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 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 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 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.
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 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!