Fastpacking can save time and weight

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of November 13-19, 1997
Fastpacking can save time and weight
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Fastpacking can save time and weight
Question: I've heard the term "fastpacking" used in several articles, yet I can never seem to find out what is meant by the term or even if there is any strict definition. I would assume it means some form of backpacking.

Cary Wilhide
Columbia, MD

Adventure Adviser: You may have heard about the man who recently climbed all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks in a week. I'd definitely put him in the fastpacker category.

Basically, fastpacking is a distance-oriented, lightweight form of backpacking. The whole idea is to cover more territory, see more sights, and do it in less time without the weight of the average backpacker — it's the perfect solution for those who want to get away from it all in an increasingly hectic world.

The biggest proponents of fastpacking are tennis-shoe-clad trail runners, ultra-marathoners, and cross-country skiers — people who are used to covering a lot of distance.

Regular Joes who aren't wild about camping like fastpacking because it allows them to get far away from it all, and they only have to sleep outside for one or two nights.

Logistically a backpacker may carry 25 to 30 percent of her bodyweight and cover 10 to 15 miles per day, whereas a fastpacker will carry 10 to 15 percent of her bodyweight and cover 20 to 50 miles in a day.

There are no hard-and-fast rules of fastpacking, but the term was coined back in 1987 by an Idaho-based backpack-design company whose designers saw an increasing need for a pack that would work for ultrarunners aiming to cover a lot of ground in a little time.

A few of the more notable fastpacking feats include the Utah's 130-mile Uinta Range, hiked in three days; the 100-mile Wind River Range in Wyoming, hiked in two days; and the John Muir trail in the Sierra Nevada, fastpacked in four and a half days.

As modern and efficient as it sounds, there are disadvantages to fastpacking. The first is that you may get caught in some serious weather without being fully prepared. For example, most fastpackers wear tennis shoes — one bad twist could put an end to your efficient 75-mile fastpacking weekend.

The other downside, some argue, is the whole point of backpacking is to be able to take your time and embrace the sights around you, no matter how long it takes.

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