The concept of layering clothes for outdoor activity is fundamental, irrespective of the time of year. The three-layer system of base, mid and outer provides the opportunity to regulate one’s temperature whilst moving quickly or slowly for any outdoor pursuit.
The base layer is moisture-wicking layer that fits close to the skin is usually relatively thin and tight-fitting. Its primary goal is to wick sweat away from one’s body allowing the wearer to remain dry, warm and comfortable. Merino wool has long been hailed as the product to use as it has excellent wicking properties and retains heat, even when wet. Many consider the base to be just one layer, but two thin layers are often better than one thicker layer. Or a thin layer with thicker product over the top may well be required in extreme cold. Importantly with base layers, always take a spare with you. The opportunity to change to warm/ dry layers during long activities, particularly in extreme cold can be a life saver.
A base layer for the legs is only a consideration should you be adding a specific outdoor pant over the top. Again, merino works best for the base. If running, specific run tights (winter versions exist with windproof panels) are all that is usually required as the legs are moving constantly and therefore keeping warm. However, in extreme cold and wind one may need to re-think based on activity level. A base layer merino with a loose-fitting run pant over the top is an excellent scenario to start. The run pant could also be waterproof as mentioned below or for climbing, they could be down or synthetic such as Primaloft.
Often considered as an insulating layer, the mid layer also is very important for transporting excess heat from the body and base layer. Unlike the base layer, a midlayer should be looser fitting to facilitate the capture and retention of air. Air between the base and mid helps preserve heat and transport moisture. There is no definitive midlayer and often, the choice comes down to the activity you are doing, in what conditions and how active or inactive one is likely to be. For example, 100% merino is possible, a synthetic product such as Primaloft or a down product. Each has their own unique properties and uses with warmth to weight ratio being a prime consideration, particularly for an outdoor enthusiast. Depending on the product, a Merino midlayer will usually be heavier than synthetic and down being the most lightweight. Volume is a key consideration, down compresses amazingly and can be made exceptionally small fulfilling the best of most worlds, small size and low weight. Merino by contrast will take up a great deal of space with additional weight. The weather conditions will often dictate which mid layer you will choose, Merino is good for all conditions (wet and dry), Synthetic equally works well in wet and dry with a smaller volume size and weight. Down historically has only been good with guaranteed dry conditions as the down (goose or duck, goose being the best) becomes ineffective when wet. However, many brands now treat down to withstand water. This often goes via the name of Hydrophobic. Hydrophobic down has been treated with a durable water repellent that enables the down to dry quicker and resist water for longer, meaning it will perform better in damp conditions. This makes down jackets that utilize hydrophobic down more versatile, as they can be used in cold, damp conditions without being damaged.
Designed to protect you from the elements but equally allowing the person inside to lose excess heat, outer layers are essential for outdoor activities. Many products exist and many varieties exist such as Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, Pertex Shield, Proflex Waterproof, Hyrdroshell and the list goes on. If running and moving fast and light, your choice will be dictated by product weight and size. However, if hiking and mountaineering, a heavier duty and more resilient product will be required. Also keep in mind that pants will or may be required. Again, a running waterproof pant can be minimalist whereas a hiking pant will need to be more durable.
In Scandinavia, insulated shorts are extremely popular such as those by Haglofs. They provide extra warmth, without slowing you down or interfering with your activity. Primaloft Aerogel filling and treated with Fluorocarbon free DWR treatment to withstand all conditions.
Feet, hands and head are key places that need protection during cold and extreme weather. Often, you can get away with less layers on your core if your feet, hands and head are warm.
Most of one’s body heat is lost through the head and quite simply, humans are designed to make sure the head and brain is kept warm. So, in cold conditions, hand and feet warmth will be sacrificed if your head is cold. Adding a layer to your head is a guaranteed way to warm up immediately so treat this as a priority. Equally, if you are too warm, removing a head covering is an easy way to cool down quickly. A merino wool beanie, Buff or wrag is superb for maintaining warmth and just as the base layer, it will remove moisture and still keep you warm even when wet.
