Four Day crash course in Fastpacking:

IMG_2526 (1)What I learnt from four days of lightweight backpacking or fastpacking:

  • I have over 20 years experience in carrying very heavy loads (mainly climbing gear) up very remote peaks. This is quite a different skill set to Ultra Light travel to which I am far less experienced.
  • The Osprey Talon 22 is perfectly adequate to carry all your kit for and adventure of this nature. It is a great pack if you plan to mainly walk. For more of a running approach a specific running pack will work better (Osprey Rev Series, Montane Dragon 20, Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L etc)
  • Navigation: My partner had printed out a map and drawn a GPS route from google earth on his Garmin Fenix. I used 1: 50 000 standard maps and carried a compass. They were heavier but the combination worked well in that we could confirm the identity far away peaks. I also carried a GPS with pre loaded waypoints. Pre loading GPS points of important junctions was hugely beneficial in making sure we stayed on track. The combination worked well. I never used the compass so with hindsight I could have left it behind.
  • Gear I carried and did not use: I would still carry it and not leave anything out.

Frist Aid Kit, fleece gloves, spare matches, Waterproof jacket, Windproof Shell (I am undecided on whether I would take this for this particular trip. Normally this is one of my essentials but with day time temps being up to 30°C most days I am not sure which probably means that I could have left it behind.)

  • Gear I carried and did not need:

Compass (see above),

Opinel knife. I could have substituted for a simple scalpel blade instead.

Extra stove and fuel. It only weights about 270g combined but every bit helps. We used a methalated spirits home made stove and carried about 250ml of fuel in a juice bottle. See the instructions of how to make it here. Before all you MSR and Jetboil lovers knock this try it!

  • Items that turned out to be essential: needle and thread. My partner’s bag tore as we were about to start. Without this repair possibility he would have had a very uncomfortable trip.
  • Items that I wish I had changed:

We carried 3L of water per day per person. This was perfect for the conditions. I had a 2,5L bladder and my partner had a selection of 500ml bottles. He could quite easily pace his drinking with this system whereas I was playing a bit of guess work. Essential to his system was having easy and on the go access to all bottles. Big mesh pockets on his bag made this work. I had a 500ml water bottle which I intended to use with 32Gi Recover shake or Nutriboost meal replacement first thing and last thing in the day. These two drinks worked really well at the end of the day to fill me up before we got to dinner. But having only one bottle meant that I was limited to having this last thing in the day when I knew we would not run out of water. I would probably choose a bottle system in future. It does not put all your vital water into one potentially vulnerable container and is easier to measure your consumption on the go. You would need a bag that can carry two bottles up front and two bottles, easily accessible on each side.

IMG_2517I bought a 9°C (Comfort Rating) Mountain Equipment Helium Solo Sleeping bag. Temperatures were not lower that 12-14°C any one night. I wore running tights, First Ascent DermaTec base layer as a top and Rab Polartec Alpha over that and a Reversible Polar Buff as headwear.

I should have tested this combination at a known temperature to know how cold I would be. Instead I made the classic mistake of trusting “tested numbers” not taking into account personal variance.

  • Specificity is key in training. My best training session was a 6h 24km walk with a heavy pack. I knew I was undertrained going into this venture but I only managed to do what I could without getting too fatigued. I will emphasise this more in future.
  • My emphasis needs to mainly be on capabilities rather than my gear. I need to work on being more comfortable enduring the cold (necessitating less gear). I was never uncomfortable as such but you can always be better. I need to put more emphasis on fitness. I need to improve my navigation and my competency with using a GPS. I believe my skills are above average but you can never be too good in this department. When you really need to navigate under pressure then experience counts!
  • Nutrition for every day: breakfast: cooked porridge of two handfuls of rolled oats with some cinnamon and seeds mixed in.

snacks: 2 bars (selection of Ziberto Energy Bars, 32Gi, Trek Bar) Trek Bar offers best kj value for weight.

1 stick droe wors (about 80g)

100g mixed nuts

80g dried fruit mix

1 scoop Nutriboost

1 serving 32Gi Recover

Lunch: left over serving of dinner

Dinner: 50g dehydrated food. Required about 1h of soaking and then bringing to boil.

Ate all my snacks on day 1 but after that I felt I was less and less hungry. Is this fat burning setting in? My body becoming more efficient? I could have certainly have done without one serving of either Nutriboost or Recover and possibly left another of the above behind also.

  • The Big Three need the most attention for weight savings: Shelter, Sleeping Bag/Matt, Pack.

