Ultralight backpacking / trail running with an overnight

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Ultralight backpacking / trail running with an overnight

by nebben » Fri Apr 23, 2010 4:53 pm

Does anyone here do it?

Throw a bivy in the sack, 3 days of food, a sleeping bag, a shell, and 2L water + sterilization tablets....?

Some folks laugh at the idea of wanting to cover a lot of ground in a minimal amount of time, because it doesn't allow one to completely appreciate their surroundings. The thought of condensing a 5 or 6 day trip into two days baffles some. To me, seeing a little of something at a leisurely pace is just as good as seeing a lot at a fast pace.

My thoughts are to mix ultra-running and ultra-light backpacking into one weekend. Put on some good miles for training (30 miles/day x2 days) and see a lot of country.

A thought I've had is that I've always wanted to do the Highline trail in the Uinta mountains. I'd love to do it over a week and do fishing along the way. I would also love to do it as a long run, possibly with an overnight inbetween day 1 and day 2, in preparation for an ultra in the fall...blending my love of the mountains and training.

In your opinion, should these ideas stay separate? Is it heaven on earth to cover 60-70 miles in two days with a 10 pound pack? Worst idea ever?

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John Duffield

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by John Duffield » Fri Apr 23, 2010 5:41 pm

Trail running 30 miles a day is probably a little more hardcore than I'm able to be at this stage of my life, but if I could compress a nearly one week adventure into a weekend, I would be all for it. The number of adventures you can have when you're making money off a job and if you didn't need to take time off would make it well worth it. Even some sort of happy medium where you're running the slogs and walking the ridge view breakouts would be good.

That said, you'd want to have a good contigency plan. Like you're 10 miles from the nearest road and you twist an ankle.

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by LithiumMetalman » Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:22 pm

I've done it a few times!

It's a lot of fun!

30 miles a day is rough, though this depends on the terrain (most done is 28 (over a 45 mile loop) with 2 day pack, which I know is pittance...)

It really is alot nicer to take things a little slower and enjoy the sights, however, also understand the need to cover alot of ground...

so here are some thoughts:


-cover alot of ground
-lighter pack overall
-satisfaction both physically and spiritually
-It can be heavenly covering so much ground (once rhythm kicks in)
-see more sites and attractions overall
-develop a love for pain
-lack of company, solitude


-develop a "must" love for pain
-though see more sites, the time spent to meditate and enjoy the timeless experience is cut short.
-Sleep schedule is much different when covering alot of ground, this can be a pro and con
-ibuprofen becomes your best friend
-It can be hell if the rhythm doesn't kick in
-lack of company, solitude

fastpacking is a blast, it really does push oneself both physically and spiritually, creating more a reliance on ones perseverance (alot of positive swearing helps) rather than the gear.

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by John Duffield » Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:59 pm

There's actually other Pros. A couple occur.

Often we have a fixed time window. Like say a three/four day weekend. So there's a corresponding ratio between the travel time and the actual hike. So if you time compressed the hike, you'd have a larger travel radius arc.

Actually sounds something like what the State Highpoint guys do all the time. Or what they would try to do. So if you perfect this, you'd make them happy.

Then there's the whole issue of acclimitization. Racing up and down the mountain, theoretically could reduce the need for acclimitization.

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by MoapaPk » Fri Apr 23, 2010 7:44 pm

I've seen folk do it in the Sierra, especially when they are pretty confident the weather will be mild.

E.g., I met a guy who got out of work late Friday, drove down to the Shepherd Pass trailhead, and got up to about 11000' before the darkness made travel impractical. He just put down the bivy sack, a short pad, and a light bag and slept a few hours. Then he woke up and cached most stuff, hit the trail by 5AM or so, went up Williamson and Tyndall, and packed out that same day. His "backpack" was a very light bag that didn't even have an ice axe loop, and he wore trail runners.

I think the main things required are: an ability to sleep well in uncomfortable circumstances; a lack of concern for getting sweaty in a bivy sack; decent weather; and no big reason to worry about bears or other critters.

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by CBakwin » Fri Apr 23, 2010 9:43 pm

The concept that by moving quickly through country one is unable to enjoy the sights, meditate or enjoy the experience is not valid. The experience is different, not better or worse. For me there is an added aesthetic in that the experience, as a whole, of moving over a long distance in a matter of a day or days, is more satisfying. arbitrary I know.

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by John Duffield » Sat Apr 24, 2010 12:11 pm

CBakwin wrote:The concept that by moving quickly through country one is unable to enjoy the sights, meditate or enjoy the experience is not valid. The experience is different, not better or worse.

+ 1

I did a 25 mile day hike last year. Had to keep moving, but I saw everything. Side observation. I was consuming so much water, I was walking with my Jetboil while it was cooking snow. Doing that for a couple of hours.

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by ExcitableBoy » Sat Apr 24, 2010 2:23 pm

I enjoy trail running and have run some loops that most folks take 2-3 days to back pack. I love seeing so much terrain in a short amount of time. I think taking a light pack and spending a night or two out would be super fun. The Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier would be a kick to do this way.

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by jniehof » Sat Apr 24, 2010 4:36 pm

Someone has done the core of the Highline Trail (Chapeta to Hayden) in a "day", might want to read his trip report.

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by BigMitch » Sun Apr 25, 2010 2:02 am


It is a great way to see the country! Those who say you don't see the scenery are just not in the shape that you are. IMHO, they tend to be couch potatoes who throw on a huge pack, are worn out after 7 miles, and call that fun.

