Fastpacking is born of the impulse to see far horizons and move beyond them in a way that makes you feel free. And the best fastpacking packs will let you carry the gear you need to see what is beyond the radius of a day’s run.
Fastpacking packs need to carry everything you need for an overnight or a week but fit so well that you hardly notice it. Pack companies usually utilize running vest technology or a variation with a wide vest-style harness that distributes weight across the shoulders, back, and chest and keeps the load close to the body. Wide shoulder straps also provide a template for various pockets, which moves some of the weight to the front of the pack. Most of the best fastpacking backpacks aren’t more than 30 liters and can comfortably carry 12 to 15 pounds.
Considering these things, we narrowed down a research pool of more than 40 fastpacks to 13 that we tested extensively for over multiple seasons and years. After testing those 13, seven made the cut in this guide. The packs we chose for this list are light, have excellent pocket accessibility, and feel great for running.
Best Fastpacking Packs
- Best Overall Fastpacking Pack: Pa’lante Packs Joey
- Best Fastpacking Pack for Longer Trips: Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L
- Lightest Fastpacking Pack: Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack
- Other Fastpacking Pack Options: Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack, Montane Trailblazer LT 28L Backpack, Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 and Fastpackher 30 2.0
Best Overall Fastpacking Pack: Pa’lante Packs Joey ($240)
- Very light
- Fit is secure and comfortable, one of the two most runnable packs we tested
- Great shoulder strap pocket configuration
- Shoulder strap pockets fit 500-milliliter soft flasks
- Most secure underneath pocket of any pack we tested
- There is no optional waistbelt, but this is fine if you keep your pack weight low
- Slightly difficult to get bottles into designated pockets
- Shoulder strap bottle pockets are a little short
The Pa’lante Packs Joey was a major favorite among our testers. At 24 liters, the Joey is the lowest-volume pack in the company’s lineup. It’s also one of the lightest, weighing in at an advertised weight of only 13.9 ounces for the model we tested. Explicitly designed for fastpacking, it has a running vest-style harness.
We all agreed that this pack’s vest fits more comfortably and securely than any other pack on this list. Our testers found the Joey remained snug and secure even when scrambling up and down steep talus in Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness.
Like a traditional running vest, the shoulder straps are not highly padded. Instead, they are constructed from two layers of three-dimensional mesh that conforms to one’s body and breathes well when you really get going. The vest’s shoulder straps are wide at four inches across, so they hug the body, which is particularly necessary considering this pack doesn’t have a waistbelt.
There are two small chest straps between the shoulder straps, one that clips around the upper chest and the other just below the sternum. None of our testers found the absence of a waistbelt to be an issue as long as the pack weight remained low. We all agreed that the Joey was most runnable with pack weights below 12 pounds. Since the pack only has 24 liters of internal capacity, it limits the amount of stuff you can take on a trip.
The current Joey is available in 200-denier ultraweave or 210-denier UHMWPE Gridstop.
The Joey has one large rear pocket, two side pockets, one underneath pocket, and two shoulder strap pockets on each strap. The underneath pocket held gels, snacks, buffs, gloves, and rain jackets more securely than any other pack we tested. Of all of the packs we tested, this one had the best shoulder strap pockets by far.
One Ultramesh bottle pocket on the upper part of each strap accommodates 500-milliliter soft flasks of the shorter and wider varieties — taller and thinner soft flasks will stick out until you drink a bit of water — and there is a smaller snack or phone pocket just beneath them. Our testers who like to use the Katadyn BeFree water filter — check out our Katadyn BeFree review — found these pockets ideal. However, the pockets are a bit short for the 0.6-liter Katadyn BeFree bottle, so sometimes we had to take a hit off the flask to squish it below the shock cord closure. Otherwise, the top of the flask would flop while running.
Pa’lante started as a cottage-industry brand based in Salt Lake City, Utah, that couldn’t keep up with the demand for their packs. They recently moved production to a factory in Vietnam. They found that this factory could build packs of much higher quality than their Utah shop could and can now fulfill orders for their packs without waiting.
To learn more, read our in-depth Pa’lante Packs Joey review.
