Races may have disappeared from calendars during the pandemic. But it led to many people creating their own training adventures, including GRTW founder, Rachael Woolston
Everyone has heard of bike packing which has exploded in popularity during and since the pandemic. But what about just taking off on your own two feet for a solo running adventure and sleeping wild under the stars?
I decided to try fast-packing over the Easter weekend, mapping a route on the Monarch’s Way that would allow me to start from my home. First considerations of course, how could I do it as lightly as possible?
The lighter you go with a tent and kit, the more expensive it is, unless you decide to bivvy. A bivvy is an unstructured shelter, or in simple terms a waterproof sleeping bag such as the Rab Storm Bivi, £135.
Because I was running solo, and it was likely to be cool being April in the UK, I wanted more shelter and opted to buy a one man tent.
I didn’t want to spend too much before I knew whether I enjoyed it, so I bought a Naturehike Cloud-up Ultralight 1 Person Single Tent 3 Season Camping Tent, £99 (1.7kgs).
It was delivered the day before I left, and was light and packed up small. All good, until I packed my 20 year old sleeping bag (-5 degree) and sleep mat in my OMM Classic 25, £90. To truly fast pack you need to spend money on a sleep mat and sleeping bag that rolls up SMALL and light!
On the Trail
I set off in the sunshine, daffodils bobbing, lambs leaping, straight into an up hill hike to the top of the South Downs where I met Monarch’s Way.
My pack weighed around 6kg, although it wasn’t the weight that caused the problem running downhill but that it bounced and felt cumbersome.
That and the fact that running with a weight on your back, causes your feet to slide forward in your shoes. Cue slightly bruised big toes!
So other than a few downhills runs, I spent the day fast hiking, soaking in the sights of Spring.
Who knew that hiking twenty miles feels so hard compared to running? I was very glad to have a campsite to rock up to that evening. Pitching a one man tent is so quick and if you’ve got the right sleep mat and sleeping bag, really cosy. My only addition for next time would be a blow up pillow.
Running with Friends
The next day, I continued past the beautiful Gumber Bothy for another 6 miles to meet friends in Eartham car park.
Here, I ditched my back pack and actually got to run 10 miles through stunning West Sussex countryside and villages. And torrential hailstones.
But if you know you are getting met at the end by a supportive partner, (thank you, Tom) then the rain and the hail all become part of the adventure. And the final pint of beer in the sun and bowl of chips tastes all the better.
Would I do it again?
My Monarch’s Way adventure was a testing trip to see whether fast packing is possible. It is, but you do need to be prepared to spend the money on super light weight kit so you can actually run and hike.
I completed this trip when the pubs were still in lockdown, which meant having to plan where and when to eat. With everything now opening up, I’m already planning my next part of the Monarch’s Way adventure with a lighter and smaller sleeping bag and sleep mat. And hopefully better weather.
Fast packing is such an adventure, a chance to get away from it all at relative little cost if you do it often enough to make the kit worth the investment. And with travel restrictions still in place, it’s a fantastic way to explore the UK.
Five of the Best Fast Packing Essentials
Terra Nova Laser Compact 1, £450, Cotswold Outdoors, £450, and just 30 cms long and weighing 0.96 grammes.
Thermarest NeoAir UberLite Small Sleeping Mat, £139.99. This is one of the lightest at 158 grammes. But what you lose in weight, you also lose in size.
Mountain Equipment Women’s Helium 250 Sleeping Bag Regular, £220. Go for the lightest and smallest pack size you can. While not sacrificing warmth.
Boundless Voyage Titanium Spirit Alcohol Stove Camping, £12.99. These are teeny, fitting in the palm of your hand. Great for heating water and cups of porridge and soup.
Toiletries – unless you’re going to really slum it, you want some teeny toiletries. Products that double up their functionality like Green Frog Argan and Rose Oil Shampoo bars great. And try