In this fastpacking for beginners guide, we’ll cover an introduction to fastpacking and what it involves, what to take with you, and how it’s different to trail running.
I will also be sharing a list of some of the best gear (including fastpacking bags) currently available that is well-suited for multi-day trail running and fast backpacking adventures.
What is really exciting right now is how so many great brands are starting to develop some high-quality, ultralight technical gear designed specifically for fast hiking, lightweight backpacking, trail running and – yes – even specifically for fastpacking.
We’ve sought out the best gear for fastpacking and shared it here. This guide is constantly updated when we learn of relevant new gear – including trail running, backpacking and hiking gear that is sufficiently technical, functional and lightweight to make the list.
Fastpacking For Beginners – Table of Contents
What is Fastpacking?
So, before we get into the full gear guide, let’s take a moment to cover the first question you may have: ‘What is fastpacking?’
Fastpacking is essentially a blend of ultralight backpacking and multi-day trail running.
Depending on your background and hiking/ running preferences, you can think of fastpacking as either:
- Ultralight backpacking with the goal of having a higher intensity adventure than regular backpacking, where you’re carrying less weight and covering more ground and consequently, getting to see more of the great outdoors.
- Trail running over long days and a night or more, which provides the benefit of being able to trail run further and truly immerse yourself in the wild, for more than just a day, if you want to camp out overnight.
Regardless of how you describe fastpacking, the main point to note is that there is an emphasis on carrying a minimal, light ‘pack’, so that you can move quickly over varied terrain.
There aren’t many people out there who enjoy trail running with too much weight in their pack, but if you’re going to be spending more than a day out on the trails and sleeping out overnight, then you naturally need to carry more gear than you would for a regular day hike or trail run.
Why Might I Want To Go Fastpacking?
Carrying just the necessary amount of equipment means a fastpacker can move quickly while still being self-sufficient, even in really remote locations.
Fastpacking is for any hiker or trail runner who wants to push further into the trails, and not just for elite or super-fit runners.
Make sure you do your research before setting out on your first ultralight backpacking adventure though, as dangerous situations can easily arise in the great outdoors when you’re not properly prepared.
This fastpacking gear guide should help anyone wanting to learn more about the sport and of course, the gear that makes it possible and just as importantly, enjoyable.
Whether you’re a trail runner keen to explore more remote locations or an experienced backpacker looking to lighten your pack, fastpacking is going to be a fun experience.
Let’s get started with our fastpacking gear guide, which includes roundups of the best footwear, fastpacking bags, sleep systems, jackets and clothing, food, and essential accessories.
Most fastpackers who will be traveling on trails and uneven terrain will choose to wear lightweight trail running shoes which are designed to be lightweight and provide off-road grip in wet and dry conditions, over a wide variety of terrain types.
Depending on the climate and terrain where you’ll be going, specific features to look for in your choice of trail running shoes for fastpacking are:
Quick-draining OR waterproof running shoes
Your feet could get wet, depending on the weather and the terrain of the trails that you plan to run on.
Generally, in warmer climates, we prefer to let our feet get wet but ensure the shoes are breathable and will drain the water quickly to help dry your feet out.
Whereas in colder climates we prefer gore-tex waterproof trail shoes that will keep water out and help keep our feet warmer.
Comfort when trail running and hiking over long periods of time
You’re potentially going to be running/hiking for full-on days and back-to-back days, a long time, covering big distances with a small pack on your back adding to the weight, so your shoes should be comfortable and have the right amount of cushioning.
Don’t cheap out on your shoes, if your feet are suffering, you’re NOT going to be having any fun out there.
A fastpacking adventure is not generally the best time to try out running in minimally-cushioned shoes unless that’s what you already run with.
The best fastpacking shoes
With all that said, here are our picks of the very best trail running shoes for fastpacking:
HOKA Mafate Speed 4
Drop: 4mm / Weight: 10.4oz (295g) / Support Type: Neutral.
To learn more about these great trail running shoes, read my HOKA Mofate Speed 4 review.
The HOKA Mafate Speed 4 is quite frankly, a masterpiece of trail running engineering and therefore also great for fastpacking.
