Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter

The Evolution of Fastpacking

How do the classic fastpacking offerings by Ultimate Direction compare to a pack of today?

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Ed Tyanich | 2010-11-23 00:00:00-07


The Evolution of Fastpacking - 1
From left: the Ultimate Direction Voyager, WarpSpeed, and Rampage packs, as well as the Osprey Kestrel 48.

“Fastpacking” was coined as a term by Jim Knight during a 1988 traverse of the Wind River Range with Bryce Thatcher. In a 1988 article in UltraRunning Magazine, Jim wrote, “We were wilderness running. Power hiking. Kind of backpacking, but much faster. More fluid. Neat. Almost surgical. Get in. Get out. I call it fastpacking.” They completed the 100-mile traverse in just 38 hours. Bryce, an accomplished endurance athlete and climber, was also the founder and design guru at Ultimate Direction, a hydration product company.

My own fastpacking experiences began a few years earlier with a collection of the lightest gear I could assemble and with much less impressive trips than Bryce and Jim undertook. My own wilderness travel evolved from hiking and backpacking to trail running, ultra marathons, and peak bagging, and finally to lightweight multi-day trips that combined hiking and running. That original gear was, looking back some 25 years, surprisingly good and light.

I started with a Lowe Alpine pack that I made a number of modifications to, and for shelter, I either used a state-of-the-art Bibler Solo Dome (a 2.5-pound Gore-Tex single-wall tent) or an Early Winters bivy. My first sleeping bags also compare fairly well with those of today. An Early Winters Qualofill and a Feathered Friends down filled Hummingbird served me well. Food was mostly of the no-cook variety, and rain gear was Sierra Designs Micro-Lite pullover and pants. Although my gear was rather light, compact, and carried well when hiking, there was too much bounce when the pace quickened to a run.

In 1987 Ultimate Direction introduced the Voyager, the first overnight pack really suited to running. I bought one of the first Voyagers and then upgraded in 1988 to the newest Voyager, now with the Torso-Link suspension. The Voyager had many versions through the years and ranged in size from 1800 to 2400 cubic inches.

After the Wind River Range epic, Ultimate Direction devoted significant effort into their new Fastpack line of packs. I owned several versions of the Voyager, upgrading as models changed until the Voyager disappeared from the Ultimate line (as well as from my pack collection). I was, however, fortunate enough to advertise recently on the BPL Gear Swap and purchase a 1996 model Voyager. Ultimate’s Fastpacks took a big jump in technology in the late 1990s. The introduction of the Rampage, the WarpSpeed, and the original SpeedDemon day pack set the bar higher in pack design. This new series of Fast & Light packs utilized new materials, suspension, and features. How do the Voyager, Rampage, and WarpSpeed stack up against the packs of today?

The Ultimate Direction Voyager

The Evolution of Fastpacking - 2
The Voyager had foam molded water bottle pockets that were scalloped and angled for ease of access.

Ultimate Direction was founded in 1986 as a hydration pack company and in 1986, hydration meant water bottles. They later expanded into hydration bladders as well. Nearly all of the Voyagers had foam molded water bottle pockets. All the bottle pockets were sized for the 26- to 30-ounce SportFlask, with the exception of the last versions of the Voyager, which came with 54-ounce bottles in removable foam bottle pockets.

The early Voyagers had zippered flaps on the bottle pocket top, a nice feature for winter use. All the foam pockets were angled for easy bottle access and were placed to avoid elbow contact during the running motion. Some Voyagers had sewn in hip belt pockets while my 1996 model had removable pockets.

The key feature of Ultimate’s packs beginning in 1988 was the advent of the TorsoLink suspension system. The TorsoLink was a fully articulating suspension that allowed total freedom of movement while running.

The Evolution of Fastpacking - 3
The TorsoLink suspension is fully articulated for a great range of motion.

My 1996 Voyager is a 2000 cubic inch dual-zip panel loader. In addition to the main pocket, there are three other exterior pockets, a large stash pocket and bottom straps with a skid plate flap for carrying a sleeping bag, pad, or tent. There is also a hydration bladder slot in the backpanel.

Suspension on the Voyager is created with a 3/8-inch Delrin stabilizing rod and Evaporade, a special combination of perforated foams and mesh designed to create an ideal balance of rigidity, breathability, and padding in hipbelts and shoulder harnesses. In addition, the shoulder harness is fleece lined.

The shoulder harness attaches with Velcro into the backpanel for torso length adjustment.

