If you enjoy hiking, being outdoors, backpacking, and pushing yourself, you will love fastpacking – and I’ve put together this fastpacking guide to take you through everything you need to know.
While fastpacking, the objective is to travel light and hike/run/jog off at a fast pace, typically for a couple of days at least with an overnight camping stop.
You’ll be rewarded with all the sights and views you can take in, the excitement of pitching up under the stars, and a feeling of freedom like never before.
So, whether you’re new to fastpacking, or want some tips to make your trips even more fun, read on for everything you need to know about this awesome outdoor activity.
From what to pack, how to travel light so you can move quicker, stay safe, what meals are quick and easy and packed with nutrition to keep you going, and why once you have the fastpacking bug there’s no looking back!
What is Fastpacking?
Fastpacking is the activity of backpacking with a goal of traveling as far as possible, as quickly as possible.
It combines hiking, running, camping, backpacking, allowing you to enjoy everything the great outdoors has to offer while pushing yourself physically and mentally.
While the goal is simple, there is actually a lot of thought and planning that needs to go into fastpacking if you’re going to enjoy yourself and do well.
The main considerations are what you’re going to take with you.
Obviously, the lighter you can travel the easier it’s going to be to push longer and harder. But you need adequate shelter, food, water, and other essentials as I will cover throughout this article.
Who Is Fastpacking For?
The best thing about fastpacking is that anyone can do it. You can set your own goals and difficulty, and really just take out of the activity what you want to get from it.
If your goal is to work on your fitness, you can combine sightseeing and being outdoors with pushing yourself as hard as you want. Some people literally treat it as a race from a start point to a finish line.
If you enjoy spending time outdoors, you don’t need much of an excuse but fastpacking is a great way to explore new trails and landscapes, incorporate cool landmarks, and cover a lot of ground as you push yourself to go as fast as you can and explore further than you otherwise would.
If you like to camp, then why not spend the day fastpacking. You’ll sleep better after you’ve spent the day running hard and you can find some interesting spots to pitch up.
Fast Packing Tips to Get the Most out of Your Experience
Packing Your Backpack for Fastpacking
The key is to pack your backpack sensibly. Deciding what to pack is one of the toughest decisions you will have to make.
Safety is the most important consideration. You want to push the limits of minimalism but never cut any important safety items.
Here are some essential items to consider:
Tent/shelter – I will cover shelter in more detail later in this article, but you’re going to need some form of shelter for overnight stays.
Food – You can’t go fastpacking without enough food to last the duration of the trip you’ve planned. Plus you will be burning some serious calories, so nutritious energy-packed food is high on the list.
First-aid kit – Don’t cut items out of the first-aid kit, no matter how desperate you are to shed some weight in your backpack. Even if you haven’t used your kit in years, you know the one time you need it and it’s not there is going to be a major issue.
Hydration – Even more important than food is hydration. Our bodies can go without food for weeks if needed, but only for days without water. You shouldn’t even be pushing 2-3 hours without water so this comes high on your list.
You can take water purifying tablets or purifying devices/straws if you’re confident using them and know you’ll find fresh water on your trail as they save weight. Otherwise, you have to take enough water for your trip, there’s no way around this.
Stove/Fire starting items – Some backpacking stoves are so small and lightweight you’ll hardly notice you have them with you, so there are no excuses not to pack one and you will thank yourself for doing so in the evening when you cook up some real food.
Spare clothes – Depending on the weather you’re expecting you should have some spare clothes in case you get wet or need some extra layers. Soggy clothes are a fast way to ruin your trip, likewise so is being far too hot or far too cold.
Navigation – A cell phone is great as a safety measure to keep in contact with friends back home and navigate your way through the wilderness. But without charging it and having a reliable signal you could find yourself getting lost with no way to ask for help.
No harm in packing a compass and map, they take up next to no room and might just be your savior.
Light source – Complete darkness draws in quickly outdoors. Pack a source of light to help out at night so you can navigate, read your map, cook, and more.
Planning your Trip
It’s exciting hiking across trails and land you’ve never seen before, but preparation and planning are absolutely essential to minimize the risk of injury, getting lost, or forgetting something essential.
