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Fastpacking 101

Have you ever found yourself pressed for time, but itching to get out on an epic adventure? Let me introduce you to fastpacking.

Fastpacking beautifully blends backpacking and trail running for a one-of-a-kind journey. It allows us to get out for big miles, big views and a sense of accomplishment within a shorter period of time.

One of the key elements to fastpacking is simplicity. If you are a gram counting, tooth-brush shaving avid ultralight backpacker then you may already find fastpacking intriguing. If you're not... That's ok! There is no right or wrong way to fastpack. Of course, it is harder to cover big miles with a heavy pack. With fastpacking, you want to focus on bringing only the critical items that will help you complete your agenda, without sacrificing your safety or comfort. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just straight forward and simple.

With light weight comes great responsibility and leaves no room for error. In this blog post, I'll share some tips to help you get started with fastpacking.


Research the area in which you want to fastpack. This will help you carry only what you need to complete your objective and will help keep your weight lighter in your pack. Safety should always be a top priority when you are out, but it is especially important when you are traveling fast and light.

Leave an itinerary with someone back home and let them know your intentions. Let them know how you'll contact them and when. If cell service is not reliable for the area you'll be in, consider a satellite communication device so you can still keep in touch.

Plan a trip that is feasible for you and your skillset. Always have a backup plan and an emergency exit should something happen when you're out there.

Know your gear and be comfortable using it. Practice at home or come out and learn on one of Reach Your Summit's public (or private) Backpacking Fundamentals and Skills trips out in the field and around New England. Testing your gear out and learning in-depth skills before your fastpacking trip will provide confidence, safety and enjoyment during your adventure.


Our gear choices will all be influenced by many factors such as our personal comforts, location, time of year and so on. While a lightweight fleece may work for myself as insulation, another individual may need a fleece and a thicker base layer. Choose the gear which suits you and your objectives best and try to avoid the creature comforts that you may bring on backpacking or camping trips such as a book, playing cards or camp footwear. Keep it simple and focused.


For my fastpacking trips, I am a big fan of simple trail running vest packs or alpine packs. Depending on my needs and objectives, I have used everything on my trips from the Patagonia Nine Trails 15 (pictured above), to the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20, to the Patagonia Ascensionist 35. I've also used a day hiking pack such as the REI Flash 22. For fastpacking trips, you'll find 15 to 40 liters will work. Choosing the correct size will depend on multiple factors such as your trip length, location, gear you'll need and even your own comforts. On a side note, I would also like to add that the smaller you go with pack volume the more challenging it can be.15 liters may be a stretch for most, but for specific overnighters or trips, I find this to work for me. Most fastbacks or alternatives will be frameless and offer a spot for a hydration bladder. Multiple storage compartments and pockets may not be found on these types of packs.


If you're going fastpacking, chances are you will be (or will want to be) spending as many hours on the trail as possible. So choosing a shelter system that is quick and easy to setup will help you spend less time in camp.

I am a fan of tarps and their versatility. This alone can be very beneficial when out on a fastpacking trip. With a tarp, I can adapt to various locations and conditions. If the bug pressure is high I'll add a bivy to the mix for sanity and a more quality night's rest. This type of shelter system isn't always the right choice though. On trips where rain and humidity are in the forecast for my entire trip, I will often go with a slightly heavier, but more psychologically appeasing, lightweight double wall tent.

For 3-season trips, I'll typically use the Ultimate Direction FK Tarp and FK Bivy, or the REI Quarter Dome 1. If someone is with me, we can split the gear and go with a two-person tent if desired.

Sleep System

Sleep is necessary on any trip, but it can even be more important on a fastpacking one. A quality night of sleep will aid in recovery for your big mile days. You'll want to choose a sleeping bag or quilt that's rated 10 degrees lower than the anticipated low temperature for the area where your trip will be taking place. Many fast packers will opt for a quilt to shave weight and used space. I've been really enjoying a blend of sleeping bag and sleeping quilt with the Sierra Designs Cloud 35 (pictured below) for many of my trips. Should I get cold, I can layer with the clothing I have and use that as part of my sleep system too.

Regardless of what you choose, you'll want a good pad underneath you too. You can have the best bag or quilt in the world and if your pad isn't designed to perform well where you're fastpacking, you won't get a lot of sleep. Depending on various factors and your personal comfort level, you may even be able to cut down on weight and space by going with a shorter pad and using your pack to rest your feet on while you sleep.

