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A Man with a Mission – The 250km Mauna-to-Mauna Ultramarathon


This Article was originally published in Endurance Sports & Fitness Magazine – July/August 2017

Ralph Griggers, a 47-year old police sergeant from Nashville, TN, is familiar with pain. He’s been hit by a car and nearly died in a mountain climbing accident last year in Colorado. He’s had a broken neck, collarbone, two major knee surgeries and suffers from disc degeneration. When he tells you that running the inaugural 250km Mauna-to-Mauna ultramarathon was the hardest thing he’s ever been through – well now, that’s a tough race!


On May 14 2017, 72 competitors from 20 different countries began the inaugural self-supported 250km Mauna-to-Mauna Ultra in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii’s west coast. Seven-days, six-stages, 156-miles with a combined 45,000 ft./13,700 m of ascent and descent later, 63 completed the race, some running, others limping across the finish line, on the east coast, at Hapuna Beach, HI.

The Mauna-to-Mauna Ultra, also known as the M2M, is named after, and encompasses, two of the Big Island’s famous volcanoes: The Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain (33,000 ft./10,000 m from its oceanic base) and the Mauna Loa, the world’s second largest mountain in volume and mass. It embodies half the surface area of the Big Island of Hawaii. 

The M2M Ultra was created by Tess and Colin Geddes, the same race directors who founded the 273 km Grand-to-Grand Ultra in 2012. The G2G is widely considered as one of the toughest endurance races in the world. Some say, the M2M Ultra is harder.

M2M competitors traversed volcanoes, tropical valleys, waterfalls, lava fields, roads and beaches. The terrain and distance varied and so did the weather.The Big Island of Hawaii possesses eleven of the world’s thirteen climate zones and race experienced most of them: full days of monsoon-like downpours, hail, freezing rain, gale force winds to blazing sun and unrelenting heat. Soaking wet, impossible-to-dry-your clothes, trench foot maladies to hypothermia and heat exhaustion. The extreme weather threw everything but snow at them.

There were casualties. Though runners were strong and experienced – all having run two or more ultramarathons to qualify for the M2M Ultra and most, veterans in competing in this type of endurance race – nine would drop. Among them, elite runner, Salvador Calvo Redondo from Spain, who split open his toe on sharp lava rocks during the long 48-mile stage on day four.


This was Ralph Griggers first self-supported ultramarathon and by all accounts, he shouldn’t have been running.

He first heard about the M2M Ultra in September 2016. He had run several marathons and ultramarathons in the past, but this race was a whole new level. Challenge Accepted!

Unfortunately, this middle-aged, father of two was now out of shape and condition. He carried a bulky 220 lbs. on his 6’1” body. The extra weight put added stress on his bad knees.

His girlfriend tried to talk him out of it. She had completed the 273km Grand-to-Grand Ultra in 2012 and knew how much trauma it puts on the body.  “It will be painful. The hardest thing you will ever do, physically and mentally,” she said.

His orthopedic surgeon tried to talk him out of it. “You have no business running with those knees.” Ralph has almost no cartilage in both of knees and has had multiple surgeries attempting to fix them.

Undeterred, Ralph began to train.


The first thing he did was change his eating habits. He eliminated most processed foods and switched to a gluten-free, wheat-free and dairy-free diet. This helped reduce inflammation in his knees and back. He no longer needed to take ibuprofen every day. He started losing weight.

To further help reduce stress on his joints, he ran in maximalist cushioning Hoka One One shoes and Don Joy knee braces. After work, he ran trails by his home – at first only a couple miles, than six and then fifteen.

In addition to running, he hiked and cross-trained with Pilates and yoga.

In March 2017, he was ready to test himself and ran the Badwater Cape Fear 51.4-mile ultramarathon on Bald Head Island, NC. Most of it, in sand. He finished in 11 hours and 36 minutes and felt great. His knees were sore, but not swollen. This was a good sign.

By May 2017, he was down 30 lbs. and weighted 190 lbs. His legs were strong. He was ready for the 250km M2M Ultra.


