Read about my complete John Muir Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
I’m a lightweight hiker. As I’ve said before:
I’m more of a hiker than a camper. Even though hikers camp and campers hike, the best part of backpacking for me is the walking. I don’t blog most of my backpacking trips because I start walking when the sun comes up and I make camp when the sun sets. Then I eat and go to bed. At dawn, I pack up and walk until the sun sets. I make camp, eat, and go to bed. Rinse and repeat. It makes for boring reading.
I take a relatively minimalist approach to backpacking. There are “ultralighters” out there who carry less, but I’m definitely on the lighter end of the spectrum in terms of gear and pack weight.
Changes from my normal pack list
I have to use a bear canister on this trail and I’m not happy about it. I understand why it’s required, but I loathe the idea of carrying a 41 ounce piece of tupperware on my back. Combine that weight with 6.5 days worth of food, and I’m looking at around 14 pounds of food weight when I pick up my resupply at Muir Trail Ranch. That more than doubles the weight of my pack when I carry a bear bag rather than a canister. I’m not used to carrying that much weight.
In order to offset some of the weight from my bear canister and food, I’ve cut some items from my normal, weekend pack list. This assumes cold weather at night and in the mornings.
- I usually carry 2 pairs of Darn Tough socks and 1 pair of wool sleep socks. I’ve cut the wool socks for this trip and will plan to dry out wet socks on the back of my pack every day.
- I usually take a camp T-shirt. On this trip, I will only carry an active shirt and a sleep shirt (thermal layer).
- I’m mailing myself a second 10,000 mAh Anker battery pack for the last 100 miles and will recharge my devices at Red’s Meadow and Muir Trail Ranch.
There are a several obvious places I could save more weight.
- Cold weather gear—People often share their fears about ticks, bears, water crossings, and ledge walking, but the only thing that has ever scared me about being alone in the wilderness is the threat of hypothermia—specifically paradoxical undressing. I could wear the extra pair of socks as gloves and simply use the hood on my thermal shirt, but I’m going to err on the side of caution here and rely on my cold weather layering system.
- Electronics—My phone is my camera, GPS, and entertainment. I unapologetically listen to audiobooks while I hike and camp. My headlamp is rechargeable. I refuse to be without power and will adjust my walking speed around my remaining battery.
- Cook kit—I’ve experimented with no-cook and did not enjoy it. I look forward to a hot dinner every night and a hot tea or miso soup most mornings. I’ve played around with alcohol stoves and found them to be more trouble than the weight savings are worth. This is my preferred cook kit. That said, I’ll happily set my pot on hot coals if someone already has a fire going to save fuel on longer trips.
- Sleeping pad—I’m what is referred to as a rotisserie sleeper. Despite my tossing and turning, I’m pretty comfortable on a 3/4 length foam pad. When this inflatable pad fills with mildew, I may make the switch. For now, I consider this (along with my electronics) to be a luxury item.
- At the persistent request of a close friend, I have decided to carry an ankle sleeve/brace. I have a bad habit of rolling my ankles in this pair of trail runners, but I refuse to switch to heavy boots. It usually happens when I’ve done a lot of miles, particularly downhill, and I’m not paying close attention to where I step.
IfWhen it happens on the JMT, I’ll have a way to cope with the pain aside from abusing Ibuprofen.
I’m not entirely comfortable with this gear list. It’s fairly minimal, but I don’t feel as though I’m dropping enough weight to offset the unusually heavy consumables. My caloric density is not as high as most hikers because I don’t like sweets such as chocolate and peanut butter (learn more about my meal prep). I’ll just have to make a point to eat the heavier food earlier rather than later to lighten my load as time progresses.
It might not make sense to carry both a rain jacket and a wind jacket, but the wind jacket is a key piece of my layering system. I’m more tempted to leave the rain jacket at home than the wind jacket.
I don’t normally carry camp shoes, but I typically don’t stop walking until an hour before bed. If I stick to my hiking schedule, I’ll have my afternoons free at camp. Wet shoes will make that time less enjoyable. Are flip flops worth the added weight?
What do you think? Do you have any advice for me?
My gear list was pretty spot-on. I was stopped several times by people who all made the same joke. “Hey man, your pack doesn’t look heavy enough. Let me give you something of mine to carry.”
This hike was a good way to justify replacing my perfectly good Osprey Exos 58. I took a few prep hikes to break in the pack, but I had never carried this much weight (almost 7 days of food after my Muir Trail Ranch resupply) before. It took a while for me to dial in the correct placement of the straps and the way I packed the items inside the pack.
I was also lucky with the weather conditions. 10 days or so after I completed my hike, a foot of snow dropped on large swaths of the trail. I didn’t even carry a pair of pants. I had a thermal layer of course, but nothing like a shell for my lower half.
The only things I carried but never touched were my compass, my first aid kit (aside from some pills), and the extra strap for my ankle sleeve—which I did end up sleeping in most nights after day 4 or so.
I probably could have used a third pair of socks that I brought purely for sleep, but I got by with crusty, rigid socks that had dried on the back of my pack each day.
My power situation was very well planned. I had just enough juice to make it to my on-trail recharging stations. I ran through 7 very long audiobooks, powered my headlamp and Fitbit, and took over 1400 pictures and video clips. That said, I might consider a solar panel simply for the peace of mind if I did this trail again. I was in direct sunlight probably 70% of the time and would have welcomed a recharge every day. One thing I didn’t predict was how much of my battery power would be drained by the cold nighttime temperatures. I resorted to sleeping with my battery banks in my quilt toward the end of the trip.
The only things I regretted not taking (aside from a wider variety of food) were my sleeping pad straps. I underestimated how cold it would be at elevation. I was caught in two hailstorms around Forester Pass and Guitar Lake. I was safe in my 20° quilt, but I was uncomfortable at times. The straps would have kept the draft out when I tossed and turned throughout the night.
Next: JMT resupply bucket