Best Fastpacks of 2022

After over a year of testing, here’s the iRunFar team’s guide to the best fastpacks of 2022.

By and on May 21, 2022 | Leave a reply

Fastpacking is born of the impulse to see far horizons and move beyond them in a way that makes you feel free, like there’s no forest, ridgeline, or valley you can’t get to know. But to do it, you need the right equipment — equipment that’s light and comfortable so you can move swiftly. One of the most important pieces of fastpacking gear is your pack.

A fastpacking pack has a simple requirement that tends to be difficult for most manufacturers to fulfill. It needs to carry everything you need for an overnight or a week but fit so well that you hardly notice it. Pack companies usually pull this off by utilizing running vest technology or a variation on it — a wide vest-style harness that distributes weight across the shoulders, back, and chest and keeps the load snugged in close.

Wide shoulder straps also provide a template for various pockets, which moves some of the weight to the front of the pack. And the pack itself shouldn’t be too big — usually no more than 30 liters — so you won’t be tempted to overpack. All said and done, a well-made fastpack should be comfortable for running when loaded up with 12 to 15 pounds.

With these things in mind, we narrowed down a research pool of nearly 40 fastpacks to 11 that we tested extensively for over a year. After testing those 11, six made the cut in this guide. The packs we chose for this list are light, have excellent pocket accessibility, and feel great for running.

We hope this list will help you find an ideal fastpack for your particular needs. But every pack on this list will move with you as you move fast through dense forests, over rocky passes, and down sandy canyons.

Below are our favorite fastpacks of 2022. For more background information, see our buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions below the picks.

Be sure to check out our best ultralight sleeping bags guide, best ultralight sleeping pads guide, and best ultralight tents and tarps guide, too!

Use these links to skip quickly to the fastpack you’d like to learn more about:

Salomon XA 25 - fastpacking - Utah - Meghan Hicks - feature

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks testing the Salomon XA 25 fastpack in Utah. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Best Overall: Pa’lante Packs Joey ($240)

Palante Packs Joey

The Pa’lante Packs Joey was either the first or second favorite of every one of 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 latest, third version of this model in the pack’s lightest configuration. It has a running vest-style harness and is designed specifically for fastpacking.

We all agreed that this pack’s vest fits more comfortably and securely than any of the other packs on this list with the exception of maybe the Salomon XA 25, which we found to be equally comfortable. Our testers found the Joey to remain snug and secure even when scrambling up and down steep talus in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado.

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 absent waistbelt to be an issue as long as pack weight remained low. We all agreed that the Joey was most runnable with pack weights below 12 pounds. Fortunately, the pack’s 24-liter volume put an automatic limit on the amount of gear we could carry.

The 2022 Joey is available in either 100 denier Robic brand nylon or 210 denier UHMWPE Gridstop. The Robic packs are slightly lighter and are either all black or black/powder blue. The Gridstop packs are slightly more durable and are either all black or eggplant purple/powder blue.

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 we tested. The shoulder strap pockets on the Joey were by far the best of any we found on the packs we tested that were made by a cottage manufacturer.

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 to be ideal. The pockets are a bit short, however, so sometimes we had to take a hit off the top of the flask in order to squish it down below the shock cord closure. Otherwise, the top of the flask would flop while running.

Pa’lante is a cottage-industry brand based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their packs sell out often and early, but they’re working hard to increase availability, moving production from Ogden, Utah, to a factory in Vietnam. They found that this factory was able to build packs at a much higher quality than their Utah shop could. They do occasional drops, so we’d recommend signing up for their newsletter so you don’t miss the next one.

To learn more, read our in depth Pa’lante Packs Joey review.