Advertised Weight: 13.9 ounces (395 grams) in Robic fabric, 14.8 ounces (419 grams) in Gridstop fabric | How We Weighed It: 14.5 ounces (411 grams) in Gridstop fabric | Volume: 24 liters | Harness: Running vest style | External Storage: One rear pocket, one underneath pocket, two side pockets, two shoulder strap pockets for soft flasks, and two small shoulder strap stash pocketsShop the Palante Packs Joey
Best Fastpacking Pack for Longer Trips: Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L ($285)
- Custom-made means you get exactly what you want
- Impressive weight-to-volume ratio
- High-volume underneath pocket
- Removable waistbelt
- Very water-resistant
- Long production lead times
- The harness is slightly over-padded for what you should carry in this pack
- It can look dorky if the rolltop extension collar is fully extended
The Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L is a fully customizable, high-volume, ultralight fastpack made by a cottage manufacturer in Boulder, Colorado. It is advertised as weighing between 13 and 19 ounces, but we added some custom features that pushed it to the upper end of that hoped-for weight. At an actual weight of 19.47 ounces for our customized version, our Flatiron 28L isn’t the lightest pack on the list, but its volume-to-weight ratio is still impressive, considering this pack is large enough that one of our testers was able to use it on an eight-day trip through southern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. She noted that when the rolltop extension collar is fully utilized, this pack is much larger than 28 liters.
We loved the ability to customize many features of this pack. We added a zipper to one of the smaller shoulder strap pockets, elastic drawstrings on both the larger shoulder strap pockets, and a shock cord to the back of the pack so that we could better secure items sticking out of the rear pockets, like a foam pad, trekking poles, and packraft paddles. The Flatiron 28L is made mainly of 200-denier Ultra material, and you can choose custom colors for different parts of the pack.
The Flatiron 28L is the only pack on our list with a hybrid fastpacking harness: running vest-shaped but slightly narrower and with more padding. In our opinion, this is somewhat over-padded for a fastpack. We generally prefer harnesses to be minimally padded for body contouring and breathability, but the three-dimensional mesh on the back of the straps effectively kept sweat away from the body. When we had eight days of food loaded in this pack, we weren’t complaining about the extra padding, but we often felt like it was a bit much when we had less weight in the pack.
Unlike the Pa’lante Packs Joey, this pack has a one-inch webbing removable waistbelt, which is meant to stabilize the load but not support weight. When carrying about 20 liters and 10 to 12 pounds of gear and placing softer items against your back so that the pack best conforms to your body, this pack runs nicely, and there’s no need to use the waistbelt for stabilization. When we pushed the pack to about 15 pounds, we found the waistbelt was needed to keep the pack still against the back.
The Flatiron 28L has a unique underneath pocket that is higher in volume than most pockets of this sort. You can access it by scooting your hands behind your lower back. We kept items we wanted to be easily accessible in there, such as gels, gloves, and rain gear. These things stay securely inside the pocket when the pack is on but tend to fall out when you set the pack on the ground.
Made in Boulder, Colorado, Red Paw Packs is a small company seemingly run by one man, the founder Matt Evans. Just like Pa’lante Packs, Red Paw Packs are popular among the ultralight backpacking crowd, but we’ve found this pack works excellently for fastpacking. Since every pack is made custom, there is generally a significant lead time for getting one, so don’t wait until the last minute before a trip to order one.
Check out our in-depth Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L review to learn more.
Advertised Weight: Starts at 13 ounces (368 grams) | Actual Weight: Our customized version is 19.47 ounces (552 grams) | Volume: 28 liters | Harness: Hybrid fastpacking | External Storage: Two pockets extending from the sides to the rear of the pack, two shoulder strap pockets for soft flasks, two small shoulder strap pockets for snacks or phoneShop the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L
Lightest Fastpacking Pack: Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack ($185)
- The lightest pack we tested
- More durable than expected
- Surprisingly runnable
- Lack of shoulder strap pockets means more difficult water and snacks access, not acceptable for longer fastpacking trips
- Very light materials could turn out to be fragile
- It’s not as runnable as our top picks
With a weight of just over eight ounces when stripped down to its most minimal configuration, the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack excited some of our testers while it scared others. It features 30-denier and 70-denier nylons, so some of us were a little nervous about its durability, but these materials held up well throughout many months of testing. One of our testers used this pack for fly-fishing/running adventures, where he bushwhacked through willows frequently, and the pack saw no significant abrasion. But remember, these are still ultralight materials and must be treated carefully.