The tread on the Mafate Speed 4 is incredibly sticky, and the lugs are deep enough to dig into wet mud and loose trail debris – this means total confidence on steep descents.
It also means that during challenging climbs, the Mafate Speed 4 is able to dig into the trail and provide you with the traction required to ascend quickly even with your fastpacking bag on your back.
The midsole cushioning has just the right amount of protection and comfort underfoot to give you a smooth enjoyable ride on the road, and hard-packed trails, while maintaining a very responsive ride with total control.
And because of this cushioning, it remains comfortable over long distances and throughout a day of moving.
Salomon Speedcross 6 GTX
Drop: 10mm / Weight: 11.6 oz / Support Type: Neutral.
This guide would not be complete without the inclusion of this classic wet-weather trail shoe from Salomon.
The Salomon Speedcross 6 GTX is the latest waterproof (Gore-Tex) addition to an extremely popular shoe amongst runners who love to get dirty on the trails.
The Salomon Speedcross 6 GTX is a lightweight trail shoe, especially considering it’s waterproof and offers a very aggressive grip on technical, soft trails.
This Salomon trail shoe offers tons of support too, which makes it a popular choice for hikers who don’t want the bulk of a traditional hiking boot and would prefer to wear running shoes for hiking.
And finally, there’s the Quicklace adjustment system that so many people love as it’s so fast and easy to do up and doesn’t come loose as standard running shoelaces can.
Fastpacking Bags – What to Look For in a Pack
When you are trail running long distances and fastpacking, your backpack will be your best friend or your worst enemy.
Choose your pack wisely and be sure to test it out ahead of time on long training runs.
Choosing a backpack for fastpacking
The main considerations when choosing the best pack for fastpacking adventures are:
Fit – for most people, a regular backpack or daypack will not necessarily be the best choice for fastpacking.
While they may be great for hiking, a good pack that is suitable for fastpacking needs to be particularly secure and comfortable when moving more quickly at a running or jogging pace.
For this reason, many fastpackers choose packs that are designed for trail running or even specifically for fastpacking, so they will fit snugly and will not sway, shift around and rub when running.
Capacity – depending on your choice of fastpacking style, your pack may need to have enough capacity to carry some form of lightweight tent and/or sleeping bag, so it’s going to generally need to be bigger than a regular trail running pack.
That said, some good trail running hydration packs have enough loops, bungees and eyelets that you can get pretty creative with how you secure some of that other gear to carry on or in your pack.
Weight – in order to help ensure you are keeping your fastpacking gear as lightweight as possible, you should start off with a lightweight pack.
What Are the Best Packs for Fastpacking
Bearing in mind the considerations above, here are our picks of some of the best packs for fastpacking currently available:
Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0 (men’s) and Mountain Vesta 5.0 (women’s)
We have long been fans of Ultimate Direction’s hydration packs, and they do a great job of designing packs that are specifically intended for long days or multiple days in the mountains.
Whether it’s trekking pole holders that snap out of the way when not in use or lat pockets that will store requisite emergency items, every detail has been thoughtfully covered in one of the lightest vests for the volume available, at 11.6oz.
That said, this vest may not be large enough if you plan to take a larger sleeping setup and is unlikely to fit in any cooking equipment, so it’s definitely more suited to the shortest and fastest fastpacking endeavors (as well as plenty of trail and ultra running).
Consider the Fastpack 35 below and the UltrAspire option above if you want to take more gear with you.
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Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40
For multiple days out on an ultralight backpacking adventure, you probably need a more substantial pack that can carry things like a bivy, clothes, pad, and sleeping gear and still feel comfortable putting in 30 mile days.
The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 is full of features and won’t let you down when it comes to comfort and storage. It’s also very lightweight, weighing in at only 1.58lbs.
Learn more via the link below.
3 new from $194.95
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Choosing a Fastpacking Sleep System
When it comes to your fastpacking sleeping system, it pays to get creative and work out where you sit on the spectrum of comfort vs. weight, size, and cost.
You may need a few trial trips to work out the best system for you and your adventures through a bit of trial-and-error!
