Archive: Wilderness Fastpacking Origin Story

Side profile of a fastpacking kit in the Central Trinity Alps

A love affair with the rugged landscapes of the American West.

Backpacking through America’s wild landscapes has become more and more popular. It’s one of our great past times. Being fully immersed in our untamed public lands for days at a time is like nothing else and can truly be transformative.

I remember my first experience carrying a pack with everything I needed for the weekend inside. I was eleven, older than my other three siblings who were nine, seven, and five. I have to give a lot of credit to my Mom, looking back it’s pretty amazing that she took her four little kids on an overnight backpacking trip in Yosemite. Now that I have my own kids I realize how tough this was. It was this trip to Glen Aulin, six miles down the Tuolumne River from the world famous Tuolumne meadows, right next to a roaring cascade on the main stem of the river where I fell in love with the mountains. I think the moment when I became hooked for life was that evening, sleeping outside, looking up at a night sky that I had never seen before. You could see countless starts with the sound of a crashing torrent in the background. It was intoxicating.

A group fastpacking through the Trinity Alps Wilderness

Fast forward 2+ decades, and that formative experience has colored nearly every aspect of my life since. Having traveled through the mountains in nearly every different style (except maybe base jumping, still haven’t done that yet) I have found that my favorite way to move through the mountains is for multiple days at a time. I have also found that carrying a traditional backpacking kit for weekend trips is just cumbersome. It’s not a big deal if you are hiking two or three miles into a lake with your kids, but it’s another thing when you want to be able to cover 15 or 20 miles a day, and to be able to run if you feel like it. I can remember back to when I was 17 on a thirty day long NOLS backpacking course in Wyoming. The course was amazing, but the 70+ pound packs filled with things like a 5 pound cast iron pans were not my style. That course taught me so much. It also pushed me towards finding a lighter style to move through the mountains.

The answer to this pack weight dilemma had been sitting right under my nose for the past decade. I just didn’t know what to call it. I’d been essentially doing it without really knowing. Turns out it’s gotten a name, and lots of cool gear to make it easier now than it’s ever been. Fastpacking. It’s the perfect marriage between trail running, hiking, and ultra light backpacking. For 2-4 days trips I’ve found that you can easily carry a 30 liter pack light enough that running (ok more like jogging) on easy terrain is totally doable. You can cover a lot more ground with the same effort compared with carrying a traditional backpacking kit.

A fastpacker climbing out of Caribou Basin in the Central Trinity Alps Wilderness

Calling this style of travel “fastpacking” is a bit of a misnomer and a turn off to many people I’ve talked with. They say “I’m not fast, so I can’t go fastpacking”. This could not be further from the truth. The style should really be called “fast(er)packing”. Simply put, you can move faster than you otherwise would with the same or less effort expended. You can do this without sacrificing comfort, or safety. And so, for those people who are like me and find their free time is quite limited, fastpacking can give you the ability to complete that amazing fifty mile wilderness loop you’ve been drooling over during a long weekend rather than 4 or 5+ days, time so many of us just don’t have.

Fastpacking is about distilling what you really need, and getting rid of everything you don’t, unburdening yourself from superfluous, and immersing yourself in the natural world.

If you are interested in learning more about fastpacking check out our fastpacking info pages talking about gear, food, and route planning. I am quite confident in saying fastpacking can be for anyone with the desire to explore wild places under their own power for days at a time. There is no better time to start than NOW!