The pack comes in only one size but has two attachment points for the removable waistbelt to fit a range of bodies. It has a traditional S-strap backpack-style harness, so while it doesn’t ride as close and secure as our top picks for running, there is virtually no padding in the straps, making it ride better than packs with more padded traditional S-straps. In fact, our testers were pleasantly surprised by the run-ability of this pack; for a backpack designed for walking, the running motion felt good.
This pack was the least fastpack-y fastpack we tested concerning up-front accessibility, meaning we had to stow water in the side pockets and snacks in the rear pocket. For trips emphasizing efficiency — when you don’t want to take off your pack for anything other than lunch and dinner — we’d recommend any other pack on our list because they all have more up-front gear accessibility.
The hydration tube port makes it easy to use this pack with a hydration bladder, and the waistbelt pockets can hold small items. We generally aren’t huge fans of waistbelt pockets because they can inhibit the running motion with swinging arms, sometimes banging into them, but these pockets are not wide or intrusive, so none of our testers found this to be an issue.
The back panel features a stretch mesh sleeve to store a removable sit pad. Some of our testers liked to fold up a Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad, a few sections of a Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol, or an inflatable pad and store it in this sleeve. Fastpacking often requires modularity and multiple-use items to keep weight low enough for running, so we appreciated the thoughtfulness of this back panel design.
One nice thing about the bottom mesh designed to stow the Murmur 36’s back pad is that it substitutes for some storage when on the move, even if you carry the included back pad. You can carry your phone, gels, bars, and anything flattish in there and then wedge your hand behind your back and grab stuff. We still prefer shoulder strap pockets to carry these items, but this is a reasonable alternative. You just have to be careful that nothing slides out when you set your pack down because the top of this pocket is always open.
While there were definitely some things we found lacking in this pack, its incredibly light weight has us reaching for it when we’re really counting grams for a trip.
Advertised Weight: 12.7 ounces (354 grams) | Actual Weight: 12.73 ounces (361 grams), 8.2 ounces (232 grams) without the back pad or waistbelt | Volume: 36 liters | Harness: Traditional backpacking S-strap style | External Storage: One rear pocket, two side pockets, two waistbelt pockets, back panel lower sleeve can function as a pocketShop the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack
Other Fastpack Options: Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack ($170)
- Ample storage options
- Multiple sizes are offered for a precise fit
- Acceptable pockets for fastpacking
- Surprisingly runnable
- The rear pocket on an angle which is both an aesthetic and functional issue
- It’s not as runnable as our top picks
- A bit heavy
Billed as superlight instead of hyperlight, the Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack gives you more durability and pocket options than the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack for less than a pound more weight. It features 70-denier for the main body and 100-denier Robic nylon for the bottom. While it’s a more versatile pack than the Murmur 36, it placed below that pack on this list in part because it is so much heavier.
The Kumo 36 and Murmur 36 share many features, including the rectangular shape and the stretch mesh sleeve for a removable sit pad or sleeping pad that doubles as a back cushion and a behind-the-back pocket for storing flattish items like bars, gels, or your phone.
These packs differ in a few significant ways, though. The Kumo 36’s storage options are much better than those of the Murmur 36. The shoulder strap water bottle pockets fit both a bottle and a phone in them, and we loved that we could readily access these things while running.
The side and waistbelt pockets are functionally the same as those on the Murmur 36, easily fitting Smartwater bottles, Nalgenes, or one-liter Platypus bottles. Where the Murmur 36 had a simple side compression strap on each side above the side pockets, the Kumo 36 has a web of zigzagging cordage, which we preferred for security when stowing tent poles and trekking poles.
Most of the weight added over the Murmur 36 was worth the functionality gained, but the Kumo 36 has a few things we didn’t like. The rear pocket is on an angle, which some testers found to be an issue. Certain items tended to shift to the lower side of the pocket, where they were at risk of falling out. Others on the team couldn’t stand the asymmetry of the angled pocket, a more subjective gripe.
Like the Murmur 36, we found this pack surprisingly runnable. The straps are padded but not overly padded, so the pack snugged to the body nearly as well as the Murmur 36. The padding didn’t significantly reduce active comfort, with moisture simply absorbing into the foam padding away from the body.
Even though we ranked the Kumo 36 below the Murmur 36, certain users might pick it over the latter. For one, the Kumo 36 is made of more durable materials, meaning if you’re going to be bushwhacking and butt-sliding over rocks, this may be a better choice than the Murmur 36. And for those who like a little more customization for height, this pack comes in two sizes.
