What’s in my fast-pack? A minimalist packing guide
The art of fast-packing is really the art of minimalism in the gear world. It’s backpacking, but with the bare minimum—the idea is the lighter the load, the faster and longer you can go. It’s a method employed by many trying to do long trails at a faster-than-average pace, or those vying for speed records (FKTs) on multi-day routes in the mountains.
With a few FKTs to my name, I’ve begun to think of fast-packing as a way to do the most I can in the least amount of time with the smallest amount of gear. Moving in such a minimalist way feels primal at its core—it’s just you and your necessities out there, moving like an animal, often nonstop. What a way to feel alive!
So, if you’re into big milage days, roughing it at camp, and maximizing the quantity of sights seen (not necessarily quality—remember you’re trying to move fast even if the scenery is stunning), fast-packing might be the way for you to go. For those new to this style of travel, here’s a guide on how to trim weight and bulk from your kit for a fast-packing adventure.
Find the right backpack
- For single nights out, I wear a backpack with a 16-20 liter capacity.
- For two to four nights out, I wear a 30 liter backpack.
- More than that, a 40 liter backpack typically works best.
- Make sure your backpack fits well. You want it to sit close to your body, ideally a snug close-to-skin fit to prevent chaffing when you’re on the move. Beyond chest and hip straps, look for compression straps on the sides and top of the backpack to ensure everything gets cinched down and there’s no jostling in the field.
Nail your sleep system
- Cut a foam sleeping pad to the length between shoulders and knees. You’ll eliminate some weight and bulk, and this is all you really need to keep your core off the ground at night anyway.
- Use an insulated quilt instead of a sleeping bag. A bit smaller and lighter (no hood, no hardware) than a sleeping bag, but for the most part, just as warm when used correctly (cinch the quilt’s footbox together if it’s chilly out, and sleep with the open seam toward the ground).
- Choose one outfit and wear it the whole time. Make sure your outfit is 100% functional.
- Don’t forget sun protection: sunglasses and a hat, plus chapstick and sunscreen.
- Extra clothes to pack: change of socks, pair of gloves, buff; if nighttime temps drop, add a layer for your legs (leggings, wool tights), and an ultralight puffy for your core.
- Option one: bring a single two-liter bladder and use purifying tabs to cleanse water on-the-go. (A two-liter capacity doesn’t add much weight, and it’ll allow you to stop for refills less frequently.)
- Option two: bring a water bottle or flask with a screw-on water filter (like Katadyn BeFree filtration system); that way you never have to carry excess water if you don’t want to (though you might have to, depending on water sources). This lightens your load and also gets you water without the wait time of purification tabs.
Food systems: Go stoveless!
- During the day: High-calorie foods are key! Look for bars and snacks that get you the most calories for the least amount of weight. Some favorites:
- PROBARs, more than 400 calories and 9 grams of protein in 3-ounce bars
- Payday candy bars, 250 calories and 7 grams of protein in less than 2 ounces
- Go Raw Spirulina Sesame Sprouted bars, 240 calories, 6 grams of protein in 1.5 ounces
- For dinner: Without a stove, you’ll need a way to replenish your energy without heat. Rehydrating dehydrated meals is a great option. Don’t forget a small spoon or fork. Some ideas:
- Rehydrate freeze-dried meals with cold water. The end result is hardly different than when using hot water! Cold-soaking Backpackers Pantry and Good To-Go meals did not create weird tastes or textures. It was just cold instead of hot. No biggie. Rehydrating using cold water takes 3-4 hours, so be sure to plan ahead during your day.
- Doing this on the cheap? Create your own dehydrated meal. In a ziplock bag, add a square of ramen, a spoonful of peanut butter, some broccoli or kale chips, and cashews. Once you find camp for the night, pour water in the ziplock bag and let sit for 10 min to rehydrate the noodles before eating. Pro tip: Reduce the amount of trash you have to carry with you by removing and tossing things like the tops of plastic packaging before you head into the field.
- For breakfast: A bar!
- Caffeine: Electrolyte tabs or powder with added caffeine is my go-to—you get the benefits of hydrating electrolytes and the energy boost of caffeine.
Safety and miscellaneous gear
- Mini first aid kit (just the basics, duct tape, gauze, etc.)
- Trekking poles, optional depending on the terrain
- A Garmin InReach Mini
- Phones (which we used to help us navigate when needed)
- A toothbrush and toothpaste
Need outdoor gear? Many of the items you need we have right here on Geartrade UnNew, gently-used, and ready for you.
Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit emmaathena.com.
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