Justin Simoni calls fastpacking “the space between ultra running and backpacking.” If you’re curious about fastpacking and want to know how to get started, read this excellent overview by UD ambassador Jen Segger. Jen has been planning and leading fastpacking trips for years, even running a dedicated company for it (Run BC Adventures). Here’s how to pick the right gear and plan your first fastpacking trip. 

Fastpacking is the art of moving “light & fast” on multi-day adventures in the mountains or through a wilderness setting. By carrying only what you need, you will cover terrain quicker, perhaps choosing harder routes or clocking more miles than you might do with a heavier backpack.

Fastpacking is as much about gear selection as it is about fitness and the route. When you realize the possibilities that exist for adventure under your own leg power, a new way to view the outdoors is opened up.

So, how do you get started?

First, think of a goal or an objective that intrigues you. Perhaps it’s a trail you’ve dreamt about or a summit you’ve wanted to tag. Look at the distance, the elevation and the difficulty. Think about how fast you could run it or how long it might take to hike it. From there, determine an average pace while carrying just the essentials for safety and comfort.

Next, determine if outside support is necessary or not. Could the adventure be done “self-supported” (without assistance) or “with support” (such as having a crew to help with re-supplies, additional gear, etc.) Another option is to go “un-supported” which would involve dropping food and supplies at various points along your route before you go. All of these styles of fastpacks are subject to accessibility, the length of the trip, the terrain, the climate and if you can persuade a friend(s) to help.

There is no right or wrong way to fastpack, it all depends on how you want to do it and what your goal is.

Kelly Wolf checks out the San Juan mountains in the new FastpackHer 20

Gear choice will be the biggest decision as you plan and prepare and it’s determined by trip length, expected weather, number of people partaking and how fast and light you want to go. If you are on a solo fastpack, all the gear including, food, a simple sleep system and clothing for the length of your time outside will have to be carried by you and you alone.

The goal in a fastpack is to carry only what is needed in order to move faster. Pack selection is everything. A pack that fits well, is comfortable to run with when under load and can carry a significant amount of gear is critical. There are packs made by Ultimate Direction for the sport of fastpacking, designed to meet the needs men and women wanting to travel with speed and efficiency while carrying only the essentials.

Editor’s note: See the new women’s specific FastpackerHer 20 and 30

Here are points to consider in your ultralight fastpacking preparation:

  1. Water: access, frequency and places to refill, purification
  2. Shelter: tent, bivy or man made shelter, sleeping bag & pad
  3. Food: number of days, number of re-supplies or options to purchase
  4. Cooking: stove & fuel, the need for hot beverages or rehydration of dehydrated foods
  5. Clothing: rain, wind, snow, heat in addition to changing temperatures from day to night and seasonal variances. Think about how you can layer your clothing to maximize efficiency.
  6. Essentials: safety equipment, medical kit, emergency beacon/in-reach, smartphone
  7. Other: trekking poles if your route has significant elevation gain & loss

Simplicity is key. Don’t shortcut on the gear that will keep you safe but avoid the luxury items that add weight and bulk to your pack.

Your needs will be individual and will be dictated by your location. As you enter the world of fastpacking, consider starting with a trail that you have experience on in order to test your gear and your systems. Above all else, have fun, be safe and embrace the adventure.