The Kumo 36 weighs nearly a pound more than the Murmur 36, but all but larger-framed people can chop at least 1.5 ounces off this pack by trimming or removing excess waistbelt and shoulder strap webbing. The side compression cords are removable and arguably unnecessary if you’re carrying at least 20 liters, which you’re almost always going to be if you’re going out overnight. You can also remove the back pad to save even more weight.
Advertised Weight for a Size M: 20.5 ounces (580 grams) | Actual Weight for a Size M: 19.93 ounces (565 grams) | Volume: 36 liters | Harness: Traditional backpacking S-strap style | External Storage: One rear pocket, two side pockets, two waistbelt pockets, top zippered pocket, two shoulder strap water bottle pockets, back panel lower sleeve can function as a pocketShop the Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack
Other Fastpack Options: Montane Trailblazer LT 28L Backpack ($175)
- So dang light
- Did we mention light?
- Enough volume and structure for an up to 4-day ultralight trip
- It’s unlikely to be suitable for regular off-trail use due to the materials used
- Front pockets are significantly less ideal than the top packs in this guide
There is a lot to love about the Montane Trailblazer LT 28L Backpack, but let’s get the elephant in the room on what we don’t like before we go much further. This almost-fully-featured fastpack lacks in one critical area, which could prove a showstopper for some, and that’s the fact that its front pocket configuration doesn’t allow an easy carry of soft flasks. The iRunFar team loves its soft flasks, so we find this a big bummer, but we’ve given other packs in this guide a pass for this, so we’ll do the same for this one.
With an advertised volume of 28 liters, the main compartment’s roll top has some extra real estate if you’d like to increase that capacity just a bit. The pack’s shoulder harness and permanent waistbelt are lightly padded with a large-weave mesh. The main compartment is 40-denier nylon with fully taped seams.
The pack’s main body has a super lightweight elastic compression system, which we recommend using if your pack isn’t full. While the elastic hasn’t broken on us yet, it’s so thin it’s hard to imagine it lasting too long. We’ll outfit it with a thicker elastic when the time comes. A neat part of this compression system is vertical fabric “stays” of a sort, which helps the pack to compress more evenly.
A hydration bladder sleeve with a Velcro hanger is between the main body and shoulder harness. Each shoulder strap has two elastic guides to keep track of a bladder tube — or serve as attachment points for other accessories. Each strap also has one zippered nylon pocket that’ll store a phone, perhaps 500 to 600 calories, a buff and gloves, a headlamp, or other things of similar size. These pockets offer a lot of extra volume.
We’d love to store 500-millimeter soft flasks in these shoulder pockets, and while they are not designed for this, we make it work. Once your soft flask has had a sip or two, it should slide in and the pocket zip shut. Each time you want a sip, you have to unzip the pocket top a little. It’s not that great, but workable if you’re bound and determined to keep using soft flasks with this pack.
The waistbelt has two innovative zippered stretch-mesh pockets that open into the two pockets on the back of the pack. This lets you kind of pretend you have two of those bottomless pockets. In real life, this allows you easy access to things bigger than what you’d normally be able to store in a waist pocket, like a bulkier snack or clothing layer. We also want to high-five Montane on the pockets’ angled zippers, which help actually to make the waist pockets accessible.
Montane states that trekking poles can be attached on the front via bungee cords on the shoulder and waist straps, but iRunFar does not recommend storing trekking poles on the front of the body due to injury risk in a fall.
The pack is one-size-fits-most and can be adjusted via two horizontal chest straps between the shoulder straps and waist belt. The chest straps are elastic and super stretchy and can be moved up and down on the shoulder straps as desired. We find the fit to be excellent for both a small-framed woman and medium-framed man. On a small framed woman, we have all the straps almost all the way cinched down, and the smallest among us might be sized out of this pack. We experienced no chafing issues around the pack. We did notice that the open mesh of the back and waist belt catches and hangs onto leaves, pine needles, and other trail debris.
We haven’t experienced any durability issues, but we hesitate to take this on regular off-trail adventuring where bushwhacking and rock abrasion could become an issue. We’re mostly thinking of the very thin elastic compression strap, but it’s not a deal breaker when this breaks as it can be rethreaded with something more durable. We have not yet tested the pack in drenching weather, so we can’t comment on its water resistance. We’ll update this review as we do.
