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Ultralight Fastpacking... Without a Rucksack!

Norman Hadley is a fastpacker on a mission to get his overnight kit down as far as possible in weight but also volume. He explains his "wacky idea" for disposing of the backpack altogether and how he fuels his adventures...


Ultralight isn’t really new. For millennia, hunter-gatherer peoples have roamed over huge distances with minimal burdens. And look to the birds. Every autumn, the skies over my Lancashire home fill with skein upon skein of pink-footed geese arriving from Iceland and Svalbard. Each is a finely-optimised masterpiece of efficient lightweight travel: the warmth per weight of their down is unimprovable.

During the first Covid lockdown, prevented from running on my beloved Lakeland fells, I found myself daydreaming about the ultimate in ultralight What if I pared down my overnight kit so thoroughly that I no longer needed a rucksack?  I tell the full story in The Great Outdoors, September 2021 edition. With a modest amount of shoving and squeezing, I can get a sleeping-bag, a tent, a stove and a pan into a bumbag that I can run on the fells with quite comfortably. It sounds like a conjuring trick but it works. The limiting factor, of course, is the space available for food. I’ve only done one-night trips so far, but that’s all I need to get my nature-fix. 

Food is Fuel, Warmth and Comfort

Thomas Carlyle observed that an army marches on its stomach and nobody will disagree who has crawled on hands and knees to a lonely summit cairn, their empty belly swinging beneath them. Food is fuel, food is warmth, food is comfort, food is often the only flash of unalloyed pleasure in a gruelling hill day.

When you research ultralight food, it quickly comes down to a pretty mechanistic calculus of calories per gramme. Hence mentioning birds earlier - they figured this out long before us. The blue tit on your garden feeder will scoff as much nutty richness as possible within the bounds of airworthiness and be off. The hungry fellrunner is playing basically the same game - albeit, slightly scaled-up and slightly less fluffy.

Today's Menu

My approach is to guzzle as many calories as I can for breakfast and tea, so I can subsist on sweets and nibbles on the move. A good evening feed is an essential boost to both morale and body temperature before bedding down. I aim to absorb at least 1,400 calories to replenish tired legs after the first day’s run. Breakfast, likewise, is a crucial factor in Starting Day Two Right and the heartiest packets go all the way up to 1000 calories.

I’ve relied on Expedition Foods for its fine selection of thousand-calorie main meals. Spaghetti Bolognese is rightfully a classic - easily wolfed down after a punishing day. Beef and Potato Hotpot is excellent for a hearty treat when you’re damp and cold.

There are several puddings in the 450-calorie zone, but Custard with Apple and Chocolate Biscuit Pudding are my favourites. Both evoke early childhood - the biscuit pudding, in particular, is a massive nostalgia-trip for anyone who was allowed to lick the baking spoon.

In the morning, Porridge with Strawberries is a classic carb-fest, with just the right balance of sugars to kick-start your metabolism and starches for staying-power. If you’re not as greedy as me, or if your constitution isn’t predisposed to pre-dawn blowouts, 800-calorie and 450-calorie packs are also available. But if you’ve got the appetite, fill your boots. Take it from me - those hills are not getting any smaller.