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A Beginner's Guide To Fastpacking

A Beginner's Guide To Fastpacking
8 January 2019

An extract from Cicerone Fastpacking written by Lilly Dyu

Fastpacking is a fast-growing niche in the world of trail running. Put simply, fastpacking is the hybrid of running, hiking and backpacking. It’s the art of moving fast and light on multi-day trail running journeys.

To purists, it means being self-sufficient in wild places, experiencing the mountains raw, but there are many styles of fastpacking: from running with a light pack between overnight accommodations, to bothying in remote wilderness. Hut-to-hut running is popular in the Alps where networks of mountain refuges in spectacular locations provide hot meals and a bed, allowing you to live well and travel light.

More and more people are pursuing running adventures as a way to experience the outdoors. Elise Downing ran Britain’s coastline in 301 days, camping and staying with friends, while Anna McNuff fastpacked the length of New Zealand in 148 days, stopping to speak at schools and inspire children. But you don’t need to go far. It could mean an out-and-back, overnight trip from your doorstep or following a long-distance path at a leisurely pace. Fastpacking is for everyone.

a woman wild camping

Wild camping while fast packing means you can stop wherever you find your perfect spot (Photo credit: Chris Councell)

Underpinning the activity is the principle of ‘fast and light’ – taking only what you need to stay safe and happy and nothing more. This lets you go further and faster in a day compared to hiking, by running whenever the terrain allows it. You could see it as adventure racing without the race. It’s about exploring and enjoying your surroundings at your own pace. The reward is the journey itself and the thrill of moving fast and light in the wild. Quite simply, if you love running, fastpacking is a wonderful way to travel.

a woman running along a trail

A great way to travel. Ridge running in the Black Mountains of Wales (Photo credit: Lily Dyu)

Humans were born to run. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, spending days on foot, roaming the landscape. On a psychological level, many of those sharing their stories for this book spoke of the heightened sense of awareness they experienced in ultra and multi-day running. Such ‘peak’ experiences and ‘flow’ may be a large part of the appeal for those who seek solitude in the natural world through fastpacking.

"We were wilderness running. Power hiking. Kind of backpacking, but much faster. More fluid. Neat. Almost surgical. Get in. Get out, I call it fastpacking"

Jim Knight in an article in UltraRunning magazine following his 1988 traverse of the Wind River Range, USA. He and his running companion, Bryce Thatcher, completed the 100-mile journey in just 38 hours.

a woman overlooking a mountain pass

A cloud inversion in the Italian Alps while fastpacking the Grand Traversata delle Alpi (Photo credit: Chris Councell)

Perhaps the growth of fastpacking is also a backlash against increasingly screen-based lives and the pressure to post every run online. It’s a fantastic way to disconnect from our digital lives and reconnect with nature and ourselves. Spending days immersed in the landscape and natural world through fastpacking is, for many runners, a much richer and deeper experience than a trail or ultra race. There’s a special satisfaction in making a running journey powered by your own two feet and seeing your surroundings change as you go. And by carrying no more than you need, fastpacking provides a beautiful sense of simplicity and freedom.

a man running through fields

Fastpacking can take you to remote and inaccessible places - Barrisdale Bay, Knoydart, Scotland (Photo credit: Lily Dyu)

You don’t need to be an extreme athlete or adventurer to go fastpacking. It’s a lot easier than you’d think and the guide provides practical tips and advice on organising your own multi-day run, including: styles of fastpacking, from supported to unsupported; choosing your route; where to stay; what to what to take; and nutrition and hydration.

a man running along a gravel road

Fastpacking is a great way for runners to explore and discover new places - Vallone di Vallasco, Italy (Photo credit: Lily Dyu)

There are also a dozen inspiring stories of multi-day running adventures. In the UK we go bothying in the Black Mountains with Anna McNuff and run Land’s End to John O’Groats with Aly Wren. Iain Harper tackles the Pennine Way in one push, in the legendary Spine Race, while Jasmin Paris takes a more leisurely approach to the same trails to celebrate her birthday. Further afield, Olly Stephenson fastpacks the iconic John Muir Trail in the States; Jez Bragg goes hut-to-hut around Monte Rosa, in Italy and Switzerland; and Anna Frost leads us on a sky-high journey in Bhutan.

A frequent question when choosing a route is, ‘How runnable is it?’ While a person’s ability to run big climbs and tackle technical terrain is largely a matter of experience, the guide also gives overviews and travel tales from 12 tried-and-tested fastpacking routes, including: wild camping on Dartmoor; running some of the UK’s national trails; and a bothy-run in the Highlands. Overseas, there’s hut-hopping in the Alps and Dolomites, plus a stage race in Nepal.

By sharing our experiences and love of multi-day running, we hope that our stories will spark ideas and inspire you to try fastpacking too.

Guidebook to Fastpacking - multi-day running trips carrying the bare essentials - in the UK, Europe and beyond. Includes 12 route ideas (all tried and tested), fastpacking stories from around the world (featuring Jez Bragg, Anna Frost and Jasmin Paris), and invaluable tips and tricks to help you prepare for your own running adventure.