Fastpacking – The merging of trail running and backpacking

Doug Williams
 
Running free and camping wild

Over the past few years, there has been a change within the trail running community to take it into the wilderness for more than just a day run.  The trail runners find pleasure in taking minimalist camping kit and heading out into the wilderness either overnight or for several nights.

Their pleasure has been contagious and now this endurance sport has become mainstream, with fastpacking becoming a popular means of visiting the wilderness.

 

 

Fastpacking needs the participants to have a reasonable degree of fitness.  After all, your backpack will weigh somewhere in the region of 10 pounds, containing a minimal amount of gear, food and complete a hiking trail in a fraction of the normal time or run ‘off-piste’ completely.

 

 

This form of adventure requires some careful planning before you just set off.  Here are some tips to help you set up your first fastpacking trip.

Plan it carefully

Your fastpack trip must be carefully planned and you must consider many factors; your destination, the terrain you will be covering, the weather you are likely to encounter, access to shelter, water, and any wild animals you may encounter.

 

 

You cannot set a daily goal for the distance that you want to cover without carefully assessing the changes in elevation, the type of ground you will be covering, if it’s a trail or a cross country run, weather conditions and the other members of your team.

You will have to ensure that you research any rules and regulations about the area that you are traversing, as they may well affect where you can go and where you can camp.

Make sure you have a good set of maps for the area and that you know how to read them!

Other members of the team

This is not a decision to be taken lightly. You are going on a rigorous, physical outing and if you do not get on well with the other members of the team, flare-ups are bound to occur and they don’t usually end well.

Ensure that the route is planned with the weakest member of the team in mind.  There is no earthly point in planning a rigorous route that will put some members of the team in difficulty.  Your entire trip will be spoiled through no fault of the weakest members, but rather by poor planning.

 

 

If you do not know everyone very well, a round table discussion on what each member can achieve is essential.  Also, emphasize that this is no time to allow ego to get in the way. Everyone must be brutally honest about what they can or cannot achieve, as it may endanger the entire team if the truth is not told.

Decide on the daily routine before you leave.  Not everyone is happy to rise with the sun so make sure there is an agreed routine of when you intend to get up, when to eat and by what time you want to be up and running.

If a member of your team cannot or will not subscribe at the planning stage to the routine, suggest they not come on the trip.

What to do in an emergency?

Plan for emergencies! Being out in the wilderness with minimalist kit means that you need to take extra care; go slower down an incline, use a knife with a greater degree of care, ford a river one at a time with a stick and slowly.  Even with the greatest of care accidents will happen so have a plan to deal with them.

The most basic safety plan is to leave your itinerary with a family member or good friend.  If they do not hear from you on the last day, or on a day you’ve agreed to make contact, they can alert the authorities who will start a search for you.

Carry a basic first aid kit, so you can at least stop bleeding and manage shock.  If you have space and it’s a multi-day trip, consider taking a cellphone so you can call for assistance if need be.

 

Running through the wilderness

Keep your group together and do not allow any one member to get too far ahead or lag too far behind.  Keep in sight of each other, and everyone is responsible for checking on the man in front and the man behind.

Kit

 

If you are going to take the minimum amount of kit, you must ensure that you will be safe, so choose carefully and take the advice of experienced fastpackers.

Backpack

This will be one of your most important choices. Make 100% certainty that it is supremely comfortable.  There are many ultralight and lightweight backpacks available on the market today, so your choice will be wide.

 

 

Try the pack on for size and comfort and ensure that it will hold the kit that you need to take.  For a three-day trip, count on using approximately a 25-litre pack.

Fill the pack with gear so you can feel what it’s like with weight and bulk in it.

Shelter

Shelter is one of the basic human needs, and your choice of shelter will be driven by the weather conditions you are likely to encounter as well as the wildlife you may encounter.

Fastpacking in good weather and in areas free from predators means you do not need any form of shelter, as you can sleep under the stars.

However, cold, wet weather or predatory animals will mean you need some form of shelter. Here I include mosquitoes as predatory animals!

 

 

Modern materials have allowed manufacturers to create extremely light tents that are a boon to the fast packer.  Some shelters, such as those made from Dyneema® Composite Fabrics weigh in at around 500g or 1.10 lbs, but they will place a large dent in your wallet.