Inevitably, a lightweight fastpacking sleeping system that is very small when packed down as possible, is going to likely be pretty minimal and/or expensive.
You can however make some sensible choices and compromises so that you don’t feel like you’re carrying too much in your pack to justify getting a reasonable night’s sleep.
Key considerations when planning your fastpacking sleep system that will affect the weight, volume, comfort, and cost of your setup are:
- Do you really need a sleeping bag, or will you be fine with a good sleeping bag liner?
- Do you want a lightweight fastpacking tent or would you consider a bivy bag or tarp and shelter combination?
- Are you fastpacking alone or with company that can help spread the weight of a tent?
- How much overall weight do you want to carry in your pack when comes to your sleeping bag and shelter?
- What is the climate where you will be going fastpacking? If it’s cold and/or wet then you probably need more shelter and protection from the cold.
In this fastpacking gear guide, we share some great choices when it comes to sleeping bag liners, sleeping bags, shelters and tents.
Although there are so many options out there so it pays to really think about your personal needs when shopping for the best sleep setup.
Our personal recommendation for your first fastpacking trip: aim for warm weather fastpacking and a simple sleeping bag liner, tarp, and shelter set up for a fast-and-light combination.
Fastpacking Sleeping Bags and Sleeping Bag Liners
A Lightweight Sleeping Bag Liner
A quality sleeping bag liner made with very fine, non-scratchy wool for excellent comfort when you’re traveling and camping out is an essential item that most people tend to overlook.
You can slip it inside your sleeping bag or use it alone. We love Merino wool products as Merino is moisture-wicking, breathable, and resists odors. They also fold down small and will fit in any pack.
A Lightweight, Packable Sleeping Bag
We went in search of the lightest sleeping bag that could pack down into a very small size – and found the Sea to Summit Traveller Trl 50 Sleeping Bag.
It is truly tiny when packed, and the regular length version weighs only 14.8oz.
This would be a great choice for summer fastpacking ventures, and you could pair it with a sleeping bag liner like the options above, if you need the extra warmth and have space to carry both.
Another option is to invest in the 30F rated version of this sleeping bag, which is designed for cooler temperatures than the Trl 50 sleeping bag.
A more technical (although more pricey) bag from the same company that would be great for fastpacking is the Spark Trl 40, which would be worth checking out, too.
RELATED READING: For more lightweight sleeping bag options, head over to our list of the best lightweight sleeping bags for backpacking.
If you’re going fastpacking as a couple, also check out the ultralight sleeping bag and quilt options in our best double sleeping bags buyer’s guide.
They’re ideal for ultralight backpacking and also good options for fastpacking if you plan to share a sleeping bag and share the weight/bulk of the sleeping system between two people.
Bivy Sack for Fastpacking
A bivy sack is a neat solution if you’re looking for a compact shelter that doesn’t take up as much space as a tent. They’re quick to set up, and a good option to consider if you’re going to be fastpacking alone.
However, it can be tricky to find lightweight bivy bags that are also good at being waterproof yet breathable – one way or the other, it’s not nice to wake up wet or damp, whether through precipitation or condensation!
If you’re thinking of going the bivy sack route, we suggest also considering a tarp overhead so that you may be able to sleep with the bivy not fully closed.
This will help reduce the accumulation of condensation within the bag as well as protect you from rain if the bag doesn’t stand up to it.
REI has a great selection of bivy sacks to choose from if you feel like that’s the route for you.
At its most basic, you could go using only a tarp for shelter, together with a ground sheet.
While this type of fastpacking tarp-shelter setup won’t have the best protection from bugs or the cold, it does offer the freedom of fastpacking with this sacrifice.
If, however, your fastpacking plan will likely involve more hiking than running then carrying a larger pack with a full ultralight tent can also be an option for you.
As a further alternative, it’s worth giving some consideration to whether an ultralight hammock tent could be a great sleeping option for you.
If you’re curious about hammock tent camping, click here to see our guide to lightweight hammock tents for backpacking (and fastpacking).
