Speed Hiking and Fast Packing

From July 1st, 2014 to August 1st 2014 I walked from Mount Katahdin, Maine to Mount Washington, New Hampshire, 332.9 miles. The date sticks in my mind because I remember hiking a tiny plastic bottle of Jack Daniels up Mount Washington and spiking my Coke in celebration of my first Trailversary. I also remember my last month the Appalachian Trail. I got stuck in Hot Springs, North Carolina for three days after Halloween because of a snowstorm that dropped more than a foot of snow in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Crawling through massive blowdowns, rhododendron tunnels collapsed with snow, and more than a foot of snow through the six thousand foot crest that is the Smoky Mountains, I finished on the fourteenth of November, 273.7 miles in 12 days.

My overall thru hike breaks down like this:

From Katahdin to Harper’s Ferry took me 86 Days (1166.7 Miles) at 13.5 Miles Per Day


From Harper’s Ferry to Springer took me 52 Days (1022.4 Miles) at 19.6 Miles Per Day

A thru hiker’s pace is likely to change throughout the course of their thru hike. Pace undulates through terrain, fatigue, and weather. Some thru hikers take six months or longer to hike the Appalachian Trail, stopping to explore blue blazes and trail towns along the way. Others hike for a cause, making stops along the way to spread the word and raise awareness.

Still others have only a certain amount of time to hike the trail. They may have a personal deadline, a professional deadline, or a scholastic start date at which their hike must terminate. Still, there are other hikers that choose to push themselves physically as well as mentally, seeing how fast they can traverse miles and mountains.

There are many different ways to hike – but there is no “right way” to hike the Appalachian Trail. I checked.

“Its purpose is to establish a base for a more extensive and systematic development of outdoors community life.”

I’ve hiked at one and a half miles an hour and I’ve hiked at more than three miles per hour. I’ve carried a framed pack and an ultra running vest. I’ve camped in freestanding tents and tarps. Done five miles a day and thirty five miles per day.

I’ve found my niche and my passion. I love the pumping of my heart and the adrenaline rushing through my veins at every crunch and snap of a twig as I hike through the early morning hours. I love the primal feeling of relief and joy as my eyes strain to see the first rays of sun seeping through the dark dusky blue of morning. I love seeing every sunrise bloom into day. I love watching the forest change from hardwoods to pine with the miles, riding on the rolling profile of the mountains as they dissipate under my feet. My favorite dinner is at sunset, with a view, preparing for a few more miles in the dark before I set up camp for the night.


Fast packing is just what works for me. This is how I do it.

Take Less.

Carry the gear for the hike you want to hike. For example, if you want to take a six month thru hike, do not carry an ultra light pack. If you are looking to improve your mileage, consider an ultralight pack. Pare down your base weight to items that are necessities. Second guess every item in your pack – saving two ounces on one item seems silly – until you save two ounces on every item – that’s when weight savings add up.

You can go as light as you wish, but contrary to popular belief, there is no magic base weight to achieve. While some folks may hold sub 10 pounds as a high standard, the weight at which your gear is functional at camp and comfortable on your back is your correct base weight.

Stop Less.

I didn’t even know how to pee in the woods when I started the Appalachian Trail (squatted way too low – ricochet everywhere). I also thought it was mandatory to stop whenever I grabbed a bite to eat or took a sip of water. Every granola bar, every drink of water, I took a break. These small breaks add up to hours – hours that you can spend hiking or spend on the side of the trail. I like to wait until I find a nice flat stretch of trail to take out my bar or dried edamame and have a snack. Oh, and circling back to pee breaks, there’s a reason self-supported Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail record holder Heather “Anish” Anderson hikes in a dress.

Recover Well.

Take care of your feet. Take care of your body. Know when you have reached your limit. Have the discipline to stop when you need to.

Speed isn’t everything. In fact, it’s pretty low on the priority list. What’s higher?

  • Foot Care
  • Rest
  • Caloric Intake

Before you can expect to perform well, you must be in good working condition. With so much time spent on your feet, you must make foot care a priority. That means stopping at the first sign of a blister. Carrying Leukotape for hot spots. Resting when you need to.

Get off your feet. Get a good night’s sleep. It is important that you give your body time to recover.

In addition to giving your body time to recover, give your body the tools it needs to recover. Count your calories (up), and try to eat food with nutritional value (frosting may be high in calories, but it’s not going to help you rebuild muscle).


Hike Your Own Hike. All the above advice will not work if it does not work for you. If you cannot sleep in an ultralight, cuben fiber, six ounce flat tarp/poncho shelter, you will not recover well. You will not only fail to improve your pace, you will be a miserable human being. Carry a tent if you can only sleep in a tent. Carry a stove if you need to cook your meals. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself comfortable, and your hiking pace will improve.


Fast Packing…

is not for everyone. There are those that say fast packers only see the trail under foot, that fast packers miss important parts of the trail. And maybe this is true. Fast packers do see less mountain vistas, have less nights by the campfire. And while many hikers insist these are the integral experiences of hiking, fastpackers do gain something by the experiences they’ve lost.

When you hike to challenge yourself physically, you spend less time looking at views, and more time looking inside yourself. 

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Comments 2

  • George Turner : Dec 16th

    I’m trimming ounces now. On the trail, I know I’m going to hate every ounce in my bag anyway, but ounces I don’t actually have to carry????!!!! Going Alcohol stove

    • Caet Cash : Jan 9th

      Glad you are thinking ahead George! Enjoy your alcohol stove!


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