superhumans, the extra-light pack means they can run backpacking routes in a fraction of the time it would take to walk them. If you (like us) are not an amazing ultrarunner, you can simply use the lighter pack to your advantage by power-walking or at least progressing much faster than you would with a full, heavy backpacking-style pack. Of course, this means sacrificing quite a few creature comforts. It’s a tradeoff for sure: you’ll be less comfortable, but can tolerate that for a short time period. In exchange, you get to cover amazing terrain in remarkably little time. Which is always a rad thing to do. Here are a few tricks of the trade. At some point, there’s quite a grey area between light backpacking and heavy fastpacking. But, you get the idea. It’s all a game of trimming ounces off your pack weight in creative ways—leaving just the stuff that feels worthwhile to you. This is the fun and the personalized, unique nature of a fastpacking kit. No two will be alike, since every person values slightly different things or has come up with slightly different solutions.

Rethink your sleep system.

Do some in-depth research on the lightest sleeping pads, and don’t stop there. You can get one in the shortest length possible and just cushion the area under your shoulders and hips, using your pack itself for cushioning under your lower legs. Some of the closed-cell foam ones can even be cut down to just the length that you really need. You can also downgrade from the typical sleeping bag to an ultralight sleeping quilt, sleeping in your warmest layers to boost coziness. (Patagonia also makes a minimalist lightweight sleeping bag that works, depending on temps, if you combine it with a puffy jacket and warm pants.)

Swap a more minimalist shelter for your tent.

A great tent is rad, but its bells and whistles will weigh you down. An ultralight bivvy sack or shelter tarp is a little less comfy but will do the job as far as keeping the elements out. Several brands make interesting, creative models that stuff down to nearly nothing, and it’s a fun subject matter to research.

Ditch spare changes of clothes and just bring one of each key item.

We do fancy a couple changes of fresh layers on regular backpacking and camping trips, but when fastpacking, people typically just bring one of each thing they’ll need. One shirt, one pair of tights or pants, one insulation jacket, one shell jacket, etc. It’s okay to get smelly because you’re outside, and the full odorous impact of your activities won’t hit you till the car ride home. (Caveat: you might strategically choose one or two things that are really worth having a spare of, such as a fresh pair of socks that will help stave off blisters.)

Use a light, effective water filter.

Water, of course, is one of the heaviest things you could carry. Fastpackers have fun nerding out on the pros and cons of different water filtering bottles and pumps that let you “make” drinkable water as you go rather than carrying it with you. We’re big fans of bottles with built-in filters.

Go for high-calorie, low-weight food.

We know, we know. It’s fun to bring a special little culinary flourish whilst backpacking, but this is different. Plan calorie-dense food. And while it’s not as fun, if you can tolerate a menu that doesn't require a stove (such as bars and gels), you can skip the stove and fuel weight too.

Find a lighter, smaller pack—or better yet, a large running vest.

You probably take a 35-55 liter pack backpacking, but this is a more pared-down endeavor. If you can get your kit down to 25-30 liters (or, magically, less), you’ll be more comfortable. A day-hiking pack works well for this, or better yet, a large running vest that won’t bounce when you jog.

Take only the amounts of toiletries you need.

Don’t bring a whole tube of toothpaste—not even a travel sized one. With all your toiletries, from sunscreen to sanitizer, bring only as many ounces or milliliters as you need in tiny bottles, micro-flasks, or baggies.

Be strategic with electronics.

You might be relying on a GPS watch or phone for navigation and tracking, and you certainly need a headlamp. Think ahead about recharging everything, whether you have a mini solar panel, swappable batteries, or power banks. And do it in the smallest, most packable way possible.

Take a light first-aid/oh-shit-kit.

You do still need emergency basics, such as the ten essentials, first aid items, and basic gear repair tools if needed. But, stop and consider each item in your usual everyday trail kit. Maybe you need less of each item (do you really need ten band-aids and three ski straps?) or fewer items. Shave off what you can, while keeping what you need to stay safe.

Build your training wisely.

Fastpacking is harder than regular trail running, and perhaps harder than backpacking too in some ways because it’s done with the expectation that you’ll cover far more mileage. Not only should you practice training with your fastpack weight, but it’s smart to enlist some proper coaching to make sure you’re not over- or under-doing it.

Do a short trial fastpacking trip to dial in your program.

As with all things, it’s way better to figure out the flaws in your system on a short, low-consequence trip rather than a big committed one. Go for a breezy overnighter or two-night adventure with your fastpacking getup. This lets you avoid learning the hard way that sometimes a fresh pair of socks are totally worth the extra few grams. Don’t forget to start small, find mentors who have been around the block before, and slowly build expectations about a reasonable pace, food requirements, footwear, etc. Pretty quickly, you’ll build up your experience and your mileage. From there, of course, the possibilities are endless. Send us your pics, suggestions, and stories. We can’t wait to see your gear—and your newfound range. And as always if you need gear check UnNew Outdoor gear at Geartrade first. Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos. Follow us on Instagram + Facebook: Tag us @geartrade with the hashtag #unnewoutdoor #wearitout on your post or story for a chance to be featured on our page.

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