In self-supported, stage-race ultra-marathons, runners must carry all their own food and gear for the entire race – sleeping bag, pad, rain jacket, base-layers etc. Think, ‘aggressive backpacking,’ with check-points and cut-off times. The race organization provides shared tents, usually eight per tent, and water at check-points and campsites

Ralph’s 20L Ultimate Direction Fastpack backpack weighed 23 lbs. and included 16,000 calories of food (race minimum was 14,000 calories) a Spark II sleeping bag- weighed less than one pound, a Thermarest sleeping pad, a long-sleeve shirt, another pair of shorts, six pairs of socks (he wanted a fresh pair for each day), an ultralight rain jacket, down jacket and mandatory survival items.

He ran with Leki trekking poles and “they were a lifesaver,” he said.  Not only did they minimize weight and impact on his hips, back and knees, the poles helped him balance over uneven terrain and propelled him forward, ascending and descending mountains.


The biggest challenge throughout the race for him, as it was for all competitors, was dealing with climate extremes.

It poured rain the first three days. The ground was saturated. Runners slogged through thigh-deep puddles, mud and negotiated slick lava rocks. Nobody had dry feet. Everything was wet. The rain was unrelenting and when temperatures dropped, it was downright miserable.

This is not what people imagine when they think, ‘Hawaii’. Even the locals said the weather was unlike anything they had seen during this time of year.

Hypothermia plagued many during Stage 3 (28-miles). The last 14-miles off the mountain were the worst. Freezing rain, thick fog and high winds chilled everyone to the bone.

Four competitors dropped.

Ralph said, “I mentally dug deep and finished the stage as quickly as possible. My hands were shaking and lips were blue by the time I reached camp. I immediately got some hot water, made chicken noodle soup, went into my tent, stripped off soaked clothes and tucked into my sleeping bag.”

His seven tent mates cheerfully greeted him each afternoon. They were all going through the same experience. Some just quicker than others. They commiserated about the weather, blisters, sore muscles, wet clothes, shared funny stores and lessons learned from other races.

“My favorite thing about the M2M Ultra was the people. They made it special.” 


It finally stopped raining half-way through the fourth day, during the long Stage 4 (48-miles).

It was a blessing, because the long stage had other challenges. The competitors had 36-hours to run 48-miles and climb up and down Mauna Kea, a total of 20,000 feet. Their legs and feet were already tired and sore from the previous three-days and 74-miles.

Ralph, in good spirits, struggled with a groin pull and swollen ankles. He kept a smile on his face because he knew, after the first three-days, he was going to finish this race. He felt like he was getting stronger.

“My biggest surprise during the race was how well my body healed overnight. Sure, everything still hurt in the morning, but my body adapted. I attribute this to my training.”

He finished Stage 1 (27-miles) in 32nd place for men. He ran a strong Stage 2 (19-miles), moving up to 29th place.  By the end of the miserably cold and wet Stage 3 (28-miles) he retained 29th place for men.

Ralph’s original goal was just to complete the M2M Ultra, but half-way through the race, he set his sights on a new goal, “I think I have a shot to finish in the Men’s Top 25.”

If he were going to make up some time, he’d have to push through the night on Stage 4. 

The elite runners finished Stage 4 within 12 hours. Florian Vieux, from Switzerland, crossed the finish line first in 9:17. Everyone else, with only headlamps to illuminate the trail, continued on during the long, cold night – some taking short naps at later check-points to recharge.

Four more competitors dropped from the race.

Ralph, completed exhausted, crossed the finish line in 23:28. It was good enough to move him up to 28th place for men.

The last competitor completed Stage 4 in 31 hours, Yao Chen, 63-years old, from Thailand.

When you put things into perspective when it comes to endurance racing, who has more endurance? The first one to cross the finish line or the last one?


During Stage 5 (29-miles), runners battled heat exhaustion as they ran through high grassy farm pastures with ankle twisting lava rocks.

