Fast-Packing the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park: What I Learned About Fall Hiking
Here’s what you need to know if you’re hoping to tackle a fast-pack or shortened trip of any hiking loop for a couple of days, or specifically, if you’re heading to Western Uplands Backpacking Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park like we did earlier in the month!
The trail is perfect for new hikers
Seriously, the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park is perfect for newbies. You have three loops that are combined, and really well marked. You can opt for 33, 56 or 80 kilometers, and you have perfect chances to choose your route at just the right time. It’s super easy to figure out where you are and roughly how much farther you have to go, thanks to actual maps at every junction! It’s also super in nature (we saw a MASSIVE moose) but the trails themselves are reasonably non-technical. I would say it’s just right for someone who wants a wilderness experience but doesn’t currently have a lot of wilderness experience. Plus, at both ends of the loop, there are exits, so if you get halfway and can’t handle more, there’s a road.
Temperatures are ridiculous
It will be up and down constantly in the fall. While we were out, temps went from -5 to 20 C. You’ll freeze one minute, be boiling the next, especially between the heavy exertion of hiking and then just chilling at a campsite, while the weather itself shifts a ton. This means packing a lot of layers so you can keep adding and taking things off. (I made a list of my personal favorite hiking and camping layers here!)
Fast-packing shouldn’t mean going light on necessities
New to fast-packing? You’ll walk A LOT but since you’re camping, you’re still bringing a full-on pack. Go light, yes, but make sure you have what you need to be comfortable, because you do spend a decent amount of down-time and you want to enjoy it! I nailed our food choices, but I should have packed a spare set of ultra-light barefoot shoes, because fast-packing means the odds of soaking your feet increase exponentially, and I did that basically immediately. My feet would have been so happy if I had just stuck to my guns and brought that spare pair with me. I did remember to bring my iron and my magnesium capsules (I just got Gu’s new magnesium formula and love it!) because I knew missing taking those could be really problematic for me—but instead of bringing jars, I just put the needed pills into a baggie.
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Wearing your headlamp sort of sideways is a fashion statement, right? As is wearing ALL THE LAYERS (including my camp towel because it was freeeeeeeezing!) Also, pro tip: Hydration pack bladder in the top of your pack = easy to stay drinking all day when you’re doing 40K of trail non-stop!!
Camp food + white rice + oatmeal
Eric lent us some Backpacker’s Pantry meals, and after 40 kilometers of hard hiking, we needed that kind of sustenance—but I find those meals are hard on my stomach, especially after a loooooong day when my system is pretty taxed. So I brought this ready rice—just plain Basmati—and mixed with the Pad Thai, it was PERFECT for Peter and I to share. Breakfast? Oats + trail mix. So much better than yet another dehydrated meal. Plus, saved serious $$ in the process.
Know your route and distances
I love looking at maps beforehand, and I did my homework on the trail so I had an idea of what we were in for. The trail is actually a little shorter than people say it is: Skipping the long way around Maggie Lake and hiking in from the main entrance and not going out-and-back to the road at the other end of the trail, it’s actually around 74 kilometers. But when I’m out on a hike, if you tell me we’re going 40 kilometers that day, I’ve started assuming it’s 45 kilometers. This way, I’m never pissed if it’s a bit long, and I’m still fueling and hydrating in the last couple of kilometers instead of tapering off in anticipation of an actual meal at camp, which isn’t a smart fueling strategy!
This time, I put my hydration bladder from my Osprey Dyna 6 Hydration Vest into the top zippered section of my pack and ran the hose down to my strap. This made a huge difference in my hydration over the course of the day and I can’t believe I didn’t do it last time we fast-packed! It’s so much easier than constantly trying to reach for water bottles and put them back. So if you’re like me and not great at drinking enough, try this!!
THIS water filter
The Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Water Filter works super fast, is collapsible and can be used to squeeze filtered water into your hydration bladder or pot on your stove. It was a huge help for speedy filtration over the two days we were out and saved us a ton of time!
Skip this tip if you hate candy corn, but for cheap, easy energy, this was AMAZING for me. I had it in my belt pocket on my pack and it was perfect for the 40 kilometer day where we never stopped. I added some trail mix and an Epic Bar for some protein, but really, the candy corn was exactly what I needed/wanted, without feeling like ‘ugh, another gel.’