Cold hands make any outdoor activity miserable and there is no one definitive answer to how to keep hands warm as there are many variables based on the conditions you will be in. A good place to start is with a Merino liner glove. This liner can also be used as a stand-alone product on days when the ambient temperature requires. Over the liner, one has two options: glove or mitt. Mitts are guaranteed to be warmer, however, if you are climbing or doing a sport where finger dexterity is required, a mitt will not work. So, you need to assess your own personal needs. Finally, an outer waterproof layer can be an excellent idea if persistent rain and cold temperatures are to be encountered. You need to adapt the layers for the conditions and just like a hat, moving and adding gloves is a great way to regulate temperature.
Merino socks are essential for happy feet. In dry conditions they wick away sweat, in wet conditions they retain warmth. Just as with the body, layering socks is a great idea. Most of the time a sport specific merino sock will work, however, in winter, the demands on one’s feet increase. Consider a thin base layer sock with a thicker sock over the top, just like you would with your body. If you anticipate extreme cold and wet, a specific barrier sock may need to be considered such as a Sealskinz or equivalent.
Having multiple layers for any outdoor activity is a key to keeping warm and dry. There is no one-stop solution as the requirements vary from sport-to-sport. However, if you think base, mid and outer, you will be well equipped for any weather at any time of the year.
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Runner’s and particularly ultra-runners have this wonderful ability to cover distance under their own power with very little needs or requirements. Some water, some food, a warm jacket and waterproofs and adventure awaits.
However, you can only go so far without the eventual need to return home.
Fastpacking manages to encompass the world of backpacking and running to create a different adventure, fast and light! Backpackers tend to carry a plethora of equipment and move at a slower pace, happy to adventure for days and weeks at a leisurely pace.
Fastpackers, arguably are runners or hikers looking for the need to travel for multiple day’s but still cover good distances and not be excessively slowed down by weight and excess equipment. The crux though is often the balance of weight and one’s ability to still run/ fast hike.
“Fastpacking isn’t for every outing though. Sometimes you want to take it easy, set up camp, and enjoy a particular area. That’s when backpacking shines. Sometimes you just want to crush through a workout. That’s when you want to go for a really fast run.” Says Simoni, adding that he opts for Fastpacking, “when I want to tag multiple mountain summits in an area at one time, without needing to take multiple trips. If you’re squeezed for time, Fastpacking can really help maximize an adventure. I find it very rewarding to cover so much distance with minimal gear.” – Justin Simioni via La Sportiva
One could arguably say that races like Marathon des Sables, which is 35-years old in 2020, have paved the way for Fastpacking bringing a ‘fast and light’ scenario to a race format allowing participants to cover 250km’s in a self-sufficient manner.
However, Fastpacking has been around for many, many years. Long before MDS, and long before the term Fastpacking. But in recent years, the sport has developed into something else, no doubt boosted by the growth and popularities of FKT’s and lighter, more functional equipment.
It’s important to clarify, that Fastpacking is what you make it. Personally, I enjoy a lighter pack, moving fast (but not running) and being self-sufficient. This allows me to carry a little more weight, travel for longer, enjoy the process and still cover over a marathon per day. You though may prefer to be more minimalist, look at micro/ mini adventures of 2-4 days and aim to run for much of the way. There are no rules to the speed or distance you go.
It’s also important to consider many other factors that come into place:
Location and environment – There is a big difference to Fastpacking in Nepal to say the Alps.
Time of year – Winter conditions require more equipment and more specific equipment.
Weather conditions – Check weather and be prepared.
Access to water – Streams, rivers and lakes
Access to external help – If you are going remote, be responsible and plan accordingly.
It’s easy to see from the above, there is no one definitive kit list, but there are crossovers that apply to both.
Plan the route in advance, understand the terrain and understand what possibilities exist to obtain water. Importantly, carry a system that will ensure that you can drink water that is available from any source. Work out how long a planned route will take and then plan for contingency should something go wrong. Note that vertical ascent, descent and technical terrain will require moving slower. It’s not unusual to sometimes only cover 2km’s in 1-hour. Make sure you inform family or a friend of your planned trip, start day and end day. That way you have a backup and someone checking out for you. It may sound alarmist, but should something happen, you may well not be able to call for help. Contact and research with local authorities and ascertain current conditions on the trails and be aware of any restrictions.
Do you need a 12-week and/ or 24-week Multi-Day Training Plan perfect for a multi-day adventure or a race like Marathon des Sables? They are designed to provide you with a structured weekly plan culminating in a target event.
