Cameron Shook

Fast Packing

Cameron Shook
Fast Packing

“No, really Mom, we’ll be fine”

“You’re insane”
“No, really Mom, we’ll be fine”
“...I’ve heard that before…”

She took the news of my brother and I planning to hike the Foothills Trail rather well all things considered; she’s never had a problem with us going backpacking, but us wanting to hike 76 miles over a weekend came as a bit of a shock. I had been talking of finally hiking it this summer, but hadn’t found a hiking partner crazy enough to try and tackle it in 2 days with me. Since insanity is usually hereditary, Henry “The Puma” Shook was asked and he quickly volunteered.

Ultralight backpacking and fast packing are very similar except for a few differences. Ultralight backpacking just means you have a lightweight system that doesn’t slow you down. Fast packing means you have an ultralight system and you cover as many miles as possible so that way you can hike the trails you want and use your vacation time with your family; that’s my logic at least. You don’t go on a fast-packing trip expecting to be comfortable, just expecting to be able to see as much as possible in a weekend.

If you’ve never seriously tried to cut weight when backpacking before, let me walk you through all of the necessary things to pack; it’s quite a bit different than the normal packing list.


Normally, when shopping for a backpack you consider things like padding, weight distribution, durability, and cool doo-dads. In fastpacking, all you want to know is if it’s going to hold up to abuse, does it have shoulder straps, and does it weigh less than an apple?  If it passes all of those criteria, you’re good to go. In my case, I have an old Go-Lite Jam pack which weighs just over a pound and the rip-stop Cordura will withstand just about anything. The Puma will probably be using a Golite Breeze pack which is very similar, except lighter and has no hip belt. He’s young though…he can take it.

Sleeping Bags, Pads, and Tents:

To help cut weight, we’re planning to have the hike in late April to May so we have a low risk of cold temperatures. Most likely, we’ll leave the sleeping bags at home and just sleep in our “warm” clothes. We’ll also be leaving our sleeping pads at home. And the tent. Two ultralight hammocks will provide the comfort and a large sil-nylon tarp just in case it rains. Obviously my plan would be different if the weather was colder, but in the summer in SC I’ll take my chances.

Clothing and Shoes:
Fully expecting to have to burn our clothes when we’re done, we will be bringing what we’re wearing: running shorts, wicking t-shirts, and a pair of socks. In our pack we’ll have a rain jacket, rain pants, a set of lightweight baselayers in case it’s chilly at night, and a spare change of socks in case a pair gets wet. As for shoes, when you’re packing so light, you don’t need heavy boots so a lightweight pair of trail runners will be perfect. One interesting problem that a lot of people don’t think about is whether to have waterproof shoes or not; most people immediately assume Gore-Tex is best, but not always. While Gore-Tex is excellent at keeping water out, if water gets inside the shoe Gore-Tex prevents it from drying out quickly. So a lightweight shoe that dries quickly might be the ticket with all the stream crossings we’ll face on the trail.


Unlike car camping,  fastpacking requires you to forget about food tasting good and instead focus on how many calories you can cram into every ounce. We’re ditching the stove and instead going for a raw food diet consisting of jerky, oatmeal, chocolate, and granola. Removing the wrappers and condensing it all down to a single ziplock bag to save every ounce. I once met a guy who liked to see how far he could hike without resupply, and the farthest he ever got was 600 miles and all he ate was kelp and macadamia nuts. I haven’t seen any kelp at Food Lion, so that probably won’t work for me.


Copious amounts of high-grade Charmin. I’m not a masochist.

Once we’re all packed (with what little we have) our packs should weigh less than 10-12lbs before adding in food and water. Total, I expect our pack weights to be no more than 25lbs or so which should hopefully not slow us down. I seem to carry more than that in camera gear alone for a day hike.

Besides the packing list, your entire methodology of how to hike the trail changes when fastpacking. Putting as many miles under your feet as possible is the name of the game and that doesn’t necessarily mean running the entire trail. While I can walk 4+miles an hour due to my 36” giraffe legs, I don’t plan on walking more than 2-2.5 miles per hour for the entire trip. The trick will be to wake up early and hike late into the evening, doing that 2-2.5 mph over 16 hours so by the end of the day you’ve logged 30+ miles. The first day probably won’t be a problem but the second day, after being sore the first day, will be the real challenge.

Some people (mostly my mom) have said we’re crazy for doing the entire trail over a weekend, that we won’t stop and enjoy it and will just run on past things. But I think there are times when you have to do something absolutely insane to get excited again. I’m 3 weeks in to 8 straight weeks of 60+ hours of work and I need something to look forward to. But, like Louis L’Amour said, “Adventure is just a romantic name for trouble. It sounds swell when you write about it, but it's hell when you meet it face to face in a dark and lonely place.”







Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.