Fastpacking – carrying as little as possible while moving like a backpacker, but faster – has been a thing even before ultramarathons became so popular. In a running vest/pack like the Fastpack 35 from Ultimate Direction, ultramarathon running meets fastpacking.
Hybrid Design, Dual Use
The Fastpack 35 gives you enough of a backpack to carry a certain load, as long as that load is as light as possible.
That has been the concern of ultralight backpackers, i.e. in the fastpacking community, for a while already.
You also get design cues from a running vest. It is all designed to carry as close to the body and as non-bouncing as possible. Therefore, it is possible to move in the style of a trail run in running shoes rather than a trekking tour in hiking boots.
In keeping with that dual spirit, there is enough room for overnight gear in back, but also quite a bit of storage in front.
That way, one can carry things like a bivy and sleeping bag, and have some essentials like water and, typically, “communications” (read: one’s smartphone) in front, quickly accessible without having to take off the whole pack.
The whole setup makes a lot of sense for its purpose, but it also makes for a different carry than backpacks (or running vests) that are more common.
This is not the pack to just throw over one’s shoulder for everyday use, that is.
Let’s get into the specifics of the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35, though. After all, full disclosure, I got a Fastpack 35 to try out and review (without any obligation to do so) at the OutDoor Friedrichshafen fair 2017, from none other than Buzz Burrell himself.
I have spent the last 1.5 years regularly using it, for everything from shorter runs bringing my DJI Spark with me to overnight trail tours and a China trip.
If you want to listen and watch rather than hear, I created this close look in mid-2018, but we’ll continue into even more details in the text below…
Design Specifics of the UD Fastpack 35
The main compartment of the Fastpack is, of course, the one in back. It closes with a roll-top that can be hooks closed to straps on the side. Cinching those straps tight nicely compresses the whole back compartment to prevent the gear inside from bouncing around.
Roll the roll-top in/down a bit more and move it farther down the pack, and you can compress the gear inside more; roll it less and leave it up top if the amount of gear you carry makes that necessary.
Inside, closest to the back, there is a foam pad that makes the back panel rigid and protects from having gear rub against one’s back. In a pinch, it could also be used as a sitting/sleeping pad. It is not too easy to get it out, let alone back inside, though.
Next inside is a loop and a stretch mesh pocket for a water reservoir (or gear, though it would be tight for that, of course). At the top center of the back panel is routing for a tube from such a water reservoir, as usual; the straps only have one loop each to thread a water tube through, so one with an attachment to keep it from flapping around at the valve would be good.
The outer side of the main compartment also has a mesh pocket for quickly stowing e.g. a windbreaker. It is as wide and deep as the whole (not-expanded with the roll-top part) main compartment, but cannot be extended out too far.
That is fine for the light and flexible things it’s made for, but I want to mention it because it looks a bit like it could hold a climbing helmet – which it can’t.
One could get to thinking about climbing because the sides have attachment points (loops at the bottom that are non-stretchy and stretch material loops that can also be cinched tight and moved around) for ice axes or trekking poles.
The mesh pocket outside slightly hides a shorter zippered compartment that is in a good place and made of the close-weave nylon relatively good at protecting some money or ID inside there.
The nylon making the main compartment is water-resistant only, though, so it helps the pack to breathe (especially with the mesh Infiknit back panel). It does not protect gear inside in a downpour, though. So, pack accordingly.
There are also two wide mesh pockets on the side of the pack where one can stow various things. Bottles are not the most highly recommended thing to put there (as these pockets are rather too wide and low for those); it’s not the easiest to get to things in those pockets, either (while wearing the pack).
Another bit one needs to be aware of is that the straps that (can) cinch the roll-top closed and compress the main compartment run into those mesh pockets. They can thus help keep bottles or other gear safe in there – or they get in the way when one tries to blindly push things in there.
In spite of all these caveats, these pockets are very useful: Things like tissues, hats, Buffs, energy bars,… fit in there very well.
Attachment loops offering various options (of questionable value, in my opinion) also go around the bottom front and sides of the pack.
The straps, as typical for such a running pack that is to carry more as a vest than a backpack, are wide, padded, and equipped with various storage options.
Both straps have attachments top-outside and at the bottom with elastic cords one can use to stow away trekking poles.
On the Fastpack 35, a bit unusually for a running pack, the strap pockets are different left and right:
Right Shoulder Strap
On the right strap, one finds a small zippered pocket at the bottom. Most of it is a close-knit mesh water bottle/softflask pocket with a loop cinch around its top opening, and a half-size mesh around it.
Left Shoulder Strap
The left strap has a larger mesh pocket at the bottom and a zippered nylon-covered pocket over its main length. It’s ideal for a phone and large enough for most modern smartphones (or a GPS).
That pocket is set off from the strap a bit, with a mesh material at its back. This way it’s a bit protected from sweat… but gear inside it can get wet. (Or, it also means that one could push some long and flat gear – or a protective layer of plastic – in there. That could slide down quite far, though…)
There is also a hip belt, but I rarely find any use in that except maybe with rather too heavy a load. The best use I have found for it is to turn it around towards the front and use it to cinch tight the lower part of the main compartment, which does not get compressed much otherwise.
How Much the Fastpack 35 Can Hold…
The one issue I have with the Fastpack 35 is that it is large enough to be too big for many people, large enough for a lot of gear and quite some weight, yet not entirely roomy enough.
The official 35 liter volume seem to include the 1.5-liter one could fill with a water bottle in front, the main compartment in back filled to the brim.
Now, there is quite enough space for all the gear one would need for overnight tours in the summer.
I have carried my ultralight bivy and summer sleeping bag, 3/4-length mattress, Esbit cooker and titanium mini-pot, some food and water, the clothes I came with on a train, my tablet and even the DJI Spark.
For winter overnighters with down sleeping bag, full-length mattress and the additional clothing required, however, it would not suffice.
There, I need to use the Arrakis 40 I always use for such slower, but more demanding, tours – and the ostensible 5 liter difference in volume translates into a pack that looks three times the size when it comes to its main (and basically, only) compartment.
On long (>10 hour, overnight) tours with all the gear, I did notice some sore spots afterwards. The bottom edge of the pack does, then, have some chances of rubbing me wrong.
Adjusting the straps differently (they can be mounted in a few different positions, after all) helped a bit, so I would recommend trying out what makes for the best carry for you. And do try it; best for me seems to be a position which I did not actually expect to be quite so good.
All in all, the Fastpack 35 carries very well.
Given enough gear, cinched towards one’s back, with a good balance between gear in front (on the shoulder straps) and in back, it all sits comfortably and without bouncing.
I have spent hours on roads and trails with the Fastpack 35 on me; it has carried a lot – not least, the DJI Spark which has covered many more kilometers like that then actually in the air. It has led me to great experiences and, by the looks of it, it will last a whole lot longer yet.
If you’re interested in a purchase, here’s the Fastpack 35 on the website of Ultimate Direction (with an affiliate link, meaning a purchase would also support this site a little).