Advertised Weight: 13.9 ounces (395g) in Robic fabric, 14.8 ounces (419g) in Gridstop fabric

Actual Weight: 14.5 ounces (411g) 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 pockets

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • No optional waistbelt but this is fine if you keep pack weight low
  • Slightly difficult to get bottles into designated pockets
  • Shoulder strap bottle pockets are a little short

Shop the Palante Packs Joey

Best for Longer Trips: Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L ($275)

The Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28LThe 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 the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. She noted that when the rolltop extension collar is fully utilized, this pack is quite a bit larger than 28 liters.

One of our favorite things about the Flatiron 28L was the ability to customize it. We added a zipper to one of the smaller shoulder strap pockets, elastic drawstrings on both the larger shoulder strap pockets, and 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. Red Paw also offers the Flatiron 28L in a variety of materials. They just started offering the pack in EPL200 Ultra, a new and very durable material made by Challenge Sailcloth. If we bought this pack again, we’d probably get it in the Ultra because it would make the pack lighter and more durable and give it a more malleable feel.

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 overpadded 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. The padding was also very welcome with eight days of food loaded into this thing, but at lower weights, we wished there was less padding in the straps.

This pack, unlike the Pa’lante Packs Joey, has a one-inch webbing removable waistbelt, which is meant to stabilize the load but not to support weight. When carrying about 20 liters and 10 to 12 pounds of gear, and taking care to place softer items against your back so that the pack best conforms to your back, this pack runs really nicely and there’s no need to use the waistbelt for stabilization. When we pushed the pack weight up 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 tiny 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 for fastpacking excellently as well. If you’re planning a longer fastpacking adventure, consider the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L.

To learn more, check out our in depth Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L review.

Advertised Weight: Starts at 13 ounces (368g)

Actual Weight: Our customized version is 19.47 ounces (552g)

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 phone

Pros:

  • Custom-made means you get exactly what you want
  • Impressive weight to volume ratio
  • High-volume underneath pocket
  • Removable waistbelt
  • Very water-resistant

Cons:

  • Long production lead times
  • Harness is slightly overpadded for what you should carry in this pack
  • Can look dorky if the rolltop extension collar is fully extended

Shop the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L

Best Fastpack From a Major Manufacturer: Salomon XA 25 ($180)

Salomon XA 25

Of all the fastpacks we tested, the Salomon XA 25 was the biggest surprise. It isn’t necessarily branded as a fastpack, so we didn’t expect it to carry multi-day loads as comfortably as it does. Because the running vest-style harness is constructed similarly to those on Salomon’s other running vests, this pack runs and feels just as stable and secure as their Adv Skin 12, for example. It fits close without being constricting or inhibiting breathability, while also preventing the load from bouncing. Our testers agreed that the Salomon XA 25 was either the most runnable or second most runnable pack we tested, along with the Pa’lante Packs Joey.

We loved the storage options on this pack’s vest. There are a total of four pockets on each shoulder strap. One stretch pocket accommodates the 500-milliliter soft flasks that come with the pack. In front of these are two stretch pockets for storing snacks, a phone, gloves, or a buff, and one of these has a side zip. A final, fourth pocket higher on the shoulder strap can hold small items like lip balm, a sunscreen tube, or a couple of gels. These shoulder strap pockets are perfect for allowing us to move all day without needing to reach into the main compartment for extra supplies.

The XA 25 also gets points for its thoughtfully engineered shape. It tapers more significantly than any of the other packs here, which is beneficial for those who have tapered waists. We believe this shape contributed to the excellent runability of the XA 25.

There is nothing glaringly wrong with this pack, but there is a little room for improvement. First, the XA 25 is a little overbuilt. Our size S/M weighed in at 15.77 ounces including the back pad but not the soft flasks. It is possible to trim the waistbelt, the shoulder strap webbing, and the compression system cord, and leave the back pad behind, saving a total of at least 1.5 ounces.

Some of our testers noted that they would never carry this pack’s tiny back pad, as it’s not necessary if you pack correctly. We would also cut off the bungees on the front of the pack that are meant for pole storage, as we believe stowing poles vertically on the front of your pack is dangerous. Last, there’s a small zipper pocket internally that one could chop out if you already have an established system for carrying small items.