View a sample week HEREfrom the 12-week plan. Purchase HERE. (£14.50 pw)
View a sample week HERE from the 24-week plan. Purchase HERE. (£12 pw)
Typically, a Fastpacker will look for something between 20 and 40 liters. For summer and short adventures, it is possible to go lighter and smaller. In winter, one will need more equipment that is often heavier and bulkier. Quite simply, the heavier the pack, the harder it is to run. So, if the plan is to run as much as possible, you need to go as minimal as possible whilst keeping safe. Make sure when testing and trying a pack that you add weight and understand how it feels when moving. Many brands are now producing packs specifically for Fastpacking. Personally, I like my pack to have a waist belt as this helps distribute the load and make the pack more secure. I would say that a minimum pack weight will be 6.5kg (14.3lbs) with water. Where possible, you would not want a pack to exceed 10kg (22lbs).
On a personal level, I would always go with a tent as I personally feel that it will offer more flexibility, especially if one shops in a clever way. My go to tent is an MSR Hubba Hubba NX (1/ 2 and 3 person versions available).
Things to look for in a tent:
How many season use?
For example, the above MSR is a free-standing tent, so, it can be pitched inner only. If you know you are Fastpacking in ‘guaranteed’ good warm weather, you could travel without the fly sheet and basically sleep in a lightweight and bug proof shelter. Equally, if you know that you are fast packing in a bug free (mosquito) environment, you could leave the inner at home and just travel with the flysheet. This then provides a secure waterproof shelter, and, in this scenario, it acts just like a tarp but with more protection.
Tarps offer a light solution that can be used with trekking poles and if one is going very minimal and fast, they provide a very simple answer for overnight protection. It all comes down to comfort and what one is prepared to accept as ‘comfort’ whilst Fastpacking. Big Agnes make the Onyx which comes in at under 200g. A Tarp is a compromise if you will have bugs such as mosquitos whilst on your adventure.
Hammocks are also an option providing one has trees to secure against. But if you add a bug net and tarp, in my opinion, a tent is a much better option. But a hammock can be a great addition to any Fastpacking kit, I use an Amazonas (here)
A sleeping bag is essential for any adventure but firstly you need to ask some very specific questions before purchasing. I would say that ideally, one potentially could need several sleeping bags based on time of year and weather conditions. Remember, that any sleeping bag can be made warmer with layers. Add a hat, gloves and down jacket, suddenly the sleeping bag is considerably warmer.
Down is by far the lightest and smallest packing size, however, down cannot get wet! So, if you think you will encounter damp and wet conditions, you should consider a bag with a synthetic filling. Weight and pack size are important and with sleeping bags, the more you pay, usually, the lighter and smaller it will be.
Be careful on the ‘comfort’ rating of the sleeping bag.
Upper limit – the highest temperature the average male can expect to have a comfortable night’s sleep at without too much sweating.
*Comfort – the temperature at which the average adult woman can expect to have a comfortable sleep. *This is the ideal for most people choosing
Lower limit – the temperature at which the average adult male can expect to have a good night’s sleep in a curled position.
Extreme – the lowest temperature at which the average adult woman can survive. This rating comes with caution and additional consideration should be given if you plan to sleep in temperatures this low.
PHD – Make sleeping bags and jackets to order, I am a long time fan here
Yeti – Passion One and Passion Three are a good start point here
Rab – The new Mythic Ultra is a personal favourite, available in 180 and 360 here
OMM -The Mountain Raid 160 is a great bag if you need synthetic filling here
Sea to Summit – The ‘Spark’ range have been getting rave reviews here
The minimalist Fastpacker will go with no matt or a very simple and small pad that provides just enough coverage for one’s hip if sleeping on one’s side. Personally, a good night’s sleep is essential, and a good/ light matt is an essential element to a fast and light kit.
Also, one should consider that in winter/ snow conditions, a matt will be essential for insulation.
Another consideration is potential problems from a puncture. Many inflatable matts become super light by using extremely light material. Be careful when using and make sure any potential sharp objects are removed before sitting or sleeping!
