What is Fastpacking? Complete Guide

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Fastpacking is a relatively new outdoor activity that combines the speed of running with the adventure of backpacking. Essentially, fastpacking involves running or hiking long distances over several days while carrying a lightweight pack with all the necessary gear for camping along the way. Fastpacking is different from traditional backpacking because it prioritizes speed and efficiency over comfort and luxury. This means that fastpackers typically cover more distance in less time than backpackers, allowing them to see more terrain and complete longer routes.

The origins of fastpacking can be traced back to ultrarunning, a sport that involves running long distances over varied terrain, often for 50 kilometers or more. Ultrarunners have been known to carry small backpacks with essentials like food, water, and first aid kits to help them complete long races or training runs. In the late 1990s, a few ultrarunners began to experiment with running longer distances over multiple days, camping along the way, and thus, the concept of fastpacking was born.

The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive guide to fastpacking for beginners. We will cover everything you need to know to get started, from the basics of fastpacking and the gear you’ll need, to planning a trip and dealing with emergencies. By the end of this article, you should have a good understanding of what fastpacking is, how to do it safely and efficiently, and the benefits of this exciting outdoor activity.

What You Need to Know About Fastpacking

Differences between fastpacking and backpacking

Fastpacking and backpacking are both outdoor activities that involve carrying gear and camping in the wilderness, but they differ in a few key ways. Fastpacking prioritizes speed and efficiency over comfort and luxury, whereas backpacking is typically more relaxed and focuses on enjoying the outdoors at a slower pace. Fastpackers cover more distance in less time than backpackers, often running or fast hiking, whereas backpackers usually walk at a leisurely pace. Fastpackers also carry less gear than backpackers, usually only carrying the essentials for camping, whereas backpackers may bring more luxury items like camp chairs or extra clothing.

Benefits of fastpacking

One of the biggest benefits of fastpacking is the ability to cover more distance in less time. This means that fastpackers can complete longer routes or see more terrain in a shorter period. Fastpacking is also a great way to challenge yourself physically and mentally. It requires a level of endurance, strength, and mental toughness that can be incredibly rewarding. Fastpacking also provides an opportunity to experience the outdoors in a new and exciting way, combining the adventure of backpacking with the speed of running.

Types of terrain suitable for fastpacking

Fastpacking can be done on a variety of terrains, but some are more suitable than others. Trails are ideal for fastpacking because they provide a clear path to follow and usually have designated campsites along the way. Mountains can also be great for fastpacking, but the terrain can be more challenging, with steep ascents and descents. Desert terrain can also be suitable for fastpacking, but it’s important to plan for extreme temperatures and carry plenty of water. Forests can also be great for fastpacking, but the terrain can be more rugged, with uneven ground and obstacles to navigate.

Overall, fastpacking is a thrilling and challenging way to experience the outdoors. It requires a level of fitness and preparation, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Essential Gear for Fastpacking

Fastpacking requires carrying lightweight gear that is both durable and functional. Here are some essential items to consider when packing for a fastpacking trip.


A good fastpacking backpack should be lightweight, durable, and have enough capacity to carry all of your gear. Look for backpacks specifically designed for fastpacking, as they often have features like hydration reservoirs, adjustable straps, and pockets for easy access to gear. It’s important to choose a backpack that fits you well, as an ill-fitting backpack can cause discomfort and potentially lead to injury.


The type of footwear you choose for fastpacking will depend on the terrain you plan to cover. Trail runners are a popular choice for fastpacking, as they are lightweight and provide good traction on most surfaces. Hiking shoes or boots can also be suitable for fastpacking, especially in rugged terrain with steep ascents and descents.


Layering is key when it comes to fastpacking clothing. Look for lightweight, moisture-wicking materials that will keep you dry and comfortable throughout the day. It’s important to pack enough clothing to keep you warm during cooler temperatures, but not too much that it weighs you down. Consider bringing a rain jacket or poncho in case of unexpected weather.