The sun beat down on them. No clouds in sight.

“At one point,” Ralph said, “I stopped sweating – no matter how much I drank. That’s never happened to me before! I had to dump water over my head to cool off.”

Thankfully, at the end of Stage 5, camp was on the beach. Ralph, along with other, went into the ocean and relaxed in its cool waters.

He was now in 26th place for men, eight-minutes behind the next runner, with only Stage 6th left and five miles to the finish line. Could he do it


Under the blazing sun, 63 remaining competitors took off from their beach camp. They ran the last five miles on roads, through dirt tracks and to the final finish line on the lawn of the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort.

Ralph, knee braces on, pumping his trekking poles, sweat pouring off him, crossed in 1:03. A slow 5-miles for him, but after running 151-miles in the past 6-days, it was fast enough. He did it!

In his first ever 250km self-supported, stage-race ultramarathon, he finished the M2M ultramarathon in the Men’s Top 25, in 25th place, with a cumulative time of 54:32.

Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito from Spain won the inaugural M2M Ultra with a cumulative time of 26:47 minutes. Florian Vieux came in second with 27:38.

Sylvia Ravaglia, from Hawaii, was first place female, eight-place overall, with a cumulative time of 34:32 and endurance running world record holder, Sharon Gayter from England came in second, twelve-place overall, in 37:52. 

Though the last place runner’s cumulative time was 75:14, he didn’t waiver. A total of nine runners dropped during the race. Of the original 72 competitors, 63 finished.


The dictionary’s definition of ENDURANCE states that it is “the power to withstand pain or hardships; the ability or strength to continue despite fatigue, stress or other adverse conditions.”

Endurance racing is not about competing against others. It is about competing against yourself. You are challenging yourself to be better, stronger than you were yesterday. We are stronger than we think.  The only way to know this is to do something we’ve never done before.

But watch out, because once you accomplish it – challenging yourself can become addicting.

Ralph now has his sights on completing the infamous Badwater 135 for his 50th birthday in 2020.

What will you do next?


NZ: The Mueller Hut Route in Mt. Cook National Park


Hands down, this was our favorite trek in New Zealand. The panoramic views are epic; glaciers, lakes, snow covered mountains and ice cliffs.

We hiked the route in less than 6-hours and only recommend it to those in good physical condition, who are prepared and wearing appropriate shoes and clothing.

The Mueller Hut Route is in the Southern Alps of Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. It is a 6.5-miles round trip trek with 6,800 feet of elevation gains and losses on stairs, rocks and scrambling over boulders. Even on clear summer days, temperatures, at the top, can drop below freezing and wind gusts can reach over 60 mph. It is a serious workout and generally takes 6-8 hours round-trip. Make sure you are in shape, bring plenty of water, snacks and dress accordingly.

Note – Most guidebooks recommend spending the night at Mueller Hut. If you don’t have the time or can’t get reservations, this is a perfectly good day hike.

What is the Mueller Hut?

The bright, red Mueller Hut sits alone, at an elevation of 5,900 ft. (1,800 meters), high among the boulders and snow fields in the Sealy Range of Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park.

It has 28-bunkbeds, a basic kitchen, with running water, and an outhouse. Reservations are required to spend the night. Sleeping bags not included.

Day hikers may eat and rest in the communal kitchen. Bring your own food, cooking equipment and pack out all trash. They do not sell anything at the hut. No food or drinks. Nothing.

The original hut was built in 1914. It has been rebuilt and replaced five times. The longest lasted 50 years. The current Mueller Hut was opened in 2003 by Sir Edmund Hillary.

Our Experience on the Mueller Hut Route

It was the beginning of February, summertime, in New Zealand, and we had spent the night, sleeping in our campervan, at White Horse Hill Campground in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. The day’s forecast called for 70F and clear blue skies. After breakfast and dressed in shorts, shirts and hiking shoes, we threw on daypacks, grabbed our Leki trekking poles and walked the short connector path, from the campground to Kea Point Trail, to start our trek. 


