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What Is Fastpacking? (Beginner’s Guide)

Hiking and trail running are greats way to explore the great outdoors. However, sometimes you might wish you could have traveled even further and seen more in the time you spent outdoors. This is where the exciting hobby of fastpacking can be a great alternative to a typical hike or trail run.

Fastpacking is a combination of trail running, hiking, and backpacking. It’s a hike across multiple days, allowing you to cover more distance and explore more sections of a trail. You carry all your supplies, with your clothing geared more toward running than walking (as with traditional hiking).

Fastpacking allows you to cover more ground in the time you have available, exploring more trails and seeing more of the natural world. In article below, we’ll explain the concept of fastpacking, the kit you need to fastpack, and we’ll also offer some tips for beginners.

What Is Fastpacking?

Fastpacking offers a high-octane outdoor adventure, a combination of running, hiking and lightweight backpacking. If you love running and camping in the great outdoors, fastpacking could be just what you have been looking for.

You will also be self-sustainable the whole time you are fastpacking. You will carry all the supplies you need for your multi-day excursion, whether you are camping out or staying in overnight huts or hostels. Clothing is geared to running, with the aim to carry a maximum backpack weight of around 15 lbs or less, depending on the conditions.

The fact you carry your kit and all your basic supplies is what separates fastpacking from other outdoor pursuits like backpacking and ultra-distance trail running. With fastpacking you can run, jog, or power hike your way around the trails before sleeping out under the stars.

Why Go Fastpacking?

Fastpacking provides you with the freedom of hiking while covering more ground and exploring a larger area. The appeal of fastpacking is the ability to travel further afield in the limited time you may have at your disposal. And if you like to run, fastpacking is a great way to do it.

Running is not to everyone’s taste, but it does offer the freedom of hiking while providing an endorphin kick, too. Fastpacking is less about how long it takes and the distance you cover and more about running over spectacular terrain, which can be a thrill and an adrenaline rush for many people.

Ultimately, fastpacking is all about the experience. It’s not a race or a test of speed, like speed hiking is. It’s about immersing yourself in the natural world, moving at pace, and challenging yourself to travel further afield. For the outdoor enthusiast, camping under the stars is a bonus at the end of a fast-paced day on the trails, with more such days to follow on a multi-day adventure.

What Do You Need For Fastpacking?

There are some essential items you will need for fastpacking. What you choose to carry may vary according to the length of your planned trip and the conditions, but the basics remain the same. The aim of fastpacking is to pack light, but safety on the trail should always be your first consideration.

The Backpack

This is the most essential element of the kit for fastpacking. If your pack is too heavy or too uncomfortable, you are not going to enjoy your time on the trails. With fastpacking, everything you need for the duration of the excursion will have to be carried by you or at least shared between the group if fastpacking with others.

Backpacks designed purely for running will tend to be too small to hold your fastpacking supplies. The size of your backpack should depend on how long you will be on the trails, but if you are away for several days, you may need to consider a backpack with a capacity of around 30 liters, maybe more. Again, you will need to be able to run and power hike with weight that is manageable.

Technology in backpacks has developed at a good pace and there are plenty of lightweight options available with decent capacities. Backpacks with minimal additional features will help keep the weight down. Just ensure you have a good number of pockets on the bag with easy access to allow you to grab essentials on the move.

Comfort is also key. You will need a backpack that is stable and doesn’t move when you’re running. A backpack that slides about will rub and cause blisters or sores. Backpacks with a waist and adjustable chest strap can help reduce movement, although you will also want minimal shoulder strapping.

Sleeping Arrangements

Fastpacking usually involves multiple days exploring the great outdoors, and therefore, thinking about your sleeping needs is important. Although you want to rest well, you do not want to pack heavy. That said, after a good day’s fastpacking you should find sleep will come quite easy.

Modern-day technological advances for outdoor pursuits have grown in popularity and it’s much easier to find a balance between sleeping well and packing light. Lightweight tents and bivvies can be bought, but if the weather is set fair and you prefer to truly connect to nature a lightweight tarp may provide all the shelter you need.

A tarp may be enough on warmer nights, but most people will still opt to carry a sleeping bag. Fortunately, there are lightweight options here too, some made from synthetic materials and others made from down. Sleeping bags made from down tend to be lighter and pack smaller, although they may not work as efficiently if they get wet.

You may also want a sleeping mat for the sake of comfort and ensuring a proper night’s rest to replenish your energy levels. This is a matter of personal choice, as some people will prefer to forego this since it’s extra weight to carry. However, there are very light mats on the market these days.

Clothing

The clothes and shoes you wear for fastpacking should be geared towards running rather than hiking or backpacking. The trail and the weather conditions will also have an impact on what you should pack. However, the aim remains to pack light and dress in a way that aids faster coverage of the trail.

