An intro to the sport of fastpacking
A Backtracking/Trail-Running Hybrid
No, it’s not what you do when you’ve been called away for a romantic weekend and only have minutes to get ready before you’re whisked away via private jet with your gorgeous, globe-trekking partner to a tropical unchartered island somewhere in the South Pacific. Of course, it could be that, but not likely. Maybe you haven’t heard of it yet — I wasn’t quite sure what it was myself, and there are plenty of folks who’ve done it or have been doing it for some time, yet hadn’t known what to call it. Sagetosummit.com describes fastpacking as a cross between backpacking and mountain running.
The defining characteristics of fastpacking are rapid, long-distance mountain travel, on foot, over multiple days, involving camps or bivouacs, and refined equipment choices and practiced skill sets that allow for both rapid movement and self-sufficiency in a remote mountain setting. While not recognized as an official athletic event, fastpackers are both runners and hikers alike, and fastpacking is incorporated to some degree into many long-distance adventure races. Essentially, there are three types of fastpacking: supported, self-supported and unsupported. With supported, hikers have a team that helps them with supplies and gear along the route at various points. Self-supported allows for caching supplies along the route before heading out, and unsupported is just as it sounds, with no team or prior set-up — the fastpacker carries just the essential gear and food for the trip. This is considered the ideal and least impactful on the environment.
Fastpacking trips can be for one day or several nights, depending on the goals of the hiker. New Hampshire is home to some of the best fastpacking trails and terrain one could wish for and early autumn is a perfect time to tackle this up-and-coming type of adventure.
The Franconia Ridge Loop/ Traverse, a popular fastpacking trail, made it into National Geographic’s Top 20 List of World’s Best Hikes, picked for “its miniaturized flowers” and how it “offers a chance to hike high in alpine tundra just a few hours from Fenway Park."
If you are going to do any cooking at all, you will need an efficient, lightweight stove. The MSR Pocket Rocket Backpacking Stove ($39.95) is a must-have for any successful fastpacking trip. At just over 3 oz, the Rocket takes up very little space in your pack and can boil a liter of water in under four minutes.
If you plan for an overnight fastpack, you’ll need an ultra-light, easily packable yet warm sleeping bag. The Marmot Plasma 40 Degree Sleeping Bag (starting at $299.95) fits the bill at just 1 lb, 2.7 oz. and 900 fill-power goose down. It features a wrap-around footbox construction and Velcro-free face muff.
Clean water, and plenty of it, is a must for fastpacking trips. For when every ounce of weight in your pack counts, the Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System ($24.99) gets high marks.
Chosen as Trailrunning Magazine’s 2013 best headlamp of the year, the Light and Motion SoLite 250 Headlamp ($149.99) features a lithium-ion rechargeable battery and offers 100 hours of light.
Regardless of what you choose to bring, you’ll need a pack to carry it all comfortably. Mountain Laurel Designs 2900ci Prophet Pack ($190) is made from “bomb-proof” carbon grey Dyneema x and packs 2900ci of gear into a 14.5 oz. design.
Expert Advice from Timm Huffman
Timm hails from Manchester and is currently on an active duty Air Force tour in Colorado with his wife Julia and their two sons. He’s a long-time avid runner and hiker, and in the last few years has added minimalist, unsupported fastpacking to his list of outdoor pursuits. You can visit his website at outdoorsnh.com and his Twitter handle is @Outdoors_NH.
So no one said, “Let’s go fastpacking” — it just kind of evolved? Yeah, it just kind of happened. A bunch of us just liked to be out on the trails. A lot of us found ourselves pursuing longer races. We just said we will pack light and go as fast as we can. A good one is the Wildcat-Carter-Moriah traverse, which is a route that descends down into Gorham. Fastpacking is such a great way to get out and challenge yourself physically all at one time. I feel like I could talk forever about how you get immersed in what’s around you and great it feels to know how far you can go.
What is the experience like? Because you’re moving relatively fast, do you think it takes away from your enjoyment of your surroundings? Well, there are pluses and minuses for sure. One plus is that you see more because you’re covering so much distance in a relatively short period of time. And then there’s the rush and the physical challenge of moving so fast, and you are less protected and you don’t have anything to fall back on. One downside is that you don’t have time to take many pictures or just sit in one spot. Of course, you can always choose to do that when there’s a good opportunity, but usually you only get to enjoy something for a second and you have to move on. If and when you stop to eat and drink, those are good times to take in the views.
What’s the best time you’ve had fastpacking? Where did you go? There is a section in the Pemi Loop where there is a climb between Garfield Notch and Twin, and you are just climbing and climbing and in less than a mile you are 1,000 feet in elevation and I remember it just being so thrilling. The Bond Cliffs were so beautiful and it had been so foggy all day and at just the right moment the clouds finally cleared on top of these cliffs and we had this amazing view.
Essentials to bring for gear? The first time we didn’t really know what we needed. I brought way too much, a stove, too much food. Now I have it down to a science. What I would normally take for a day pack — a hydration pack with enough room for the gear. I use a CamelBak hydration system with a built-in gear pack. They make great running packs nowadays and there are a ton out there to choose from. Always bring a headlamp with extra batteries. If you’ve never done a route before, you could end up in the dark. Water, and if you prefer, some electrolytes. For food I like GUs, granola bars and PowerBars. A stove is good for a longer trip or if you just like something warm to eat on the trail. I would recommend an emergency first aid kit, blanket, matches, duct tape, a map, jacket and maybe an extra long-sleeve shirt. Depending on the conditions you may need Yaktrax or microspikes, gloves, a hat — always just a little extra, especially if you’re in the White Mountains because the weather changes so quickly. Any gear should be light and compact. I also recommend trail runners for shoes. I like the Montrail Masochist — they’re very reliable. A weather-proof, shock-proof camera is great to have on hand too.
Do you see yourself doing more trips in the future? I would really like to do the trip from Franconia Notch to Carter Notch with a friend. It’s about 54 miles. I had hoped to do it this year but, due to the leave, it will have to be next year. We’d like to do three peaks in three days, but I don’t like all the extra gear. I just prefer to go light and fast and don’t want the extra hassle.