It’s worth also noting that some trails will have backcountry huts open for public use, which you could plan to stay in to get some additional shelter.
If that sounds like a good idea, make sure you check first and book it out if necessary.
There are lots of great options when it comes to lightweight tarps and shelters. Our top pick is the premium Hyperlite Flat Tarp, pictured, which is probably the most minimalist, ultralight tarp shelter for backpacking.
It features fully bonded seams, adding near-total impermeability to a long list of attributes, including exceptional durability and UV resistance. Using adjustable trekking poles for setup makes is a very clever use of gear that you’ll probably already have with you.
We suggest pairing it with the Hyperlite Ground Cloth, which is also super lightweight and will help protect you from moisture, mud, and dirt when on the ground.
Our Top Pick For an Ultralight Tent – The Hyperlite ULTAMID 2 – ULTRALIGHT PYRAMID TENT
The UltaMid 2 can accommodate couples and a dog, or a solo fastpacker who’d like to keep their gear covered at night. It weighs 1.17lb (0.5kg and is made from super strong, 100% waterproof, Dyneema fabric.
This is a pretty sweet, premium ultralight shelter for two for all but the most extreme weather.
You’ll want to get the mesh insert and no-floor to go with this tent for the full experience, which makes this an expensive way to sleep out.
Still, it’s good to give you the option as this could be a great investment if you plan to do a lot of fastpacking or other lightweight camping adventures where you want a top-quality tent and are happy to pay for the best.
For other lightweight tent options, see this post.
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Fastpacking Jackets & Clothing
The goal of fastpacking is to keep moving as fast as possible, which makes technical running gear very important.
We would definitely recommend choosing trail running gear over regular hiking gear, if possible, as it tends to pack down smaller and be lighter in weight.
As with your backpack, make sure you test clothing out ahead of time. In the mountains, weather can change quickly, so plan for cold temps at night, as well as for the possibility of rain and lightning.
Expect the worst, and hope for the best.
A Fully Waterproof, Lightweight And Breathable Jacket
Especially if you’re in the mountains or somewhere with changeable weather, make sure you have the right clothing and are prepared for a change in temperature and precipitation with a suitable jacket.
I get cold when tired, so I also find a jacket useful towards the end of a long run, especially if I am running downhill or into a brisk breeze.
Also, without being too negative, imagine if you hurt yourself and have to wait for help or hobble slowly back to civilization… a jacket could really help reduce your exposure to cold and wet weather, and also sunburn, if that’s a risk.
If you need full-on rain protection, make sure you have a waterproof jacket, not just a windproof or water-resistant jacket: both will soak through quickly in wet conditions.
My current favorite waterproof running jacket is the On Waterproof Anorak, which is designed to keep you dry in even the foulest downpour and made it onto our list of the best waterproof jackets for trail running.
There are so many great technical running shirts and shorts available – as long as they are fast drying and don’t chafe then they will be great for fastpacking.
The shorts that I love at the moment are from Path Projects. What’s great about these shorts is that the base-liner is separate from the outer shorts.
To learn more about them, and other great running shorts read our Best Running Shorts For Men buyer’s guide next.
So in the case of fastpacking, you can just pack an extra pair of inner shorts, if you want to stay smelling fresh.
It’s also worth taking a technical running hat with you for protection from the sun’s harmful rays.
Getting your socks right is also very important, blisters could be your worst enemy when out running/hiking for long periods.
If you suffer from blisters, check out these posts which should help prevent you from getting them in the future:
- Stop Getting Blisters From Running: A How-To Guide
- Blisters on the ball of my foot: caused by gait, not shoes
- Treat Running Blisters: A How-To Guide
The reason they prevent blisters so well is that each toe is covered with its own compartment, much like hand gloves.
This means that sweat is wicked away from the skin and no abrasive rubbing can take place.
Fastpacking Food and Cooking
As for food, fuel is essential to your success. Not enough food is detrimental, while too much food will weigh you down.
If on the other hand, you are camping out, adventuring for multiple days or just want some real meals, you may want a lightweight backpacking stove for brewing your coffee or cooking some ‘Just Add Water‘ meals, like sachets from the Backpacker’s Pantry brand, for example.