The Voyager carries excellently in spite of its rather hefty weight of 53 ounces (without bottles). The foam gives shape and stability to the pack and allows for a natural running motion. Twelve to fifteen pounds is about the maximum carrying weight with the Voyager.

The WarpSpeed & Rampage

The WarpSpeed and its big brother, the Rampage, utilize lightweight fabrics with Dyneema grid fabric in wear areas. The Evaporade is thinner, lighter, and now faces the shoulder harness. Suspension is created with a removable, ridged foam frame sheet. The main pack bag has gone from the panel zip of the Voyager to a top load design. Water bottle pockets are now mesh fabric with an elasticized top for even more weight savings. Some other innovations include skeletonized buckles and quad buckles on the hip belt.

The Evolution of Fastpacking - 4
The water bottle pockets on the WarpSpeed and Rampage became more trim and lighter with the use of mesh fabric and an elasticized top. WarpSpeed on the left and molded foam pocket of the Voyager on the right.

The Evolution of Fastpacking - 5
Among the innovations Ultimate Direction had was the use of the skeletonized quad buckle.

To the best of my memory, the WarpSpeed was listed at 2700 cubic inches and the Rampage at 3400. The two packs are nearly identical with respect to sizing. The features include top pockets, interior hydration sleeve, mesh bottle pockets on the sides, a large stash pocket, daisy chain, ski loops and an exterior zippered pocket. Sewn in bellows hip belt pockets swallow up gear, including compact SLR cameras. The TorsoLink suspension continues, and with the rigid frame sheet and the weight limit, a runner's comfort zone increases. I have had up to 30 pounds in the WarpSpeed, and when carrying in supplies to the cabin, as much as 45 pounds in the Rampage (these weights are greater than typical and to actually run with a pack, my personal limit is around 25 pounds).

The weight cutting measures were significant, with the WarpSpeed coming in at 40 ounces and the Rampage at 54 ounces, the same as the Voyager but nearly 1.5 times the capacity.

All three packs, with the convenient access to hydration and food, allow for a lot of miles between stops.

Compared To A 2010 Pack?

I have tried some of the lighter packs, like the Osprey Exos, for fastpacking and haven’t found them overly comfortable. However an Exos 46, at 54 ounces, compares evenly to the similarly sized Rampage. A newer pack that fits me very well is the Osprey Kestrel 48. Yet a large Kestrel 48 weighs 48 ounces and has a capacity of 2900 cubic inches, heavier than the larger Rampage.

The Evolution of Fastpacking - 6
The EvaporAide foam used on the UD packs was well ahead of its time for moisture management, but not quite as efficient as the modern Airscape used by Osprey.

Features of the older packs certainly stack up with any of the new. Water bottle access, large hip belt pockets and enough pockets in the main pack for good organization without being overwhelming are some high points with the UD packs. Hydration bladder sleeves are more accessible on the newer Osprey. Durability of materials has been very good with the Ultimate packs as well.

How about comfort? While the Kestrel is a very comfortable pack for me, when actually running with loads of 15 pounds, the Ultimate Direction packs have better freedom of movement and greater stability. As I said earlier, the load carrying limits of the UD packs are certainly well within what would be normally carried in light packs of their size. The Airscape suspension in the Kestrel is more breathable in hot weather, but the difference isn’t huge.

In conclusion, the Voyager, the WarpSpeed, and the Rampage were innovative designs, well ahead of the curve of pack design at the time and very comparable to modern packs. It is unfortunate that Ultimate Direction didn’t continue to fine tune these great designs and continue their lead in the fastpacking market... but old packs can be found if you know where to look!


"The Evolution of Fastpacking," by Ed Tyanich. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2010-11-23 00:00:00-07.


Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Remember my login info.

The Evolution of Fastpacking
Display Avatars
Sort By:
Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
The Evolution of Fastpacking on 11/23/2010 15:02:15 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

The Evolution of Fastpacking

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
"modern" technology on 11/23/2010 19:00:57 MST Print View

Good article. I had one of the early 90s Ultimate Direction packs (picked out of the REI catalogue as I recall, I was 9 at the time). Hadn't thought about it in years, but it did have many of the "modern" features we consider to be recent innovations.

A nice reflection on the circularity of history, and how new ideas rarely are, in fact.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
marketing on 11/23/2010 20:45:20 MST Print View

most new "features" are really just rehashed marketing stuff for every new generation ...

packs are getting lighter, better materials, etc ... yes

but at the end of the day its incremental improvements ... and usually a few steps back in the process

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: The Evolution of Fastpacking on 11/24/2010 03:08:31 MST Print View

I have a Warpspeed and I stopped using it years ago:

1. the Torsoflow nearly killed me on a crude but very, very exposed via ferrata ladder in the Japan Alps: I reached up for a rung, the torsoflow slipped and ALL of the weight of the pack suddenly went to one side, nearly throwing me off the ladder.