In each of our daypacks, we carried: cell phones/cameras, sunscreen, two liters of water, TME Bars, GU Gels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, wetwipes, waterproof pants, jacket and a long sleeve shirt. We also packed a little survival kit (just in case) which included an emergency bivy, headlamp, knife, ferro rod, lighter, hexamine fuel cells, paracord, compass, electrolytes and Chapstick. As always, we also had duct tape wrapped around our trekking poles – you never know when you’ll need duct tape.

Kea Point Trail to Sealy Tarns (Half-way Point)

It is a steep ascent, up a series of switchback stairs, all 2,000 of them, through shrubs and trees, from Kea Point Trail (2,789 ft./850 m) to Sealy Tarns (4,265 ft./1,300 m). This part of the route reminded me of climbing the thigh crushing Manitou Incline in Colorado.

My heart raced, trying to find a rhythm on the stairs. I’m not a morning person. My partner, Ralph, went a little faster than me and that was just fine. We kept each other in sight and reached the natural half-way point at Sealy Tarns in about an hour and 45 minutes.

A tarn is a small mountain lake. Sealy Tarns looks more like a pond on the side of a mountain. We sat by the tarn and took a short break to hydrate and have a snack. To the right was an imposing, bigger, snow covered mountain and behind us, Hooker Valley. Breathtaking views. We could see Mt. Cook, the Tasman Glacier, its lake and all the way to the northern tip of turquoise colored Lake Pukaki

Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut

After leaving Sealy Tarns, we followed the trail sign to the left and continued our climb. Orange markers, set out every 600 feet, highlighted the way. The second-half was just as steep. We spent a lot of time looking down to secure footing. We clamored up rocks and patches of tussocks, scrambled over boulders and scree before reaching the windy skyline ridge. 

Relieved to have reached the top, we still couldn’t see the hut. We continued to follow the orange markers south, or left, hopping on massive boulders. The wind gusts were brutal and random. Some over 50+mph, hit us up one side and down another. We were thankful for trekking poles. They helped keep our balance on the rocks and with the wind.

Finally, 15-minutes after reaching the ridgeline and scrambling across boulders, we saw Mueller Hut. Tiny in the distance. It took another 10-miuntes and trudging through a snow field, the size of a football field, to reach it.

From Kea Point Trail to Mueller Hut, it had taken us almost 3 hours. 

Mueller Hut

I heaved open one of the massive doors, trying not to let the wind wrench the handle from my grip. I closed the door, latch and looked around. We were in a small entrance way.  We took off our shoes, walked through another door and into a kitchen, dining area. It was warm and full of friendly hikers from all over the world. We sat down with our packs and dug out our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We refueled and looked out the large windows, enjoying the snow-covered mountain from inside. 

After thirty minutes, we were ready to head down. It was much colder up here and before we left, we layered up. I was glad I brought pants! They kept me warm and protected my butt scooting over loose scree on some of the steeper declines. 

It took us two and a half hours to descend. We were tired and legs, a little wobbly, but we did it!

The Mueller Hut Route is a definite must if you ever make it to Mt. Cook National Park!

I wrote a few other blogs about our New Zealand adventures. Click below to read them.

16 Days of Adventures on New Zealand’s South Island

Backpacking the Milford Track

Backpacking the Kepler Track in 2 Days


NZ: Backpacking The Kepler Track in 2 Days

Kepler Track

The Kepler Track was my favorite of the two Great Walks we hiked in New Zealand. The other, the very popular Milford Track, had similar scenery, but none of the breathtaking ridgeline views that make the Kepler Track unique.

The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. It is an easy trek to plan because it is a loop. Located on the South Island, in Fiordland National Park, the 37 mile/ 60km loop, with 8,900 ft./2,700 m elevation gains and losses, starts and finishes a few short miles outside the charming lakeside town of Te Anau. The hike is known for endless ridgelines and alpine views. It is traditionally done in 3-4 days, but if you are short on time and in good shape, it can be completed in 2-days.