REI has an excellent selection of long-shelf life backpacking food sachets to choose from.
All you have to do with these meals is add boiling water, and you’ve got yourself a delicious warm meal to eat at night when the temperatures drop and you’d give anything to warm up your core with a tasty meal.
Don’t forget your reusable cutlery and a sturdy coffee mug.
If you’re considering taking food to cook and a stove to cook it with then this will definitely up your pack weight quite significantly, so we’re not suggesting this is a good idea if your idea of fastpacking is more on the ‘slow trail running’ end of the spectrum.
It’s probably more of a ‘fast backpacking’ piece of gear, and even better if you are with someone else who can help spread the load a bit.
Read more about backpacking stoves in this post.
Water Purification – Filters and Tablets
A method of storing and purifying water is crucial when in the mountains!
In addition to bottles of water (we use soft flasks for minimal slosh and to minimize wasted space), a device that can help filter your water when you fill your bottles is a pretty key piece of gear.
A really compact option for filtering out protozoa, and bacteria is the Katadyn BeFree 0.6L Water Filter.
What’s great about this soft flask / collapsible bottle is that it will fit in most running hydration packs, and you don’t have to worry so much about whether or not you’re going to get ill from that last water source you filled up from.
You can also take things a step further and use chemical water treatment drops to also eliminate any viruses that may be present in your chosen water source but this process can take over 25 minutes, or longer depending on how cold the water is.
For a complete guide on filtering and purifying your water in the backcountry or wilderness, read our backpacking water filter buyer’s guide.
A Lightweight, Long-Lasting Running Headlamp
A headlamp such as the BioLite Headlamp 425 is a necessity for overnight fastpacking trips.
The BioLite Headlamp 425 has a really slim fit construction with 9mm front profile and is hyper-lightweight at 2.75 oz. (and you can get even lighter with the BioLite HeadLamp 325), providing a bounce-free fit and experience while running or hiking.
This Biolite headlamp really is excellent value for money with a 4-hour battery life on the highest setting which uses two beams, wide and focused, firing out 425 lumens of light.
This headlamp is ideal for fastpacking, running, and hiking.
The BioLite Headlamp 425 has multiple light modes too, including dimmable spot, flood, spot+flood, red night vision, and strobe, and now red beam and red strobe on the rear battery pack.
Because each beam can be dimmed, you can actually run the headlamp for much longer than 4 hours but not at its brightest level.
This is also a rechargeable headlamp that can be charged via USB-C or passthrough charging with a BioLite Charge 20 PD power bank – this allows you to run the headlamp almost indefinitely – smart!
For more headlamps suited to trail running, hiking, and backpacking, read our headlamps buyer’s guide next.
True wireless headphones – If you love listening to music or podcasts
Some people aren’t big fans of wearing headphones when out running and hiking – but at times, they can be a great companion on the trails.
Whether you are listening to music, audiobooks or perhaps learning another language, then true wireless headphones are the way to go.
I recommend the Shokz OpenRun Pro outside-the-ear headphones for running in the wild, as they allow you to easily hear your surroundings.
These wireless headphones are also very comfortable to wear for long periods of time!
For these and all the other reasons I gave them an Editor’s Choice award, read my in-depth Shokz review to learn more about them.
The Shokz OpenRun Pro is one of several great wireless headphones that made our list of the best wireless headphones for running, and ultrarunning.
A Basic First Aid Kit
Maybe when you’re out fastpacking somewhere with few other people around you slip and cut yourself, roll your ankle or get a blister that needs treatment or even gets stung by an insect. It happens!
Whatever it is, it’s important to make sure you’re able to treat yourself in an emergency – whether something minor or something potentially life-threatening.
A simple first aid kit is cheap to buy and essential to carry with you on a mountain adventure in case you or a fellow trail user gets injured.
This small first aid kit on Amazon.com also doubles up as a survival kit, and includes the basics you should have with you when fastpacking.
Lightweight, Folding Trekking Poles for Fastpacking
If you plan to be out in the mountains for extended periods of time I would advise taking some lightweight trail running poles with you.