2. For some reason I could never get the hip belt to grip: this just meant that all the weight went onto my shoulders: I have packs with much less engineered belts that shift weight better.

3. The pocket is a useful size but because it's not attached to the pack if you put any weight in it it sags all over the place.

That said, I always wanted a Voyager.

Edited by Arapiles on 11/24/2010 03:09:41 MST.

Larry Tullis
(Larrytullis) - F - M

Locale: Wasatch Mountains
Re-evolution of Fastpacking on 11/24/2010 09:58:15 MST Print View

When talking about fast-packing, we need to give kudos to those of the distant past that inspired modern wilderness travel. Fast-packing may seem modern but but it's actually a re-think of an ancient philosophy and skill-set.

Otzi, the euro iceman is one of the most studied corpses in history and his lifestyle 5000 years ago was of a fast-packing one. He carried survival items of a lightweight and portable nature. His copper ax was lighter than most hatchets today. His fire-starter kit was complicated but compact, his shoes were lighter than fast-packing shoes of today and he ate dried meat, grains and dried berries. He even had a first aid kit complete with anti-bacterial fungi. His joints showed a history of long journeys at high elevation.

The scouts, prospectors, warriors, shepherds, explorers and mountain men of yesteryear often went light and fast when away from a home base or pack animals. Their gear generally consisted of a cloak that doubled as a blanket and raincoat, sandals or lightweight leather footwear, a "possibles sack" (fire-starter kit, knife, needles etc. and "pemmican" (dried meat, berries, grains and animal lard ground together and formed into an "energy bar"). A hiking staff that doubled as a defensive weapon/spear. They often carried heavy weapons too but the other lightweight gear made it possible.

Modern materials and designs have made a big difference in gear but the whole idea of going fast and light is ancient.

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: The Evolution of Fastpacking on 11/26/2010 17:43:56 MST Print View

I've been through three of these packs and still have a rampage sitting in my garage that I haven't used in years. I had mixed feelings about the torsolink suspension--it definitely yielded greater movement but made it harder to use my shoulders to control bounce. I liked the outer teardrop pocket, the waist belt pockets and small lid pocket. It was worth the extra weight to be able to run with it.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re-evolution of Fastpacking on 11/26/2010 17:48:56 MST Print View

"Otzi, the euro iceman is one of the most studied corpses in history and his lifestyle 5000 years ago was of a fast-packing one. He carried survival items of a lightweight and portable nature. His copper ax was lighter than most hatchets today. His fire-starter kit was complicated but compact, his shoes were lighter than fast-packing shoes of today and he ate dried meat, grains and dried berries. He even had a first aid kit complete with anti-bacterial fungi. His joints showed a history of long journeys at high elevation."

I'll bet he didn't have a Spot.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re-evolution of Fastpacking on 11/27/2010 01:00:22 MST Print View

> Otzi, the euro iceman is one of the most studied corpses in history

Current research is suggesting that this may have been a ceremonial burial, not an accident.


Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: The Evolution of Fastpacking on 11/28/2010 11:30:17 MST Print View

To me this article seems as out dated it’s circa 1988.
I do not believe anyone would wear any of the packs mentioned to fastpack 100 miles in 38 hours.

It seems that everyone just needs some type of intervention between light weight backpacking and fastpacking. There have been 100's of forums started as to "what do you define as fastpacking". The question is usually answered with even a broader spectrum than a question such as what do you consider light.

I have yet to read an article on fastpacking that sheds any light on the subject as its definitive for what the term really means. I can understand this, because if someone wanted to "fastpack" then the terms would have to meet "there" needs and abilities. And in accompanying the 10 mile a day hikers that want to go for a 15 mile a day jaunt or "fastpack", the term becomes so loose, it makes understanding it way too complicated.

For the majority of the topic about the term "fastpacking", one must only look at the word itself to come across the simplest definition; "FAST"!!! Other words that come to mind are simple, less complicated and multipurpose.

Fastpacking does not have to just mean the rate of distance per day or the speed one travels doesn't have to matter. A greater concern though is freedom of movement. Such as getting over a boulder fast or being able to run without haveing any restrictions of movement or having a pack bouncing up and down.
All of these restrictions hinder the movement in such a way to slow you down, (hence the opposite of fast).

A am sorry, but none of the packs above would even remotely come close to qualifying as a “fast” “pack”.