We have enjoyed using this pack in our first summer and fall of use and will continue using it for largely on-trail type adventures. That said, we’d love to see Montane fully fit the front of the pack with pockets akin to a running vest to allow soft flask use in a future update.
Advertised Weight: 13.6 ounces (385 grams) | Actual Weight: 13.1 ounces (370 grams) | Volume: 28 liters | Harness: Running vest style | External Storage: Two large back pockets which creatively wrap into zippered waist belt pockets, two shoulder strap pockets
Other Fastpack Options: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 ($195) and Fastpackher 30 2.0 ($180)
- The unisex version has an outstanding shoulder strap pocket configuration
- Ample storage
- Multiple sizes and gender-specific design
- Comfortably carries a bear canister
- Heavy and overbuilt
- Disappointing shoulder strap pocket configuration on the women’s specific version
- It has zippers that are heavy and can malfunction
Ultimate Direction has somehow become nearly synonymous with fastpacking, and the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 (unisex version) and Ultimate Direction Fastpackher 30 2.0 (women’s version) are updates to the company’s classic fastpacking packs. While the women’s version of this pack has an upgraded back panel to increase breathability, these packs still struggle to compete with others on this list. They’re heavy, they’re overbuilt, they have zippers, and they’re the least stylish packs we tested. However, you can take them fastpacking and have an enjoyable time, just not as much as with other fastpacks in this guide. As one of our testers said, “The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 does a job; it just doesn’t do it super well.”
We loved the brand’s original fastpack models from 2014, which were simpler and, therefore, lighter. In fact, we still use the original version of the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 on some trips. Still, the packs have complexified and gotten heavier over the years without improving fit or other crucial aspects. We believe the company’s fastpacks could shine again by returning to their roots.
Many new-to-the-game fastpackers are drawn to this pair of packs because the company is well-known in the trail running world for its multiple styles and capacities of running vests, as well as running belts, handhelds, and more. Ultimate Direction packs are also some of the most readily available fastpacks on the market, which is commendable. If you need one right now, you can get one. But this is all the more reason to encourage them to up their game and provide both tenderfoot and seasoned fastpackers with better products.
The Fastpack 40 has a lot of internal storage, potentially too much for a proper fastpack, and tons of pockets and straps. There are 15 external pockets on the shoulder straps for soft flasks, maps, phones, and snacks. While we appreciated all these storage options, we found them to be overkill. If the brand simplified these pockets, they could decrease the overall weight of this pack significantly.
The other thing they could do to reduce the pack’s weight is to get rid of the main compartment zipper. None of our testers found it useful; instead, they noted it as a possible point of failure, especially in desert environments where sand eats zippers alive.
While the shoulder strap pockets on the unisex version are nearly as good as those on other packs, those on the women’s version were lacking. Because they shortened and narrowed the shoulder straps on the vest of the Fastpackher 30 2.0, the pockets are fewer and shorter. This is the biggest issue we have with this pack: how, in shrinking the vest proportions, they limit the pocket layout. In our opinion, the vest on a fastpack doesn’t need to be reduced as much; there’s plenty of space on our women testers’ small/medium-sized torsos for a wider and longer vest and, therefore, the same pocket configuration as the one on the unisex version.
We appreciated that the Fastpack 40 fits a BV500 bear canister vertically inside and does so more comfortably than other packs on this list. The pack’s firmer back pad and structure keep the hard plastic canister from barreling into your back. However, a BV500 takes up most of the pack, so you’ll want to share gear with a partner if you go this route.
Everyone here at iRunFar agreed that we really want to see Ultimate Direction compete in the fastpacking world. We want to see them simplify their packs, lose the zippers, and reduce the overall weight of their packs. We also want them to offer the same shoulder strap pockets on their women’s and unisex fastpacks. If they do these things, we will be much more excited to take one of their packs on our next fastpacking adventure.
