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While the sport of fastpacking—continuous, multi-day run-hiking—has become better known in the last couple of years, there are still only a few companies designing packs specifically for the purpose. Fortunately, there are also a number of manufacturers designing ultralight (UL) and minimalist backpacks for UL backpackers that work well.
Before purchasing a fastpack, you will want to consider your average trip length and gear weight and bulk. Once you begin shopping, evaluate how well a pack distributes the load to the shoulders and waist and how it fits your frame, as well as your budget.
Here are a few of our favorite tried and tested packs for your next (or first!) fastpacking adventure.
Gossamer Gear Kumo 36
Price: $155 / Weight: 24oz / Capacity: 36L
After figuring out how to double back the straps, testers became fans of the hip belt, and the slightly off-center, wide and soft hip pockets rode comfortably and assisted in weight distribution. Another feature that stands out about the Kumo is the integrated egg-carton-style foam back pad, which can be taken out easily and used as a nap or sitting pad.
The pack’s top flap received kudos as well. It doubles as an outer zipped pocket and covers the top of a medium-sized mesh pocket on the back of the pack (big enough to stow a jacket, gloves and a hat). Side compression straps help to keep the load tight against the body, and shoulder straps offer generous padding.
When running, there was very little bouncing, and the pack rode securely overall. A wish-list item would be pockets on the shoulder straps. The side water-bottle holders are reachable, with just a moderate amount of effort, and the pack’s nylon material seems quite durable. There are loops for an ice axe or trekking poles as well.
BEST FOR: All-around packing needs with light to mid-sized loads.
Six Moon Designs Flight 40 FKT
Price: $220 / Weight: 39oz / Capacity: 44l
The Six Moon Designs Flight 40 FKT was designed with fast movement in mind. Like the earlier versions, the optional “vest-yolk” harness design was the most comfortable of any carrying system in this test. Rather than utilizing traditional backpacking shoulder pads, this system opts for an adjustable harness that hugs the torso and brings to mind the fit of some (much smaller) trail-running hydration packs.
Pack bouncing is kept to an absolute minimum, and the folks at Six Moon Designs have thankfully added more shoulder padding to this recent model for more comfort. The pack does an excellent job of distributing the load, without any troublesome pressure points. The water-bottle pockets were reachable, but not easily.
A couple of tips: When dialing in the adjustable harness system, raise or lower it until it’s as high as possible above your hips to avoid the feeling of the pack riding on your hip bone. Also, take advantage of the optional UL hip belt. It not only adds stability, but also has a couple of ample pockets for food and accessories. And, the UL hip belt is lighter and more flexible than the other, more traditional hip belt.
Also, the Flight 40 FKT is one of two packs that endured an hour of bushwhacking through some of the thorniest, densest and nastiest forest in the Pacific Northwest, and emerged completely unscathed.
BEST FOR: Longer fastpacking trips when you’re carrying 20-plus pounds.
ZPacks Arc Blast
Price: $325 / Weight: 21oz / Capacity: 45L
While the Arc Blast looks more like a traditional ultralight backpack, it’s surprisingly well-suited for fastpacking. One of the most comfortable packs in our test, it’s crazy light and made of strong and water-resistant Cuben Fiber.
ZPacks’ pack architect, Joe Valesco, boasts a long tick list of classic trails, including the AT, PCT and CDT, and his experience shows in his designs. The pack tightens down in all the right places, with straps that are just wide enough to do the job. A carbon-fiber frame gives the Arc Blast an air gap against the back. The additional few ounces this feature adds make the pack very comfortable, even for loads over 20 pounds, as well as easy to load.
The side water-bottle pockets are reachable with just a moderate amount of effort. The shoulder straps can move up or down to adjust to your torso height. All seams and attachment points are taped, making the pack highly water resistant.
Optional shoulder and belt pouches for storage come extra. (Though as fastpackers love those extra pockets, they’re not so much optional as mandatory.) The pouches attach and lock down well and are generously sized (you can fit a water flask or soft bottles in the large upper pockets). Another add-on is a chest pack (3.5 liters), an enticing option for photography enthusiasts and adventure racers.
