Fastpacking for Beginners

The art of moving light and fast on the trails over several days.


Photo: Ian Corless

Last summer I discovered the joy of fastpacking. Actually, it started with the Beyond the Ultimate Ice Ultra in february 2019. A 230km self sufficient race that takes you through Laponia, far far north in Sweden, in bold and ice cold environments. For 5 days I struggled my way through the snow and over frozen lakes on snowshoes in temperatures as cold as -37 degrees! And you know what? I absolutely loved it.

Photo: Will Roberts

So when summer came, I packed my backpack and went for a tiny little fastpacking adventure around Lysefjorden. One of Norways most beautiful fjords. The tour around the fjord only took me 2,5 days, so this was a short trial before I went out on a bigger adventure. And I learned a few things from that tour, made a couple of changes in my packing and went for the real thing.

Jotunheimen, the home of the giants.

Photo: Ian Corless

Running from cabin to cabin for seven days, alone in Jotunheimen, more than 200km on rocky and technical terrain and 9000 meters of vertical. It was an epic adventure.

But what exactly is fastpacking?

In short, fastpacking is a mixture of running and walking with a light pack over several days – fast and light.

By having a lightweight bag that contains everything you need to be on the move for several days, you open up the possibility of moving far quicker than when hiking with a big and heavy pack. You can experience more by not having to return to the same base every night.

The Norwegian mountains have a very well developed trail network with many accommodation options thanks to DNT. It is possible to do fastpacking without sleeping in cabins, but even with an ultralight tent and sleeping bag, the rucksack will be significantly heavier, especially if you are also bringing food for multiple days.

On this trip I managed to travel as light as possible by sleeping in cabins where there was either food serving or where there was food storage, a perfect way to save weight and not compromise. When competing at Ice Ultra, I soon understood that it’s the food that weighs the most. Food was half of the total weight of my pack. Now I only carried a 3-4 slices of bread for lunch and a few chocolates between the cabins. I often stopped by a serviced cabin during the stage and enjoyed a waffle overloaded with sour cream and jam and a Coke before continuing on. Calories are essential when running multiple days, so staying on top of your  nutrition is essential.

“But darling, you don’t have any pack!”

I remember an episode the first day I ran in Jotunheimen. In a mountain pass with rocks, rocks and more rocks, I met three feisty ladies well up in the years. I greeted them and said “lot of rock’s in this place huh?” – then they laughed well and said “this is nothing compared to what’s waiting you at Spiterstulen,” before one lady said, with a horrified looks, that “but darling! You don’t have anything in your pack!”. It was a hot day and I was just wearing shorts and a T-shirt and I can understand that they were worried, because my tiny 10L running vest didn’t testify that I was carrying what’s needed up in the Norwegian mountains. The truth was though, that this little bag, (which weighed only 4kg with water), contained everything I needed for a 7-day (or even longer) cabin to cabin adventure in the mountains.  Even if the weather was going to turn around and temperatures dropped to below zero, or if an accident happened so that I would have to patch up myself or someone else.

Just 4 kilograms in a 10L running vest. Yes, it is possible…

What did I bring?

When you fastpack, every single gram makes a difference. You might think that 10gr doesn’t really matter, but it’s all the 10, 20, 50 grams in total that makes the difference. In order to achieve such a light pack, it requires that you have equipment that weighs as little as possible.

My vest weighs only 345g. Most of the clothes I brought with me were super lightweight clothes. I only brought one of each thing, except socks, I always bring an extra set of merino socks. I use wool not only because it regulates the temperature best and is by far the safest option in the mountains, where one can be surprised by a blizzard in the middle of July, but also because wool stays clean and does not smell too bad even if you wear the garments several days in a row.

Packing list:

  • Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2in1 Vest
  • Drybag 10L and plastic bags with zips
  • Inov-8 Soft Bottle a 500ml (2 PCS)
  • Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket (Wind, Waterproof and Super Light)
  • Inov-8 Merino long sleeve and short sleeve
  • Wool sports bra from Brynje
  • Inov-8 Race elite shorts (this one was worn every day)
  • Inov-8 All terrain pro mitts (superlight wind and waterproof mittens)
  • Two wrags, one merino an one cotton (I used the cotton mostly as blindfold to shut the light out at night)
  • Inov-8 Winter tights (I could well have replaced this with Inov-8 watherproof race pants and saved a few extra grams, but this pants were nice and comfortable to wear evening time in the cabins and they would have kept me warm even in a blizzard)
  • The old version of the Inov-8 thermoshell that is really light and still has a fantastic insulation ability (with this under stormshell jacket in combination with long-sleeved merino wool, you’ll be warm and comfy in temperatures down to -20 degrees. I’ve tried.)
  • Inov-8 merino socks (two pair, one pair for running and one for when I was in the cabins)
  • Swix super longs (just in case, this one was not used once)
  • Inov-8 Base Elite T-Shirt (for camp, super lightweight)
  • Wool underpants from Lindex
  • Silk liner (liner must brought when sleeping in DNT cabins)
  • Electric toothbrush head (weighs even less than half a toothbrush) and a small tube toothpaste (of course not full, do not carry more toothpaste than necessary)
  • Earplugs (one word: Dormitory. Enough said)
  • Sunglasses
  • Mini head torch from Petzel and extra set batteries (lithium batteries of course. And this was only for emergencies if there was to be fog or if I needed to be able to give a light signal in an emergency. This is not a headlamp that provides floodlighting in the middle of winter and that sits like cast on my head. When running in darker seasons, bring a head tourch that weights more, but provides better light.
  • First aid kit: bandage, hand sanitary, disinfection swabs, support bandage, scalpel blade, plaster, patch, k-tape, paracetamol, GEM (electrolyte mixture).
  • Safety equipment: Blizzard bag (wind bag, disposable because it weighs the least), space blanket, a set of heat pads (life saving if you are surprised by cold weather or get injured and can’t keep the pace up), waterproof matches and a couple of tampons (if you have to fire up bonfires).
  • Mobile phone (with the apps Help123, Norgeskart, DNT member and DNT cabin payment installed)
  • Charger for phone, GoPro and Garmin watch
  • Credit card
  • Small tube with spf 30
  • Map of Jotunheimen (It became very useful, both to plan next days rutes in the evenings, and when I got lost a couple of times)
  • Earphones so I could listen to music and audiobook (old-fashioned type with cord, earphones that need to be charged is not too convenient when fastpacking)
  • GoPro and selfie stick (yes, on such a trip I take with me team GoPro, even if it leads to a little extra weight)
  • Chocolate (6pcs)
  • Packed lunches that I made in the cabins every morning.

Yes, all this got stuffed into my 10L running bag with a weight of 4kg (it became easier as the chocolate was eaten up).

In addition, I had a pack standing at Gjendesheim with a little extra stuff. This bag I could do without, but it was also nice to be able to travel to Jotunheimen and back to the city in other clothes.

Besides, I got a shower when I finished round one and it was incredibly delicious. But if I were to do this again, I would have dropped this bag because I would have been freer to finish in a place other than Gjendesheim.

Become a pro-packager

Packing skills is not something you are born with, It’s something you learn. For me, it became a steep learning curve as I prepared for Beyond the Ultimate Ice Ultra. If there was something I wasn’t particularly good at, it was packing. I always brought too much of everything and forgot important things. Besides, it was just stuffed randomly into the bag or suitcase and if I was going to find something I needed, I ended up needing to have everything out of the bag in a swirl on the floor to find what I was looking for.

Photo: Sylvain Cavatz

One of the things I learned from Ice Ultra was to be in control of the equipment. Knowing what you have and where you have it and packing things in a way that saves space makes everything a lot easier. That’s why I have two transparent waterproof plastic bags with zipp locks with first aid kit and safety equipment lying at the bottom of the pack. It’s unlikely I’ll need it, but should I need it, it’ll be quick to pull it out of the bag even if I have some clothes and food lying over. In an emergency, I will still start getting dressed quickly to avoid getting cold, so it makes sense that the clothes are placed on top.

Over these two bags I have the bag with the silk liner. Toothbrush and earplugs I have in mini plastic bags inside the bag with the liner) and clothes for camp. And a transparent bag with chargers. These are things I won’t need when I run. Above, I have the clothes that are least likely to wear along the way and at the top is the wind/waterproof jacket. This is all packed in a lightweight drybag. On the very top is the lunch-pack of the day. Mittens and buff I have in the outside pockets on the vest. The same with water bottle, map, headlamp and chocolate. The GoPro I have attached elegantly in the knits on the outside of the pack. I don’t notice it’s there, but it’s still easy to pick up and to reattach when I get to a place that just screams for a photo.

My tip is to always write a list of what needs to be in your pack and tick off as this is put in the bag. I also think it helps to take a picture of everything that should be part of the trip, it makes it easier to see if there is something missing or something that is unnecessary.