Here are some things to consider when planning a fastpacking trip:
Distance – You should have a good idea of how fast you cover ground. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially on the first day. Make sure you have a good idea of where you’re going to hike too and that there will be someone to camp for the night.
Weather – Don’t leave home without checking the weather forecast. We can’t control the weather, but we can be prepared for the worst case scenario. It’s going to change how you pack your backpack, what time you leave, how much you need to drink, and more.
Terrain – You don’t want too many surprises regarding the types of terrain you’ll be hiking over. You need to wear the appropriate footwear and be aware of how difficult the land is to navigate so research the land you’ll be fastpacking over before leaving the house.
Campsites – Whether you’re staying at a campsite or pitching up your tent when you want to retire for the evening, mark out the spots on your map so you know exactly where you can stay before you set out. Check there is suitable shelter, it’s a safe location, and a water source nearby will be handy.
Water access – Most fastpackers want to travel as light as possible to make traveling easier and quicker, and to do this they cut weight by carrying less water. This is fine if you know there are plenty of water sources across your planned trail and you can purify and drink as you go, but make sure you’re 100% sure this is an option.
Tell someone – Before you leave you should always tell a friend or family member about your fastpacking plans. Outline where you will be going, how long you will be, and make them aware of any ways they can contact you.
How to Pack Your Backpack
How you pack a fastpacking backpack is different from a regular backpack as you want it to be light, and have the items closest to hand that you’ll need first.
Here is how I pack my backpack to distribute weight, separate all my stuff, and save time and effort when I need anything:
Bottom – The bottom of your backpack is the best place to put your sleeping bag. It’s the last item you will need at the end of the day, and it’s pretty handy to wrap any fragile items. You can also position your bag so it’s soft against your lower back when running if that helps with the comfort.
Middle – This middle of your backpack is where your heaviest items should go. Food items, any metal parts needed for your tent, spare water, or similar items.
Top – The top of your backpack is where you want the items you will need to pull out first when you stop for any reason. So, items like your stove, spare clothes, medicines etc.
Pockets – You should have some easy to reach pockets on your backpack that you can access while your hiking or running. Keep snacks in these, or the food you want for the next leg of your journey. Water bottles if you don’t have a bladder attached, your phone, compass, and map.
Hydration bladder – A hydration bladder is going to be your best friend while fastpacking. Some backpacks have a specially designed compartment to hold one, or you can wear a running vest, or attach one via straps it comes with.
Tips to Keep Hydrated While Fastpacking
I can’t emphasize enough how important keeping hydrated it while fastpacking, or doing any outdoor activities for that matter. Which is why I recommend using a hydration bladder as you can feed the tube around to your mouth and sip it as you are hiking.
Here are some tips to help you keep hydrated for longer, and ways to maximize your fluids while still traveling light:
- Drink water, a sports drink, or juice before setting out hiking to load up on electrolytes and start off well hydrated.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks and drinks containing caffeine as they can actually dehydrate you quicker.
- Sip water regularly instead of trying to go a long time without drinking then filling up.
- Listen to your body, if you’re thirsty drink some water or you’ll need to drink more in the long run.
- Carry water purifying tablets or a filter like the LifeStraw to purify water for safe drinking in an emergency.
- Drink plenty after you finish hiking for the day to replace lost fluids.
Best Fastpacking Shoes
Outside of being comfortable and fitting well, it’s hard to tell you what the best shoes or boots for fastpacking are, as it’s largely going to come down to preference.
There are a few important things to consider, however:
Weather – You’re going to be covering a lot of distance over a few days. So for example. choose breathable, light footwear for summer months, and waterproof footwear if you’re expecting rain.
Terrain – Most people are comfortable with lightweight running shoes and they can perform well across most surfaces. If you know you’re going to be traveling over a lot of rough ground however, you’ll need some decent padding on the soles or your throbbing feet the next day will be a reminder that you didn’t plan this well enough.
Comfort – The last thing you want is to develop a blister or a callus on the first day. Make sure your shoes are broken in and you know you can wear them over a long distance without a problem. Fastpacking is not the time to test out new shoes or boots.
If you do start to develop a blister, or your shoes are rubbing and uncomfortable, do something about it asap. Otherwise, it will develop into a painful problem and make your experience a misery.
Simply put, the goal of fastpacking is to get from A-to-B quickly. With this in mind, you’re going to need clothes that you’re comfortable running in, or at least power walking in.