BEST FOR: Those routes when moving fast and nimble is paramount.
Osprey Talon 33
Price: $130 / Weight: 32oz / Capacity: 33L
Among the packs reviewed here, the Osprey Talon 33 is perhaps the most likely to be available at your local outdoor-recreation store, so you can try it on, a definite plus. It has all the bells and whistles you’d expect in an Osprey pack: many straps and loops for all your carrying needs and pockets galore.
There aren’t, however, compression straps to really cinch down your load, and, at almost two pounds, it’s on the heavy side of the packs reviewed here. The shoulder straps come right out of the fabric above the shoulders, which can make for a somewhat constrictive feel around the neck when running or hiking. While we appreciated the moderately sized gel/key pockets on the hip belt, more storage space on the shoulder straps would help; there is just one slim mesh pocket. Also, the side water-bottle pockets are unreachable.
There is a hydration sleeve to accommodate a bladder, and the harness is adjustable in an up-and-down fashion. The mesh material along the area of the pack that rests against your body breathes well, and the shoulder straps provide a moderate amount of cushion. The Osprey Talon 33 is a perfectly sized pack for two nights on the trail.
BEST FOR: Runners on a budget who are planning shorter trips.
Price: $190 / Weight: 25oz / Capacity: 25L
UltrAspire is one of few companies that makes packs expressly for fastpacking. Even so, the new Epic isn’t being promoted as a “fastpack,” but rather as a “self-supported adventure” pack.
The Epic is designed for the minimalist. While the main compartment offers only 11 liters of capacity, UltrAspire says the pack provides 25 liters total. The outer thick mesh pocket could easily stow a jacket, map, headlamp, gloves and hat. There are large pockets on the shoulder straps as well. The Epic comes with two 550-milliliter bottles, and these ride reasonably comfortably up front in the well-sized pockets. There are also two smaller pockets for personal items on the shoulder straps, and generously sized mesh pockets on the hip belt.
Similar to the Six Moon Designs pack reviewed here, the Epic eschews the traditional shoulder-strap design in favor of a vest-styled system, which helps with unwanted bouncing and increases running comfort. Other nice touches include a tucked-away rainfly and ice-axe/trekking-pole loops. The thin hook-type attachment system across the chest is minimal, but cinching the loops around their respective hooks is challenging when running.
The frameless Epic has no rigidity, which can lead to a somewhat lumpy carrying experience. And the unpadded straps dug into shoulders on longer testing runs.
BEST FOR: Lighter loads and ultrarunners already accustomed to the UltrAspire vest design.
Lowepro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II
Price: $200 / Weight: 53oz
For some fastpackers, capturing images of the wild places they tread is the number-one priority. Enter the Lowepro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II. Admittedly, it can’t carry a full ultralight camping system, but it can fit the necessities (e.g. a bivy sack, a down jacket and pants, a hat and gloves, water, emergency equipment, ready-to-eat food and a flashlight), which is all many fastpackers need anyway.
You can fit a DSLR with a wide-angle f/2.8 lens attached in the dedicated camera compartment. Importantly, the well-padded compartment squeezes the camera and lenses once the outer flap is zipped shut, preventing expensive equipment from bouncing around.
The Photo Sport comes with an all-weather cover, and is made from a highly tear-resistant tech fabric. The pack rode comfortably when running, and the harness kept bouncing to a minimum. While reasonably comfortable, the padding isn’t the softest and provides a firmer feel. The pack can be tightened in all the right places, has zipped pockets on the hip belt and can carry either a water bottle or a tripod in the side pocket (though it’s difficult to reach).
There’s a two-liter hydration sleeve inside the pack and a roomy external pocket in back for your jacket, gloves and hat, as well as multiple attachment points for poles, ice axes, etc.
BEST FOR: Photo-enthusiast runners who are willing to trade comfort for carrying heavier camera gear.
This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue.