Speed hiking, also known as fastpacking, combines the benefits of hiking and trail running. The unique sport is making its way from Europe to the Aussie mountains but first, what the heck is it?
What is speed hiking?
In simple terms speed hiking is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s hiking at a fast pace. How fast? That’s up to you.
The sport generally leans towards stacking vertical (read: hiking up mountains) but that’s only because climbing mountains is awesome fun and gives you a pretty motivating goal.
In the Alps speed hiking is used to keep fit for backcountry skiing during the warmer months and more than a few frothers can be spotted tearing up the slopes in lycra and speed dealer sunnies.
But there are benefits beyond fitness. Speed hiking lets you bring more stuff with you than a run while covering way more distance.
You might pump out the 30km Coast Track in a day or turn the 3-5 day Frenchmans Cap hike into a cheeky overnighter. It’s a microadventurer’s dream!
But, and it’s hard to stress this enough, there are no rules. Trail or pathway, vert or dead flat, even challenging or cruisy, your speed hike is what you make it.
That being said, we’ve partnered with Salewa for this article to get the lowdown on speed hiking. Hailing from the Dolomites in Italy, this crew are the experts when it comes to fast and light.
What gear do I need to speed hike?
First up, if you’ve never raced up a mountain to beat sunrise or hit a lil powerwalk so you don’t miss your bus, just get out there and give it a crack!
Wear comfy shoes and a hat, bring a water bottle and some snacks and see how it feels. You might want to track it on Strava or set a timer if numbers motivate you (they sure motivate me).
Loved it? Thought so! As you start going further you’ll probably want to optimise your kit so you can stay comfortable and focus on the view. Here’s the essential gear according to the crew at Salewa:
Does hiking make you think of chunky leather boots and a big ol’ ankle wrap? Not the best for flying down a trail hey? Speed hiking specific shoes like Salewa’s Lite Train K or Dropline are a bit burlier than a trail runner but way lighter than a traditional boot.
They’re flexible, low cut and big on grip, but designed to be durable to last many missions. They often feature firmer cushioning designed for the action of hiking, which is pretty different to the dynamic force of running.
Waterproof layers like GoreTex are great for very cold and wet environments. Often in Australia it’s better to go without the waterproofing – your shoes will breathe better in the heat and dry out better if (when) you stomp in a puddle – but if you’ll be stepping in lots of mud, wet grass and snow then it could be worthwhile.
You’re looking for something small and lightweight, with proper shoulder padding and, ideally, a waist strap to take some of the weight.
You’ll be moving quickly so it’s good if the pack has a breathable material where it sits on the skin or hovers off your back.
Just as speed hiking is a combo of trail running and hiking, the clothing is a bit of a blend. Think lightweight synthetic or merino shirts, breathable shorts (or stretchy pants if you’re tackling rough scrub) and merino wool socks to stave off blisters. If you get caught out in the rain these layers will dry quickly too!
Speaking of rain, pack a breathable raincoat and a midweight jumper in case it gets cold out there. Fast and light is the ethos of speed hiking, but don’t skimp on the essentials!
Poles help you move uphill at a cracking pace and get a full body workout. On the downhills they give you stability while taking the pressure off your knees and on the flat they can even give you a speed boost. We’re not saying they’re essential, but let’s just say you won’t regret them.
Strava is a free GPS tracking app you can get on your phone. I reckon looking at the time, metres climbed and map of my route inspires me to push my limits, so download the app or strap on a GPS watch to capture that data.
Go On, Get Out There!
The best thing about speed hiking is how simple it is. Add to that the fitness benefits and how it allows you to squeeze way more into a tight schedule and it’s a total no brainer.
Australia has hikes everywhere and there’s only a smattering of gear needed to optimise your setup. Why not try out speed hiking in the home of big Aussie climbs, the Blue Mountains. Adventure Base Katoomba has the whole Salewa range on hand to get you kitted out for fastpacking greatness.
Photos by @thetantrap