I did a very leisurely 3 day trip around the Wonderland Trail in late July 2008. About 35 miles/day. My pack was 17 pounds with 3 days of food and a 8 oz ice ax and instep crampons (heavy snow year in 2008 with dangerous ice slide on west side of the Rainier). I had about 20 miles of solid snow cover.

Instead of a bivy, I used a light weight 2.5 lb tent to keep the mosquitos away. I also used a 1 lb Rab sleeping bag and 9 oz Z-rest pad. My sleeping bag was is good to 40F, but was inadequate for that trip, since I was sleeping around piles of snow each night. Now, I would take my 2 lb Go-Lite 20F bag.

I also had an esbit stove, a Ti pot, and light weight Zip-lock plastic bowl. I pilled the water with Aqua Plus to eliminate carrying a water filter. Likewise, I used (0.5 oz) 1 lite PET water bottles from the flavored water sold at Walmart and Target to shave 10 oz from using regular Nalgene bottle.

I used all of my adventure racing clothes: Salomon XA 3D Pro shoes, compression shorts, AR shirt, fleece vest, precip top and bottoms, fleece hat, rain hat, etc. I also used trekking poles.

I scheduled it so that I had huge mid-day meals at the resturants at Sunrise and Longmire.

I would leave about 7 am in the morning and stop to set up camp about 6:30, with an hour out for lunch. I hiked the uphills and flats, then ran the downhills.

All in all, a very enjoyable trip. Except when I would be stopped by someone, and they asked what I was up to. When I told them, they thought I was some crazy 30-year old superman, until I removed my ninja sunglasses and Rambo-type headband to reveal, at that time, my 51 year-old face.

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by Sierra Ledge Rat » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:29 pm

A couple of pairs of socks - always gotta be able to switch to dry socks.

Water filter and water bottle, not sterilzation tablets.

Always, the hard part is finding a pack with which you can comfortably run without too much bouncing.

No sleeping bag, just a bivy sack.

I used to use a fanny pack, like the one shown below.

And, do you carry your water bottles in your hands or let them bounce in your pack all day? I kept 'em in my fanny pack. Tried not to carry too much water, only enough to get me to the next water source.

You've got to be a glutton for punishment, spending the night freezing in a bivy sack was enough to make me cease such inane practices.


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by mrchad9 » Fri Apr 30, 2010 1:58 am

I don't trail run, but try to go light. I also try not to carry too much water- it helps a lot. I quit filtering it a couple years ago- cut that weight as well- so far no issues, though I'm careful where to select my water from. For example, I drank water from just about every stream and lake on the way to Mt Williamson and Tyndall, and no issues. I sometimes carry some tablets just in case I'm not sure, but never use them.

If water sources are frequent don't need to carry any water at all- and its so refreshing to be able to dip a bottle in and drink.

This works for most of the Sierra. Haven't tried it anywhere else. Probably wouldn't unless I was more familiar with the area.

I use a 1 pound 40 deg bag, 20 deg bag in winter, even at high altitude and sleep in my clothes if it's cold. If you want to go light its a mistake to carry a big sleeping bag, and then have all other your insulation (clothes) in a pile next to you. I'm I'm not wearing a jacket or something I stuff it in the bag with me when I sleep.

Bought a black diamond beta light last year and love it.

Curious as to what folks use for pads... wanting to get a new one. Carrying a bulky airmattress that weights just over a pound seems like its my next biggest area to improve.

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by thelisa » Sat May 01, 2010 4:14 am

I used to love long tough dayhikes. Then I met some trailrunners who showed me how to run even longer in a day. I love covering lots of miles in day (and night) while still appreciating the scenery I am running through. The appreciation of nature is not diminished.
Sometimes I deliberately start in the late evening and hike/run all night. Even familiar trails become new and strange in the moonlight.
I have not combined a long distance/overnight run with sleeping out (I tend to run 100-mile supported races with aid stations, heh heh) but if one can do with minimal comforts or has access to resupply points I can see how many miles could be covered in a set amount of days.

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by Big Benn » Sat May 01, 2010 10:37 am

One of my lady walking companions, Judy Armstrong is something of an expert in long distance walking with extreme lightweight equipment.

She is currently in training for her next year long adventure and, albeit on easy roads and trails, is working up to 60 miles walking a day. Not that she will do that everyday on her main walk, but it is how she trains. I know she passed the 53 miles in a day mark not long ago!

I ran a web site for her last effort, and whilst she changed her plans she still walked 4075 miles in 275 days in the French Alps: Most high up in the mountains. Oh, And during those days she did just under 1.3 million feet of vertical ascent. :shock:

Web site.

Left hand panel on the Home page has a link to her Equipment Choice.

She has written one or more magazine articles in the UK about such walking with extreme lightweight gear, and if you go to the web site there is a CONTACT link, to get through to her.

I would add that she sure has to dumb down when she walks with me! I'm old, overweight and very slow. :cry:

But she is kind and understanding about that. :D

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by peladoboton » Sun May 02, 2010 4:46 pm

My dad, brother, and myself set off on a 6 day trip in 1998 and about 2 hours into the trip realized we had all packed very lightly, and could likely get some ground covered if we were crazy enough....

....we covered the 50 miles in three days and have always been fascinated at the ability to get stuff done when you go light.

Likewise, there is a real thrill in making serious distance....taking one's time has its place, but I am really into seeing how much ground I can cover sometimes....hence the road bike.

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