If you are looking for an activity that combines your love of running, efficiency, planning, the outdoors, survival, and testing your physical limits, fastpacking may be your new favorite pastime. But, what does this sport entail, and how does someone go about becoming involved? Discussed below is part one of everything a person needs to know about fastpacking.

What is fastpacking?
Simply put, fastpacking combines trail running with backpacking to produce a sport where efficiency is key. A fastpacker’s goal is to cover as much ground as he or she can over the course of the trip, which can last anywhere from three days to three months. Fastpacking can be performed by a single person in an unsupported fashion, or as a group of people with a support team. There are few rules as to what fastpacking is and is not, but the most important tenets are to travel quickly, travel lightly, live minimally, and leave behind no trace.

How does trail running and fastpacking differ?
In many ways fastpacking is simply an extension of trail running. Whereas a trail runner may spend a few hours out on a run, perhaps stopping every now and then to take in the scenery or have a snack before finishing up and heading home, a fastpacker dedicates every day of his or her journey towards reaching his or her destination as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible – while still having fun. While trail running is often performed in preparation for a larger event, fastpacking is the event that fastpackers spend months training and planning for.

How does backpacking and fastpacking differ?
Another important distinction to make is between backpacking and fastpacking. Traditional backpacking gear can be heavy and cumbersome, and fastpackers seek to use as little gear as possible. For this reason, fastpacking is often considered an extension of ultra light backpacking, where every piece of gear has been painstakingly considered in terms of weight, utility, and function. While a typical backpacker’s load is generally less than 1/3 the person’s weight (i.e. 50 lbs for a 150 lb person), a fastpacker typically carries 20 lbs or less, while an ultra light fastpacker carries less than 10 lbs.

What equipment is required for fastpacking?
Generally speaking, a fastpacker requires everything he or she will need in order to survive a multi-day journey outdoors no matter the weather conditions. There are three forms of fastpacking, one where the runner is unsupported, meaning that he or she does not have access to a crew or stored food for the entire duration of the trip. This fastpacker will carry all of the food, clothing, camping, and emergency supplies required for the entire trip. A self-supported fastpacking trip allows the runner to store food on the trail ahead of time or utilize facilities, such as shops along the way, to restock necessities. A third way to faspack is to be supported, meaning a crew will meet the runner at check points along the way to help set up camp or replenish supplies. Regardless of the style of fastpacking engaged the trail runner will require an ultra light backpack, food, a means for hydration, emergency equipment, clothes, and camping items.

What skills does fastpacking require?
In order to excel at fastpacking a person should be physically able to safely cover the planned daily distance while also acknowledging that a fast packing excursion will require more effort than a simple trail run. For instance, if planning to cover 15 miles per day, a runner should feel comfortable in his or her ability to cover 20 – 25 miles per day without the additional burden of carrying gear and surviving the elements. A fastpacker also must have good navigational and outdoors skills, especially if running unsupported or self-supported, as even a small mistake could turn into a life threatening situation. Finally, a fastpacker should be equal parts driven and flexible, as having a plan is a necessity during a fastpacking trip, but being too strict with the plan can lead to injuries or dangerous situations. Ultimately, there are few true skills that a fastpacker requires, as the vast majority of people trying fastpacking for the first time will have already displayed proficiency in the trail running, camping, and backpacking components that fastpacking combines.

What precautions should a fastpacker take?
Overall, a fastpacker should be aware that this activity will require more energy than backpacking or trail running, and should not underestimate the toll that is taken on the body. While it may be tempting to use your first fastpacking experience as a way to test your limits, a fastpacker should seek to travel conservatively until he or she fully understands and is comfortable with the additional demands required. Ultimately it is important to remember that fastpacking, especially when done in the back country, can quickly become dangerous if not meticulously planned for.

Is there a competitive component to fastpacking?
While there are few official fastpacking competitions (perhaps the closest equivalent is Marathon des Sables), there are a number of unofficial competitions, known as “fastest known time” or FKT. Just as it sounds, in this type of competition a fastpacker will attempt to complete a route in the fastest known time. An example that riveted even non-runners was Scott Jurek’s FKT attempt at fastpacking the 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail. He barely eclipsed the previous record of 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes set by Jennifer Pharr Davis by coming in at 46 days, 8 hours. Jurek’s attempt was followed by many and made FKT a more widely understood term. A database of FKTs across the world can be found here.

Are there rules for fastpacking?
While there are no defined rules for fastpacking in the same way there may be for other sports, there is a code of ethics that fastpackers are expected to follow that comply with the Leave No Trace guidelines. Just like trail runners, backpackers, campers, and hikers, fastpackers are expected to have planned and prepared for their excursion ahead of time; to lessen the risk of erosion by running and camping on durable surfaces; to never leave waste items behind; to never take souvenirs from the trail; to minimize the impact of campfires; to be respectful of wildlife; and finally, to be considerate of other users of the parks and trails.

Where can I fastpack?
Fastpacking is a sport that can be performed anywhere that hiking, running, and camping is allowed. Never attempt to fastpack an area that is closed off to runners or campers, and always make sure to inquire after the proper permits whether wilderness camping or settling into a camp site, even if only for a few short hours.

How do I get started with fastpacking?
If you are already familiar with trail running, backpacking, and ultra light backpacking, fastpacking will not be too far from your comfort zone. However, if you are unfamiliar with any of these areas, it is recommended to first try fastpacking in a controlled setting. Participating in a multi-stage ultramarathon race while carrying your fastpacking gear serves as a great “dress rehearsal” before your first fastpacking trip whether it is supported, unsupported, or self-supported. Another way for a first timer to learn the ropes of fastpacking is to enlist a veteran fastpacker to accompany you on your first journey.