This Therm-a-Rest Neo-Air Xlite sleeping pad is 4' long and is what I prefer to use on specific trips. The length covers me from my head to my knees and I'll throw my pack or a 20" Z-lite foam pad (which serves as padding and structure in my frameless pack) under my feet for the night.


Layering is key for any trip, especially when it comes to fastpacking. Having the ability to adapt to various conditions can be paramount. With having the capability to do so, you'll also find that you won't have to carry as much clothing. I typically run warm, especially when I am active out on the trail during the day. So I find trail running gear to work best for me. I'll go with a long sleeve base layer (which can be converted to short sleeve by simply rolling my sleeves up when needed) and a pair of running shorts with a built in liner. I'll also make sure to have some insulation packed with me such as a fleece or a down puffy. A rain shell with top out the mix. I'll also bring specific layers if it could be cold out at night. My clothing will be a blend of nylon, polyester and wool for optimal performance.


Footwear is a very personal preference. I love the feel and responsiveness of lightweight trail running shoes. I'll wear them for fastpacking and also backpacking trips. Your footwear should be influenced by your comfort and the weight you'll be carrying in your pack.

I personally prefer non-waterproof shoes as they allow my feet to dry quicker should they get wet. They also allow my feet to breathe well. After all, I am blending running with hiking. Two of my favorites have been the La Sportiva Bushido and the Salomon S/Lab Ultra. They fit my narrow feet like a glove and have handled the varying terrain I travel through with ease and reliability.

In order for my feet to stay healthy on a fast packing trip, my socks must work well with my footwear. I prefer a liner-like cycling style sock for during the day and a slightly thicker cushioned sock at night for the added warmth while I am stationary. My fastpacking socks will be made of polyester, nylon or wool. No cotton. These technical fabrics will help with blister prevention and temperature regulation.


Food is the other item on a fastpacking list that is highly personal. We all have what works best for us and our needs. From a runner's standpoint, I like to consider that I will be burning around 100 calories per mile. So if my pace is around 3 mph, I'll be burning 300 calories in that hour that I am out. Typically, I find I'll burn between 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day and will carry 1.5 to 2 lbs of food per day to replenish those burned calories.


For every liter of water we carry, we are carrying 2 lbs 2 oz in water alone. Carry 3 or even 4 liters at a time and that can add up very quickly! Staying hydrated is important on any outdoor adventure. You won't be carrying all of your water on a fastpacking trip so you'll need to do a little research. Consider locating water sources along the trail which you may be running on. You can use maps, personal experience or even info from land managers or rangers. You may also be close to a town where you can fill-up or resupply depending on your location. Always bring a way to treat your water for when you are out so you can fill-up safe drinking water on-the-go. A personal water filter or purification drops/tablets are not much in weight or space these days, and they can be a game changer!

Trekking Poles

A lot of runners are now utilizing trekking poles during their challenges. Even lightweight backpackers are! Trekking poles help you keep your pace, reduce fatigue, stabilize your pack weight and help reduce the stress we our putting on our bodies and the environment. Depending on your shelter choice for a fastpacking trip, they may also serve as structure for a system such as a tarp or a modified tent.

Ten Essentials (Plus)

Going lightweight doesn't mean you have to skimp on the essentials. As mentioned earlier in this post, safety should be a top priority. The Ten Essentials is a list that was created years ago by mountaineers. It was designed to help address situations or emergencies that could happen while you're out on your adventure. I'll list the Ten Essentials below, but if you'd like a closer look at some of these items and the pluses feel free to check out my YouTube video going over all of them in detail by clicking here.

The Ten Essentials are:

1. Navigation (Map & Compass)

2. Sun Protection

3. Insulation

4. Illumination (Headlamp or Running Light)

5. First-Aid Kit

6. Fire Starting

7. Knife or Multi-Tool & Repair Kit

8. Extra Food

9. Extra Water

10. Emergency Shelter

Final Prep:

After you've picked out your fastpacking route and put together your gear, consider taking it out for a long day hike to see how it feels. There is no better way to condition for a fastpacking trip or long distance trip than to get out there on hikes that will simulate what you're expecting. Practice with your gear and setup. Get a little more familiar with it before you make the big trip. You can also condition at the gym if you'd like with weight and endurance training with a weighted vest or try your own fastpack loaded up. Don't forget to be realistic with your approach. Consider where your going, the time of year, your abilities and the amount of time you have. Always remember to let someone know of your trip and leave them your itinerary.

Get out there and have fun! Connect on a deeper level with nature, yourself and others.

Have you gone on a fastpacking trip? Where did you go and for how long? I'd love to hear about it, and if you have any questions or comments on this blog post please feel free to leave them below.

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