Don’t be surprised if you see a few ultra-runners training during your hike. The Kepler Challenge Mountain Run ultramarathon has been held every December since 1988. Most runners complete the trail in under 11 hours. Elite runners, in under five. The current record holder is Australia’s Martin Dent, a 2012 Olympian, with a time of 4:33.

While my partner and I have run a few ultramarathons, we are by no means elite nor wanted to attempt this trail in 1-day.

Here is how we did it in 2-days and what you need to know. 


New Zealand’s Department of Conservation maintains 3 huts and 2 campsites on the Kepler Track. Each hut has a kitchen/dining area with sinks, gas burners (cooking pots and food are not provided), a wood stove and bathrooms, no showers.

It was NZ $54 per adult to stay in a hut and NZ $18 per adult for a campsite.

Reservations must be booked ahead of time and can be done online or at a DOC visitor center. Once confirmed, pick up tickets at a DOC visitors center and take them on the hike. The Hut master’s will ask for them.

I booked reservations online for the Iris Burn Hut at the beginning of January, a month before we left for New Zealand. We picked up our tickets, the day before our trek, at the visitor’s center in Te Anau.


  • If going in high-season, I recommend booking as early as possible. Don’t wait to get to the visitor’s center.
  • Prices increase for the 2017/2018 season: NZ $65 hut stay & NZ$20 campsite.
  • If you have trouble securing a reservation or logistics, reach out to EasyHike. They work with all of the Great Walks and helped us with the Milford Track. They really do make everything easy!


We rented a car from Avis at Queenstown airport and drove to Te Anau, NZ. It is a pleasant three-hour drive through rolling hills, farms and fields.

Te Anau is a great little ‘base camp’ town for Fiordland National Park. If you need to buy anything for your trek, they have an outdoor retailer and a Four-Square grocery store. There are also plenty of restaurants and hotels.

We spent the night in a hotel and drove the next morning to the Kepler Track carpark. It is on the southern end of Lake Te Anau and 3-miles/5 km from town.

Day 1: Kepler Track Carpark to Iris Burn Hut (17.5 miles / 28.4 km)


We followed the Kepler Track signs from the carpark, across the water-flow control gate bridge and into a lakeside beech forest, carpeted in moss. The dirt trail is flat the first 7km. After passing Brod Bay campsite area, a 2,500 ft./750m ascent begins with long switchbacks, through trees, limestone bluffs and onto an exposed grassy ridge.

Above the tree-line, we were hit with strong winds and cold rain. No problem. We put on rain jackets and enjoyed panoramic views of the lake and mountains. Thirty minutes later, we arrived at Luxmore Hut.

The Kepler Track guide says it should take between 5-6 hours to trek 8.4 miles/ 13.8km, from the parking lot to Luxmore Hut. It took us less than 4-hours. Sweet! Our pace was faster than the brochure’s suggested time. It said the next 9.1 miles/ 14.6 km, to Iris Burn Hut, would also take 5-6 hour. If the guide was off on the first part, surely it wouldn’t take us more than 4-hours to hike to the next hut.


It took 5.5 hours.

After eating lunch at Luxmore Hut, packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – yes, we are very American – we continued our hike to Iris Burn.

We exited the hut and into 40-60 mph winds and intermittent cold rain. This long ridge section only has an elevation gain of 825 ft/250 m, but it is a rolling up and down trudge that seems to go on forever. Battling weather, our energy-levels took a beating.

The highest point on the Kepler Track is Luxmore Saddle at 4,600 ft./ 1400 m. There is a turn-off on the left for those interested in summiting the rocky Mt. Luxmore (4,829 ft./1,472m). Most people drop their packs and take the 10-15-minute climb for additional views.  

Along the way are two, triangle shaped emergency shelters. The first one is Forest Burn, about two-hours from Luxmore hut. The second is Hanging Valley. We took 10-minute breaks in each, just to get a reprieve from the unrelenting high winds.

Ralph Making Friends with a Kea

We were glad for bringing Leki trekking poles. They helped with balance and keeping us anchored to the ground.