Fastpacking is a balancing act between limiting the weight you carry while still having the right clothing to keep you mobile during the day, warm at night, and accounting for sudden changes in weather. Ultimately, you will carry all the clothes you need for your complete trip, as there won’t be any facilities to use at the end of each day.

Layering can be key, and some clothing essentials you will need include:

  • Long-sleeved running base layer top that wicks away sweat
  • Short-sleeved technical running shirt
  • Running shorts or running leggings, depending on the terrain
  • Comfortable running socks
  • Lightweight, waterproof running jacket
  • Waterproof running trousers
  • Lightweight, insulated jacket for cooler evenings

Depending on the length of your excursion, you’ll want to pack a suitable number of spares, particularly socks. A spare base layer and pair of running leggings will help you stay warm when sleeping out on colder nights. Other items like gloves and hats may also be required, depending on the weather.

You’ll want a decent pair of trail-running shoes, too. Many people who fastpack have experience running trails and have this area covered. However, as a beginner, you’ll want a comfortable pair of trail shoes that fit well, have the appropriate grip for the trails you will be running, and that also offer support to the foot and ankle.

Nutrition And Water

You are going to burn some serious calories when fastpacking, so nutrition and energy replacement is vital. You will need to approach food as fuel for the duration of your trip and pack what you need to see you through, and then a little more just in case.

Dehydrated food in pouches tends to be the most common item packed. However, you can be a little more creative if you wish so long as food sources are relatively lightweight, such as pasta with pre-made sauces. High-energy sports bars and gels are also useful at any time of the day, as are dried fruits and berries. A few sweet treats like chocolate access are always well received.

Again, you’ll be packing for the whole adventure, so you need to consider balancing vital food sources and the weight it adds to your pack. Naturally, as the days pass, that weight will reduce as you eat the food. If your route passes through a place that you know has food stores, you can plan your food packing with this in mind.

Although some foods can be prepared with cold water, on longer trips you really want a hot meal as well. Taking a small cooking stove will soon prove welcome to quickly boil water and add to one of your food pouches alongside a hot drink. If there is a group of you then oven and fuel carrying duties can be more easily shared.

Of course, water is another essential item for any time spent in the great outdoors. Just as you will go through calories, you will go through water too. This is something that needs careful planning, as water can add significant weight to your pack. Some trails offer freshwater opportunities to replenish stocks, but planning is critical.

Check if there are any water sources on your planned route and tap into local knowledge on drinking and treating water in the area. You might start out with a one-liter bottle of water and a smaller bottle too, replenishing them as you go. You’ll need water purification tablets and filters in your backpack. Drinking bad water is dangerous and can end your fastpacking experience quickly.

Navigation

You should always have a physical map and compass in your kit. Modern technology is great and incredibly convenient. GPS plus smartphones can instantly provide all the information you need about your route, pinpointing your coordinates with great precision. Until it stops working, that is.

Digital maps can be your go-to if you prefer. However, GPS can fail, and areas can have poor to zero mobile signals. Therefore, have a back-up plan in the form of a map of your route and a compass. Before heading out on any venture into the wilderness, make sure you know how to read both your map and your compass.

You should fully charge your mobile devices before leaving home. Take a portable power pack to re-charge them on longer trips. If you are solely reliant on your phone for navigation and the battery dies, then you will be in a potentially dangerous situation.

Additional Essentials

Planning a fastpacking trip is like planning any hiking or backpacking adventure, in that you plan for what you know you will need as well as for what you may need if things go awry. The following is a list of further essentials you may need when fastpacking:

  • Basic first aid kit
  • Eating utensils
  • Mobile phone and power pack
  • Headlamp
  • Whistle           
  • Toilet roll
  • Spare batteries
  • Gaffer tape for any necessary repairs
  • Matches or a lighter
  • Cash

While the list seems lengthy for an outdoor pursuit dependent on carrying minimal weight, you need to be prepared for all eventualities. If you are fastpacking as a group, carrying the items can be spread evenly across the participants so no one person is weighed down.

