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Fastpacking Definition?
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Alec Muthig
(Alekat) - F

Locale: Wyoming, USA
Fastpacking Definition? on 04/09/2007 16:54:14 MDT Print View

I'm in a bit of a discussion with some runners about what "fastpacking" is. Anyone want to define it for me?

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 04/16/2007 11:01:53 MDT Print View

The great Encyclopedia of Evans defines "fastpacking" as:

"a term used for ultralight, long-distance, multi-day backpacking"

G Cowen
(coweng) - F
Re: Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 04/16/2007 13:30:35 MDT Print View

I would add when time or speed is a goal of the trip...

not all ultralighters are fastpackers and not all fastpackers are ultralight...

Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
Re: Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 04/16/2007 13:55:09 MDT Print View

I think fastpacking is a combination of ultralight, functionality, simplicity, intellegence, speed, strength, endurance and discipline

when all are put together, the limits of human ability can be safely and efficently tested. However, if someone is weak in any of these catagories, less is reasonably attainable.

Fastpacking is an ever-changing sport, with new inovations in gear technologies, more and more doors are being open. But even with these advances, experience, strength and discipline are what makes a sucessful fastpacker.

Like any runner knows, a desire is a necessary fuel behind sucess, The same is needed in fastpacking, The only difference s there is a pack on your back to keep you going for days.

Fastpacking is a multiday endurance sport, that requires as much mental srength as phisical. It allows people to enjoy the backcountry on a different level then those less experienced. Simplicity and lightweight gear allows the athlete to forget the speed and challenges of life and focus on the goals and challenges at hand. With more experience in fastpacking, the further, faster, and longer you will be able to go, leaving you with increased satisfaction in your accomplishments

Edited by ryanf on 04/16/2007 14:19:25 MDT.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
re:Fastpacking Definition? on 04/16/2007 20:48:02 MDT Print View

Ryans explanation is right on; the only question now is exactly how fast is "fast".

When I was in the service, the Army planned on a non-tactical pace of 3.5 miles/hour. That seems to be a good threshold for "fast" or "slow".

But maybe If you are being passed on the trail, it seems like those guys are fastpacking. If you are passing people, you are fastpacking. ;)

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
Fastpacking Definition? on 04/17/2007 13:02:07 MDT Print View

Ryan, I'm not so sure about the simplicity side of things. The first fast-packing items I saw for sale were like ultralight gear but with more features. And a little more weight. The word was a marketing device. I think it is starting to become a discipline in its own right because enthusiasts are challenging themselves to do big things and making life easier for themselves by using ultralight gear.

But what makes it different from adventure racing, which has been around for a long time? Is it not fast-packing if you are trying to reach a destination more quickly than someone else who is on the trail at the same time as you, and who started at the same time as you. Is the absence of an actual race an important feature of fast-packing? Why shouldn't an individual challenge themselves to fast-pack within a race setting?

Perhaps the term is best left to the marketing men and women. But, I have to confess to having started fell-walking and carrying camping gear into high corries several years before the term 'backpacking' crossed the Atlantic.

Benjamin Tomsky
(btomsky) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 04/24/2007 17:24:15 MDT Print View

I contemplated the definition of "fastpacking" during a solo backpacking trip last weekend... I couldn't help but wonder "am I fastpacking right now?" after reading this thread the week before.

So, I have a proposal to add to the mix:

Fastpacking is a style of backpacking wherein the participant demonstrates sophistication in selecting equipment to optimize the performance to weight ratio and, during a given trip, attempts to travel as far and/or fast as possible (for him- or herself).

This would make fastpacking somewhat relative to the individual, such that by that definition a 105 year old woman who traveled only 6 miles a day could be fastpacking (if it was on a multi-day trip, she demonstrated sophistication in selecting optimized gear, and tried to go as far as she could). A physically disabled person could fastpack by this definition.

In its essence, I propose that fastpacking is a style of backpacking and relative to the participant's intent. It may or may not be competitive.

To specifically answer John's question about the difference between adventure racing and fastpacking, I'd say that adventure racing is organized, competitive backpacking (plus other disciplines such as kayaking, mountain biking, etc). The best adventure race competitors are fastpackers (during the backpacking portion of the adventure race). However, you could compete in an adventure race and not be a fastpacker.

