What is Fastpacking?

Written by Susie Burt 12 June 2019

Last modified on 21 March 2024
Clothing for a multiday hike or run - or 'fast pack' Clothing for a multiday hike or run - or 'fast pack'

How can 'fast packing' skills help you on your next walking holiday? What is fastpacking?

Well it's an interesting term! Is it how quickly you can pack your bag to leave the house on holiday? Or how fast you can stuff all your kit back into your rucksack in the morning to leave the hut (while your guide waits patiently outside)?

Apparently not, Google quickly clarified that it's a relatively new term coined by those that like to travel fast and light though the outdoor environment carrying all they need in a rucksack, usually for multiple days. It's more of a merger of running and hiking carrying only the essentials. What does this mean to the "normal person" who likes to go out and enjoy the outdoor environment but also be comfortable and have a good time. We can actually learn a lot from this niche sport and pick up some useful tips and tricks to help us in other outdoor activities like walking in the mountains.

So what have I learnt from my research and how can I apply them, let's take a look...

1. Overall weight of kit - how much am I carrying in my rucksack? This will have a big impact on how fast you can move, how tiered you get and the impact on your joints while moving. Every gram is important and trying to keep what you really need to take with you to a minimum does take time and confidence to learn. I recall days of carrying way too much 'stuff' in rucksacks far bigger than needed with me for a hike of just a few hours. Now I would barely take anything with me for a day hike and it would generally fit into a small 10 - 15 litre rucksack.

The less you carry the lighter your pack the easier the uphill's and the downhill's will feel and your body will thank you for it over a multi-day trip. This does not have to mean cutting half the handle of your toothbrush off or living in the same clothes for a week to save weight, but it does mean making some informed choices to help keep your rucksack weight down.

2. Choosing your kit carefully - the advancement in lightweight, functional kit in the last 5-8 years is staggering and it's now possible to have a fully waterproof jacket with hood that weights less than 200g and packs into a small stuff sack. For most walking holidays in Europe that Tracks and Trails run, you need to have clothes that will keep you warm on cold days, keep dry in the event of wet weather and keep you cool when it's hot and sunny. If your joining a trip with luggage support then you can change your clothing more regularly but if you have to carry all your kit for a week or more, then only packing what you can get away with is important.

Investing in good quality kit is worth the money, it can be expensive but the technical fabrics will keep you warm/cool and dry when required. Things like a light down jacket, wool base layers, technical fleece top, hiking trousers that zip-off to shorts and rucksack at the right size will be great investments.

3. The right kit for the right environment - For most Tracks and Trails walking holidays you can check the weather forecast for the region you are going to right up until you get on the plane. If you see the weather is going to be hot and sunny all week then you can adapt your clothing requirements accordingly. Rather than a full down jacket a hybrid jacket is a good alternative, if you have an insulated waterproof jacket that you might use for skiing, don't take it on your walking holiday. It's bulky, heavy and hot, you need a lightweight waterproof jacket which packs down small. In the mountains you can get days that will start cold with temperatures around 0° degrees Celsius or less but can then get up to 30° degrees Celsius during the day, this demands much of your clothing and adaptability is key.

4. Carry only items that will - a. keep you alive b. that you can eat c. a camera.

A good mantra to adhere to. Clothing, first aid kit, sleeping bag/mat/tent (if you are camping), stove, wash kit will help to keep you alive and comfortable. Comfort = enjoyment. Food to be eaten is key to also staying alive, if your camping you will need food for all the days you are out, if you're staying in huts/hotels along your route then you only need carry snack food to back up what you get and can buy each day. A camera to record your trip with. This can be your phone or an additional camera depending on your desire and photographic ability!

5. Autonomy and Self-Sufficiency - True fastpacking relies heavily on experience, which usually means you are self-sufficient and autonomous in the environment you choose to go into. Both of these skills come with experience of travelling in the outdoors and you have to suffer though hot, cold, wet and windy weather to learn how to look after yourself and mange all your clothing and equipment sufficiently well when the going gets tough. Learning to be autonomous is a really important skill and ultimately will lead to greater enjoyment of any trip.

Susie in action on an alpine trail race

Watch what your guide does! I have learnt and continue to learn heaps from watching guides work and live in the mountains. When you stop for a break what do they do? What do you do, is it the same or very differant? Invariably they will take off their rucksack and place it down carefully where it won't roll off down the hill or get in someone else way, they will put on a layer of clothing unless its boiling hot and eat and drink something immediately. They will then enjoy the views, chat with the group etc. Follow their lead, they do it for a reason and will have done the same thing literally thousands of times. Don't wait to be told what to do, if you're not sure ask.

Learning to pack your kit into your rucksack so that you have the items you might need near the top may sound obvious but it's surprising how little this is followed. Having a kit explosion to find your fleece that you have stuffed into the bottom of your rucksack is not ideal when you're feeling the cold.

Learn how your kit works. If you buy a new rucksack take it out and use it a few times before you start your walking holiday, know where the pockets are and how you might want to pack it. Learn your preferred clothing layering system and stick with it.

I also use the rule "Be Bold, Start Cold", as you will probably be hot (if you're walking uphill) within 10 minutes of moving and sweating too much leads to overheating, dehydration, getting cold fast and generally being uncomfortable.

Try to get into a routine, personally I find it much easier to learn things if I practise them, so I try to do the same thing each time I stop when I am out on the hill whether it's walking, running, skiing; I pack my rucksack the same way each time so I know where things are. It will all help to build up autonomy and you will have more time to relax and enjoy the holiday.

By refining your kit choices and building up your experience, autonomy and self-sufficiency you can easily make your next walking holiday a even more pleasurable experience.

We look forward to you joining us in the hills. 

Susie manages the Tracks and Trails office, and when off duty can be found competing in trail running races, mountain biking, and if you glance to the skies she may be above you with her paraglider!

Our walking and trail running holidays dates for 2019 & 2020 are available online.