Planning and flexibility

It’s a good idea to have some kind of a plan when fastpacking. But at the same time, some of the fun with fastpacking is that you can be a bit spontaneous. What you need is to know where to sleep from day to day and how to get there. You can go on a trip and take things a little on the kick, plan the next stage from day to day, as long as you have decided before going out in the morning what the first sub-goal is. Especially when you’re running alone, it’s also important to tell where you are planning to go. If something happens along the way, it will make it easier if a rescue is needed.

During my 7-day adventure in Jotunheimen, I had laid out several options that I could juggle between according to what the weather forecast looked like. I chose to shorten the first round and to take a few longer stages than planned the first few days to get over Besseggen on a nice weather day. Therefore, I had time for a second round in Jotunheimen and this one I took a little more on the kick with planning the next day only when I arrived at the cabin I was going to sleep in that night. Then I sat down with maps and consulted with the hosts of the cabins and the weather forecast. Both variants were fun, but whatever you go for, it’s a good idea to have done som research on the area in advanced. What kind of terrain awaits? Are there cabins with or without staff and food on the route? What distances is it between the cabins? Do you have any options if the weather should suddenly turn around or you hit the wall and won’t be up for a 30km stage that day? Are there any cool places to stop by on the road? A mountain top you want to climb? If you are going up to any of the mountain tops on the road, I recommend that you have checked out what it is like to climb the mountain before you get started. It can look a lot easier than it is and before you know it you may be stuck, not able to climb neither up or down.  

At the cabins in Jotunheimen there is a book called Norway’s Mountain Peaks over 2000 meters, in this you will find description of how the different mountains are reached and what skills that are needed. Read it before setting off up on of the high peaks.

Mountain rules 3 and 4 (Fjellvettsreglene)

The weather in the mountains should be respected. In q short time, a blue summer sky with temperatures up to 25 degrees celsius can shift to storms. Snow in the middle of summer also occurs and fog can turn an otherwise easy stretch into a nightmare. So, check the weather forecast before you leave and check several times a day if you have connection. I’m trained to make sure that if you have two different weather forecasts, you’re always going with the worst. But listen to the hosts in the cabins. The hosts in the DNT cabins know the area very well and they will know the latest weather forecast and give tips on safe trails in case of bad weather.

But while the weather forecast seems promising, the weather in the mountains is often very local and you can be surprised by a rain shower or thunderstorm even if the weather forecast has said nothing about it. So, use your eyes and look at the clouds. If it looks like there are dark clouds on the way and you’re on your way over a mountain top, it might be an idea to pay a little extra attention.

Shoes for adventure

The shoes to choose are related to what you prefer and which terrain you’ll run in. However, a tip is to make sure that the shoes have a little extra room because feet often swell up a little on such a trip. Shoes that are comfortable is important and you should not bring  shoes that have previously given you trouble. I ran with inov8 Trailrock G 280, and these were perfect for running many days in a row in the terrain that Jotunheimen has to offer. And even after 200 kilometres on rocky mountain trails (and off trail), my feet were doing just fine. No gnaws, no sore toes or knees. But whatever you go for, it should be shoes you’re comfortable with and that you know you can run with for many hours without causing you any pain. And don’t run in brand new and unfamiliar shoes on a trip like this. That is as risky as it gets…

Make sure you check your feet every night. Rinse your feet in the shower or take an ice-cold foot bath in the nearest stream or mountain water and look for signs of blisters. It is always easier to prevent blisters than to treat them.

What are you waiting for?

Norway is full of adventurous fastpacking destinations. http://www.UT.no have many exciting tour suggestions and often you can merge two or three stages when fastpacking. Especially the SingaTur routs are something to check out. SAGA, MASSIV, Lysefjorden rundt and many many other trips that while take you to some truly stunning destinations.

Photo: Ian Corless

If you are not confident on going on your own, I’m in the planning of starting up with guided running tours in the Norwegian mountains. It feels safer to go with somebody who knows the area and can take you to the best places, so that might be something to sign up for.

SO, what do you say? Ready for a real fastpacking adventure? I sure am!

Published by abelonelyng

Abelone from Oslo, Norway. I am a trail and ultra-runner who loves to adventure in the mountains. I am an ambassador for inov-8, Arla and Firepot foods. I am a blogger, writer and regular contributor for Runners World Norway.

3 thoughts on “Fastpacking for Beginners

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