Fastpacking 101: What You Need for This Running-Backpacking Hybrid


I have to admit, I find backpacking pretty boring. And it’s not for a lack of trying — I grew up backpacking with my parents and high school friends, and have even been a tour guide on youth tours in Montana. I’m still persuaded to travel every now and then, but apart from the camaraderie, Backpacking feels monotonous, slow and more complex than it needs to be.

Fast Packing – or “Shuffle Packing” as my friends and I call it – is the next evolution of wilderness travel for those who want to travel further and faster. Practically, such an endeavor means jogging the descents, shuffling the flats, hiking the hills with power, and eating plenty of snacks while carrying a minimalist backpack.

To be clear, fastpacking is different from ultrarunning. It’s not a race, and you’ll carry all the essentials for backcountry camping. It’s not exactly backpacking either, but ultralight backpacking might be the closest analog as you strip your gear down to the absolute bare minimum to travel fast and light. Simply put, the biggest difference between backpacking and fastpacking is how you move: by jogging instead of walking.

how to start

Generally my philosophy of life for trying new activities is “just freak out, learn from your mistakes, and do better next time,” but that’s terrible advice for fastpacking. Most of these trips are deep inland, and being so remote is inherently risky. You’re just as likely to run into life-threatening problems while fastpacking as you are hiking or running, so take similar precautions. It’s important to understand your route, watch the weather, plan your meals and pack the right gear. And prepare for trouble — a sprained ankle 20 miles from the trailhead is a big deal that should be treated with a first-aid kit, layers and a way to contact help at home.

Unless you’re already a seasoned long-distance hiker and trail runner, fastpacking might feel like learning two or three sports at once. It’s possible to jump right in at the deep end, but expect some bugs along the way. For example: On my first trip, I packed too much and my shoulders paid the price. Hopefully this guide will help you get started and avoid the most common mistakes. Most of it focuses on three main knowledge areas – equipment, nutrition and fitness – as well as some suggestions on where and when to fastpack and why you should consider it.

The author’s shufflepack buddy on her second morning in Wyoming’s Wind River Range gears up for another 25-mile day. (Photo: Andy Cochrane)


Few brands make gear specifically for fastpacking as it is still a niche sport. But with a mix of ultralight backpacking gear and trail running apparel, you’ll be ready for your first shuffling adventure in no time. The goal isn’t to buy the lightest or smallest backpack (although more weight and bulk aren’t generally your friends). Instead, remember to only pack essential items that are worth their weight and are comfortable to carry while running.

The most important piece of equipment is your backpack. If you’ve ever tried running with a heavy, traditional backpack, you know it can be uncomfortable, awkward, and cause injury. The ideal shuffle pack should fit snugly as you run and not restrict your form. It should also have enough storage space to carry your gear without dangling pots and pans like Frodo Baggins. A good target weight for a fully loaded backpack is 15 pounds, more or less.

That 30 liter Ultimate Direction pack ($180) is the best I’ve tried because it has large front pockets, weighs only 1.5 pounds, and proves very stable on my back. You might notice that it doesn’t have load-bearing waist straps, which is actually normal when you’re pushing backpacks as it’s harder to run with weight on your hips; Instead, backpacks used by fastpackers are similar to backpacks and vests designed for running, shifting most of the weight to your back and shoulders.

The next puzzle to solve is the clothing, which varies a bit depending on the conditions. Unless the forecast calls for it extreme weather (In that case, bring additional appropriate gear or consider rescheduling), keep your pack light and stick to just one set of clothing. I always bring a sports shirt and running shorts during the day, then thermal underwear, hiking pants and a puffy jacket for the night, plus an extra pair of socks. If it’s cold or wet, add a raincoat, hat, and mittens or gloves. As with most backcountry tours, avoid cotton, which chafes when you sweat and doesn’t keep you warm when wet. And don’t take this list as gospel — as conditions change, your gear should change too.

