Fastpacking is the merging of backpacking and long-distance trail running over multiple days, allowing nature lovers to venture faster and deeper into pristine backcountry. Considered an endurance sport, some fastpackers can cover up to 30 miles a day. Essentially, the goal is to find a long trail to explore, strap on an ultralight pack, run all day, spend the night at a simple camp, and then repeat the next day—or three.
Gear can make or break a fastpacking trip and requires much more planning, preparation, and refinement of equipment choices to get your pack to the lightest manageable weight. An underlying goal and "pre-game" of fastpacking is to see how little weight you can get away with carrying.
The upper limit are packs weighing 20 to 25 pounds. Some ultralight packs weigh as little as five pounds, although most come in at about 10 pounds—which is why this fastpacking appeals to both runners and backpackers alike. With backpacks as small as a one-liter soda bottle able to contain a feather-light down sleeping bags as well as a 14-ounce inflatable air mattress, fastpackers can enjoy all the comforts of a regular camping experience.
And forget carrying water. That’s far too heavy. Instead, use freshwater streams and purifier tablets, and pack lightweight, nutritionally dense, dehydrated food.
Rather than write a book on the equipment alone, we’d rather highlight some of the prettiest places in America to explore while fastpacking.
1. CHIMNEY TOPS VIA NEWFOUND GAP, SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, TENNESSEE AND NORTH CAROLINA
10.5 miles, easy
This hike to the Chimney Tops is one of the most popular hikes along Newfound Gap Road. With relatively little elevation gain, this is perfect for beginner fastpackers. Chimney Tops is located roughly 6.9 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center (between the lower tunnel and the loop on Newfound Gap Road).
While you’re there, explore both the Tennessee and the North Carolina sides of the Smoky Mountains National Park and enjoy sweeping panoramic views. In spring, the vibrantly colored wildflowers are at their peak. In autumn, the fall colors will capture you. The trailhead for
2. BLUE LAKES TO MT. SNEFFELS IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, COLORADO
14 miles, moderate-to-difficult
Some of the most beautiful terrain you will see is this fantastic stretch from the Blue Lakes trailhead (located off Colorado Highway 62 between Ridgway and Telluride) to Mt. Sneffels. There are a few tricky sections, so unless you have decent rock skills, you will have to take the less-fantastic yet still awesome Class 2 route off the summit. This more challenging route has some loose gravel for almost the entire gain.
Be on the lookout for wildlife throughout this scenic glacial basin within the 16,566-acre Mt. Sneffels Wilderness area. There are several campsites located in the lower lake vicinity. The drive alone offers outstanding panoramic views of Mt. Sneffels, and it’s especially lovely during autumn as the aspens turn colors.
3. ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
Up to 20 miles, moderate to difficult
Described by some as "otherworldly," the park contains more than 2,000 known natural arch formations on a trail that meanders through sandstone and sand dunes, rock cairns, and spectacular canyon. Beyond the arches, the park is also home to breathtaking scenery and dazzling night skies.
The park contains five main marked trails of varying distance—Park Avenue (2 miles), Tower Arch (3.4 miles), Delicate Arch (3 miles), Double O Arch (4.5 miles), and Primitive Trail at Devils Garden (7.2 miles)—along with one unmarked labyrinth among narrow sandstone canyons called Fiery Furnace.
4. THE BOURN POND-STRATTON POND LOOP IN GREEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST, VERMONT
23 miles, easy to moderate
Some hikers feel the loop through the Lye Brook Wilderness is nothing less than inspirational. It may not be the tallest peak or the most popular, but the stunning view from atop 3,940-foot Mt. Stratton was the catalyst for the creation of the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.
The loop leads you through the heart of the wilderness, past the popular Prospect Rock, along the infamous Appalachian Trail, through Otter Creek Valley, and up to Mt. Equinox, the tallest peak within the Taconic Range.
5. FOUR PASS LOOP IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, COLORADO
26.4 miles, strenuous
This classic loop is a must for fastpackers and dayrunners. The circuit around Maroon Bells climbs four 12,000-ft. passes (West Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider, and Buckskin) and meanders through some of the loveliest scenery in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, including the peaks of the Elk Mountains, vast meadows bedecked with wildflowers, dazzling alpine lakes, and charming forests. If you need even more nature, extend your journey with side trips to Geneva Lake and Willow Pass.
6. TETON CREST TRAIL IN GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING
35-45 miles, difficult
Simply put, this one is gorgeous. Be sure to hike south to north to get the best views of the stunning mountain ranges. The scenery starts out great, but soon graduates to spectacular as the trail climbs to Marion Lake and plateaus en route to Fox Creek Pass. Death Canyon drops away to your right, and to your left the limestone Death Canyon Shelf rises from fields of wildflowers.
7. MAMMOTH LAKES TO YOSEMITE VALLEY IN THE SIERRA NEVADA, CALIFORNIA
58 miles, moderate to difficult
Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Valley is one of the greatest ways to see the best of the world-famous John Muir Trail. This classic 4-day fastpacking trip covers 58 miles along granite spires and peaks, crystal clear rivers, and smooth glacier-polished granite. Elevation above 8,000 feet can make this trek difficult.