Matts very considerably but a personal favourite is the Klymit V Ultralite slim which offers full length body comfort all for 316g. It also packs very small. There are lighter matts and I list them below:
Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite 158g
Klymit Inertia X 258g
Nemo Insulated Short 278g
Sea to Summit Ultralight 294g
Exped AirMat HL 304g
Ultimately, the matt you choose may come down to a tradeoff between price/ packing size and weight. Be careful, some matts can be noisy when you move. Ok of going solo but really irritating if you are in close proximity of someone else.
For me, the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe (here) or 2 (here) kit is perfect. It has all one needs in a very small pack size and weight. I use the PocketRocket 2 kit that allows me to place a gas canister inside the 278g kit + a 4oz canister.
Another consideration would be JETBOIL Micromo Cooking System (here) which is the lightest system they do and if you just need to boil water, this is perfect!
Dehydrated food is probably the most obvious option here and there are many varieties on the market. They are a one-stop option that requires water to hydrate and if you wish to be extremely minimal, some options exist that do not require hot or boiling water. A personal favourite is Lyo (here) and Real Turmat (here) – It may sound crazy but they both make foods that I would consider eating when not fast packing. They also do Vegan and Vegetarian options.
Check out Chicken Tikka Masala, Nettle Curry, Penne alla Bolognese and if Vegan, Organic Chilli and Barley Risotto. Breakfasts such as Mexican Scrambled Eggs and Organic Millet Porridge.
For any adventure, I work on a breakfast and a dinner and then carry snacks for during the day, this can be energy bars or if on a long Fastpack, I will even consider carrying another main dehydrated meal. Typical weights are 132g with approx 600 cals.
For me, Fastpacking is fun and adventure. I am not looking for FKT’s and therefore I do allow myself one or two luxuries. Coffee for me is an essential part of any trip and I mean good coffee. I could just take some coffee sachets and have a combined weight of grams.
No! For me, I take fresh ground coffee in a sealed tub and I use one of two coffee presses.
The Espro is my favourite as it acts as a flask/ drinking canister too. But it does come at a weight and size cost.
I fully appreciate that if going fast and light, the above is a complete no, no! But for me, that smell of fresh coffee each morning is worth it.
You are going to be self-sufficient for multiple days, so, you need to find water and plan to obtain water from the route you will take. You can use purification tablets, I take the MSR TrailShot pocket sized filter (here) which meets U.S. EPA drinking water standards* and NSF protocol P231 for removal of bacteria (99.9999%), protozoa (99.9%), and particulates.
Clothing requirements depend on the time of the year, the weather you will encounter and the duration of the Fastpack. Needless to say, one has to accept that changing clothes, taking a shower and feeling wonderfully fresh daily is not what Fastpacking is about. Layering clothing is essential to allow for fluctuations in temperature. Do your research, check weather forecasts and plan accordingly. The above photo is my equipment for a Fastpack in Nepal. Make sure you have a ‘Drybag’ to make sure all contents of the pack are protected from the weather, Sea to Summit (here) for example.
A good start point is as follows:
Short sleeve T
Long sleeve shirt
Hat with peak
Merino base layer, top and bottom – I use Icebreaker here
Lightweight waterproof jacket – I use RAB Charge here
Lightweight down/ Primaloft jacket – I use RAB Kaon here
The above, for most, would be a start point and based on where and when Fastpacking, you could maybe add or takeaway certain items.
If going to more extreme and cold environments, the demand on clothing and what one takes will increase. I wrote an article on Fastpacking in Nepal (here) and this is a worthwhile read. Please note in Nepal, one can use tea rooms, so, one saves on tent/ tarp weight immediately if required.
I use a Garmin InReach Mini (here) and it is superb. Small, light, has SOS button and allows for 2-way messaging anywhere in the world. I do not go on any adventure without it now. In conjunction with a mobile phone and associated App, functions become easier to use. Subscription services can be changed monthly and therefore one can add or takeaway facilities as required.
Another option to consider is a SPOT device.
Toilet paper/ wet wipes
Headlamp and batteries
Trekking poles – to be honest, for most of my Fastpacks, poles are an essential and especially if one is using a Tarp or similar.
Battery pack for recharging.
Fastpacking for me, is one of the most pleasurable ways to travel by foot. The ability to cover distance, usually in a point-to-point way under ones own power and being self-sufficient is extremely rewarding. You can move as fast or as slow as you like, take as long as you wish and fully immerse yourself in the surroundings and environment.
Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.