What is slackpacking?
Want to go backpacking without lugging all that gear? Try slackpacking
You’ve heard of backpacking and you may even have heard of fastpacking, but what about slackpacking? I hadn’t heard of it until I hiked the West Highland Way last summer and as I was researching my trip, discovered that many hikers opt to slackpack it. Being keen to have the traditional backpacking experience, I didn’t pay much heed to the idea, but once I got on the trail, I must admit I felt the odd pang of envy during some of those 20-mile days when I passed a carefree slackpacker while i was rubbing my tired feet and I can definitely understand why some hikers do it. Read on to discover this lightweight approach to trail travel, the benefits of slackpacking and how to do it.
What is slackpacking?
Slackpacking is backpacking without carrying all of your gear on your back. You hike carrying a daypack with all you need for the day, but someone else carries your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and camping stove plus any extra clothing and your supplies for dinner and breakfast – usually in a vehicle – and drops it at a prearranged camping spot. They might set everything up for you and even cook your dinner, or you take over at this point, set up camp and sleep under the stars. In the morning, you or someone else packs up your overnight gear, they ferry it on to the next campsite and you carry on down the trail on foot.
What are the benefits of slackpacking?
The biggest advantage of slackpacking, of course, is that you don’t have to carry a heavy load while you walk. If you’re taking care of your body or nursing an injury, this means you can walk unencumbered and focus on the trail without worrying about strain.
Hiking without a heavy backpack also allows you to go faster, which could be appealing if you’re trying to set a personal best on a fastpacking mission, or if you simply only have a few days off work and want to see as much as possible or reach your shuttle in time to get back to your desk on Monday morning.
It can also be a good way to tackle an especially grueling section of a thru-hike, for example the Roller Coaster on the Appalachian Trail or Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail. Arranging to slackpack these entire trails would entail a mind-boggling amount of logistics and expense, but you could look into doing it for these most difficult sections, and doing so could help keep your moral up. After all, the majority of AT hikers quit in Virginia! If it stopped you from being a statistic, maybe you would let someone else carry your gear for a few days.
Further, if you have other gear that you need to carry, such as camera equipment for outdoor photography, having someone carry your overnight gear might make things easier.
Finally, slackpacking may make some adventures accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to experience them. While we’re advocates of preparing for backpacking trips and thru-hikes with training and conditioning, there are plenty of valid physical reasons why someone might not be able to fulfill a long journey on foot and slackpacking allows them to do so, which gets more people outdoors.
How to go slackpacking
The most economical way to go slackpacking is to recruit a friend to help you out. Since you can realistically only cover about 10-20 miles a day on foot, a trustworthy friend can easily drive ahead and drop your pack for you. If they live in the area, they might be willing to just perform pick up and drop offs for you, but if you have a friend that wants to do the camping part with you without the walking, all the better.
Another option is to hire a professional company to shuttle your gear for you. This type of service is extremely common for walkers on the West Highland Way and trekkers to Base Camp and the Inca Trail, while there are outfits around the Appalachian Trail such as Above the Clouds Hostel that can arrange slackpacking adventures for section hikers. If you’re visiting a National Park and want to tour around on foot, look into local tour companies that might offer slackpacking adventures or retreats.
What do you need for slackpacking
In truth, the only thing you need for slackpacking that’s different from backpacking is a daypack. Other than that, you basically just need to be organized and make sure that you have all the gear that you need for the day when you set off. This should include:
- Waterproof jacket
- Rain pants
- Hiking gloves and hat
- Lunch and hiking snacks
- Water bottle and filter
- First aid kit
- Map and compass
- Emergency blanket
- Insulating layer such as a fleece jacket
- Spare hiking socks
All of your camping gear, extra clothing and food for breakfast and dinner should go in a larger backpack or duffel to be dropped at your destination. One drawback to this system is if you are camping in bear country – clearly, you don’t want your food to be dropped in the woods or you might find your expensive backpack ruined and face a very hungry evening ahead. You can get round this by having the gear dropped in a nearby store or post office, deposited into a bear locker at a developed campground or using your own bear canister. A very good friend could arrange to bring the gear at the time when you expect to arrive and stay with it, or hang a bear bag for you – just make sure you know where it is!
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.