Alec Muthig
(Alekat) - F

Locale: Wyoming, USA
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 04/25/2007 08:42:22 MDT Print View

The basis of our discussion really came down to whether sleep/camp was a part of the definition or not. If I cover 100 miles over a two day period but do not stop to sleep, am I fastpacking or just hiking/running? If I stop to sleep for 90 minutes, am I now fastpacking? I know, it's nitpicking, but was an interesting discussion.

James Watts
(james481) - F

Locale: Sandia Mountains
Intent... on 04/25/2007 17:24:17 MDT Print View

I think, personally, the defintion is based on intent and style, rather than gear choice, distance traveled, or nights slept. For instance, when I go out backpacking, I'm there to enjoy my surroundings and the companionship of others (or myself). However, when deployed on SAR missions, I would consider it "fastpacking". We have a specific goal (find, reach, extract a patient, etc), and the time needed to reach that goal is paramount.

I carry a much lighter load when "backpacking" as opposed to "fastpacking" on a SAR mission (helmet, work gloves, harness, steel rescue biners, rope, cord, webbing, and anchors really add up!), and the usage of the common equipment is different. When backpacking, I stop hiking at dusk, cook a hot meal and maybe some hot cider or hot chocolate, then sleep a full night, then wake up and cook breakfast before hitting the trail. When SAR "fastpacking", I may bivy for 2 or 3 hours if neccesary, make a hot drink if my core temp is getting low, and make food if the energy levels are really down, but all with the time constraints and final goal in mind. I do what is required to meet the goal, and nothing more. That's what constitutes fastpacking in my (meager, sleep deprived) mind.

Caco Chen
(caco) - MLife
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 04/26/2007 02:13:38 MDT Print View

Fastpacking is basically backpacking taken to its physical and mental extreme. 30, 40, 50, or even 60-miles per day is the routine for these athletes, depending on whether its a short 5-day 300-mile speed record attempt or a 10-month 7,000+ backpacking trip.

Jorge DeLaSierra
(DeLaSierra) - F

Locale: SoCal
Fastpacking Definition? on 08/03/2010 10:44:55 MDT Print View

Funny; I have a forum with more-less the same interrogative. The question I am asking is what is the essential difference between a fastpacker and a speedhiker; or, are these the same. This comes to mind when I hear of someone going for a trail record at the JMT for example. I believe they are two distinct disciplines.

Fastpack is a spin-off from traditional UL hiking. Self contained, non-supported or sponsored, ultralight minded extreme UL hiker. You see a fastpacker on the trail and he/she might seem to be in a hurry to catch up with some buddies ahead. Not much difference in gear looks other than the smaller backpack. You will never know he/she is covering 40-50 miles in a day unless you ask. Such was the case when I saw Brett Maune at the Vidette Meadows in Sept'09; I asked him for a weather report. Three days later he completed the JMT in 3days, 12hrs and 14mins. I recognized him when he posted his report/pictures on BPL.

Speedhiking is a spin-off from traditional trailrunning. The speedhiker is usually an accomplished marathon or Ultra trail runner with all the great attributes of a long distance racer. He/she will take on the greatest and most demanding trails out there; however, it is all usually supported by a team of buddies or a business; thus, making the speedhiker's pack super light. You will definetly recognize a speedhiker because of his/her running style and gear, and, very small backpack. Some speedhiker's support team will carry the runner's sleeping gear, tent and extra food and meet the runner somewhere for replenishment and rest. Nevertheless, both disciplines are awesome (extreme) human sports endeavors.

I tried a fastpack hike from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal this weekend (8/1) with a 20 pound pack (all included -- food/water too); but, I ran out of time, settled for Crab Tree and finished the rest of the trail the following morning (I hate hiking at night). I completed the trip in a day/half (about 21 hours of actual trail time).

Good times...


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 08/03/2010 13:34:45 MDT Print View

:) Sometimes we cannot agree on Light, UL, SUL. And now more definitions to confuse me.

I like my kid's definition: Dad is out on one of his adventures... and he'll be okay, he always comes back in good shape.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 08/03/2010 16:19:59 MDT Print View

Marketing spin. Totally marketing spin. All such phrases.

Why? Because the words have no 'formal' or 'official' definition, there is no single authority who can enforce such a definition, no two groups can agree on a definition, and who cares anyhow?