Secondly, the side compression cord is integrated with the roll-top closure, so it’s difficult to open and close the top of the pack. This became more of a problem when we were using the side compression cord to hold trekking poles. Finally, the rear pocket is sewn too tight to be very functional when the pack is full.

The Salomon XA 25 is appealing because it’s a very runnable, decently light, reasonably priced fastpack made by a major manufacturer. This typically means that it will be more available than made-to-order packs such as the Red Paw Pack Flatiron 28L. We say typically because it’s unfortunately not true in 2022. Supply chain issues mean the XA 25 may not be available for purchase again until 2023.

Advertised Weight: 18 ounces (510g) with soft flasks

Actual Weight for a Size S/M: 15.77 ounces (447g) without soft flasks

Volume: 25 liters

Harness: Running vest style

External Storage: One rear pocket, two shoulder strap pockets for soft flasks, four larger shoulder strap pockets for a phone or snacks, two smaller shoulder strap pockets

Pros:

  • Rides tight to the body, great for running
  • Runs and feels like Salomon running vests
  • One of the two most runnable packs we tested
  • Great shoulder strap pockets
  • Tapering pack body is beneficial for bodies with tapered waists

Cons:

  • Integrated roll-top compression system makes it hard to use the top part of pack
  • Rear pocket is not very functional when pack is full
  • Pack is a little overbuilt; could be simplified

Shop the Salomon XA 25

Lightest Fastpack: Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack ($159)

Gossamer Gear Murmur 36With an actual weight of just over 8 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’s constructed primarily from 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 the Murmur 36 for fly-fishing/running adventures where he bushwhacked through willows frequently and the pack saw no major abrasion. But remember, these are still ultralight materials and need to be treated with care.

The Murmur 36 comes in only one size but has two attachment points for the removable waistbelt, so it can 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 — the Pa’lante Packs Joey and the Salomon XA 25 — there is virtually no padding in the straps, so it rides better than packs with more padded traditional S-straps. In fact, our testers were pleasantly surprised by the runability of the Murmur 36; for a backpack designed for walking, the running motion felt good.

The Murmur 36 was the least fastpack-y fastpack we tested with regard to up-front accessibility, meaning we had to stow water in the side pockets and snacks in the rear pocket. For trips with an emphasis on 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 accessibility.

There is a hydration tube port on this pack, so maybe the trick would be to use a hydration bladder inside the pack in conjunction with the waistbelt pockets for more accessibility. We aren’t huge fans of waistbelt pockets, generally speaking, because they can inhibit the running motion with swinging arms sometimes banging into them. The Murmur 36’s pockets are not wide or obtrusive, so none of our testers found this to be an issue.

The Murmur 36’s back panel features a stretch mesh sleeve in which you can 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 that’s designed to stow the Murmur 36’s back pad is that it substitutes for some storage when on the move, even if you choose to 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 to have shoulder strap pockets to carry these items, but this is actually a really reasonable alternative. You just have to be careful when you set your pack down that nothing slides out because the top of this pocket is always open.

The Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack is an absurdly light backpack with a traditional S-shaped harness that runs decently well. It loses points for lack of shoulder strap pockets but wins points for lightness. If you want the absolute lightest fastpack and are willing to make some durability and accessibility concessions, definitely take a look at it.

Advertised Weight: 12.5 ounces (354g)

Actual Weight: 12.73 ounces (361g), 8.2 ounces (232g) without 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 pocket

Pros:

  • Lightest pack we tested
  • More durable than expected
  • Surprisingly runnable

Cons:

  • 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
  • Not as runnable as our top picks

Shop the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack

Honorable Mention: Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack ($165)

Gossamer Gear Kumo 36Billed 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 is constructed of 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 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 major ways, though. The Kumo 36’s storage options are much better than those on 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, fitting Smartwater bottles, Nalgenes, or one-liter Platypus bottles easily. 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 really 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.