Trail running shoes with good grip and a high stack height are ideal shoes, as the weight of the pack gives more lift with every step. I like Hoka Speedgoat ($145) because it’s well padded and lightweight yet durable. hiking boots are far from ideal as they are not designed for the agility and movement of running. Of course, your own ideal shoes will vary based on foot shape and running style, so test a few pairs before taking them on a long trip into the backcountry.

Other important items are a first aid kit, Bear spray when you are in bear country, a small knife and spork and string. Last but not least, light poles – I use those Black Diamond distance carbon ($150) – protects your knees and helps you climb steep passes faster.

There are a few electronic devices that you should always bring with you, such as B. A headlamp, a satellite phone or other backcountry communication device, and a cell phone. You won’t only need the headlamp for nights at camp — in spring and fall (or on any trip of ambitious length) you’ll likely start or end at night. A Garmin InReach satellite phone helps communicate from almost anywhere, so you can get out when things go wrong. And apps like Gaia GPS Turn your phone into the best navigation tool out there. On long journeys, an external battery pack is handy to charge your devices to ensure those important safety devices stay functional.

Finally, think about your sleeping system: a lightweight tent, bivy or tarp that will keep you protected and warm at night – but won’t overload your pack or weigh you down – is crucial. I’m a big fan of MSR front area ($320) that fits up to four friends fairly comfortably. With an inflatable pad like that Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite ($190 and up) and a seasonally appropriate sleeping bag (a lightweight bag or blanket for the summer and something rated up to 30 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the off-season), you’re ready to go.

Eat, run, repeat

As with all long-distance activities, the name of the game is calorie intake. As we know, not all calories are created equal. In races like a marathon or a 50K, you can and should Focus on foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, because they are easy to digest and burn quickly. But this strategy leaves out the fats, proteins, and other nutrients necessary for multi-day excursions. When you’re out for hours, you need to give your body a chance to recover every night, so fast-burning foods are only half the battle.

On the go, high-carb snacks like gels, chewy candies, stroopwafels, and electrolytes are key to avoiding the bang. Balance these with high-calorie fatty foods, like nuts, peanut butter, seeds, cheese and meat, which burn longer and help you recover. Bringing dehydrated or freeze-dried meals with you for dinner will help keep your pack light and manageable.

While some fastpackers don’t use a stove at all, I’m not much of a masochist. That MSR Pocket Rocket ($80) weighs just three ounces and allows for hot meals at night and hot coffee in the morning, making its inclusion worth the weight.

For hydration, I bring the easy-to-use one Katadyn BeFree filter system ($45 and up) that screws onto most pistons. Depending on the area and water quality, you might be able to drink straight from the source, but if you’d rather not risk it, bring something with you MSR Guardian air purifier ($390) to filter out bacteria or parasites.


Technically, you don’t need to exercise before you start fastpacking, but it makes the trip that much more enjoyable if you’re in reasonable shape for your itinerary. Start running and build your aerobic endurance, prioritizing distance over pace. You’re training to last a full day without ending up shattered, not to win your local 10K.

Consider tailoring your training plan to your journey and the terrain you will be shuffling across. For example, if your route has a lot of elevation changes, do some hiking with weights and strength training. For my first trip I followed an ultramarathon training plan and traded the tempo workouts for hikes up the local ski hill. Just like running, the increase in fastpacking should be slow and steady. To reduce the risk of injury, Increase your mileage by 10 percent per week maximum.


Getting started with fastpacking is easy; A journey can take place on any path and at any time of the year. (Personally, I don’t necessarily recommend fast-packing tours in winter, as cold and stormy weather requires more gear and therefore a heavier pack, but they’re not impossible either). For beginners, a good way to go in mild weather is to take an established backpacking route and make it faster and lighter. This will help you nail the basics while staying safe. Fastpacking trips don’t have to cover incredibly long distances, and they certainly don’t have to be in the backcountry. They’re just a way to unlock a new type of adventure – the rest is up to you.

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