While the wind wasn’t ideal, the Kepler Track’s ridgeline section is breathtaking – more panoramic views and visits from Kea, New Zealand’s green, mountain parrot. 

After 4.5 hours on the ridge, we began the descent into Iris Burn Valley. Lower and protected by the trees, the wind ceased. It took another knee-jarring hour of endless switchbacks to reach Iris Burn Hut.

The hut sits peacefully in a large, open tussock clearing. In the distance, mountains. There are short walks to a river and waterfall.

We found bunks for the night. Unpacked and went to the kitchen/dining area to make dinner. We were asleep by 8:30pm.

Iris Burn Hut


  • The huts provide gas stoves
  • Bring a pot if you are going to cook or boil water
  • Back Country Cuisine and The Outdoor Gourmet make really good dehydrated meals and can be bought at the outdoor store in Te Anau.
  • The hut master does collect tickets (don’t lose or forget them!)
  • The sandflies are no joke. Absolutely bring bug spray, with DEET. Don’t even bother with natural repellent. The sand-flies will laugh at you.

Day 2: Iris Burn Hut to Kepler Track Carpark (20 miles / 31.7 km)

It rained hard during the night and temperatures dropped. It was still raining when we exited Iris Burn Hut at 8am. The mountains in the distance now had a coating of snow. Hikers going in the opposite direction, climbing up and over the ridgeline, would have their work cut out for them.

It rained all day.

The trail meanders through a rainforest – plush with vegetation, ferns, moss, streams, over a saddle, into a valley that exits along the lakeshore around Shallow Bay to Moturau Hut (16.2km from Iris Burn Hut). It took a little over 4 hours to reach the hut.

This shore section is buggy – lots of sandflies – so we ate lunch inside the hut. 

We continued on through more forest, over streams and a swinging bridge. We passed Rainbow carpark where some choose to start the Kepler Track. There is also a bus service to and from Te Anau.

Onward we pushed through more of the same scenery. This forest/valley section is very similar to much of what you see on the popular Milford Track. It is beautiful, but not breathtaking like the Kepler Track ridgeline views.

After a total of 7 hours hiking, we reached the carpark. Wet. Cold. Exhausted. Happy. We completed the Kepler Track!


  • It rains over 200 days a year in Fiordland National Park.
  • Bring a rain jacket and pants.
  • Bring a rain cover for your backpack
  • Wear a hat with a brim to avert the rain
  • Use Trekking Poles

We spent sixteen days on the South Island and completed 10 different treks, hiking over 110 miles with 34,000 feet of elevation gains and losses.

The Kepler Track and the Mueller Hut Route in Mt. Cook National Park were my two favorite adventures.

Why Endurance Athletes Should Cross-Train with Yoga


Endurance Sports & Fitness Magazine

Article by: Payge McMahon

If you are an endurance athlete (or aspire to be one), you need to cross-train with yoga. It will make you stronger, and increase your stamina, flexibility, agility, balance and mental focus.

Yoga began more than 5,000 years ago in Northern India. It was originally designed to calm the mind and prepare the body for meditation – to heal, enlighten and unite the mind, body and soul. Over the years, it has evolved; yoga is now much more physical, and very popular.

Yoga Statistics
Over the past 10 years, the number of Americans who practice yoga has nearly doubled – to 37 million. Seventy-five percent of those practitioners use yoga to cross-train for other activities. Correlating with studies that show endurance athletes peak later in life, 43% of the yoga population are 30-49 years old and 38% are over age 50. Although women make up the majority of yogis, men are seeing its benefits and embracing the practice; they make up 28% of yogis today.

Professional Athletes Do It
Many NFL, NBA, world football (soccer) and rugby teams now incorporate yoga into their training schedule. From LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal to Ray Lewis, Aaron Rodgers, David Beckham and the entire New Zealand National Rugby Team, the All Blacks – real men do yoga.