Jorge DeLaSierra
(DeLaSierra) - F

Locale: SoCal
Fastpacking Definition on 08/04/2010 21:40:53 MDT Print View

Well I guess that's it then... It's all the same and we are a bunch of Hetch-Hetchy cool-aid drinkers right? We got it all screwed up about discussing subjects and folks' ideas on BPL... humm let's see... BPL must have made a mistake to invite hundreds to inititiate forums.. humm what is a forum anyway?... let me check the dictionary first because I must not know what I'm saying...."•S: (n) forum (a public meeting or assembly for open discussion)•S: (n) forum, assembly, meeting place (a public facility to meet for open discussion)......

Oh well... BPL got it wrong... that is not what this must be. Shut down the site and computers and stop your research and exchanges because it's all the same; dope on the trail -- pack on the back -- yakiriyak...

Who cares? Those that do... if you can't contribute something positive, find another forum.


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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 08/05/2010 00:10:42 MDT Print View

"I tried a fastpack hike from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal this weekend (8/1) with a 20 pound pack (all included -- food/water too); but, I ran out of time, settled for Crab Tree and finished the rest of the trail the following morning (I hate hiking at night). I completed the trip in a day/half (about 21 hours of actual trail time)."

I was witness to some of this. I was hiking on the Whitney Trail on Monday 8/2 and ran into Jorge when he was coming down from Lone Pine Lake. The pack looked big.


Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Fastpacking Definition?" on 08/05/2010 06:26:46 MDT Print View

Marketing spin. Totally marketing spin. All such phrases.

Why? Because the words have no 'formal' or 'official' definition, there is no single authority who can enforce such a definition, no two groups can agree on a definition, and who cares anyhow?

When did we start having to rely or adhere to a "single authority" to "enforce" definitions regarding the different methodologies adopted by trail enthusiasts? Perhaps in a monarchy, but not over here. I think we as outdoor enthusiasts of every shape, color, and flavor can govern our own activities. BPL distinguishes itself as a variation of traditional backpacking and hiking, ala lightweight, how is delineating between hiking vs. slackpacking vs. speedhiking vs. fastpacking any different? Sport climbing vs. trad vs. big wall vs. alpine, etc. They all get to the high point, just differently.

"Who cares?" Thousands of people do.

** Disclosure** I'm a trail runner, who occasionally loves a nice walk in the woods here and there with a small pack on. I've set no speed records and don't plan to, and have no affiliation with the governing body of those determined to perpetuate this "marketing spin".

Nick Truax
(nicktruax) - F

Locale: SW Montana
Re: "Fastpacking Definition?" on 08/06/2010 00:31:59 MDT Print View

^^Very nice Eugene.

"They all get to the high point, just differently". The climbing analogy is very much a good one.

All too often we get some opinion-based blanket statement, as opposed to discourse. Thank you for contributing to this forum (as always).

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: "Fastpacking Definition?" on 08/06/2010 02:46:16 MDT Print View

> how is delineating between hiking vs. slackpacking vs. speedhiking vs. fastpacking any different?

The point i was making is that there are no hard and fast definitions: people can use any of the terms in any way they choose. This makes detailed arguments about the differences between the terms pointless.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'


Jorge DeLaSierra
(DeLaSierra) - F

Locale: SoCal
Fastpacking Definition on 08/08/2010 10:51:47 MDT Print View

No one is saying there is a backpack police out enforcing any definition, so-called authority or spin. Bottom line is that folks who are totally foreign to trail sports seek out information on techniques, gear, etc, and most of all, their individual nature calling philosophy. Such things usually require definitions. Preeching that all that matters is to get to the top or the other side, and, leave it at that -- sounds selfish. It is not all that matters. You are either miserable getting there or you are miserable once you get there. You can travel light and freeze at night if you don't know what the heck you're doing.

When I stopped car-camping and decided to stay out in the wilderness over-night, besides being transformed, I saw folks on the trail having much fun with lighter packs -- going farther. I got curious and discovered BPL. Here, I learned to shave off 50% off my pack and enjoy the ease of covering 30-40 mile days; thus, doing more in less time -- thus, requiring less vacation time, etc. How? People listed their gear lists and I researched on them. Some were junk, others did not meet my specific need. Others were right-on. I learned some light packing knowledge here on BPL.

Now days, I car-camp and heavy backpack with friends and family, and, when I feel like getting lost on my own, I strap on my 14 pounder and get my rocks off in 2 days max. What I've learned from others and BPL forums, WILL BE SHARED and discussed with others favorably. If someone has to spend money and someone makes money in the process, so be it. It is a free capitalist country -- still.