Advertised Weight for Unisex Model: 25.2 ounces (715 grams) | Advertised Weight for a Women’s Specific Size XS/SM: 21.3 ounces (605 grams) | Volume: 41 liters (unisex version), 30 liters (women’s version) | Harness: Running vest style | External Storage: One rear pocket, two side pockets, and multiple shoulder strap pockets, depending on the model
Comparing the Best Fastpacking Packs
|Pa’lante Packs Joey||$240||14.5 ounces||24 liters|
|Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L||$285||19.5 ounces||28 liters|
|Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack||$185||12.7 ounces||36 liters|
|Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack||$170||20 ounces||36 liters|
|Montane Trailblazer LT 28L Backpack||$175||13.1 ounces||28 liters|
|Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 (unisex version)||$195||25.2 ounces||41 liters|
|Ultimate Direction Fastpackher 30 2.0 (women’s version)||$180||21.3 ounces||30 liters|
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Fastpacking Pack
The best fastpacking packs have three main harness styles: running vest style, traditional S-strap backpack style, and hybrid fastpacking style. We recommend running vest-style harnesses for the closest, most secure fit because they usually run better than other harness styles. They have little to no padding and hug the body like a harness on a running vest.
Traditional S-strap backpack-style harnesses are what you find on daypacks and backpacking packs. They are usually heavily padded to accommodate heavy loads and are designed for walking, not running. Some are comfortable for running but typically don’t fit as securely and often don’t breathe, as well as running vest-style harnesses.
Hybrid fastpacking harnesses are pretty much a blend of the two. Imagine a wider, lightly padded S-strap for a better body-contouring fit and secure ride. Many fastpacks in the cottage industry world, such as the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L, are made with this style of straps.
Fit, Adjustability, and Comfort
You hardly know it’s there when you’re wearing a high-performing running vest. It conforms to and moves with your body and places your water, snacks, and other items exactly where you want them. The best fastpacking packs are the ones that do the same thing.
While this sounds simple, creating the sort of pack that will perform like this with loads of 15 pounds inside it is actually difficult. It’s challenging for manufacturers to nail the physics of getting tarps, sleeping bags, and several days of food to travel with you comfortably as you run. A fastpack must offer the basic fit and adjustability that allows you to wear it with little to no discomfort all day — and sometimes all night if you’re really getting after it! Our testers found that the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L could carry heavy loads comfortably while still staying in place while running.
When looking for a fastpack, you first want to check for a manufacturer’s sizing chart and fit recommendations. Some companies offer sizing that matches t-shirt sizes, while others size their fastpacks based on torso length. Next, it’s good to peruse online reviews of the pack to see how other users rate the sizing.
After that, look for the features that give the pack some adjustability, be it through lengthening and shortening the waistbelt, shoulder straps, or chest straps or through moving the waistbelt up or down to accommodate various torso lengths. While adjustability in each feature adds weight to the pack, it allows you to create a tailored fit.
Lastly, to create a comfortable fastpack, be mindful of how you pack it. Because these packs are generally quite simple and don’t have a significant structure, they can conform to what you put in them and your body. It’s the latter that we’re seeking for comfortable running all day.
Some specific tips: Placing something soft like your sleeping bag or puffy jacket next to your back inside the pack will help it conform to your back. Also, we recommend placing denser items — most likely your food bag — in the middle of the pack and close to your back, surrounded by less dense items. Everyone’s preferences and bodies are unique, though, so get comfortable with shifting things around to see what feels good for you!
External Storage and Pocket Access
We love fastpacks with pockets. They help you divide up the elements of your fastpacking trip, making things like your phone, a map, or snacks easily accessible. However, pockets also add weight, so not all fastpacks are flush with multiple compartments. We’ve tried to choose packs for this guide with a good balance of accessible external storage, comfort, and low weight.
Of the packs in our guide, the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 had the most internal and external pockets, but it was also the heaviest. The Pa’lante Packs Joey and the Redpaw Packs Flatiron 28L had plenty of pockets for organization while remaining light, one of the reasons these packs are at the top of the list.
Internal Storage Volume
The size of pack you want depends on the length of your trip, the weather, and how comfortable you are cutting down on equipment. Generally, fastpacks carry between 20 and 40 liters. Some consist of a single large rucksack-style compartment to cut down on material, while others are subdivided with zippers and pockets built into the shoulder straps. The packs in this guide range from 24 to 36 liters.
As a general rule of thumb, fastpacks should be around 25 liters or smaller so you can still run with them. A larger fastpack may not be runnable at the beginning of the trip, but once you eat some food and reduce the load, you should easily run with a compressed 40-liter pack.
The larger your pack’s internal volume, the longer your trips can be. Because it’s pretty large, one of our testers took the Redpaw Packs Flatiron 28L on an eight-day trip through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Other testers used the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 — the most voluminous pack on our list — on a long desert-to-mountain excursion in southern Utah. They needed the volume because bears are present in that area, and bear canisters are required for parts of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Larger volume packs will accommodate bear canisters, ultralight packrafts, or bulky but light winter gear. Choose the volume of your fastpack according to the type and duration of your intended trips.