Just like the Murmur 36, we found this pack to be 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 greatly 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 it’s possible for all but larger-framed people to chop at least 1.5 ounces off of this pack by trimming or removing excess waistbelt and shoulder strap webbing. The side compression cords are removable and arguably not needed if you’re carrying at least 20 liters, which you’re almost always going to be if you’re going out overnight. Finally, removing the back pad lightens the pack substantially.

Advertised Weight for a Size M: 20.5 ounces (580g)

Actual Weight for a Size M: 19.93 ounces (565g)

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 pocket

Pros:

  • Ample storage options
  • Multiple sizes offered for precise fit
  • Acceptable pockets for fastpacking
  • Surprisingly runnable

Cons:

  • Rear pocket on an angle which is both an aesthetic and functional issue
  • Not as runnable as our top picks
  • A bit heavy

Shop the Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack

Honorable Mention: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 and Fastpackher 30 ($180)

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30Ultimate Direction has somehow become nearly synonymous with fastpacking, but while we all wanted to love the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 (unisex version) and Ultimate Direction Fastpackher 30 (women’s version), we just couldn’t. These packs are 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 so 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, and in fact, still use the original version of the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 on some trips, but over the years the packs have complexified and gotten heavier without improving fit or other crucial aspects. We believe Ultimate Direction fastpacks could shine again by returning to their roots.

Many new-to-the-game fastpackers are drawn to the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 because this 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 alike with better products.

The Ultimate Direction fastpacks are decently runnable, but only for certain bodies. Some of our women testers found the vest on the Fastpackher 30 to be too small to be comfortable while running. We agreed that it works best only for petite body sizes. Other testers found the back’s mesh to be too rough to be comfortable when wearing thinner shirts.

Ultimate Direction Fastpackher 30The Fastpack 30 has ample internal storage and tons of pockets and straps. There are 10 easily accessible pockets on the shoulder straps for soft flasks, maps, phones, and snacks. While we appreciated all these storage options, we also found them to be a bit overkill. Both the Pa’lante Packs Joey and Salomon XA 25 have fewer pockets but are just as usable as the Fastpack 30. 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 weight of the pack is to get rid of the main compartment zipper. None of our testers found it to be useful, instead noting it as a probable 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 the pockets on the Salomon XA 25, those on the women’s version were lacking. Because they shortened and narrowed the shoulder straps on the vest of the Fastpackher 30, the pockets are fewer and shorter — only five in comparison to the unisex’s 10. This is the biggest issue we have with the Fastpackher 30: how in shrinking the vest proportions, they limit the pocket layout.

Ultimate Direction is not guilty of doing this with its running packs. For instance, their unisex Ultra Vest 6.0 and women’s Ultra Vesta 6.0 have the same pocket configurations. 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 really appreciated that the Fastpack 30 fits a BV500 bear canister vertically inside and does so more comfortably than other packs on this list. The firmer back pad and structure of the packs keeps the hard plastic canister from barreling into your back. A BV500 takes up most of the pack, however, so you’ll want to share gear with a partner if you’re going 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, get rid of the label on the back, and reduce the overall weight of their packs. We also want to see them offer the same shoulder strap pockets on their women’s and unisex fastpacks. If they do these things, we will much more excitedly take one of their packs on our next fastpacking adventure.

Advertised Weight for Unisex Model: 24.3 ounces (690g)

Actual Weight for a Unisex Size S/M: 24.48 ounces (694g)

Actual Weight for a Women’s Specific Size XS/SM: 20.28 ounces (575g)

Volume: 31.7 liters (unisex version), 30.5 liters (women’s version)

Harness: Running vest style

External Storage: One rear pocket, two side pockets, multiple shoulder strap pockets depending on the model

Pros:

  • Unisex version has an outstanding shoulder strap pocket configuration
  • Ample storage
  • Multiples sizes and gender-specific design
  • Comfortably carries a bear canister

