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.