When it comes to shelter for fastpacking, it’s important to strike a balance between lightweight and durable. Tents, tarps, and bivy sacks are all popular options for fastpackers. Tents offer more protection from the elements but can be heavier, while tarps and bivy sacks are more lightweight but offer less protection.

Navigation Tools

Navigation tools are essential for fastpacking, especially if you plan to cover unfamiliar terrain. Maps, compasses, and GPS devices can all be useful for fastpacking. It’s important to know how to use these tools and to have a backup plan in case your primary navigation method fails.

Food and Water

Fastpacking requires plenty of energy, so it’s important to pack high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like energy bars, nuts, and dehydrated meals. You’ll also need to carry enough water to keep you hydrated throughout the day. A water filter or purifier can be useful for filtering water from streams or other natural sources.

Overall, fastpacking gear should be lightweight, functional, and durable. It’s important to prioritize weight and functionality when selecting gear, as every extra pound can slow you down and make your trip more challenging.

How to Plan a Fastpacking Trip

Planning is essential when it comes to fastpacking, as it involves covering long distances over several days while carrying all of your essential gear. Here are some important steps to follow when planning a fastpacking trip.

Researching the route

Before embarking on a fastpacking trip, it’s important to research the route you plan to take. Look for information on trail difficulty, elevation gain, and water sources along the way. Consider the weather conditions during the time of year you plan to go, as this can have a significant impact on your trip.

Obtaining necessary permits

Many trails and wilderness areas require permits for overnight camping. It’s important to obtain these permits well in advance of your trip to ensure that you have the necessary permission to camp along the trail.

Planning your daily mileage

Fastpacking requires covering long distances over several days, so it’s important to plan your daily mileage accordingly. Consider your fitness level and the terrain you’ll be covering when deciding on daily mileage goals. It’s important to start slowly and build up to longer distances to prevent injury.

Deciding on a timeline

Consider the time of year you plan to go when deciding on a timeline for your fastpacking trip. Some trails may be inaccessible during certain seasons, so it’s important to plan accordingly. Be sure to factor in time for rest and recovery, as fastpacking can be physically demanding.

Identifying potential hazards

Fastpacking can involve covering rugged terrain and encountering potential hazards like wildlife, extreme weather, and navigation challenges. It’s important to identify potential hazards before embarking on your trip and plan accordingly. Consider bringing bear spray or other forms of wildlife protection, and be sure to have a backup navigation method in case your primary device fails.

Tips for Fastpacking

Fastpacking requires a combination of physical and mental preparation, as well as careful planning and execution. Here are some tips to help you have a successful fastpacking trip.

Training for fastpacking

Fastpacking can be physically demanding, so it’s important to prepare your body beforehand. Cardiovascular fitness, strength training, and trail running are all good ways to prepare for fastpacking. Consider building up your endurance gradually, starting with shorter distances and gradually increasing your mileage.

Packing tips

When packing for fastpacking, it’s important to pack smart and keep your pack as lightweight as possible. Pack only the essentials, and consider multi-use items like a bandana that can double as a washcloth or sun protection. Test your gear beforehand to make sure everything works properly and fits well.

On-trail strategies

Fastpacking requires a different approach than traditional backpacking. It’s important to stay hydrated, eat enough food to keep your energy levels up, and pace yourself to avoid burning out too quickly. Listen to your body and take breaks when needed, but also push yourself to keep moving forward.

Dealing with emergencies

Fastpacking can involve potential hazards like wildlife encounters or unexpected weather changes. It’s important to have a plan in case of emergencies, including first aid supplies and a way to communicate with others in case of an emergency.

Leave No Trace principles

Fastpacking is all about enjoying the outdoors, but it’s important to leave nature as you found it. Follow Leave No Trace principles, which include packing out all of your trash, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife and their habitats.

What is the difference between fastpacking and ultralight?

Fastpacking and ultralight are both outdoor activities that involve carrying lightweight gear for extended periods. However, there are some key differences between the two.