Cons:

  • Heavy and overbuilt
  • Disappointing shoulder strap pocket configuration on the women’s specific version
  • Has zippers that are heavy and can malfunction
  • Mesh back felt rough through a thin shirt
  • Least stylish packs we tried, with a huge logo on back

Shop the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30Shop the Ultimate Direction Fastpackher 30

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Fastpack

Harness Styles

Fastpacks are made with three main harness styles: running vest-style, traditional S-strap backpack-style, and hybrid fastpacking-style. In general, 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 just 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. These are designed for walking, not running. Some are comfortable for running, but they usually 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 lightly padded S-strap that is wider for a better body-contouring fit and secure ride. Many fastpacks in the cottage industry world such as the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L or the YAR.gear Cadence 28 are made with this style of straps.

Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L - fastpacking - Colorado - Meghan Hicks

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks using the Red Paw Packs Flatiron 28L on an eight-day fastpacking trip in Colorado. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Fit, Adjustability, and Comfort

When you’re wearing a high-performing running vest, you hardly know it’s there. It conforms to and moves with your body, and places your water, snacks, and other items exactly where you want them. The best fastpacks 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!

When looking for a fastpack, the first thing you want to do is 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 waistbelts up or down to accommodate various torso lengths. While adjustability in each of these features adds weight to the pack, it allows you to create a tailored fit for you.

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 both what you put in them as well as your body. It’s the latter that we’re seeking for all-day comfortable running.

A couple of 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 on all sides 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!

Palante Packs Joey - fastpacking - Utah - Meghan Hicks

Testing the Pa’lante Packs Joey on a bitter cold fall morning in the Utah desert. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

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, which is why not all fastpacks are flush with multiple compartments. We’ve tried to choose packs for this guide that have a good balance of accessible external storage, comfort, and low weight.

Of the packs in our guide, the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 had the most pockets both internally and externally, but it was also the heaviest. The Pa’lante Packs Joey, the Redpaw Packs Flatiron 28L, and the Salomon XA 25 had plenty of pockets for organization while still remaining light, one of the reasons these packs are at the top of the list.

Internal Storage Volume

This 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 in order to be able to 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 be able to easily run with a compressed 40-liter pack.

The larger the internal volume your pack has, the longer your trips can be. Because it’s quite large, one of our testers took the Redpaw Packs Flatiron 28L on an eight-day trip through the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Other testers used the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 — 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 not only bear canisters but also ultralight packrafts or bulky but light winter gear. Choose the volume of your fastpack according to the type and duration of your intended trips.

Salomon XA 25 - fastpacking - Utah - Meghan Hicks

The Salomon XA 25 is a perfect fastpack for a fast-and-hyperlight overnight trip. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Pack Shape

Just like running vests or traditional hiking backpacks, fastpacks come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. 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 well on your back and can start to barrel if you don’t pack carefully, with softer things against your back.

Others like the Salomon XA 25 or the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 are more engineered for a precision fit. Packs like this are shaped to sit at a specific place on your back, usually making for a better running pack.

Weight

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 have to consider the weight of every single item, including the fastpack itself.

In general, heavier materials will give you a more durable pack, but this isn’t actually 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.

Fastpacks 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 30 is an example of a pack that is trying to help the user organize every single 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 strikes a balance between 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.

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 - fastpacking - Utah - Meghan Hicks

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks using the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 on a four-day fastpacking trip in Utah. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Durability

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 of the packs we chose for this list use durable materials and are constructed well.

Water Resistance

None of the packs in this guide are completely waterproof even though many of them are made with waterproof fabrics. In fact, we would recommend that you never rely on a backpack itself to keep your gear dry. Most packs do not have taped seams and taped seams don’t last very long on backpacks anyway due to all the jostling around. It’s also not unlikely that a sharp stick will gouge a hole in your pack in the middle of a trip.

