Traveling at the Speed of Lite

Fastpacking Takes You Farther and Faster in the Great Outdoors 

I love fastpacking moments like this – times when we leave the main path to scurry up some rough, less-traveled track to a highly anticipated spot higher on the mountain, moving around the occasional rock cairn (rock piles used as trail markers) as we navigate this moderately steep slope. The map doesn’t do us any good here, though we know the upper lake lies somewhere up ahead. Earlier today, we drove two hours from Seattle to begin our adventure at Tucquala Meadow. Our group, the “Dawn Patrol” trail runners, has been planning this trip for several weeks. With backpacks weighing in at less than 20 pounds, we are well prepared for a September fastpacking trip. A lightweight backpack is liberating, allowing us to typically cover anywhere from 15 to 30 miles a day instead of the six to 10 miles characteristic of traditional backpacking. 

Fastpacking, by definition, involves carrying an ultralight load so you can run the descents and flat sections while power hiking the climbs. 

This is where trail running and ultralight backpacking meet. While some might prefer to move more slowly through beautiful alpine terrain, fastpacking lets us go deeper and take in as much as possible of the backcountry – and in less time – while still allowing ourselves frequent stops to soak up the surrounding beauty. 

As our feet leave rock and meet dirt again, we follow the rough-hewn trail as it leads us through an alpine meadow. We’re running again, and looking forward to getting these packs off our backs. Eighteen pounds doesn’t slow you down the way 40 pounds does, but you do feel it. Another 10 minutes running along the trail and Jade Lake appears. While I’ve been treated to small aquamarine alpine ponds before, I’ve never seen a lake this size of this color – the effect is surreal – a bright greenish-blue tint that sets it dramatically apart from the brown, green, and grey bodies of water that otherwise characterize this area. 

Discover what Benjamin Luedke packs for a fastpacking trip at drive.subaru.com/fastpack.

From Jade to Emerald 

It’s now day two, and the sun is coming up over Jade Lake. Though I never sleep well the first night in the backcountry, as soon as I emerge from my tent and look around, the sleep deprivation is quickly forgotten. The sun is out, and the whole day lies ahead. Today we plan to descend to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and then climb to Tuck Lake and Robin Lakes. None of us have been to Robin Lakes before, and we’re eager to see what they have in store for us. Leaving such a beautiful spot is always bittersweet. It’s hard to imagine anything more scenic than Jade Lake and its surroundings. 

Fastpacking lets us go deeper … while still allowing ourselves frequent stops to soak up the surrounding beauty.

Yesterday we covered 16 miles, and we have another 16 today. The run and climb down from Jade Lake to the PCT goes smoothly, and we know we’re at the Tuck and Robin trailhead when we begin climbing steadily. This steep trail takes us to Tuck Lake, a gorgeous emerald spectacle surrounded by an evergreen forest, dotted by a pristine rock island, and enclosed by a rocky ridgeline. As we begin moving higher to Robin Lakes, we move entirely on smooth rock. Scrambling up and across boulder fields, we pass a few hikers on their way down. We hear “It’s wet and windy up there,” more than once. Luckily, we’re well prepared and our gear will keep us dry and warm.
 
Robin Lakes are as beautiful as we’d hoped, in spite of steady wind and rain. Completely enclosed by sloping granite rock, it’s easy to see why they are so often compared to the fabled Enchantment Lakes (located just a little north of here along the central Cascade Range). We keep warm by rock-hopping and exploring the area along the water. The fog, as it’s pushed about by the wind, plays hide-and-seek with glacially carved boulders peeking out of the water, and we are entranced. 

Robin Lakes
Robin Lakes

Miles of Smiles 

On day three, we pack out. With a scant 6 miles to cover, we allow ourselves many opportunities to snap pictures and to enjoy a hot breakfast of dehydrated eggs under thankfully sunny skies by Tuck Lake. Running again, we cover the final miles of our trip. Moving faster now, a classic single track carries us along the east side of Hyas Lake. We run through pines and over rocks, with views across the valley of the ridgeline we traversed two days ago. We’re all smiles. It’s been a fantastic three days of fastpacking on this classic Pacific Northwest trail. We’re already thinking about possibilities for next year.

A speedy return from Peggy’s Pond below Cathedral Rock.
A speedy return from Peggy’s Pond below Cathedral Rock.

Fastpacking Gear List

Use this Handy Guide to help you Plan Your own Fastpacking Adventure

If it’s been a few years since you last upgraded your backpacking and camping gear, you might be surprised to learn just how amazingly light some of today’s ultralight gear can be. The proverbial Big Three items on my list – tent, backpack, and sleeping bag – collectively weigh in at a mere two pounds (32.44 oz. to be exact). With examples like these, it’s easy to see how you really can get everything listed here into a sub-20 lb. pack. Remember: Traveling well means traveling light – and packing smart. 

Clothing

  • Stuff-sack for items below:
  • Rain jacket
  • Spare socks
  • Clean, moisture-wicking tech T-shirt
  • Down jacket and pants (for cold weather)
  • Beanie
  • Visor or hat
  • Lightweight, durable sunglasses 

Food & Preparation

  • Stove
  • Fuel for stove (smallest canister possible)
  • Spork
  • Matches (waterproof if possible)
  • Cup for cooking in and eating/drinking from
  • Dinner and breakfast food (usually dehydrated)
  • Gels/bars for fueling yourself on trail

Shelter

  • Tent
  • Hiking poles (if needed to erect tent)
  • Stakes

Sleep

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Small inflatable pillow
  • Earplugs (to block out sounds at night)

Miscellaneous

  • Trash bag and guyline for hanging your food out of reach of animals 
  • Small bottle of cleaning solution and tiny sponge (biodegradable)
  • Flashlight
  • Water treatment device 
  • Two lightweight 32 oz. polyethylene plastic bottles
  • Personal locator beacon
  • Cell phone with small portable charger and cable
  • Waterproof sunscreen and insect repellent
  • First aid kit (including: antiseptic wipes, bandages, antibacterial ointment, butterfly bandages, gauze, medical tape, blister ointment, ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, antihistamine, nonstick sterile pads, safety pins, medical info card – supplement this list depending on anticipated need)
  • Knife or razor blade (in sheath)
  • Duct tape (6 feet wrapped around two trekking poles)
  • Map
  • Eye drops
  • Toilet paper
  • Micro-sized toothbrush
  • 1 oz. hand sanitizer
  • Pencil and pieces of paper
  • Camera with batteries, lenses, lens cloth, and mini tripod 
  • Small tube of body lubricant (to relieve chafing)
  • Small plastic shovel
Contemplation above Jade Lake after a good day of fastpacking.
Contemplation above Jade Lake after a good day of fastpacking.