We had the z-packs duplex which was brilliant. The reason we decided on a closed tent rather than tarp only is that all the literature warns of creepy crawlies in the form of scorpions and spiders. Not being a friend of either this was a good compromise to make sure we limited exposure. We both used Thermarest Neoair mattresses which were awesome in that they are compact.

  • I carried a Petzl Myo which ended up being overkill BUT if we had to have travelled at night then this would have been a deal breaker. Glad I brought it.
  • My partner in crime was way more experienced than me. I have learnt a great deal and hope to explore more. The choice of partner is key in ventures like this. We worked well and for this I am very pleased and thankful.

FAQ Hydration bladders

What hydration bladder should I buy?

My advice to first time buyers is to buy the best bladder you can afford. Go with the brands that have the biggest market share not necessarily what your favorite sponsored athlete uses. The first bladder I bought left a bad taste in my mouth and I did not believe all those that raved about hydration bladders. Buy the best and you will enjoy your piece of kit often and enjoy the experience. Cheap models leave an aftertaste, leak and the bite valve is not nearly as comfortable as better (and more expensive models). Below I will assume that you have purchased one of the dedicated brands with a quality hydration system.

Can I transport juice or beer in my bladder?

Sure you can (in theory). Check that your bladder has an anti microbial lining. However if you leave Coke or other juice in the bladder without rinsing thoroughly then bacteria will grow irrespective of what lining the bladder has. The hose will become grey and murky! My personal preference is to only carry water in the bladder and if I need energy juice then I will transport it in a separate bottle. Also see here for my ideas on  keeping hydration and nutrition separate.

What maintenance is required?

Irrespective of what brand of hydration bladder you use this item of your kit will require some level of maintenance in order to remain hygienic. Here are some tips that I have learnt. They can be used on any reservoir no matter what the brand. So next time you have used your Camelbak®, Osprey® Hydraulics™ Reservoir or Source™ bladder  don’t just leave it in your pack but take a few minutes to store it correctly.

How do I clean my bladder?

Rinse out with warm water as soon as you can. Don’t let your energy juice get sticky. You can use soap, bicarb of soda or lemon mixed with water to get rid of residue taste. For more thorough cleaning use a bottle brush and thin brush to clean the hose, remove and dismantle the bite valve and clean and rinse separately.

How do I store my hydration bladder?

The crux is to get the residue water out of the corners of the bladder.

IMG_1674Here are several little tricks that I use: Cut up an egg tray and insert into the opening of the bladder. This lets some air get into the bladder and allows it to dry out.

Hang the bladder up above the bath to drip dry. Make sure to release the water out of the drinking tube and bite valve occasionally.

The other trick is to dry it as best you can and then pack inside your freezer compartment (with no water in the bladder). The idea is not to cool your drink but to stop bacteria from growing in it in the sub-zero freezer.

How do I stop the sloshing in my bladder?

Once you have filled your hydration bladder, turn it upside down and squeeze all the air out while releasing the bit valve. Now when you drink you will only get liquid and no air coming out. Also you wont feel the irritating sloshing when running.

How much water do I need to carry?

That is the million dollar question and it really depends! According to Tim Noakes and others the best practice seems to be to drink to thirst. For a bike ride of around 3 – 4 hours I might need less than 750ml of water. But then I have some catching up to do if it has been hot. However for the first section of Skyrun I carry 3l as it typically takes about 5 hours to reach the first refill point. And more importantly I am hydrating not for that section of trail but for the 20+ hours of running that I am undertaking. Practice to see what works for you!

As an aside Andrew Porter carried only a 500ml hand held water bottle on his solo Drakensberg Traverse. He goes super light and refills often.

Hydration Bladders are great but just need a little maintenance and care to give you long service. enjoy.

If you have any other questions please post them below.


Le petit difference: Men’ / Women’s and Unisex backpacks

We all know that men and women are shaped slightly differently. In general women are slightly shorter in the torso, hips are more angled and they have breasts.

Hence pack design needs to accommodate this. Obviously everybody is different so it is perfectly possible and I believe acceptable for a man to get a better fit with a women’s pack and visa versa. However women are far more accustomed to being squeezed into “unisex” than men wearing “women’s” designs. Hopefully one day this will change.

So what differentiates a men’s from women’s back pack?

Hipbelts should be more sculpted and angled to offer better fit around the hipbone.

osprey pack harness comparison hip beltHave a look at the Osprey women’s pack on the left and how the hipbelt curves us compared to the men’s version on the right.



osprey pack harness shoulder strapsThe shoulder straps should be  designed with more distinct angle changes and varying padding to create an anatomical fit.





Bottom line is fit on whatever you intend to buy, do your own research, if the bag does not fit properly then look at other options.