Fastpacking is a combination of running and backpacking. It involves covering long distances over several days while carrying a lightweight pack with all the necessary gear for camping along the way. Fastpacking prioritizes speed and efficiency over comfort and luxury, and fastpackers typically cover more distance in less time than backpackers. Fastpacking requires a level of fitness, strength, and mental toughness that can be challenging but also very rewarding.

Ultralight backpacking, on the other hand, is focused on reducing pack weight as much as possible. Ultralight backpackers aim to carry no more than 10-15 pounds of gear, often using specialized gear made from lightweight materials like cuben fiber or titanium. The focus is on achieving a minimalist and streamlined approach to backpacking, with the goal of covering long distances with less fatigue and injury. Ultralight backpackers typically cover less distance than fastpackers, but they do so with less weight and a greater focus on comfort.

How do you train for fastpacking?

Training for fastpacking requires a combination of endurance, strength, and mental toughness. Here are some tips on how to train for fastpacking:

  1. Build endurance: Fastpacking requires the ability to cover long distances over multiple days, so building endurance is crucial. Start by gradually increasing the distance and duration of your runs or hikes, and incorporate interval training and hill repeats to improve cardiovascular fitness.
  2. Incorporate strength training: Fastpacking involves carrying a pack over long distances, so it’s important to build strength in your core, legs, and upper body. Focus on exercises that target these areas, such as squats, lunges, planks, and push-ups.
  3. Train on varied terrain: Fastpacking often involves running or hiking on rugged terrain, so it’s important to train on varied terrain to prepare your body for the demands of the trail. Incorporate trail running, hill repeats, and stair climbing to improve your ability to handle varied terrain.
  4. Practice carrying a loaded pack: Fastpacking requires carrying a lightweight pack with all the necessary gear, so it’s important to practice carrying a loaded pack during training. Start with a light load and gradually increase the weight as you build strength and endurance.
  5. Mentally prepare: Fastpacking can be mentally challenging, especially when covering long distances over multiple days. Practice mental toughness by setting goals, visualizing success, and practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation.

How big a pack for fastpacking?

When it comes to choosing a pack for fastpacking, it’s important to strike a balance between size and weight. The size of your pack will depend on the length of your trip, the amount of gear you need to carry, and your personal preferences.

Most fastpackers opt for packs between 20-40 liters in capacity, with 30 liters being a common choice. A 30-liter pack should be able to carry all the necessary gear for a multi-day fastpacking trip, including a tent or shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, water, and extra clothing.

It’s important to note that fastpacking requires carrying a lightweight pack, so it’s important to pack only the essentials and avoid overpacking. Every extra pound can slow you down and make your trip more challenging, so focus on bringing only the gear that is necessary for your trip.

Ultimately, the size of your pack will depend on your individual needs and preferences. It’s important to try on different packs and find one that fits you well and is comfortable to carry for extended periods.


Fastpacking is a thrilling and challenging way to experience the outdoors. By combining the speed of running with the adventure of backpacking, fastpacking provides a unique opportunity to cover more distance in less time and see more terrain than traditional backpacking. With proper planning, preparation, and execution, fastpacking can be a safe, enjoyable, and rewarding outdoor activity.

In this article, we’ve covered the basics of fastpacking, including the differences between fastpacking and backpacking, the benefits of fastpacking, and the types of terrain suitable for fastpacking. We’ve also discussed the essential gear needed for fastpacking, as well as tips for planning a fastpacking trip, training for fastpacking, and dealing with emergencies on the trail.

We encourage readers to try fastpacking for themselves and to embrace the adventure and challenge that comes with it. Remember to plan your trip carefully, pack smart, stay hydrated and fueled, and always respect the environment by following Leave No Trace principles.

In summary, fastpacking is a unique and exciting way to experience the outdoors, combining the thrill of running with the adventure of backpacking. With the right preparation, anyone can try fastpacking and explore new terrain in a way that’s both challenging and rewarding.

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