Professional endurance athletes, also, are adding yoga to their training regimens, including ultra marathon running legends Anna Frost and Dean Karnazes; adventure racer, James Magness; long distance runner and Olympic medalist, Lynn Jennings; Iditarod sled dog musher, Zoya DeNure; and Ironman triathletes Sara Piampiano and Anthony Carillo.

What Type of Yoga to Practice?
Today, there are many different types and hybrids or fusions of yoga. In general, the main poses (asanas), like a common language, stay the same in all practices.

The favorite types of yoga among endurance athletes (and, coincidently, those who have ADHD) are Vinyasa/Power Yoga, Ashtanga and Hot Yoga. These practices combine meditation through movement, linking controlled breathing (prana) to holding and transitioning to and from various poses and positions. Your heart rate will increase, and you will sweat. These types of yoga are not for those who just want to do a little stretching, sit, meditate and work on their chanting.

Restorative Yoga is another favorite among athletes who need a good stretch and/or are going through some type of injury rehabilitation. Everything is done sitting or lying down on the mat and at a tranquil, slow pace.

Getting Started – Just Breathe
We cannot live without air. Breathing is the most important thing we do; if done with certain techniques, you can maximize your oxygen intake – which can help enhance your focus and performance.

There are eight types of breathing techniques (called pranayama) taught in yoga. The most fundamental and useful is the Ujjayi Breath, also called ‘Ocean’s Breath.’

To continue reading this article, click on:

Why Endurance Athletes Should Cross-Train with Yoga by Payge McMahon

Review: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L



The Fastpack 20L is a good ‘go-to’ pack for day-hikes, ultralight backpacking, climbing a Colorado 14’er or a carry-on bag when flying.


  • Light weight
  • Can carry a lot of stuff
  • Comfortable (as long as you don’t over pack)


  • It doesn’t have a hip-belt
  • A water-proof cover is not provided by UD

Snap Shot

  • Capacity: 15L – 23L
  • Weight: 1 lb. 3 oz.
  • Dimensions: 20″ x 11.75″ x 9.5″
  • Sizes: S/M: 24″ – 40″ and M/L: 32″ – 46″
  • Roll-top compartment
  • Side compression Z-straps
  • Rear stretch-mesh pocket with low-profile daisy chain system
  • 2 front pockets – fit water bottles and fold flat to store other items
  • 2 adjustable sternum straps and side straps for stability and fit
  • Removable foam back panel for comfort
  • Price: $159.95

Field Functionality & Design Features 

We tested the Fastpack 20L, on the Big Island of Hawaii, while competing in the self-supported, 6.5 day, 250km Mauna to Mauna Ultra-marathon.

If you’ve never run this type of endurance race, it’s sort of like ‘aggressive backpacking’ with cut-off times, stages and checkpoints. Competitors have to carry all their own food and gear and camp along the way. Ideally, you want your backpack and all its contents to weigh less than 20lbs.

We picked the Fastpack 20L because it is light weight, has front water bottle pockets for easy access and the size would force us not to pack too much. We learned this was a good thing and a bad thing.

Everything we needed fit into the pack (sleeping bag, pad, food, extra clothes etc.) and it weighted just over 20lbs. We loved the side straps for compression and all the pockets. That being said, the weight put a strain on the pack’s comfort level.

Without a hip-belt, to help distribute the pack’s weight, our shoulders and back were sore at the end of each day. In addition, because we were running, to keep the bag from bouncing, we had to tightened the chest straps. This restricted breathing. Ultimate Direction does not make a pack under 30L with a hip-belt.

Don’t get us wrong, we still enjoyed the pack and did well in the race, but would recommend, when relying on only two chest straps, keeping the pack’s weight under 15 lbs. For self-supported races and long distance adventures, try going up a pack size and if at all possible, use one with a hip-belt. *

* Ultimate Directions’ new Fastpack 35L and 45L have hip-belts.


Ultimate Direction provides high-performance hydration packs. Founded in 1986, by Bryce Thatcher, the company is based out of Boulder, CO.