I will not sit preety in a farm of sour grapes and tell people to just get there because it's all the same and anything else must be a capitalist conspiracy.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Fastpacking Definition on 08/08/2010 11:30:52 MDT Print View

I've been a member of backpacking light since the end of year 1.
Back in the day, Ryan used to put a weight on the term of going UL, and SUL as sub 6 and 4 pounds respectively for base weight.

Then Golite and other company's started spitting out UL Gear.

So what this would have meant to me is that if you buy a piece of UL Gear it would be to compliment your gear list for going sub 6 pounds???
Now UL seems to be just lighter than the industy standard.

The term Fastpacking has been thrown around this site since 2004 or even a year before.
Back then Andrew Skurka had a huge article on this site, as soon as he was sponsored with (again Golite) for fast and light gear.
He used it as a method for Fastpacking.
The term was not used for how fast you can push but for the selection of gear you made to get the weight down and in term hike longer each day. Sounds an awful lot like going UL doesn't it?

But wait, it is actually completely different.

Going UL means shaving weight, bring items that (gee it seemed to work at home when I made this lightest one in the world), and eating Roman. And of course trying to just barley live with my 10 ounce quilt in 30* temps at night.

So what I get out fastpacking is essentially the gear is the same as the hiking porting of an Adenture Racer.
fast and light but does the job it needs to do.

Another thing about fastpacking is that if I am able to sleep warm enough, eat right and have gear that doesn't take forever to use, it will get me in and out faster and keep me going better the next day.
These items may be "UL", but are not even close to the weight as some of the UL freaks make and use with there little 1.5 ounce cuben packs.

So I guess I am a true fastpacker. I am pretty much out of the UL scene.

Edited by awsorensen on 08/08/2010 11:35:15 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Fastpacking Definition on 08/08/2010 15:26:14 MDT Print View

Hi Aaron

> if I am able to sleep warm enough, eat right and have gear that doesn't take forever
> to use, it will get me in and out faster and keep me going better the next day.
Sounds like 'backpacking light' to me.


Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: Re: Fastpacking Definition on 08/20/2010 13:52:39 MDT Print View

The sport of 'fastpacking' or 'swiftpacking' had been around for a few years when in 1979 some friends in California asked me to develop something that would work for runners better than available backpacks.

At that time, fastpacking was a multi-day race on foot trails usually in mountainous terrain in which the contestants were required to carry everything they would need for the duration except water. Water, if available, could be obtained along the trail or at cashes.

The pack I designed was a drawstring-closed (foolproof) lumbar or fanny pack with a wide bandoleer that had ties to hold a blanket or quilt wrapped in a poncho or small tarp and a water bottle and kept the pack from bouncing much. The hip belt and bandoleer were lined with lambs wool to reduce abrasion. The pack compartment would hold a compact Esbit cooker/cup, food, down vest, and other small necessities. Worked pretty well.

Andrew :-)
(terra) - F

Locale: Sydney, Australia.
Oldie revisited. on 07/02/2012 07:19:22 MDT Print View

Haven't been here for a long while.. Life Changes.

Knowing I was into 'backpacking light', a friend asked "what exactly is fastpacking"?
did a quick search on this forum to see if my definition was close.

My reply was that "for me" it's minimalist backpacking, ie you carry little (up to 12 lbs) which allows you to move faster and cover more miles with more ease than if you were carrying a big heavy pack. It's Like multi-day trail running but doesn't have to include "running", just moving at a real swift clip. You can also pitch and break camp quickly (ie fast packing) as your set-up is very basic - hence more daytime on the trail and again more ground covered. It's not about compromising safety or comfort, its being smart and efficient with how you travel through the bush.

I'd reply pretty much the same way if someone asked me for what I do when "backpacking light".

Except that "fastpacking" kind of implies an element of speed - squeezing a few more miles per day or traveling a bit quicker.

Where "backpacking light" may be simply for the experience of carrying less and enjoying the trip more, without needing any distance/time factor in the mix.

I'm always backpacking light but sometime i'll fastpack to ensure I can cover a certain amount of distance in the given time.

Trail running is, well, you are running. And you pack accordingly, with a pack that suits running with ease... This pursuit crosses to actual athletic pursuit and for overnight trail running i'd expect some comfort compromises so as to run with the pack.