You’re going to sweat a lot. If you don’t, you’re just not trying hard enough. You’re also going to have a backpack on, so test your tops are comfortable when sweating and don’t have any seams that rub against your backpack.
Your bottoms will be largely decided by the weather. Again, think comfort and remember that you will be sweating a lot so even in colder conditions it’s not a good idea to wear bottoms that retain moisture.
You’re going to need something that’s water-resistant, windproof, and comfortable against your skin. If you’ve ever hiked before I’m sure you will have something suitable, just like with shoes it’s not a good time to break in some new bottoms in case they chafe or rub and irritate you.
You should have at least one spare of each item of clothing, as well as another pair per each day. So plenty of options to change if you’re too cold, too hot, or damp. Most outdoors clothes are well designed and will roll up into a tiny ball and tuck away in your backpack.
Fast Packing Food
Food is one of the areas most people think they can cut back on to save space and weight, but it’s the first thing you regret once you start to unwind after a long day and are sitting over a cup of soup because you wanted to reduce your weight.
So my advice – eat well and take food you’ll enjoy.
You can still take plenty of tasty food without weighing yourself down. Plus, think about it this way, the trade-off between having extra energy and a satisfied feeling is worth it for a few extra lbs, right?
You want something light, filling, and packed with energy for breakfast as you’re going to hit the trails soon after eating.
Some people like to just eat an energy bar and drink fresh water. While some people prefer pancakes or eggs and coffee. Be careful with caffeine though as it’s not good for hydrating you, but there is an argument for the slow release energy boost you get.
Popular breakfast options – Cereals, eggs, pancakes, energy bars, dried fruits.
It shouldn’t take too long to take out your backpacking stove and warm some food up for lunch (as you’ve packed it as directed above). Keep lunch fairly light, you’re only halfway the day and your goal is to load up on fuel.
Popular lunch options – Dried fruit, energy bars, nuts, noodles, soup.
Ok, you’ve worked hard all day and it’s finally time to kick back, relax, and reward yourself with an enjoyable meal. Most people end up warming up something they have prepared at home, or some freeze-dried food. Nothing wrong with that, there are some tasty options.
Remember, it’s the experience of eating under the stars and the day fastpacking across the land that you’ll remember, not the meal.
Popular dinner options – Pasta, ramen noodles, soup, freeze-dried meals, stir-fry.
Fastpacking Shelter and Camping
Camping out overnight is always fun. Gazing up at the stars, being away from the noise and light pollution of the city, breathing in the fresh air and hearing insects just an arm’s reach away… there are endless reasons, but maybe I’m a little bias, you decide.
Depending on the weather, how daring you are feeling, and whichever option works best on any given day, your main options are sleeping in a tent or under a tarp.
You can get some really good 1-2 man tents that weigh just a few lbs at most, so the weight doesn’t need to be a concern if you want to take a tent with you.
I’d always suggest sleeping under a tarp when possible for the complete close-to-nature experience. There is no better way to liven up your senses with everything the outdoors has to offer. Plus, you can pitch up easily and quickly, and travel even lighter this way.
If it’s really warm and you can get away without a sleeping bag then that’s a bonus too. Again, you can get some awesome lightweight sleeping bags, but every bit of weight and space starts to add up.
The safest way to try out different sleeping conditions is to have your sleeping bag and tent with you the first time you fastpack. Then try sleeping without the sleeping bag and under a tarp to see how you like the experience.
Takeaways from this Fastpacking Guide
Fastpacking can mean what you want it to. As long as you’re outdoors with a backpack, traveling fast by foot, braving the elements, and sleeping under the stars, you’re fastpacking.
As with all outdoor activities, preparation is the key to success. There is some trial and error involved when it comes to packing your backpack and how far you can travel in a day. But that’s all part of the fun and something you’ll figure out after a run or two.
There are few other hobbies, sports, pastimes, whatever you want to call fastpacking, that can offer a unique experience every time, new sights and experiences, quality time away from your busy day-to-day life, and give you a good workout.
I hope this fastpacking guide has helped you better understand this incredibly addictive and fun sport. If you have any comments or want to share your own fastpacking experiences with others, please leave a comment below, thanks!