Fastpacks come in various shapes and sizes, like running vests or traditional hiking backpacks. Some, like the Red Paw Flatiron 28L pack, are the simplest possible tube shape. This pack doesn’t have a specific design or customized shape to sit nicely on your back and can start to barrel if you don’t pack carefully, with softer things against your back.
Others, like the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40, are more engineered for a precision fit. Packs like this are shaped to sit at a specific place on your back and usually make for a better running pack.
Traveling quickly over rugged terrain will be most enjoyable with pack weights below 15 pounds, or ideally more like 10 pounds. To keep your overall weight low, you must consider the weight of every item, including the fastpack itself.
In general, heavier materials will give you a more durable pack, but this isn’t as true as it used to be. Materials like EPL Ultra, for example, weigh as little as 2.92 ounces/square yard and are many times more durable than most materials weighing three times as much.
The best fastpacking packs rely primarily on a precise fitting harness for comfort, and often, less material results in a more comfortable pack, so it’s not difficult to construct very light fastpacks. Packs like the Pa’lante Packs Joey prove this to be true – that packs don’t have to be heavy to be comfortable.
Fastpacks get heavy when manufacturers put too many features on them. The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 is an example of a pack that is trying to help the user organize every little item and increase accessibility by adding zippers but, in the process, is losing sight of the soul of fastpacking: minimalism and efficiency.
So, when shopping for a fastpack, choose one that balances features/organization and minimalism. Again, the Pa’lante Packs Joey is a case in point. It’s made from durable materials, fits comfortably, runs well, and is very light.
In our opinion, the durability of outer fabrics is important but less important than the excellence of construction. Fastpacks need to hold up to mile upon mile of jostling and bouncing down the trail.
The running motion puts a lot of strain on the harness, especially the points where it connects to the pack. All packs we chose for this list use durable materials and are constructed well. Even the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack, made with the lightest materials, stood up to trips that included bashing through willows and other rough terrain.
Why You Should Trust Us
The iRunFar team has been fastpacking for over a decade, and we have watched the adventure niche grow. What started as two separate endeavors — ultralight backpacking and adventure running — have now merged into one, and fastpacking was born. At first, there was no specific type of pack to support this endeavor. A few ultrarunning-specific companies noticed the niche and began to make unique products, and we are now in an era of fastpack proliferation.
While the market is still relatively small, new packs come out yearly from multinational and cottage-sized companies. With most of the iRunFar team living and working in the mountains, we are passionate about fastpacking and are happy to see the sport continue growing.
This guide was initially created in 2021 after we looked at nearly 40 fastpacks and tested 11 of them extensively on adventures in places like Moab, Utah, Silverton, Colorado, and multiple wilderness areas so that we could put together a thorough list of the best fastpacking packs on the market. Since then, we’ve continued to test packs and update this guide. In 2022, we put two additional packs through the paces, and we’re testing four more throughout 2023 and 2024. We took these packs out in a variety of environments to help you be well-informed about which one would work best for you. Our team rated packs on weight, gear accessibility, durability, and comfort and considered which packs would be appropriate for different applications.
Please note that product models are routinely discontinued in the running world, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes, that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing and research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. Most products will likely remain the same when we update any buyer’s guide. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear you’ll use for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Fastpacking Packs
What is fastpacking?
Fastpacking combines two sports — ultralight backpacking and adventure running — and makes them one. Want to explore that cool backcountry basin you’ve been eyeing but only have a few days free on your schedule? Fastpacking. Have back-to-back long runs on your schedule and want to spend the night without a car in tow? Fastpacking.
Fastpacking isn’t just running, and it isn’t just hiking: you take the absolute minimum equipment you’d need to spend the night somewhere safely and then go. Run a bit, hike a bit, stop to make coffee or fly fish, then run and hike again. While calling your movement running can be a bit of a misnomer when you’ve got 10 to 15 pounds on your shoulders on rough terrain, hopefully, you pack light enough to have a bit of a pep in your step going downhill and on the flats. A pack like the Pa’lante Packs Joey can carry everything you need for multiple days in the mountains.
How light does my fastpack need to be to run?