Look around and do some research to find out what others are using and look at those tents. Tarps are also an option, they’re lightweight and can offer nearly as much protection as a tent and yet be more versatile in setting up.

Sleep

Having a good night’s sleep is extremely important when you are expending a large amount of energy during the day. Look at full down sleeping bags that roll up extremely small and weigh very little.

 

 

Carrying a sleeping mat is a purely personal preference.  Some people are able to sleep on the ground with no difficulty whilst others simply cannot.  A comfortable night is important so if you have to have a sleeping mat, take it along, but look for the very lightest that you can find.

If you are going to be traveling over very wet ground or snow, these suggestions don’t apply. You will definitely need something to insulate you from the ground.

Tools

Obviously, these need to be kept to the bare minimum.  You will need some form of light for when it’s dark. If you plan on running at night, this will have to have a fairly powerful beam to light the trail in front of you.  Don’t forget to pack the spare batteries.

 

 

Packing a small solid fuel stove is a matter of preference, but for a few extra ounces, you can have a warm meal when rain threatens to fall.  There are many lightweight solid fuel stoves that will boil a couple of cups of water in next to no time, and reconstituting a meal with hot water is vastly preferable to reconstituting it with cold water.  Also, a cup of coffee first thing in the morning is still hard to beat.

 

 

A spork is also a must pack.  It is light and makes eating so much better than trying to eat spaghetti with your fingers.

 

 

Find a top quality water bottle that holds around half a liter or 20 oz of water and keep it at the front of your pack.  If your trail will have little or no water available or the temperature is forecasted to soar, try and take along a collapsible water reservoir.  Skimp on everything else, but water is an absolute necessity. Never skimp on your water resources.

 

 

Water filtration is next on the list.  Take some form of water purification tablets with you and use them every time you draw water from an unknown source.

Do not trust running water to be bacteria free.  There is a filter called LifeStraw that will make cleaning up water while on the trail very easy and well worth a couple of extra ounces.

 

 

Taking trekking poles is again a personal preference, but they can make a big difference when climbing rough terrain. Many specialized backpacker tents need at least one trekking pole as a support and they’re great with tarps.

 

Take a small first aid kit with you.

Remember your camera, as there will be loads of memories to capture.

Finding your way

 

Make sure that you have a set of good quality topographical maps and a compass, and very importantly, know how to use them.

There are many electronic GPS units available on the market, and it is worthwhile investing in one as it will make navigation very simple.

Bear in mind that they are electronic items and will be prone to fail.  If you rely 100% on one of these and they fail in the wilderness, you will literally end up in the creek without a paddle!

Food

This is one of the most personal choices as what suits one will not suit another.  Put together food that makes you feel good, and you need not splurge on backpackers meals, they tend to be very expensive.

 

 

Items such as instant mashed potato, couscous, nuts, cheese, energy bars, cup-of-soup, instant noodles, meat jerky, crackers, nut butters, chocolate bars and chocolate drinks are fantastic as they are light but calorie-dense.

Toiletries

Again, this is an area of preference. Wet wipes can be used to bathe if water sources are an issue. Take a small toothbrush and toothpaste, a small tube of sunscreen, mosquito repellent and a comb.

 

TSA 3-1-1 rule – Author: Jack Kennard – CC BY 2.0

Soap and the use of water sources for washing is a contentious issue, as is the burying of toilet paper. If you subscribe to the Leave No trace principles, you will pack all your used toilet paper out (or burn it) with you and will not use water sources for bathing.  Let your personal principles guide you.

Clothing and shoes

Whatever clothing you take with you, don’t ever be tempted to buy new clothes and take them on a wilderness trail.  Take your tried and true tops and pants and make sure they have been well broken in over your runs around the home.

 

 

Don’t forget rain protection even if the forecast is for dry weather.  It can help protect against insects and can act as a wind barrier or, at a push, protect you from the damp ground.

 

 

Fastpacking can be a lot of fun but take your time to work your way up to multi-day runs.

Practice your skills on the day and overnight runs until you are aware of what your limits are and what you can and cannot tolerate.

Jogging or running cross country with a pack on your back is not for the faint-hearted so build up slowly and above all else have fun doing it.

 

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