Before we get started, I have a confession to make. I have never cut my toothbrush in half.
I am in no way an ultralight person. When it comes to gear, I have never really been into it. Sure, it’s necessary, and yes I like to have nice things. But I have never been the type to stress over ounces or even grams. The adventure or the exploration is my focus. My attitude has always been to put a little more muscle into it and carry what I want, including beer. My friend TJ calls it “fast and heavy”.
Over the years, I’ve had a few backpacking trips that ended with me feeling unfulfilled. I wanted to see more and do more. I generally don’t have a lot of time to go on adventures, I like to cram in every last mile.
So, when you’re planning for more miles in a shorter amount of time, the easiest solution is speed. Recently, I have been enjoying fastpacking, which is essentially just backpacking… just faster and with a lighter load. By running parts of the trail, you can cover more distance and see more in a day. One of my absolute favorite things is to look at the map after a trip and trace my finger over the route I ran or hiked. It’s so much more satisfying when that is a longer line.
So, to have a more comfortable load to run with, I have been forced to figure out ways to cut the weight. We have come a long way from the external frame bags and heavy boots that I started out with.
These days it’s possible to be comfortable at camp and move quickly with a light pack. So, here are my 9 tips to reduce weight without sacrificing comfort and, in the process, making your first fastpacking trip a success.
1. Lose the tent, or take a bivy sack
I like to plan my trips to places that have shelters or even pavillions to sleep under. I hear that public bathrooms are a popular place to bivy, but I haven’t ever tried it. This is an area where you can really get creative. You can take a waterproof bivy or lightweight tarp if the weather is looking iffy.
2. Leave your Nalgene in the car
Running companies have developed incredible soft flasks that work great for carrying water. I am not a fan of using a bladder, so I take one soft flask, and another soft flask with a filter attached. Durability isn’t really a concern, I’ve never had one puncture on me.
3. Trim down your sleep setup
Other than water, your sleep setup is probably the heaviest thing you are carrying. The UberLite pad is incredible, slightly bigger than your fist but sleeps like a dream.
Bonus tip: Use a quilt instead of a sleeping bag. I find that I actually sleep much better with the Vesper quilt, as opposed to a mummy bag. It’s super light and has hydrophobic down that keeps you very cozy. I wasn’t necessarily sold on the idea of a quilt at first. “What if I get too cold for a quilt?” Many times fast packing my body stays warm through the night because I have been moving quickly all day. Using the quilt I can ventilate easily, but if it does get chilly I can snap it closed and pull in the draft tubes.
Coffee is a big one for me. I love it, and I have gone great lengths to have good quality coffee in the backcountry. Sadly there is no room for a french press or my camp stove top single shot espresso maker (seriously, this exists) in my fast pack. So I bring Starbucks Via or Alpine Start, shake it up in my soft flask in the morning, and I have a nice “cold brew” to get me back on the trail.
5. Only bring two sets of clothes
I would say to use only one, but it is really nice to have dry clothes to sleep in. Even though they might be gross just put your clothes on from the previous day. If the smell really bothers you, you can always use merino wool clothing to cut down on the funk. Hang your sweaty clothes up when you sleep, or on the back of your pack the next day running.
Some would say just leave this one out completely. There are a few lightweight sandal companies out there that make minimal sandals that lay flat and are easy to pack. After running all day, it feels really good to let your feet take a break from your trail running shoes.
7. Ziplock/ Trash bag liner
Don’t use a pack cover, instead use gallon ziplock bags or just a trash bag liner for everything in your pack.
8. Fanny Pack
Using a fanny pack doesn’t really lighten your load, but you can move the weight around. Put things in the fanny pack that you will pull out often like a map/phone or snacks, and it will make you feel like your load is lighter. Plus, it just looks cool.
9. Cut your toothbrush in half
Just kidding! You have to have that length for leverage, so you can really polish those molars in the backcountry. But, if that’s your thing, dive into all the little weight-saving tips the “UL community” has to offer to get your pack to a weight that keeps you comfy while running.
I think the thing I like most about fastpacking is that there are no rules. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. You can use packs made specifically for fast packing, or use a smaller backpack or day pack that you already own. I am a firm believer in figuring things out as you go. You probably won’t get it right on the first trip. Everyone is different, and part of the fun is figuring out what system works for you. I really like pairing down my setup and only taking what is really necessary to be safe.
Keep these tips in mind if you decide to take part in the fantastic world of fastpacking. You don’t have to cut your toothbrush in half, just make sure that you take one.