Read about my complete John Muir Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
I’m starting my John Muir Trail (JMT) thru-hike at Lyell Canyon rather than Happy Isles because that’s the only permit I could get. That cuts around 30 miles, or a 1½ days, off of my hike. Since I’ll be at Red’s Meadow on day 2 of my hike, it only really makes sense for me to do 1 resupply near the halfway point of my trip. My hiking and meal prep schedule has me arriving at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) around lunchtime on day 5 of my hike. That means I only have to carry 4½ days’ worth of food until my resupply. Less, actually, since I’m planning to eat dinner and then breakfast at the Mule House Café at Red’s.
My resupply bucket will contain enough food for 6½ more days as I cover the last 109 miles to the Mt Whitney portal. My plan is to pick up my resupply and charge my phone while I move my food from my 5-gallon bucket to my bear canister. Then I’ll leave my battery bank there overnight to recharge. I also mailed myself a second one for the final stretch. I’ll camp and eat a special (read: heavy) lunch/dinner back on the trail. Then I’ll eat a special breakfast and hike back to MTR to drop off my trash and pick up my battery bank. Finally, I’ll be on my way again.
I find meal planning to be very stressful. You have to walk a tightrope between having enough food and carrying too much weight. I’m already behind the eight ball when you consider that I don’t care for the most calorie-dense foods like chocolate, peanut butter, Nutella, and other sweets. So I’m stuck carrying more food to try to sate my appetite. Knowing that I’m likely to lose weight anyway, I augment my dinners to maximize calories, protein, electrolytes, and carbohydrates.
A typical day on the trail for me
A typical day of eating on the trail looks like this.
- Energy gel
- Early morning snack
- Late morning snack
- Hearty, no-cook lunch
- Hot dinner (freezer bag cooking)
If I’m doing big miles (25+), I usually bring more snacks. But I’m planning to only do around 17 miles per day on this trip. So if I end up do big miles, I’ll be cutting days and will have extra food to cannibalize, so to speak.
I only plan carry a single, 100-gram fuel canister on my thru-hike. It’ll get lighter every day. To save fuel, I will only make hot food for dinner. On weekend trips, I usually make some hot tea or miso soup in the mornings. But on this trip, I’m pretty sure I’ll be up and ready to go at dawn.
What I packed
Here are my morning meals. I start the day with an energy gel and then eat my Handi-Snacks and homemade trail mix in whichever order I prefer. People say you run the risk of hating your food if you eat the same thing every day, but I never get tired of cheese-like product and crackers. And my trail mix is a great blend of salty, spicy, savory, and sweet (dried fruits) that I love snacking on. I’ll follow up on whether or not I got tired of this after the trip.
For lunch, I’m using tortillas (not shown) to make wraps out of meats and cheeses. For example, I have some shelf-stable brie. I’ll pair it with prosciutto, salami, summer sausage, and marinated olives to create a sort of backcountry muffuletta. I also have Babybel cheese, pizza sauce, and pepperoni to make what I call “trail pizzas.” This is 6 days’ worth of lunch that I’m genuinely excited to eat.
FYI—World Market is a great place to find little, 1–2 ounce sausages and shelf-stable cheese.
For dinner, I’ve packed some augmented processed foods. I’ve planned it so my dinners get heavier—figuratively speaking—each day I’m on the trail. For example, my dinners from Lyell Canyon to MTR are mostly ramen-style soups. Those will suffice until my hiker hunger kicks into high gear. These meals below are heavier in fat and carbs to make me feel more full at the end of the day.
You know how I mentioned that I planned some special meals when I’m hanging around MTR? Here they are.
I found these pre-cooked macaroni noodles from Barilla. I’ll have these for a combined lunch/dinner the day I pick up my resupply. They’re very heavy, but I’ll only carry them from the ranch to camp—less than a mile. I’ll pour the noodles into a freezer bag, heat them through with some boiling water, and then drain the water. Then I’ll add a pouch of Velveeta liquid cheese and a packet of bacon. That’s 1 pound of noodles in a gooey bacon and cheese sauce. I will be VERY excited to eat this after 5 days on the trail. The rehydrated stuff just doesn’t taste the same.
The next morning, I’m breaking my no-cook rule and having a hot breakfast. It’s a Mountain House Breakfast Skillet with eggs, sausage, onions, peppers, and hash browns. To that, I’ll add some cheese and sliced chorizo. This will be a very welcome change and will lighten my pack even more.
Finally, I’ll walk back to MTR, toss my new trash, pick up my recharged battery bank, and resume my walk to Mt Whitney.
I’ll do my best to eat the heaviest items—literally speaking—as I go to lighten my load as quickly as possible. If I’ve planned correctly, I should have an empty bear canister by the time I get to the Whitney Portal Store to grab a late lunch. Then I’ll hitch a ride to Lone Pine and take a much-needed shower.
