Fastpacking 101: Exploring the Basics

Fastpacking: Two fastpackers on a rainy trail

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Fastpacking combines trail running and ultralight backpacking, allowing you to cover long distances in nature while carrying just the essentials.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to fastpacking’s basics and guide you on getting started, whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or new to outdoor adventures. So, lace up your shoes, and let’s go.

What is Fastpacking?

Fastpacking is an exciting fusion of trail running and ultralight backpacking. It traces its roots to the 1990s ultralight movement, enabling adventurers to cover more ground quickly.

Fastpackers typically aim to keep their backpack weight under 15 pounds (6.8 kg), sometimes even less than 10 pounds (4.5 kg). Fastpacking can be undertaken unsupported, self-supported, or supported, offering various challenges.

Getting Started with Fastpacking

Here’s how you can begin your first adventure:

  1. Build Your Fitness: Fastpacking is more enjoyable when you’re physically prepared. Start by getting comfortable with trail running without a backpack. Challenge yourself with long runs over rough terrain and consecutive hiking or running days to get used to being on your feet.
  2. Dial in Your Gear: You’ll be running with a loaded pack, so pick gear that works for you. Get to know your stuff before your first trip. Do a test overnight camping trip to make sure your gear is good and practice hiking and running with the backpack you’ll use. Ultralight gear costs a lot. But you don’t need to buy it all at once. Start with some must-have items.
  3. Partner Up or Seek Advice: New to fastpacking? Team up with someone who has experience. They can keep you safe and give tips. Don’t have a partner? Look online for hiking or trail running groups. Ask them for advice. Facebook is an easy way to find groups.
  4. Start Humble: Begin your fastpacking journey by running your favorite local routes with the same weight and backpack you intend to use. This helps you address any gear issues close to home. For your first experience, stick to familiar terrain or well-traveled routes.
  5. Be Realistic About Pace: Carrying gear on the trail will slow you down at first. Be realistic about your pace. A good average pace is around 14-15 minutes per mile. But this depends a lot on the terrain and is hard to estimate.

What to Take Fastpacking

Fastpacking: A fastpacker running across a bridge toward a scenic mountain

For fastpacking, pack light with essentials only. Prioritize lightweight and versatile gear. Here’s what to bring:

  1. Backpack: Your backpack is crucial; it should fit you well and allow for efficient gear storage. Some prefer hydration vests or running backpacks, while others find daypacks suitable. Test your chosen pack to ensure comfort when loaded.
  2. Clothing: Opt for lightweight, moisture-wicking performance clothing that keeps you comfortable while running. A waterproof and packable jacket, extra socks, shirt, and shorts are essential. Additionally, carry a lightweight insulated jacket for colder weather or higher altitudes.
  3. Trekking Poles: If you intend to use trekking poles, make sure to practice running with them before embarking on your adventure. Trekking poles not only enhance load stability and balance, especially on downhill stretches but can also serve a dual purpose as part of your shelter setup.
  4. Water: Know where reliable water sources are along your route and carry the necessary water filtration system. Options include squeeze-style filters, filter bottles, chemical treatments, and straw filters. Don’t forget electrolytes.
  5. Food: Choose easy-to-digest trail foods like energy bars and gels since you’ll likely crave carbs while fastpacking. But keep in mind you can only digest about 3 ounces (80 g) of carbs per hour. Eating more may cause stomach issues. For larger meals, some fastpackers go stoveless and eat no-cook foods to save weight.
  6. Shelter: Your choice of shelter depends on factors like weather conditions and personal preferences. Minimalists might prefer an ultralight tarp or a simple bivy, while others may opt for a full-coverage ultralight tent.
  7. Sleep System: Consider a backpacking quilt instead of a traditional mummy sleeping bag to reduce weight. Quilts are designed to be used atop a sleeping pad and weigh less due to the absence of hoods, bottom insulation, or zippers.

Planning a Fastpacking Trip

So, you’re eager to set off on your adventure, but where to begin?

  1. Research Routes: Ask experienced fastpackers for trail recommendations and connect with online fastpacking communities. Facebook groups are a great resource. Chances are, someone has already done the route you’re planning, so tap into that experience. You can also check the popular route options listed here.
  2. Choose a Suitable Route: Choose a route that matches your fitness level and skills. If you’re new to fastpacking, pick familiar terrain to build confidence. Plan daily mileage based on how many hours you can run, considering elevation changes. Routes with the most descending are toughest on your body.
  3. Water Sources: Know where reliable water sources are along your chosen route and how far apart they are. We suggest to check topographical maps.
  4. Weather Forecast: Given that you will rely on minimal gear, checking the forecast is crucial. While you don’t have to prepare for the worst-case scenario, knowing the expected weather conditions will help you pack appropriately.
  5. Permits: Research whether backcountry permits are required for your chosen route. Contact the relevant agency for permit details and any restrictions.


As you lace up your shoes and venture into this world of running with a light pack, remember that fastpacking is not just about covering ground but also about the journey itself. It’s about pushing your limits, finding solace in nature, and discovering the incredible freedom of self-reliance.

Make your first steps into fastpacking and let each stride take you deeper into nature. But don’t forget safety. If this is your first trip, it’s okay to have some fears. Start small, pack well, and work your way up at a comfortable pace.


What to bring fastpacking?

When fastpacking, it’s essential to pack light yet efficiently. Prioritize lightweight and versatile gear, including a well-fitting backpack, moisture-wicking performance clothing, trekking poles for stability, and a water filtration system. Be patient with gear selection, start with the essentials, and gradually build up your fastpacking kit. Don’t forget easily digestible trail foods like energy bars and a suitable shelter, depending on weather conditions and preferences. Consider a backpacking quilt for a lightweight sleep system. These essentials will help you embark on your fastpacking adventure with confidence and comfort.

What size pack for fastpacking?

Selecting the right pack size for fastpacking is crucial. The ideal pack size often depends on personal preference and the duration of your adventure. Many fastpackers opt for packs ranging from 12 to 30 liters in capacity. A 12-liter pack suits those who prioritize minimalism and lightweight gear, while a 30-liter pack offers more space for additional comfort items or longer trips. It’s essential to strike a balance between carrying your essentials and maintaining agility, so choose a size that fits your needs and keeps you moving swiftly through the wilderness.

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