Some of the most popular poles for trail running and lightweight backpacking are the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles.
Being built with carbon, they are very lightweight and are designed to fold up for stashing away, important if you need to place them back in your hydration pack or backpack while not in use.
Some advice on using poles while trail running, including advantages and disadvantages, have a read this informative article: Trail Running With Poles: Benefits, Disadvantages And Advice.
You can find these poles at the following stores:
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GPS Watches for Fastpacking
Choosing a GPS watch for fastpacking very much depends on you and how many features you want.
That said, if you plan to track yourself for say two full days (stopping it at the end of each day) then you need a GPS watch that can handle 20+ hours of tracking without running out of battery.
We also find it very helpful to be able to track and monitor other health and route-related features, such as our heart rate, ascent, and elevation, and good navigation features could be important for more remote adventures in particular.
My top recommendations for GPS watches for fastpacking are the Garmin Fenix 7 Solar, or the Coros Vertix 2. To learn more about them, head over to our Best GPS Watches buyer’s guide next, or follow the product links below.
These both are high-end GPS watches with super long battery lives that are built for long days and multiple days out on the trails.
You can also check out our guide to the best GPS watches for trail and ultrarunning, which includes other options, too.
Trail & Kale Trucker Hat
Trucker hats are all the rage on the trails nowadays. This is why we designed our subtle yet distinctive “Stealth Edition” Trucker hat.
You can buy it in any colour, as long as it’s black (and very stealthy). It features the Trail & Kale Mountain logo embroidered in a grey/silver colour on the front.
Trucker hats are great for keeping rain, sun and sweat out of your eyes and face during trail adventures.
Our Classic Trucker can be purchased for $26.99 and comes in 4 colour combinations and all products in our Online Store ship worldwide!
Leatherman Lightweight Multitool with Knife Combo
LEATHERMAN - Skeletool Lightweight Multitool with Combo Knife
At a mere five ounces, the Leatherman Skeletool has a stainless steel combo blade, pliers, bit driver, removable pocket clip and carabiner/bottle opener. Closed length: 4 inches (10 cm); Weight: 5 oz (142 g); Blade length: 2.6 inches (6.60 cm).
A Detailed Map
Don’t rely on technology, you never know when it may fail. You won’t have signal in many remote areas and smartphones can run out of battery quickly in the cold.
While I love my tech gadgets and the great range of high-functioning GPS running watches out there, I always find myself carrying a paper (ideally laminated) map when I’m venturing in new places or going out for long periods of time.
Having a good old fashioned map with you could stop you from getting lost in many situations.
For reasons that do not need explaining… These coin tissues are compressed so they don’t take up important space in your pack.
Regardless of whether you go for these coin tissues or regular toilet paper, make sure you pack out TP in a zip-lock bag and dispose of it correctly at the end of your trip.
Coin Tissues | Compressed Towels | Camping Wipes
Coin Tissues are the preferred alternative to wet naps, wipes, facial tissue or paper towels because of their compressed size and the fact they are 100% natural. Weighing only 2 grams each means they will hardly be noticed in your pack.
A Loud Whistle
A loud whistle should be part of every trail runner and fastpacker’s emergency kit. This is why they are also often listed as mandatory kit for big mountain trail and ultra races.
If you fall off a cliff or get lost off-trail, this could make all the difference between getting stuck there and someone finding you.
Fox 40 Sonik Blast CMG Loudest Pealess Outdoor, Emergency, Safety, Survival Whistle | 2 pack
The Sonik Blast CMG whistle is extremely loud and easy to blow. Sound power: 120 dB and made in North America.
Here's some more information about our Koala Lanyard:
Not all lanyards are created equal. Koala Lifestyle specially designed this lanyard to be comfortable, lightweight, and versatile.
Sunscreen & Bug Spray
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through this fastpacking gear guide and it has helped you pick out some awesome gear for your own fastpacking adventures.
As mentioned above, we regularly update this list when we learn of new gear that deserves a place on it, so if you have any recommendations for great fastpacking gear that has not yet made this list, tell us about it in the comments section below!