Other random things I included in my resupply are water enhancer, sun screen, bug spray, anti-chafe, pain reliever/sleep aid, toilet paper, and an extra 10,000 mAh battery bank. I should already be carrying everything else I need.
Resupply cost and weight
MTR offers their resupply service for $80, plus postage, plus the cost of a 5-gallon bucket. I think it’s well worth the money not to carry this weight or buy limited, overpriced food from the few stores along the way. I shipped my packed bucket via USPS Priority Mail (the only carrier available) from South Carolina and it cost me $50.80.
It should arrive at the closest post office in 3–4 days and then MTR will handle delivery from there.
The service fee is US $80.00 for up to 25 pounds. (Buckets weighing over 25 pounds will be charged US $2.00 per pound overage fee.) This covers:
• Picking up your bucket at the Post Office in Lakeshore (about 30 miles from the ranch) by vehicle.
• Securely storing your bucket at Florence Lake
• Ferrying it across the lake
• Packing it in on horses and/or off-road vehicle the last five miles to the ranch
• Storing your bucket until your expected arrival date
My packed bucket weighed 230 ounces, or 14.375 pounds. The bucket is heavier than my bear canister, so I’m estimating that my packed canister with these supplies will add around 220 ounces, or 13¾ pounds, to my pack weight.
But remember that 1¾ pounds of that will be consumed when I’m hanging around MTR recharging my devices. So when I actually hit the trail in earnest, my filled bear canister (minus non-consumables like the extra battery and hygienic products) should weigh around 181 ounces, or 11.3 pounds.
That’s pretty heavy for me. If I could stand the taste of Pop-Tarts and Snickers bars, this would be much lighter.
I now laugh at my earlier thought that I might be able to fit all of this food into my current Bearvault BV450 (440 cubic inches) canister. I’ll need to buy the Bearvault BV500 (700 cubic inches) for sure.
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From a caloric standpoint, I didn’t take too much food. But I wasn’t thrilled about eating all of my food. I ended up carrying some of it long distances just to throw it away.
I pounded the energy gels every morning and ate most of my Handi-Snacks. I bought some beef jerky at Red’s Meadow and wish I had bought more. The trail mix was awful. After day 3, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. I separated the dried fruit from everything else at Muir Trail Ranch and only kept the fruit. I’m literally gagging just thinking about it as I type this.
You know that heavy meal of mac and cheese with bacon I sent myself to eat at Muir Trail Ranch? Huge mistake. When you’re in the wilderness and your body gets into a rhythm, do not disturb that rhythm. It was like jamming a wrench into my digestive system. It made the 26+ miles the next day much less enjoyable than it should have been. Thank goodness I sent myself so much extra toilet paper.
I got some sugar-free water enhancers from a girl at Red’s Meadow and really enjoyed those. I liked the variety more than anything else. They did not have electrolytes, but I liked the change. When I picked up my resupply, I received my own electrolyte-enhanced, lemon-lime water flavoring. I loved the taste of it as always. But after a few days, I could tell I was starting to sweat it out. I have never smelled so bad in my entire life.
I was a laborer for a general contractor during the summer between high school and college. I worked with a guy named Red who was renown for his stench. You could smell him coming. I’m not exaggerating. The superintendent didn’t allow him to enter the office/trailer for any reason. Ever. All these years later and I still remember him. Well, I smelled like Red.
I’ve hiked a lot of miles in the wilderness and I’ve never smelled like that before. I completely stopped drinking that water enhancer. Bathing removed most of the odor from my clothes, but I kept sweating it out. The smell didn’t fully go away from my armpits and chest until several days after my trip ended. You can debate whether it was a case of correlation or causation, but I’m not consuming so much of that stuff ever again.
I loved my tortilla pizzas and sausage and cheese snacks. I was the envy of other hikers when we stopped at a pass to eat lunch. FYI—the best place to buy lunch-sized portions of sausage is at Cost Plus World Market. Do not buy online. The selection is better and the prices are cheaper in the store.
My dinners were good, but some of the bags were pierced by the noodles during the particularly jarring shipping process. Learn more about that in the Post-hike impressions section of this post: JMT thru-hike meal prep
If I did it again, I would add more protein snacks like jerky (all kinds, not just beef) to my meal plan. I would bring extra cheeses and other non-sweet snacks to trade with other hikers. You simply can’t predict what you’ll love and what you’ll get sick of out on the trail. It would be good to have extra items to barter with.
Tons of people were giving away freeze-dried and/or instant breakfasts (mostly oatmeal mixes and breakfast scrambles) because they realized they didn’t want to waste time cooking during the day. Others were sick of sweets that melted, turning the packets into goo. Practically everyone drooled over my marinated olives and Babybel cheeses. I could have bought the world with those.
Next: JMT gear transportation