For these reasons, we recommend that you pack everything in an ultralight dry bag or pack liner inside the pack. We don’t recommend pack covers because they’re often floppy and saggy and get in the way when bushwhacking.

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 off 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 each year from both multinational and cottage-sized companies. With the majority of the iRunFar team living and working in the mountains, we are passionate about fastpacking and are happy to see the sport continue to grow.

Over the past year, we looked at 37 fastpacks and tested 11 of them extensively on adventures in places like Moab, Utah, Silverton, Colorado, and multiple wilderness areas. We put these packs to the test in a variety of environments so you can be well-informed about which one works best for you.

Palante Packs Joey - fastpacking - Colorado - Maggie Guterl - Meghan Hicks

Maggie Guterl (left) and Meghan Hicks both using the Pa’lante Packs Joey on a four-day fastpacking trip in Colorado. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Frequently Asked Questions About Fastpacks

What is fastpacking?

Fastpacking essentially combines two separate 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 couple of 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 safely spend the night somewhere, 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 that you can have a bit of a pep in your step going downhill and on the flats.

How light does my fastpack need to be in order to run?

Depending again on the season of your adventure and the amount of gear, it is possible to obtain a weight 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 weight will depend on the person and how quickly you’d like to be moving. Most of our testers prefer packs to be no more than about 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 fastpack?

The best fastpacks follow the running vest layout of placing pockets on the shoulder straps which fit soft flasks that have a volume of around 500 to 600 milliliters. We love this style of fastpack because we can sip water while we run, we can easily monitor our water usage, and this distributes a bit of our pack weight on the front of the body.

Some fastpacks don’t come with the option of storing water on your shoulder straps, instead providing 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. The packs themselves, for example, usually weigh less than a pound and a half — the lightest we reviewed was around 8 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 with you in order 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.

Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 - fastpacking - Colorado - Meghan Hicks

Taking the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight Backpack on an overnight fastpack into the Colorado high country. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Do I need a pack cover or other means of waterproofing?

We wouldn’t recommend pack covers because they’re cumbersome, especially for bushwhacking. The fabric is often floppy and fails to completely cover the pack. You’ll be much better off packing everything in an ultralight silnylon or Dyneema Composite Fabric dry sack or pack liner inside the pack.

My shoulders hurt when I fastpack. How can I fix that?

As with any backpack or running vest, the most important element of a fastpack is proper fit. An improperly fitting backpack — one that is 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 try readjusting the pack. If neither of those things work, you may want to try a different pack.

It is also possible that your pack is just a little too heavy for fastpacking if you’re experiencing shoulder pain. Before you leave on your trip, weigh your pack. If it’s looking heavy, see if there’s anything you can pare down.

Testing fastpacks - Colorado - Meghan Hicks

Testing fastpacks in the Colorado alpine. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

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’re planning on carrying one. Some of our testers fit either the BV450 or BV500 bear canisters in the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30. With a BV500 inside, there isn’t room for much else, so you may want to split up items between yourself and a partner.

Another issue that arises with bear canisters is the barreling effect they can have on the pack. You may want to pack soft things or even your foam pad between your back and the canister if possible so the pack will still be comfortable for running.

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!

Fastpacks Available for Purchase in 2022

Since the fastpacking market is young but burgeoning, we thought we’d share a list of almost all the fastpacks currently available for purchase:

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.
Testing fastpacks - Utah - Melissa Beaury and Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks (left) and Melissa Beaury testing fastpacks in the Canyons country of Utah. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Ben Kilbourne

Ben Kilbourne is a Gear Tester, Writer, and Editor at iRunFar. He’s been writing about ultralight backpacking and fastpacking, as well as the intersection of these types of recreation with environmental issues for four years. Aside from iRunFar, he has written for publications including Backpacker Magazine, Backpacking Light, Dark Mountain, and Section Hiker. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Ben explores all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for his essays, paintings, articles, and songs.


Ben Kilbourne
Meghan Hicks is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.