For me, if someone said speed hiking I'd put it more in fast packing than trail running... But these terms are all relative - as is 'light' in backpacking light.

Edited by terra on 07/02/2012 07:22:28 MDT.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Smelling the flowers... on 07/02/2012 13:04:58 MDT Print View

Probably 90% of us backpack to "smell the flowers". And that's where I am.

I can see "fastpacking" for emergency reasons or as a SAR person, as mentioned above, but beyond that I think it's all about ego and braggin' rights.

Like UL backpackers fastpackers may have the effect of improving our sport in some ways, especially in the gear realm. So let 'em fly by me and (maybe) develop better gear. More power to them.

Have a happy 4th of July folks. Don't lose any fingers while celebrating!

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Smelling the flowers... on 07/02/2012 13:30:43 MDT Print View

"I can see "fastpacking" for emergency reasons or as a SAR person, as mentioned above, but beyond that I think it's all about ego and braggin' rights."

Can't imagine any other reasons for fast packing like, it may be enjoyable for some, others may like the physical challenge or possibly people want to do longer trips into cool places in a limited period of time. Or all of the above. I started doing what many would be called fast packing to get into areas of the Sierra over a weekend that most take a week to do. I had time constraints. But I guess it was all about ego and bragging rights, don't forget the book and movie deals

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Re: Smelling the flowers... on 07/02/2012 14:10:19 MDT Print View

words, even coined words, and the definitions we give them are simply a necessary evil to facilitate communication.

you say you are a runner.
I think one thing.
someone else thinks another thing.
you have yet a third thing in mind.
but if you say you are a sprinter, or a marathoner, or an ultrarunner, we immediately get a little closer to what you are trying to communicate.
and the only reason is because society, over time, has given these words a definition.

so we can either spend all day long trying to explain to each other what we mean, or we can coin words and get it done in a sentence or two.

So what's wrong with giving the word Fastpacking a universal definition so we don't have to spend all day telling each other about ourselves.

for me, Fastpacking means :
1. carrying everything on your back that will allow you to stop and make a camp and sleep for a bit. its left to each individual to decide what that gear list is, and how long they want to sleep.
2. pushing yourself, at least slightly, beyond a leisurely stroll so that you can cover more ground than otherwise.
3. it does not imply UL or SUL, although these would make moving fast a bit easier.

as far as smelling roses, I can smell roses whether I'm going fast or slow, but I can smell them in more places if I'm going fast and far.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Fastpacking Definition? on 07/02/2012 14:51:10 MDT Print View

What comes to my mind is a BP/hiking version of the Iditarod: Run/hike till you fall over asleep. Repeat.

There are techniques I use that speed things up - no-cook food, eating and hydrating as I hike, iodine water treatment as I hike instead of stopping and pumping, etc. But like popping the lid-retaining ring off your Aquafina bottle, the biggest benefit is mental - it gives me a lift to consider that I covered another 2 miles while slowly munching my lunch on the trail instead of stopping and letting the mosquitos get me.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Fastpacking at any pack weight on 07/03/2012 10:11:19 MDT Print View

+1 Art, Greg, and some others.

Fastpacking to me requires that you:
a) carry what you need for camping, eating, hygiene, etc..
b) can go for multiple days up until the food runs out
c) you are moving as fast as you can.

I just hiked into the JMT through Lyell Canyon with the family carrying extra food. Two days later we were 15 miles in at Marie Lakes Jct - slow hiking. I then gave them the food and took back a bunch of stuff they realized they didn't want to carry to Whitney. With a now 38 LB pack, I fastpacked back to the car in 1/3 the trail time it took to get in.

I fastpack to press my limits and see what wrings out. I discover things more subtle than mere pack weight. Obviously UL speeds things up, but the energy output is the same. I learn about the various gaits I employ, how to navigate staircases at speed, how quickly can I run the pitstops.

Beyond technique, I learn about my mental issues that impede speed - losing discipline in refueling, electrolytes, hydration; counting or not counting the time to take a leak (not counting means I can get a longer rest for free); succumbing to the 'countdown' near the end that seems to stretch for eternity and saps willpower.

So to me fastpacking is a primarily athletic endeavour in the context of backpacking and backcountry. To distinguish it from trail running, I would say it has to be unsupported and at least be capable in theory of stretching over many days, limited only by food and fuel carried. Equipment choices, as for any athletic endeavour, can affect your absolute times, but not whether you are engaged in the sport or not.