In 2007 I started a “fastpack” trip on the JMT with 14 pounds, including water, with enough food for 6 days. The pack was a Nathan 859 with about 1100 CI of volume.
Since then I have overhauled everything and learned a great volume of hands on information as to the term “fast”.

This years JMT Supported Record Aattempt was with a Salomon XT Wings 5 Pro pack with the additional custom front pocket. Although the set up was not perfect, it has led me to what I use now for my fastpack trips.
I now use an Osprey talon 11 or the Osprey Daylight pack with the Salomon custom front pocket attached to it, via sewing machine.

So what does all this mean? I believe the term “fast is looked at too loosely. We need to ask ourselves some questions if we want to consider a fastpacking trip.

What is the smallest, simplest easiest to use pack that we you can put the warmest yet smallest volume bag or quilt in plus food and water. The rest of the necessities you really need do not add up to more than a few hundred cubic inches. What is the fastest way you can both get to your water and refill it? What is the minimal gear necessary to get the distance completed? All of this may not be the lightest, but it does need to be the easiest and simplest to use.
It would just be nice to have the subject of fastpacking enlighten me in some way and make since to me.
It is now 2010, some 22 years after its first mentioning. In 1988, fastpacking was a true and pure meaning of what it stood for. I don’t see it coming back any time soon.

I’m sorry but “FAST” is not a 44 liter pack!

Edited by awsorensen on 11/28/2010 11:31:42 MST.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: The Evolution of Fastpacking on 11/28/2010 12:42:52 MST Print View

Shannon's one cent just for kicks. No, I'm neither of these, but it is interesting to think about. Found this site and I'm sure there are many on the subject. Must get away from this computer today ; ).

It sounds like the original idea was to mostly run the distance. By nature of fast would mean you want to carry minimal gear since most of it is competitive? Competitive wilderness running.

Fastpacking- Getting from point A to point B as fast as possible by running most of the mileage (greater than 50%), carrying minimal shelter and sleep systems with food and water. Travel distance requires at least one night out.

Speedhiking- Getting from point A to point B as fast as possible by hiking only, carrying minimal shelter and sleep systems with food and water. Travel distance requires at least one night out.

Edited by jshann on 11/28/2010 12:47:40 MST.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
The Evolution of Fastpacking on 11/28/2010 14:00:29 MST Print View

"I’m sorry but “FAST” is not a 44 liter pack!"

Why not? The idea of fastpacking is moving fast. Does suddenly adorning a 44L pack mean medium packing?

Ed Tyanich
(runsmtns) - F - M
Nathan Packs on 11/28/2010 19:37:17 MST Print View

I have tried all the Nathan packs and in my opinion they really suck, even though they were designed by Bryce Thatcher who owned Ultimate Direction.

Fast is a very subjective term, especially when you look at the time being posted in ultras such as WS.

Also, we have done "Fastpack" trips that were ridge lines, no actual trail and at times 5-6 hours between water sources. Same for some trips in the Canyonlands areas. There is no choice other than carrying a heavier pack.

Edited by runsmtns on 11/29/2010 06:28:49 MST.

John Murtiashaw
(murda) - F

Locale: Ashvegas and beyond
Dem UD Packs on 12/04/2010 16:19:20 MST Print View

When I was in undergrad at Warren Wilson College in the mid-2000's, the outdoor department had one UD pack available to borrow, and I always had to dig through a slew of Lowe Alpine tall boys to find it. I would religiously yank it out whenever I was headed somewhere fun. The whole staff hated the thing for some reason, and they all told me that no one else ever checked it out. I always loved it. Ultimately it dissapeared, stolen, I suspect by some other closet ultra lighter on campus. Then a couple years ago at Baxter State Park some dude was wearing one coming off of Katahdin, and I probably picked his brain about it for a half hour ha.

Kevin Clark
(rifleman3353) - F
Ultimate Directions on 12/11/2010 08:54:10 MST Print View

Ive got 2 U Ultimate Directions backpacks.I used them for very light overnights and for day hiking.I was using one this past spring but bought something lighter.

Terry Trimble
(socal-nomad) - F

Locale: North San Diego county
The Evolution of Fastpacking on 04/17/2011 15:15:53 MDT Print View

I purchased UD Voyager with the 54oz water bottle holder the bottles are gone but it holds a couple 1 liter platypus bottles. The voyager is my go to pack for bush whacking through chaparral and animal trails.
I am glad you pinned this article I lost my hang tags on my pack so I did not know the cubic inches of the pack or weight.It nice to have history of older pack designs of past. That set trends in light weight pack design.