Beginner Fastpacking Tips

Approaching any new outdoor pursuit is usually a mix of excitement with a little trepidation. Planning is vital regardless of your experience level, and the better prepared you are the more chance of an enjoyable worry-free experience. Here are a few fastpacking tips for beginners:

  • Be realistic and avoid setting yourself an overly ambitious route as a beginner. Choose easier trails to start with rather than ones with more technical sections.
  • Start with overnight or weekend trips, building up to multi-day excursions as your experience and confidence grows.
  • Think about and plan what you want from a fastpacking experience. Where do you want to go, what do you wish to see and what are you looking to get out of a fastpacking trip?
  • Pack smart and light. By sticking to overnight or weekend trips to begin with, you can judge the supplies you will need for longer ventures.
  • Consider whether your fitness levels are up for the challenge ahead. If you have any doubts, consult your physician first.
  • Eat properly and don’t neglect nutrition and re-hydration.
  • Gain as much information about the trail as you can and check the weather forecast for your trip before packing the appropriate clothing.
  • Always pack extra socks, regardless of the length of your trip.
  • Don’t feel you have to run the whole route. Power hike where appropriate, such as on inclines and more technical sections of a trail.
  • Set targets in terms of miles covered, as this can help you stay on track to complete the route in the anticipated time.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks.

How Do You Train For Fastpacking?

Most fastpacking beginners will likely have done some trail running or hiking before having their interest piqued by a new challenge. Whether you have come from an outdoor pursuit background or are jumping straight into fastpacking, good fitness levels will make this outdoor activity far more enjoyable.

If you have only hiked before, it can take a little getting used to running on technical trails. Train by running and hiking on the type of terrain and at the elevation that you will be fastpacking. When you feel confident in your fitness levels, set yourself a realistic challenge to be completed in a single day. You will start to merge trail running and hiking into fastpacking on this challenge.

During this challenge, you might start at your normal hiking speed before gradually upping the pace through the route. You may not necessarily be running by the end, as this is about getting the body used to moving at a faster pace while carrying a backpack. Those from a trail-running background will also want to start at a slower pace than normal while they adapt to carrying a heavier pack.

Fastpacking vs Trail Running

Fastpacking and trail running are kindred spirits in the sense the goal is to be active outdoors while taking in everything that is great about the natural world. However, there are major differences between the two you should understand before pursuing either hobby.

Distance Covered

One of the key aims of fastpacking is to cover more ground and explore more areas. While there are ultra-marathon trail running events that may cover 60 miles or more, this is at the extreme end of the scale. Many trail running excursions will be over much shorter distances.

Fastpacking involves multi-day adventures and, therefore, usually involves greater distances than trail running. It requires getting your body used to multiple days on your feet, challenging your endurance levels in different ways than trail running.

Shelter

One of the main attractions of fastpacking is the overnight stops, whether it’s camping out, hosteling or a combination of both. Shelter can also provide one of the more challenging elements of fastpacking, because you need to know where you’ll sleep and what to pack.

Looking for shelter when trail running is never a good sign. Aside from large scale, ultra-distance events, trail runs tend to be same day out and back, or circular routes. If you are contemplating shelter, either the weather has taken a turn for the worse or you are lost.

Packs

Trail running is geared to shorter distances and time spans than fastpacking. So, while you’ll still need to carry the basics, such as nutrition, water, first aid kit, and navigational equipment, you will be packing less than you would for fastpacking.

Fastpacking is all about packing light as well, but you must consider your needs for the number of days you’ll be in the wilderness and the weather forecast. Getting used to the additional weight from a bag containing sleeping gear and additional clothing can be the main challenge when you start out fastpacking.

Preparation

Both outdoor pursuits require good levels of planning before hitting the trails. Knowledge of where you are running and the terrain allows you to choose the most suitable trail shoes and clothing. It also prevents any surprises, such as a closed section, that may throw you off course.

Fastpacking requires an extra degree of planning, as you will want to know the best spots for shelter, as well as where to replenish water and food on longer trips. It can never be stated enough how important preparation is for a safe experience in the great outdoors and tapping into local knowledge where possible can be very useful.

Pace

Speed is not necessarily the main goal of either pursuit, but you can’t expect to cover the distances at the same pace when fastpacking as you would trail running. You will be covering more distance over a longer period of time when fastpacking, so setting realistic targets is key.

You’ll also have the additional weight from your backpack to contend with. Those who are fastpacking will often power hike any ascent rather than run up them, before finding their running rhythm back on the flat sections, or on the downhill sections of the trail.

Competition

While there is great fun to be had from running on trails, there are also plenty of opportunities to compete in trail running events. For anyone who predominantly runs road races, the occasional off-road race to change things up cannot be recommended highly enough. Running in a totally natural environment is running in its purest form.

Fastpacking is largely a leisure pursuit, an extended getaway from everyday modern life. Sure, there are those who will try to cover trails in record times when fastpacking, but for the many people, this increasingly popular outdoor activity is about the pleasure of being active in the great outdoors and enjoying spectacular views.

Final Thoughts

Fastpacking is a hybrid of trail running, hiking, and backpacking, with the aim to cover more distance than you would trail running or hiking. While packing light, you still need to carry the supplies to last the duration of your trip. Preparation is key to an enjoyable fastpacking experience.