Depending on the season of your adventure and the gear you need, it is possible to obtain a base weight of less than 10 pounds, but most people end up in the range of 10 to 15 pounds. You might tip over that upper range if it’s colder, your route is longer, or you need more emergency equipment due to the remoteness of the route. The relatively small size of these packs limits the weight that you can fit in them. The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 (unisex version) is big enough that you could fit enough gear into it to make running prohibitive.
The weight at which running becomes prohibitive will depend on the person. Most of our testers prefer packs to be no more than 12 pounds to run comfortably. With packs weighing 15 pounds, most people will be walking at least a third of the terrain unless you specifically train for carrying and running with a pack. With some training, you may be able to heave around more than that by a few pounds.
How do I carry water in my fastpacking pack?
The best fastpacks follow the running vest layout of placing pockets on the shoulder straps that fit soft flasks with a volume of around 500 to 600 milliliters. We love this style of fastpack because we can sip water while we run and easily monitor our water usage, and this distributes a bit of our pack weight on the front of the body.
Some fastpacks, like the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack and the Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack, don’t come with the option of storing water on your shoulder straps; instead, they provide side pockets on the main body of the pack to fit soft flasks and hard-sided water bottles of various sizes. If you plan to store your water in these pockets, choose a fastpack where you can reach those pockets to pull out your water bottles and stow them again without having to take the pack off.
Finally, a few fastpacks come with a storage area in the pack’s main body for a hydration bladder.
How do I pack everything I need to camp in these tiny packs?
As technology advances, so does the ability of companies to make everything as small and lightweight as possible. For example, the packs usually weigh less than a pound and a half — the lightest we reviewed was around eight ounces — so that gives you some room to play with.
But rather than just relying on technology to keep your pack small and light, it’s more important to develop the skill of recognizing what you need for comfort and survival and what you can safely leave behind. One of the biggest challenges of fastpacking — and indeed one of the greatest joys once you start to master it — is the ability to determine how little you need to bring to facilitate quick movement.
While it may take you a few times to dial in your system and get the hang of packing minimally, the more you fastpack, the more you’ll learn about your style and preferences and what items you can safely cut out or minimize. While a pack like the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40 can fit a lot of gear, packing it to the brim will inhibit running and the ability to move quickly over terrain.
My shoulders hurt when I fastpack. How can I fix that?
As with any backpack or running vest, the essential element of a fastpack is a proper fit. An improperly fitting backpack — either too small, too large, or not adjusted correctly — can put pressure on the wrong areas of your body, leading to sore shoulders or backs. First, try repacking the pack with a different weight distribution or readjusting the pack. If neither works, you may want to try a different pack.
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, it is also possible that your pack is a little too heavy for fastpacking. Before you leave on your trip, weigh your pack. If it’s looking heavy, see if there’s anything you can pare down. The wide shoulder straps of the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L made it our favorite fastpacking pack for times when we had to carry relatively heavy loads.
Are there any fastpacks that fit a hard-sided bear canister?
Yes, there are many fastpacks out there that will fit a hard-sided bear canister. We’d recommend looking at packs 30 liters or greater in volume if you plan on carrying one. Some testers fit the BV450 or BV500 bear canisters in the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40. With a BV500 inside, there isn’t much room for much else, so you may want to split items between yourself and a partner.
Another issue that arises with bear canisters is the barreling effect they can have on the pack. If possible, you may want to pack soft things or even your foam pad between your back and the canister so the pack will still be comfortable for running.
Do I have to worry about the durability of fastpacks?
While many of the fastpacks on this list are made from very light materials, with the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack being the lightest of the bunch, they all stood up to a lot of use in various climates and conditions during our testing. All the packs on this list can be trusted to perform on everything from smooth and open trails to bushwhacks through the willows. That being said, they are ultralight and should be treated as such to help reduce the chance of a tear in the material.
Why didn’t you test my favorite fastpack?
We’d love to test everything out there, and in fact, we have a huge list of packs we hope to test in the future. If your favorite fastpack didn’t make it in our buyer’s guide, let us know about it in the comments and why you chose it over all the other options on the market! For now, we’ll recommend the best fastpacking backpacks in different categories, including the Pa’lante Packs Joey as the best overall fastpacking pack.
Call for Comments
- What fastpack are you taking on your adventures? What specific features of it do you like?
- And, have you tried a fastpack that just doesn’t work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section.